Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
This is a continuation of Part One of Two, which covered Matthew 24-25.
Since most of what’s presented in this chapter is found in Matthew 24, I will not go into the same detail as I did there, but will only make brief remarks for clarification.
(Mark 13:1-3) – 1 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” 2 Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” 3 So while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,
The names of the disciples are not given to us in Matthew or Luke. Only here. So apparently, Jesus was not talking to the rest of the Apostles.
(Mark 13:4) – 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to take place?”
“these things” (destruction of the temple)
As with Luke 21, Mark doesn’t include the whole question as Matthew 24 does: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age” (Matt 24:3). Therefore, we must keep the second part of the question in mind when we read through this chapter. The disciples wanted to know both the signs of the coming destruction of the temple and the signs of His return.
(Mark 13:5-7) – 5 Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will mislead many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.
As I talked about in Matthew 24, we must understand that Jesus is warning His disciples not to be misled (mistaken) about the time of His coming. He doesn’t want them to misinterpret the signs (“these things”). Throughout this discourse Jesus gives them the signs for both the destruction of Jerusalem (and its temple) and of His return. In other words, He doesn’t want them to mistake the events of AD 70 for His coming. Therefore, when many say “I am he,” they were not to be “misled,” because that is not the time of “the end,” which refers to the end of the age, which is the end of history, which is the actual time of Christ’s coming.
The Roman siege against Israel in AD 70 was a part of the “wars and rumors of wars” of the world since that time. Therefore, they were not to interpret the events of AD 70 as the time of His coming.
(Mark 13:8) – 8 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning of birth pains.
All these signs are but the “beginning of birth pains.” Thus, when these things were happening in AD 70, they were not to look for Christ’s coming. These same things continue to this very day, which means the closer we get to His coming the more intense all “these things” will become.
(Mark 13:9-13) – 9 “You must watch out for yourselves. You will be handed over to councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them. 10 First the gospel must be preached to all nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over for trial, do not worry about what to speak. But say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
What we see in this passage is Christian persecution, which started in the Jerusalem church in the days of the Apostles, and continues throughout the world to this day. Persecution against Christ-followers has always existed. Wherever the “gospel is preached” there is always persecution on some level — anywhere from verbal (what we experience in America) to beatings to torture to death. Therefore, one cannot sensibly restrict this to AD 70. When the gospel of Jesus Christ actually has been preached to all nations, then the end will come, then He will return.
(Mark 13:14-20) – 14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one on the roof must not come down or go inside to take anything out of his house. 16 The one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, or ever will happen. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved. But because of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut them short.
This is all about the Roman siege against Jerusalem in AD 70.
(Mark 13:21-23) – 21 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe him. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect. 23 Be careful! I have told you everything ahead of time.
How can it be any clearer? Jesus essentially tells His disciples that when Jerusalem is under siege, “don’t be looking for Me, because that is not the end, that is not the time of My coming. Don’t believe them!”
As clear as this is, many Christians today still view this discourse as all about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which of course, requires them to interpret the book of Revelation the same way. However, Jesus says, “don’t believe them! Don’t be misled! Don’t be deceived!” How then, can we still make the mistake of interpreting the Olivet Discourse as all about that one event? The only reasonable interpretation is that there are two separate events in view. It was two events that the disciples asked about, and Jesus gave them signs to look for for both. They are not the same thing.
(Mark 13:24-27) – 24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man arriving in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Here Jesus tells His disciples what it will actually look like when He actually does return. “In those days, after that suffering” refers to all the tribulation-signs that Jesus gives throughout His discourse. To restrict the tribulation and suffering to AD 70 fails to see the whole picture. As significant as that event was, it was merely a part of the whole. He’s telling them that when He does come back, it will be known by everyone. There won’t be any doubts about it. The whole world will see it. In other words, it won’t be local like it was in AD 70. It will be a worldwide, catastrophic event.
