The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24

Background: Matthew 23:37 – 24:3


Read & Pray: Matthew 23:37-24:51

The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 form one prophetic-apocalyptic revelation from Jesus about the destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of Christ, and the end of the age.


Literary Analysis

One of the first principles of Biblical interpretation is to identify what kind of literary genre you’re reading.  Sometimes this can be very easy and sometimes it can be very difficult.  But misidentifying genre causes us to misunderstand the intended purpose of the text we’re reading and will produce faulty interpretations.

Jesus’ sermon in the Olivet Discourse is composed of three forms of literary genre:

  1. Prophetic Prediction: reveals signs in real terms
  2. Apocalyptic Revelation: impregnates symbols with deeper meaning
  3. Parabolic Instruction: uses stories to teach morals and given instructions

This is very important to remember for this lesson.

This means that when we’re reading the Olivet Discourse, we should be looking for the following elements:

  1. There are specific signs predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of Christ, and the end of the age
  2. There are symbols that reveal deep spiritual meaning
  3. There are stories that convey vital lessons to those who endure the end times

The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 forms the pattern for all other Biblical eschatology on which the eschatological teachings of Paul, Peter, Jude, and John in the New Testament are built on.


Background of the Temple

Temple was God’s designated place for people to come into his holy presence and is central to the Biblical narrative.

  • Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered access to God’s presence but were separated from him at the fall
  • The temple was established as the meeting place between humanity and God
  • The Church becomes the holy dwelling place of God in the Spirit
  • Humanity is restored to unhindered access to God’s presence in the new heavens and new earth


Human History: Matthew 24:4-14

The events that Jesus is talking about in this pericope compose the course of natural human history that we have experienced from the beginning until now.  Too many interpreters have ignored Jesus’ words in verse six, “but the end is not yet”, and have interpreted these events as “signs of the end” to unsettle Christians.

These events mean that we are not yet at the end.


Deception: v. 4-5

These verses form a literary inclusion that brackets verses 4 through 26 with the urgent warning to be careful about spiritual deception.


Natural and Political Disasters: v. 6-8

As we observe the natural progression of human history with its wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters, we must not let these things unsettle our hearts because we know that these things mean the end has not yet come.


Persecution, Evangelism, and Apostasy: v. 9-14

As we come to the end of natural human history, we will experience three things:

  1. Widespread persecution
  2. The great apostasy
  3. Complete gospel saturation

Severe persecution marked the beginning of the Church age and peaked during the time of Nero.

Therefore, we must consider how we should respond:

Matthew 5:44 (CSB) But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

1st Peter 4:7-19 (CSB) The end of all things is near; therefore, be alert and sober-minded for prayer. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins., 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. 16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 18 And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? 19 So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.

Philippians 1:14 (CSB) Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word, fearlessly.

Severe persecution will also mark the end of the Church age and will peak during the time of the great tribulation.

  • Matthew 24:21
  • Revelation 6:9-11
  • Matthew 24:45-46


Two Signs: Matthew 24:15-41

The disciples asked Jesus three questions (v. 3):

  1. What is the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem? (Answer – 24:15)
  2. What is the sign of the coming of Christ? (Answer – 24:29)
  3. What is the sign of the end of the age? (Answer – 25:31)

Abomination of Desolation: Matthew 24:15

Matthew 24:15 (CSB) “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand)

The expression, “abomination of desolation”, originates from Daniel and occurs four times: 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:1.

Daniel’s prophecy was undeniably fulfilled by the desecration under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C. See 1 Macc 1:54–61), who erected an altar to Zeus over the LORD’s altar for burnt offerings, sacrificed a swine on it, and made the practice of Judaism a capital offense:

Daniel 11:31-35 (ESV) 31 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination of desolation (NASB). 32 He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall firmly resist him (NIV). 33 And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall fall (NASB) by sword or be burned or be captured or plundered (NIV). 34 When they fall (NASB), they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery (and hypocrisy – NASB), 35 and some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.

Jesus uses the fulfilled prophecy of Daniel to create an apocalyptic symbol that expresses the sign of the great tribulation.

The “abomination of desolation” symbolically represents the pinnacle of the anti-Christ’s power as he seduces the world, conquers his enemies, violently persecutes God’s people, and defiles the holy worship of the One True God.

To ensure that we pay careful attention, Matthew adds the clause “let the reader understand” to call for spiritual discernment regarding the abomination of desolation:

  • 1st Peter 4:7
  • Philippians 1:9-11

Therefore, first sign heralding “when the destruction will come” is the abomination of desolation.


