The Olivet Discourse - For the Church or Israel?

Reprinted from eParousia #9, October, 2003

In Matthew 24 Jesus' disciples asked Him about the sign of His coming and the end of the age. What follows is the most complete teaching of Christ concerning the end times and His return that we will find in the Scriptures.

Yet, there are many who would want to exclude Matthew 24 from applying to the Church. They say that Matthew 24 applies only to Israel and has nothing to do with the Church and Christ's return for us. Here are some quotes as examples of this kind of reasoning:

The discourse is in answer to questions about the future of Israel and the millennial kingdom, not the church. It would be quite surprising for the Lord to speak about the Rapture because it was a subject that He had never talked about.[i]

In Matthew 24–Matthew 25 the expositor should, therefore, understand that the program of God for the end of the age has in view the period ending with the second coming of Christ to the earth and the establishment of His earthly Kingdom, not the church age specifically ending with the rapture. Both the questions of the disciples and the answers of Christ are therefore, keyed to the Jewish expectation based on Old Testament prophecy, and the program of God for the earth in general rather than the church as the body of Christ.[ii]

… the disciples would have been asking the questions in the context of the future of their nation and not as representatives of the Church. Thus, their understanding of Christ's return and the end of the age would have been Jewish and not that of a member of the Church.[iii]

This is a very important matter and needs to be examined carefully. If indeed Jesus' teaching on the Olivet Discourse does not pertain to the Church, then we can just rip it out of our Bibles and throw it away. And if this is the case, what about other portions of Matthew? What about other teachings of Jesus? When we begin to argue that certain portions of Scripture just don’t apply we are treading on very dangerous ground.

There are at least 6 reasons why I believe the Olivet Discourse of Christ not only pertains to the Church, but details events of the end times for which believers are to prepare. Let's examine them.

1. The Olivet Discourse is repeated in the "gentile" gospels.

Part of the argument of those who wish to exclude Jesus' teaching from the discussion of the church and our future is that Matthew is the gospel written to the Jews. The purpose of Matthew's gospel is to prove to the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. Thus, certain things in Matthew are "Jewish" and not intended for the Church, such as chapter 24. The problem with this line of arguing is that the Olivet Discourse of Christ is included in both Luke's and Mark's gospel (Luke 21, Mark 13), which all scholars agree were written for a gentile audience. If this teaching was only for the Jews and about Israel's future, then why include it in these other gospels?

2. The gospel of Matthew includes instructions for and about the church.

Many teachers will tell us that the disciples knew nothing about the Church yet and Jesus therefore could not possibly be discussing the future of the Church in Matthew 24. But, is this really the case? Jesus prophesied the Church in Matthew 16:

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt 16:15-18)

Jesus gave instructions for the Church in Matthew 18, and most churches today include this passage as the biblical pattern for church discipline:

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matt 18:15-17)

And finally, Jesus gave the Great Commission to the Church, which is recorded in the gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:18-20)

Notice two things about the above passage. First of all, Jesus said we are to teach His disciples "all that I commanded you." Would not that include the Olivet Discourse? And secondly, notice that these marching orders for the church are to be in place until the "end of the age," the very time that the disciples asked Jesus about in Matthew 24. Clearly Matthew 24 cannot be extracted from the gospel of Matthew and said to not concern the Church.

3. The recipients of the Olivet Discourse represented Christ on earth.

To whom was the Olivet Discourse given? The multitudes following Jesus? The Jewish religious leaders? No and no. Jesus gave this teaching to His disciples, and not to all the disciples, but Mark 13:3 tells us that it was only to the inner core of His disciples – to Peter, James, John and Andrew.

These men had lived, walked, ate, ministered and been with Jesus for over 3 years. Is Jesus going to address them as representatives of the nation of Israel? No. These men are the future leaders of the Church. They want to know about His coming for them. They want to know about their future. Jesus' death is but days away and He wants to warn them and prepare them for what lies ahead. That is why throughout the Olivet Discourse you see the personal pronoun "YOU" over and over. Jesus is telling His disciples (and future disciples) what they can expect, not the nation of Israel.

4. The ones being persecuted in the Olivet Discourse are Christians.

Jesus tells of a time in the future when all nations will hate his followers. He tells his disciples that they will be persecuted, hated and killed. Why? "On account of My name," He says (24:9). Mark records the following from the Olivet Discourse:

"But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:9-11)

Clearly it is Christians that Jesus is addressing. It is those who are preaching the gospel who will be arrested. It is those who are filled with the Holy Spirit who will be persecuted. This teaching is in accord with numerous Scriptures that tell believers that they will suffer tribulation (John 15:20, 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 2:21).

5. The elect of Matthew 24 are Christians not Israel.

Jesus speaks of His "elect" several times in Matthew 24:

"Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, "Behold, here is the Christ,' or "There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect… And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." (Matt. 24:22-24, 31)

Just who are these elect? Some would have us believe that the elect are the Jewish people, and that these warnings and instructions refer to Israel and their gathering together for the Millennial rule of the Messiah. But is this the case?

Anytime the Greek word eklektos (elect, chosen) is used in the New Testament to speak of individuals it refers to believers in Christ, Jew or Gentile (Matt 20:16; 22:14; Luke 18:7; Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1, 2:9; Rev 17:14). This word never refers to Jews or the nation of Israel. Why should Matthew 24 be any different? It is to these elect, Jesus' disciples, that the warnings of Matthew 24 apply. It is simply not Scriptural to teach that Jesus' words here do not apply to the present-day Church. Jesus' obvious intent is that these warnings be applied to the Church throughout the age, for He provides warnings specifically applicable to His contemporaries as well as those elect/chosen who would be alive at the end of the age, who will see "all these things" take place (Matt. 24:33).

6. Jesus' promise to return in John 14 is the same event.

Just two days following the Olivet Discourse, Jesus was with His disciples in the upper room, sharing the Passover meal with them and preparing them for His departure. In this context he told them:

"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:1-3).

Now, how can one honestly say that Jesus’ teaching to His disciples on the Olivet Discourse was to them as representatives of the Jews and about the future of the nation of Israel, but that His teaching to His disciples just two days later was to them as representatives of the Church and about the Church's future? They cannot be referring to two separate events since they were both delivered to the disciples in view of their looking for Christ's coming for them. Clearly both accounts speak of Jesus return for His disciples when He will "receive" us to Himself – "gather together" His elect.

Jesus warned His disciples to not be deceived about His coming (Matt. 24:4). Paul warned the Thessalonian believers to not be deceived about Jesus' return (2 Thess. 2:3). Let us take these warnings to heart and base our beliefs on the solid Word of God, rather than on the teachings of men.

END NOTES
[i] Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 209.
[ii] John F. Walvoord, "Christ's Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age - Part I," Bibliotheca Sacra 128/#510 (April 1971), p. 116.
[iii] Russell L. Penney, "Why the Church is Not Referenced in the Olivet Discourse," The Conservative Theological Journal 1, No. 1 (1997).

 

This article was originally published through eParousia, Sola Scriptura's monthly end-times e-newsletter.

HOME | MAGAZINE | RADIO | ARTICLES | PRODUCTS | VAN KAMPEN COLLECTION
EVENTS | ABOUT | LINKS | DOWNLOADS | SEARCH

Sola Scriptura P.O. Box 617677 Orlando, FL 32861-7677 (800) 844-9930
info@solagroup.orgwww.solagroup.org

This site and the entirety of its contents © Sola Scriptura