(Mark 13:28-31) – 28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
When we see all “these things” mentioned throughout Jesus’ discourse happening and increasing in intensity – like “birth pains” – then we “know that he is near.” We’re still experiencing these birth pains, so how can we rightly restrict all of this to AD 70? We can’t!
Therefore, where Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” we know that He’s talking about all the generations that experience these things, which are all of them up to the very end of history. Thus, Jesus views this whole time period (2000 years now) as a single generation, as one. Both Preterism and Premillennialism make the same mistake of confining “this generation” to one particular time period. One puts it at the beginning of the Church age, and the other puts it at the end of it.
(Mark 13:32-37) – 32 “But as for that day or hour no one knows it – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey. He left his house and put his slaves in charge, assigning to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will return – whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn – 36 or else he might find you asleep when he returns suddenly. 37 What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay alert!”
Considering the fact that everything that Jesus talks about occurs throughout the Church age, throughout history, I believe we need to interpret “everyone” (vs. 37) as referring to all His followers throughout history, to every member of His Church — for we are still experiencing all “these things” today.
(Luke 21:5-7) – 5 Now while some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and offerings,Jesus said, 6 “As for these things that you are gazing at, the days will come when not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” 7 So they asked him,“Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that these things are about to take place?”
As with Mark, the second part of their question is not given here, which is: “And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt 24:3)? Therefore, as we go through this chapter, we must keep both in mind: the signs of the coming destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) in AD 70, and the signs of His return.
(Luke 21:8-9) – 8 He said, “Watch out that you are not misled. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them! 9 And when you hear of wars and rebellions, do not be afraid. For these things must happen first, but the end will not come at once.”
This is actually a little more clear than the Matthew and Mark accounts. Immediately Jesus tells them not to be “misled” when “many come in His name, saying “I am he, and The time is near.” He adds, “do not follow them!” The reason He tells them this is because when they see these signs that He mentions – which includes the “wars and rebellions” of AD 70 – they will think or wonder if this is the time of His coming. But He tells them, no! The “end will not come at once.” As we previously learned, “the end” refers to the end of the age, which is the end of history, which is the time of Christ’s return. The end coincides with His coming. That is what He reveals in this passage. Jesus is eliminating the confusion, but yet, this confusion still exists to this day. That’s what this commentary is all about, eliminating the confusion.
(Luke 21:10-11) – 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
In regard to the “terrifying sights and great signs from heaven,” it’s uncertain what Jesus is referring to. He may be talking about the things that happen at the very end when He returns…..but includes them here along with all the other events and signs that occur throughout history. However, He may simply be referring to natural weather events such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
(Luke 21:10-19) – 12 But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will be a time for you to serve as witnesses. 14 Therefore be resolved not to rehearse ahead of time how to make your defense. 15 For I will give you the words along with the wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death. 17 You will be hated by everyone because of my name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
As we saw with Matthew and Mark, the persecution of Christians is highlighted, which will always exist as long as there are Christians and as long as the gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached.
(Luke 21:20-24) – 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, 22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away as captives among all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
In regard to the word “earth” in verse 23, it can also be translated as “land.” The following translations reflect that understanding: NASB, ASV, NIV, CSB, AMP, NKJV, NLT, YLT. The context itself supports “upon the land” (of Israel), rather than “on the earth.”
Luke’s account makes it certain that the people in view are the Jews who are being invaded by the Roman armies in AD 70. That was a “time of vengeance,” when God judged Israel for their sins and rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. This “fulfilled all that is written” in regard to the nation of Israel and the Old Covenant. This marked the full end of God’s dealing with that nation. This event completed God’s program for that nation. God’s plan for Israel is fulfilled in Christ and His Church. The event of AD 70 marked the full end of the Old Covenant and fully established the New Covenant.
Theologically, the New Covenant was fulfilled at the cross and Pentecost. But God’s judgment upon Israel in AD 70 was the outward sign of God’s rejection and judgment upon that people and that nation.
