The Olivet Discourse

The Fall of Jerusalem, The End Times, and the Problem of the Abomination of Desolation

Adam Davis

Understanding the Olivet Discourse can be very challenging. I used to firmly hold the Preterist position, which argues that most of Jesus' eschatological teachings in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21 occurred in 70 A.D. during the fall of Jerusalem. But I have found that the Preterist view falls short of resolving key interpretive issues in the text about the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem and Jesus' second coming.

One issue I repeatedly encountered with the Preterist position is what Jesus says about the "Coming of the Son of Man." Scripture says this event follows what many theologians refer to as the Great Tribulation [1], and this distinct tribulation period is triggered by the Abomination of Desolation. Matthew 24:29-31 seems to clearly say that Jesus will return after the Great Tribulation. His return at this time would be unmistakable, given meteorological signs mentioned in the text that precede the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29). The sequence we are given in Matthew is that there will be the sign(s) of His coming, and then He will visibly come on the clouds. I cannot find any room for a time gap between the Abomination of Desolation and the Coming of the Son of Man, since Matthew 24:29 says, "Immediately after the Tribulation…" (emphasis mine). Therefore, it seems that we are left with a conundrum. On one hand, much of Jesus' prophesy in the Olivet Discourse seems fulfilled with the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. On the other hand, Jesus has not yet returned.

Some in the Preterist camp try to resolve this tension by rendering the "Coming of the Son of Man" as God's judgment on Israel/Jerusalem. But this seems very implausible given a plain reading of Matthew 24:30. This verse mentions seeing both signs and the Son of Man Himself. The Preterist view would make more sense if the text only said "sign," but it does not. Thus, we are not left with much reason to think that Jesus is merely talking about God's judgment via the conquering Roman army when He refers to the Coming of the Son of Man.

One way to resolve the chronological difficulty discussed above is to carefully compare Matthew 24 and Luke 21, keeping in mind both the text and context. First, the passages in Luke do not mention "Abomination of Desolation"; they refer only to the desolation of Jerusalem. And the desolation discussed in Luke does not cite Daniel's prophesy, nor does it refer to the holy place (temple). Further the text in Luke 21:20-24 is unique to his gospel. There is no parallel in Matthew or Mark. These factors provide solid evidence that Jesus is talking about two different events in the totality of the Olivet Discourse; one is the destruction of the temple and the other is the Abomination of Desolation. We then have two different "sign" events. One is the gathering of armies, which we can conclude as occurring at the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The other sign event will be the Abomination of Desolation yet to occur.
Does the Olivet Discourse speak of one event or two? Scripture is true – our interpretations may not be. tweet
But what about Jesus' instruction to flee? The orders to take flight in Matthew and Luke seem very similar, and perhaps we should not multiply events requiring flight from the city when just one event will suffice. However, I do not think the text mandates only one event to flee. It does not seem like there is any good way to insert Luke 21:20-24 between Matthew 24:14 and 24:15. And there is nothing prima facie implausible for fleeing at each sign event. The specific reasons why Jesus orders flight from the city are not stated in the passages, save for the implication of personal safety. Yet there could be other reasons for the flight, such as evangelism. We should further note there is no substantive evidence that the Romans committed the Abomination of Desolation per Daniel 9:27 during the Siege of Jerusalem.

In the final analysis, I think the best way to resolve some of the chronological tension in the Olivet Discourse concerning the Coming of the Son of Man is to understand Jesus as speaking about two different sign events, one fulfilled in 70 A.D. and an event yet to come.

Much more could be said on the relevant aspects of this topic. Eschatology is a difficult subject, and some of the issues can be divisive among Christians. We must always approach this subject with charity and humility, knowing that the Bible cannot err, but our interpretation of it can.

1. Norman Geisler; Systematic Theology: In One Volume; Bethany House; Bloomington, MN; 2011); 1213-1496.

Image Credit: Brandon Morgan; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | End-Times  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 7-20-17