Take a deep breath....
After a somewhat rushed introduction to the context of the Olivet Discourse it is time to look at its content. Much of this will be the same as the context but it will strictly be my analysis of the text. I will of course be taking from other teaching I have heard and I will link to teaching sources when possible.
For the text I will be looking at Mark's account. It is truly impossible to evaluate the depth of the discourse without looking at the other accounts. In fact, Mark is often neglected in favor of Matthew with a splash of Luke. Because the book of Mark is specially pertinent to my church, we will be addressing it as straight forward as possible.
The Olivet Discourse begins with a significant question. A significant question with a significant Jewish subtext. "One of the disciples" asks Jesus about the quality of the stone. The Greek word is
ποταπός (potapos 4217). It is used rarely but the couple uses (Matt 8:27; Luke 1:29; 7:39; 2 Pet 3:11; 1 John 3:1 ) give us an indication that this is an extreme valuation phrase. In many of the uses the word contains a grandiose exaltation of the object being described. The NASB translates the phrase as "wonderful". In Mark it may not be obvious why such a statement is being made. Both other accounts don't even contain this very question. Instead they jump to Christ's deceleration that these stones would not be found lying one on another after the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:2; Luke 21:6). The teaching concerning the destruction of these very stones was provoked by the disciples question about
the very stones in front of him
In response to his teaching, the disciples (as they occasionally did) came to Christ privately. While Matthew notes they came in private (Matt 24:3), it isn't expressed to the same extent as Mark who indicates that it is only four that ask the question and receiving the answer. Elsewhere in the gospel accounts Christ gives explanation to hard teachings when the disciples ask in private. He addresses the misunderstandings and directly provides the clear form of the teaching to the disciples. And this explanation of the difficult teaching is what we find here. This teaching is suppose to be the straight forward, all difficulties explained version of his prophetic teaching. Why would Jesus not explain that the very disciples asking this question had nothing to worry about? Well that's obvious. Because all these things would happen during their life (Mark 13:30) and he has warned them of it all in advance (Mark 13:23). This is incredibly crucial since many of the reference to "many" and "you" must be seen in a Jewish-Christian sense and not in a global world sense. this will greatly increase our understanding of Jesus' intent.
The disciples question is straight forward. "When will these things be" (Mark 13:4). Christ goes beyond the scope of their question but he does not change the time reference (as we have seen previously and yet again above). This is the collapsed form of the question in Matthew's gospel that includes "and of the end of the age" (Matt 24:3). I would postulated that Mark and Luke clarify for non-Jewish audiences a very, very, very Jewish question. Mark highlights the Jewish focus on the great stones but he neglects the Jewish time frame reference in the question. Matthew includes it and many have since become convince based upon that one account that Christ refers to a still future return. This should be seen as patently false.
The first two things that Christ sets forth as an answer is that many will be deceived by false christs. While the next list of events receive much fan fare in modern doomsday talk, the world still have not been deceived in great multitudes of Christ's return....in fact we're losing many to the idea that Christ wasn't even a real person. How this would be resolved from a futurist perspective is beyond my imagination. What instead Christ is speaking about is the girth of false prophets that would come between his time and the destruction of Jerusalem. A leading Dispensationalist Tommy Ice contends that there were no false christs during this time. I will allow Kennth Gentry to defend that point all on his own here. What I will do here is quote from Josephus,
A false prophet was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance (The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book VI, Chapter V, Section 2).
If the individual who was present for the destruction of Jerusalem is allowed to be the final authority, then this event is clearly fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Many false prophets deceived many to stay within the walls of Jerusalem (in contradiction to Jesus advice). The perfection of this completion can only be argued against when someone comes to the text with the presupposition of a future event.
But what about the wars, famines, etc that Jesus predicts? I would prefer to simplify this as much as possible. In the last 1000 years have any of these things ceased upon the face of the earth? Given that we know the answer to be no, it is worth stating that these signs have been on earth for a long time. How then are these truly a "sign"? Instead I would suggest that in the borderline perfection that was Rome, the inclusion of wars and famine would be unheard of. As the great political power of the day, the level of "war" was nothing more than skirmishes. With respect to famine, there was a lack of nothing within proper Roman settlements. And yet we see during the reign of Claudius that a great famine takes place (Acts 11:28). Based upon some sparse statements by Josephus this event began to occur between 44 and 48 A.D. The individual who would take over Rome after Claudius? Nero. With the introduction of Nero, Rome itself is launched in an intense 6-7 years of chaos as Emperors begin to kill each other and revolts throughout the empire take place to take advantage of the weakened Roman state.
But for the Jews, these things were only the "beginning of birth pangs" (Mark 13:8). In another post, I will continue to address the context of the Olivet Discourse as it applied to the immediate disciples of Jesus.