At that point the surviving Jews were “led away as captives among all nations.” They were scattered throughout the world.
In regard to “Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” at first glance, it would appear that Jesus is referring solely to the siege of AD 70 where the city would be under siege by the Gentiles (Rome) until it was destroyed. However, I believe Jesus reveals the actual meaning of this phrase in the following passage:
(Matthew 21:43-44) – “42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Here Jesus describes the Jews, the nation of Israel and their “rejection” of Him as their Messiah. He says that “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” That, of course, refers to the Gentiles. God’s focus turned from the nation of Israel to all nations. From that point on, God has worked through His Church to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s now through His Son and His Church – which is mostly believing Gentiles – that God deals with the world. Therefore, “until the times of the Gentiles” extends to the whole Church age until the return of Christ at the end of history. In other words, Jerusalem (Israel) will continue to be “trampled down” until Jesus returns at the end of the Church age. That’s when those “times” are “fulfilled,” when God’s program for mankind is finished.
To be clear, notice that Jesus says that “Jerusalem” will be “trampled down…..” Since the city of Jerusalem is mentioned in the context of AD 70, some believe that Jesus is referring strictly to the siege of AD 70. However, that was just the beginning of this “trampling down.” I believe we must understand Jerusalem in the same sense that we understand Zion. Zion referred to the city of Jerusalem, but then came to represent all of Israel (please read What Is Zion?). Likewise, Jerusalem was the seat of Israel. It was the worship center for all of Israel. That’s where the temple was. Therefore, as its capital and worship center, it represented the whole nation of Israel. Thus, when Jerusalem and its temple was destroyed, it affected the whole nation, the whole people of that nation.
Note what Jesus says in verse 44 (Matt 21:44): “The one who falls on this stone (Jesus) will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” This applies to everyone who rejects Christ. However, in context, this refers to God’s judgment upon Israel, who “rejected” the “stone” (Christ). Therefore, we can be confident that Jesus is referring to the “trampling” of Israel for all time — because quite obviously, Israel continues to be trampled to this day. Israel continues to reject Christ, and the Gentiles of the world continue to be hostile (trample) to Israel. How then can we confine the “times of the Gentiles” to AD 70? We can’t. To do so wouldn’t make sense.
To be even more clear, it needs to be pointed out that when Jesus says “until….” (vs. 24), it’s not to be understood as Dispensational Premillennialism teaches, that there will be a time where the “times of the Gentiles” would end, whereupon the nation of Israel would then become the focus of God’s attention again. As the context reveals (Luke 21:25-27), when the “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” Jesus will return “with power and great glory.” And as we learned in Matthew 24 and 25 (especially ch 25), it’s at that time that we’re resurrected and stand before Christ, and are then immediately ushered into our eternal state of the Eternal Kingdom. Nowhere in Matthew 24-25 or Mark 13 or Luke 21, is there any indication that God’s program ever reverts back to Israel. Nowhere in these chapters do we see a millennial kingdom upon the return of Christ.
To recap, Jesus says “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” (ESV – Matt 24:29), we will “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (ESV).” Again, the “tribulation of those days” refers to the whole Church age, from the cross to Christ’s return. Therefore, “immediately after the tribulation of those days,” refers to the “end of the age,” which is the end of the Church age, the end of history. It’s at the end of the age that we see the return of Christ.
The idea of a return to the nation of Israel and of a millennial kingdom in the plan of God, just isn’t there. That idea has to be assumed based on an established eschatological position that must be upheld. When we start with a certain doctrinal position, we tend to see that position everywhere. Both Preterism and Premillennialism are guilty of that. We must be careful not to give in to that tendency, but rather, allow Scripture to present itself without a positional lens. The reason I support the Amillennial position is because I believe it has the most honest approach to Scripture. It doesn’t have to rely upon a positional lens to make it work — it just does.
(Luke 21:25) – 25 “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth nations will be in distress, anxious over the roaring of the sea and the surging waves.
