PMW 2019-002 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The Olivet Discourse is a popular and important text in eschatological discussions. Indeed, it is Jesus’ largest recorded eschatological instruction.
Unfortunately, verses can be yanked from their context and be used in a seemingly compelling construct that goes against what Christ is actually teaching. This passage in particular requires careful investigation and thoughtful deliberation. For as D. A. Carson notes (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:488): “Few chapters of the Bible have called forth more disagreement among interpreters.” Sentiments such as Carson’s could be multiplied to distraction. (In fact, I am distracted just now, and will go get a Krispy Kreme doughnut. But I will return.)
A part of the scholarly and popular disagreement regarding the Olivet Discourse lies in the widespread tendency to overlook a subtle issue in its narrative introduction. And that issue is: the reasoning behind the disciples’ double question to Jesus. We read in Matt. 24:3: “As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’”
As David E. Garland (among others) insightfully notes (Reading Matthew, p. 235):
“The question implies that the disciples now understand the gravity of ‘these things’ and assume that the destruction of the temple will usher in the end of the age. Jesus’ answer corrects this misperception. The fate of the temple is a quite separate matter from the parousia of the son of man and the end of the age.”
Or as Donald A. Hagner puts it: “The thought of the destruction of the second temple could, so they believed, only signal the time of final judgment, the end of the age” (Matthew 14–28 [WBC], 687–88).
This is a crucial observation in that Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question determines the structure, progress, and outcome of his answer in the following verses. I will focus on the confusion prompting their question in four articles. I do this in order to open up the passage to a more accurate understanding. This will help us recognize that Jesus speaks of two prophetic issues, not one (in that there are two interrogative pronouns, pote [“when”] and ti [“what]). He speaks of both (1) the near-term temple judgment at the beginning of Christian history and (2) the distantly-future Final Judgment at the end of temporal history (which is double-defined here as parousia + “end of the age”). These two matters are theologically-related though historically-distinct. This is like our spiritual resurrection in our salvation being related to our physical resurrection at the consummation (John 5:25-29).
Olivet Discourse Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24. Show the great tribulation is past, having occurred in AD 70.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
In this first article I will show that the disciples repeatedly demonstrate their confusion regarding Christ’s teaching and actions. And they continue doing this despite their being in such a close and committed daily relationship with him! We see them asking questions and taking actions that are almost inevitably rooted in their confusion and misunderstanding of Jesus’ words and deeds. This backdrop to the psychology of the disciples will show their confusion, which leads to their asking the very question that prompts the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:2). This will elicit from Jesus a detailed correction to their erroneous thinking, while answering both of their questions.
Samples of their confusion
In Matt. 13:10 the disciples ask: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Here they challenge Jesus’ intentional, distinctive style of teaching (Matt. 13:34; cp. Mark 4:34; John 10:6; 16:25). Then after Jesus dismisses the crowds, we read: “Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field’” (Matt. 13:36). Or as Mark notes, “as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables” (Mark 4:10). This elicits a mild rebuke from him: “and He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?’” (Mark 4:13). The disciples are confused regarding Jesus’ teaching style.
In Matt. 14:15, when Jesus preaches long into the evening, the disciples challenge him: “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away.” But Jesus responds that the crowds “do not need to go away,” whereupon he feeds the 5000. The disciples dare to command him to quit teaching. The disciples are confused regarding Jesus’ preaching ministry.
In Matt. 15:12 they warn Jesus of the danger his teaching is creating. They effectively challenge him to tone it down: “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” Then in Matt. 15:23 we read their urging him regarding the demon-possessed woman: “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” The students are rebuking the Teacher — though “a disciple is not above his teacher” (Matt. 10:24)! The disciples are confused regarding whether Jesus is aware of the danger of the Pharisees.
Jesus’ fourth Major Discourse in Matthew is found in Matt. 18:1-35. This is the “Discourse on True Greatness” (Gibbs, Matthew, 1:45). In Matt. 18:1 his disciples ask him an inappropriate question, sparking the Discourse. This one demonstrates their confusion regarding the central feature of his teaching — the kingdom of heaven! They ask: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven”? This ultimately leads to James and John requesting (through their mother, Matt. 20:20–23) that “we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in glory” (Mark 10:37). The disciples are confused regarding their role in his kingdom. What is more, this inappropriate question arises on the heels of his second death prediction (Matt. 17:22–23), the leading purpose of his Incarnation!
Later in Acts 1:6 the disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Despite all of his teaching and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), they still did not understand the universalization of the kingdom. Even after forty more days of teaching after the resurrection when he “was speaking of things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3)! The disciples are confused regarding Israel’s role in Jesus’ kingdom.
Matthew 24 Debate: Past or Future?
(DVD by Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice)
Two hour public debate between Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice on the Olivet Discourse.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Their most egregious confusion
But most significantly, the disciples miss the central point of Jesus’ mission, the very reason for his incarnation! They do not understand two vital issues of his mission: (1) that he must die and (2) that he will be resurrected. And they miss these issues despite his clear and direct teaching (Matt. 16:21; 20:17–19)!
To make matters worse, Peter even rebukes Christ for teaching that he must die! This results in Christ’s surprisingly strong counter-rebuke:
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matt. 16:21–23).
As Jeffrey A. Gibbs notes (Matthew 1:1-11:1, p. 45).
“Although Israel’s religious leaders continue to oppose him in various ways, Jesus comes into increasing conflict with his own uncomprehending disciples during the chapters that lead up to the entry into Jerusalem (16:21-20:32). Three times Jesus predicts his death and subsequent resurrection (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19), and three times the disciples quickly oppose the substance and the spirit of what Jesus has just predicted. Jesus’ disciples cannot yet understand that the Christ, who is greatest of all, will show his greatness in utter service and in giving his life as the ransom payment for all.”
In fact, it was only after his death and resurrection are accomplished historically that they understand his clear teaching: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). John later reports that even just shortly after the resurrection: “as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9).
Returning to Gibbs’ Introduction, we see how he links the Olivet Discourse to the structural flow of Matthew as Jesus is preparing to die (p. 46):
This last great discourse prevents Jesus’ disciples (both then and now) from mistakenly conflating terrible events of persecution and the final consummation of the age, the time of which is utterly unknown and the arrival of which will be as evident at lightning.”
As I will be showing, the disciples’ question in Matt. 24:2 arises from their confusion. Their confusion regarding the future, despite Christ’s three and one-half years of instructing them — including the forty additional days of his post-resurrection teaching on the subject of his kingdom (Acts 1:3)! And their confused question in Matt. 24:2 will lead Jesus to sort out their tangled understanding. And ours, if we will listen.
I hope you will join me in my next posting! And bring some doughnuts!
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