Time of the Gentiles Fulfilled: Luke 21:20-24

Luke 21:20, 24 (CSB) “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near. 24 They will be killed by the sword, and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

We need to take note of Luke’s account because it sometimes causes confusion; Luke informs us of a separate prophecy being made about Jerusalem’s destruction.  Jesus does not refer to the abomination of desolation in this prophecy, but refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, Israel’s dispersion, and the time of the gentiles during which Jerusalem will be trampled by other nations until the gospel has saturated the gentile world.

Some interpreters try to merge this account with Matthew’s account of the abomination of desolation, but I believe that is a mistake because these two accounts use different literary genres to describe two separate events; one marks the beginning of the gentile’s time, the other marks the beginning of the great tribulation that will return focus back to Jerusalem.


The Return of Christ: Matthew 24:29

Matthew 24:29 (CSB) “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The second sign that answers their second question, “what will be the sign of your coming”, happens immediately after the events of the first sign are complete.

“Εὐθέως” – means “at once” and modifies the four following propositions:

  1. The sun will be darkened
  2. The moon will not shed its light
  3. The stars will fall from the sky
  4. The powers of the heavens will be shaken

Then we will see the second sign:

Matthew 24:30-31 (CSB) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory..

During the events of the Great Tribulation, false prophets and the anti-Christ will perform many signs and powerful wonders to deceive the world into thinking that the Beast is the true Christ.  But Jesus has told us in advance not to be deceived by anyone on earth claiming to be the Christ:

Matthew 24:27 (CSB) For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

The sign of Christ’s return will be his coming in the clouds with the whole host of heaven:

Revelation 1:5-7 (CSB) To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests, to his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him.  So it is to be. Amen.

Revelation 6:12-17 (CSB) Then I saw him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”

This sign marks the end of the Great Tribulation, which is the wrath of the anti-Christ, and the beginning of the wrath of God that is about to be poured out, which is described in the Book of Revelation.

While Christians must endure the sufferings of the Great Tribulation, we will not experience the wrath of God that will be poured out on earth during the “Day of Christ”.

Matthew 24:31 (CSB) He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

1st Peter 1:13 (CSB) Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.


First Lesson: Matthew 24:42-51

Before Jesus answers the third question about “the sign of the end of the age”, he takes time to give us important instructions to help us prepare us for the first two signs:

Watch for These Signs

Matthew 24:32-33 (CSB) “Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that he is near—at the door.

There have been too many false teachers throughout history that have claimed “the end is coming” before these signs appeared.  They have wreaked havoc on the faith and souls of many undiscerning Christians who did not learn this lesson from the fig tree: we must wait until we see the signs.

Be Ready for The End

Matthew 24:36-37, 44 (CSB) 36 “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone. 37 As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 44 This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Because we do not know the appointed date for these events, we must keep our hearts in a state of personal readiness so that we will be fit to endure these things whenever they come.

Be Faithful to Serve in Your Calling

Matthew 24:45-56 (CSB) “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.

Christians must prepare themselves for the end by being faithful in their calling until his return.

Let the Spirit speak to you as we read these passages to prepare your heart:

  • Romans 5:2-5
  • James 1:2-4, 12
  • 1st Peter 1:13-16
  • 1st Peter 2:21-25
  • 1st Peter 4:1-2, 7, 12-14
  • 2nd Peter 3:10-13


Important Lessons About Endurance

Matthew 24:13 (CSB) But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:45-56 (CSB) “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.

Endurance means that we are not shaken from the calling that we have received in Christ, but are faithful to love one another, to serve the body of Christ, to be holy in our conduct, and to worship our beloved God through the fires of persecution.

This kind of endurance does not happen on its own; you must cultivate the spirit of endurance in your life on a daily basis by preparing your heart with faithfulness.

This is why so many will fall away from the faith at the end, because they did not cultivate a spirit of endurance by faithful daily living in holiness and love.  Are you?


Matthew 25 will present two more lessons for a total of three lessons and then give us the final sign answering the sign of the end of the age:

  1. Patient faithfulness (24:32-51)
  2. Spiritual Alertness (25:1-13)
  3. Personal Diligence (25:14-30)
  4. The sign of the end of the age (25:31-46)

Next week we will finish chapter 25 and then we will enter the final stretch towards the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ our great God and Savior!

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