On this verse, the Matthew account provides more information, which allows us to identify the time period:
(Matthew 24:29) – 29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Based on the Matthew account (see commentary), we know that Jesus is not still talking about the tribulation of AD 70, but of the overall tribulation of life in this world that we see throughout history to the end of the world, up to the time of His return.
(Luke 21:26-28) – 26 People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We further know that Jesus is no longer talking about the events of AD 70, because He is now talking about the “world.” The events of AD 70 was local (Jerusalem), but at the end of “these things,” when Jesus comes back, it will be a worldwide event that everyone will know about. At that time, we’ll be resurrected and ushered into Glory where we will experience our full “redemption.”
As for the phrase “when these things begin to happen,” I believe Jesus is referring to the very beginning of all these signs, which began in the days of the Apostles. Persecution was severe in their day, and according to history, most of them died as martyrs (we don’t have a record of all of them).
Therefore, when they (and many Christians of that day) were seeing the “beginning” of these times of “tribulation” – which included suffering and death for the name of Christ – they were to “raise their heads,” because their “redemption” was “drawing near.” Of course, this is true of all Christians in such situations throughout the Church age. Thus, all believers since that time, in similar tribulations, are to look up. However, at the time of Christ’s return, we as His complete Church, will experience our full “redemption” as we enter our eternal state.
To be clear, for every Christian throughout history, “our redemption draws near” the closer we get to death and witness all these signs that Jesus talks about.
All these facts most certainly eliminates the idea that the Olivet Discourse refers only to AD 70.
(Luke 21:29-31) – 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the other trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near. 31 So also you, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
As Jesus reveals in verse 35 (Lu 21:35), He is still talking about the “end of the age,” the end of the world. Thus, when we as His followers see the total fulfillment of these things happening, we know that “the kingdom of God is near” — referring to the “eternal kingdom” (2 Pet 1:11); of the “new heaven and new earth” (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1-5).
The last sign that we’ll see that will let us know His coming is near, is when the whole world turns against Christians. In the very end, there will be a worldwide assault against the people of Christ (Rev 11:7-12; Rev 20:7-10). Christianity will be loathed. We’re seeing this developing and picking up speed all over the world today, even in America. This is not surprising, since there is an emphasis on persecution in this discourse. Therefore, when we see this situation escalating rapidly worldwide, then we know the return of Christ is “near;” we know that our entrance into the Eternal Kingdom is not far away.
(Luke 21:32-33) – 32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“This generation” has to be referring to every generation who are experiencing “all these things.” In other words, I believe Jesus uses that word to refer to all generations as one single generation, for all generations see “all these things. The one exception, of course, would be the siege of AD 70 — which is only one event of all the events and signs that Jesus describes in this discourse.
It’s not a coincidence that immediately following the statement about “this generation” passing away, that Jesus mentions the passing away of “heaven and earth.” That’s because at the end of history, at the end of the world, the current heaven and earth will also pass away, and a “new heaven and new earth” will be created, where we are ushered into our eternal state (2 Pet 3:7-13; Rev 21:1).
There is absolutely no indication of a thousand year gap between “this generation” and the “new heaven and new earth.” In other words, there is no indication of a gap that is filled with a thousand year kingdom on earth. We go immediately from “this generation” to the “new heaven and new earth” of the Eternal Kingdom as described in Revelation 21 and 22.
(Luke 21:34-35) – 34 “But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth.
The fact that “that day” or “these things” will “overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth,” is another indication that this covers all of history, because all of history all over the world experience all the things that Jesus describes in this discourse.
(Luke 21:36) – 36 But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Life in this world is hard. It’s a world full of “tribulation.” Therefore, we need to “be alert” and pray for strength to endure this life — even that we might “escape all these things.” Life for many Christians is beyond hard, because many Christians suffer greatly. Of course, our ultimate “escape” will be in the afterlife, where “we will stand before the Son of Man,” where we will dwell in His presence forever and ever — finally at peace. This is also the way of escape for unbelievers. It’s an invitation to receive Christ as “the gospel is preached to all nations” (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10). This is the good news in the midst of all the “tribulation” that characterizes the world.
This same passage in Mark 13 – which is also the end of that chapter – ends with this: “What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay alert!” These words of warning are given to all Christ-followers throughout the Church age, up to the time of His return. Thus, part of “staying alert,” involves doing the work of the Lord, which includes sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the unsaved.
(Luke 21:37-38) – 37 So every day Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, but at night he went and stayed on the Mount of Olives. 38 And all the people came to him early in the morning to listen to him in the temple courts.
While Luke 17:20-37 is not part of the Olivet Discourse, it pertains to the same subject.
(Luke 17:20-21) – 20 Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
The context is the “kingdom of God.” As we learned in Luke 21:31, the kingdom of God that is in view here, is the “Eternal Kingdom” of God (2 Pet 1:11) of the “new heaven and new earth” (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1-5), which we enter upon the return of Christ at the end of the Church age.
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed,”
Throughout the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gives us signs to look for regarding both the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and of His coming at the end of the world. So what does Jesus mean by this statement? At first it seems a bit contradictory. James Coffman provides a good explanation of this from his commentary:
Cometh not with observation … means that the kingdom would not visibly appear at all. There would be no proclamation of a king, in the political sense, no definition of boundaries, no setting up of any kind of material state at all. Hobbs noted that the word here translated “observation” is from the vocabulary of Greek medical writers (Luke being a physician), and that the word meant “closely watching the symptoms of heart disease.”
The kingdom of God was (is) not coming in the sense that the Jews were anticipating. They believed that the Messiah would come as a Jewish King who would reign over Israel in an earthly kingdom. Therefore, there would be no signs for such a kingdom. Thus, they were not to look for “signs” for such a kingdom. I find it ironic that premillennialists are looking for the same type earthly kingdom that the pharisees were looking for. I think that is very telling. The primary difference of course, is that Israel does not accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Prior to the coming Kingdom of God (Rev 21 & 22), the world will be in chaos. Furthermore, the focus of the world will be on the Church of Christ, not on Israel. The world will move against Christians as one united people, seeking to annihilate all followers of Christ (Rev 11:7-12; Rev 20:7-10).
“nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
First and foremost, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom. As born-again believers, we belong to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. The Church is that kingdom, of whom Christ is Head (Col 1:13, 18). Accordingly, I believe Jesus was referring to Himself when He said that “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Apart from Christ, no one enters the Kingdom of God. He is “the door” (Jn 10:7). Therefore, in addressing the Pharisees, He was letting them know that their focus was all wrong. He was letting them know that there is no Kingdom of God apart from Him. However, this spiritual kingdom in which we belong now, has its ultimate form in the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2), as we’ve been learning, and as Jesus focuses on in the remainder of this chapter.
(Luke 17:22-24) – 22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. 24 For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
As in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus tells His disciples not be looking for Him when they hear people claiming it. In this regard, He is likely referring primarily to the events of AD 70. Jesus was letting His disciples know that when that time came, it was not the time of His coming. Rather, when He actually does come back, it will be “just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other.” This refers to the quick and worldwide nature of His coming. The events of AD 70 was local (Jerusalem/Israel) and was not quick. Therefore, they were not to regard those days as the sign of His return.
(Luke 17:25-30) – 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage – right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 29 but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
As we learned in the Olivet Discourse, the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot,” refers to the normal manner of life in the world, as people “eat and drink and marry and are given in marriage,” as people “buy, sell, plant and build.” These things continue to this day and will continue to the last days before Jesus returns. At that time, God will “reign down fire” upon the world in judgment (Rev 20:9), just as He did upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:24).
In the days before the return of Christ, life in the world will be extremely lawless and turbulent. The “tribulation” in the world described by Jesus throughout His discourse, will at that point have reached its maximum level — at which point, the normal aspects of life, like eating and drinking, marriage, buying and selling and building, will no longer be people’s primary concern or focus. Instead, people will be overwhelmed by the chaos and destruction of the world at that time. Once the normal course of life ceases, then we know that the coming of Christ is near.
I believe the country to watch is the United States. Once the normal way of life in America ceases, then we know that the entire world is experiencing the same thing — because the description Jesus gives about eating and drinking, marriage, buying and selling and building, describes America better than any other country. So once the normal life in this country ceases, then we know it’s the same everywhere else in the world.
At this point in time, America and many other countries are still enjoying normal living and great prosperity. Any serious threat to our way of life is not even remotely in view at this time. Accordingly, I believe we can say with assurance that we’re not yet very close to the return of Christ — regardless of what many Christians believe today.
Premillennialism has misled the vast majority of Christians. People have been programmed to believe that the “rapture and seven year tribulation period and return of Christ is imminent,” that world conditions are such that He can return at any moment. While we do not know the “day or hour” of His coming, I believe He has given us certain signs to look for when we are close to that time. As I mentioned before, I believe the two main signs to look for, are the spreading of the gospel message to the whole world, and the development of a worldwide hatred of Christians — which will then lead to a worldwide assault against us. While we’re certainly moving in that direction, we are not even close to that yet. That’s not to say that things could not escalate very fast at some point, as I believe it will.
(Luke 17:31) – 31 On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back.
While Jesus refers to this in the context of the events of AD 70 in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:15-18; Mark 13:14-16), here He uses it in the context of the end of the present world near the time of His return. What happens in the world will be similar to what happened to Jerusalem during the Roman siege. What Jesus means by this, in the context of conditions of the world right before He returns, is given to us in the next verse:
(Luke 17:32-33) – 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.
With verse 31 in mind, when things in the world reach the worst possible conditions, believers are not to lose faith, we’re not to “look back” like “Lot’s wife.” Rather, we’re to keep our eyes looking forward with eternity in view. We’re not to be concerned about the things of this life at that time. We’re to be “looking up, for our redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). When worldwide persecution becomes severe, we’re not to give in to our Christ-rejecting enemies; we’re not to deny our Lord: “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it.” On the contrary, we’re to remain strong in our faith no matter how bad things get: “but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Because at that point, we’re almost Home. At that point, our resurrection is soon to come. At that point, the return of our Lord near.
(Luke 17:34-35) – 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
Considering the context and the timing, this has to refer to the resurrection of God’s people at that time. And to be clear, those who are still alive at that time, are part of this resurrection. However, instead of being resurrected from death, they’ll be transformed without seeing death (1 Th 4:13-17; 1 Cor 15:50-54). This is what is commonly known as “the rapture.” The saved will be “taken” and the unsaved will be “left” behind to face the judgment of God upon the world, which is what Jesus is referring to in the final verse of this chapter:
(Luke 17:37) – 37 Then the disciples said to him, “Where, Lord?” He replied to them, “Where the dead body is, there the vultures will gather.”
I believe “vultures” represents all scavenger birds, and not just vultures. As to the meaning of what Jesus is saying, scavengers are found all over the world. Where there are dead bodies laying in the wilderness or out in the country, you’ll find scavengers. Accordingly, I believe Jesus is making the point that His judgment upon mankind will be worldwide, and will result in the death of mankind worldwide.
Other Preterist Scriptures
I think it will be helpful to address a couple scriptures that preterists use to help validate their position. There are other passages we could look at, but these are two of the main ones, so I’ll limit this discussion to those.
(Mark 8:34-9:1) – 34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Some believe that this was fulfilled in AD 70, with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Others believe that Jesus was referring to the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:1-9; Luke 9:28-36). Others, like myself, believe it was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
To properly interpret this, we first need to identify who was present when Jesus made this statement. We don’t see everyone present in the Matthew or Luke passages (Matt 16:24-28; Luke 9:23-27), so we need to go to this passage in Mark.
It was not just the twelve disciples who were present. There was also a “crowd” of people, and most likely a very large crowd, since Jesus always attracted a large number of people. Within that crowd, there were probably many believers. The knowledge of a crowd of people present, enables us to interpret what Jesus said with confidence. When He said “there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power,” it was out of that crowd of people that He was referring to — more specifically, among those who believed.
Therefore, what Jesus was actually revealing is that there were only a few people among them who would actually “see” the Kingdom of God “coming” – as what happened on the Day of Pentecost – before they died. The rest of those who believed among the crowd, who were not present at Pentecost, they did not “see” the “coming” of God’s kingdom. While we all as believers experience the Kingdom of God after Pentecost – having received the Holy Spirit and baptized into the body of Christ (the Church) – only a few of the believers of that day actually witnessed the “coming” of it on that day (“with power”), as Acts chapter two describes. The rest of the believers who were in the crowd, died without seeing the coming of God’s kingdom at Pentecost.
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, which is the Church. More specifically, the Church is the Kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13). The Church as we know it and experience it, began on the day of Pentecost. Only a small number of believers actually witnessed the initial coming of it on that day (about 120 people). The rest of those who believed in Jesus’ day, died without seeing it. In other words, they weren’t present to witness all that transpired on that day.
(Matthew 10:23) – 23 Whenever they persecute you in one town, flee to another! I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
On the day of Pentecost, Jesus “came” via the Holy Spirit, for He told His disciples that He “would not leave them as orphans”:
(John 14:16-18) – 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (ESV)
Therefore, when Jesus told His disciples that they would “not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes,” He was referring to the day of Pentecost when He came to them via the Holy Spirit.
Preterists have built an entire theological system based on an over-inflated view of what occured in AD 70 — an over-inflated view that Jesus sought to eliminate. As significant as that event was, they put more theological importance on it than what it calls for. Preterism takes a very extreme view of it. It elevates it to an unwarranted level that the rest of the NT doesn’t support, except through the lens of Preterism. They basically see AD 70 in every passage.
In spite of Jesus’ instructions and warnings, preterists still insist that the Second Coming of Christ occurred in AD 70. Indeed, Full Preterists believe that all prophecy was fulfilled at that time — in spite of the fact that all the signs surrounding AD 70 continue throughout history to this very day! The destruction of Jerusalem is only a part of the overall picture that Jesus gives to us. It’s not meant to be the total focal point. It’s not meant to be identified with His return. Throughout the Olivet Discourse, Jesus specifically warned against having that idea.
On the other extreme, we have Premillennialism — Dispensational Premillennialism being the most popular. Proponents see the whole Olivet Discourse as happening in the last few years prior to the return of Christ, where God again turns His attention to the nation of Israel, and sets up His “millennial kingdom” on this present earth. They make the same mistake that preterists make. They don’t take into account the obvious fact that all the “signs” and “tribulation” that Jesus talks about in His discourse, have been going on in the world throughout history — except of course, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70.
The truth is to be found in the balance of those two positions. Since all these signs occur throughout history, it’s far more reasonable that Jesus is talking about the whole Church age. And if that be true, then that is the only sensible way to interpret the book of Revelation. This is what Amillennialism teaches. It’s a consistent and balanced position on “end time” prophecy. I’m an amillennialist because I believe it’s the most honest in dealing with the texts of Scripture. Amillennialism doesn’t require us to make the same extreme assumptions that Preterism and Dispensational Premillennialism does. It doesn’t require us to force meaning into the text in order to make it conform to our position. In other words, I believe Amillennialism presents itself in the most natural and unbiased way among all the eschatological positions.
I encourage you to lay aside any positional notions you may have, and give the amillennial position fair consideration. You already have a good start with this study of the Olivet Discourse.