11-2 Does The Olivet Prophecy Have
A Break In Fulfillment?
Some have tried to impose
a break in the Olivet prophecy between Lk.21:24 and v.25, saying that
only after v.24 the prophecy applies to the last days. The following problems
have to be tackled if this is done:
- Mt. 24:14 is located
in the first half of Lk. 21 (i.e. before v.24, in the so-called AD70 section):
" this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for
a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" .
The first century fulfillment of this was only typical of the major, latter
day fulfillment. " The end" can hardly refer to AD70!
- The 'gap' between
Lk. 21:24 and 25 is matched by Mk. 13:24: " But in those days, after
that tribulation" - there is no room here for a gap of 1900 years!
The prophecy flows straight on!
- v.24 is quoting Zech.12:3
(LXX) concerning the last days.
- In what sense were
" the times of the Gentiles" fulfilled in 1967? Plenty of Gentiles,
especially in the developing world, are still being baptized.
- The signs of v.9-11
are obviously being fulfilled now and will be to an increasing extent,
given the irreversibly worsening world situation.
- V.22 " These
be the days of vengeance that all things that are written may be fulfilled"
- language of the last days. " All things" were not fulfilled
- V.25,26 were fulfilled
prior to AD70, not just in the last days. The description of Heaven and
earth passing away is highly applicable to the ending of the Jewish heavens
and earth in AD70; 2 Peter 3 uses similar language about this.
- The suggested break
in fulfillment between AD70 and the last days runs into particular difficulty
at Mk.13:24: " In those days (of v.6-23, which some limit to AD70
alone), after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened..." - i.e.
the tribulation of the first part of the prophecy is in the " days"
of the second part of it. Thus the entire prophecy must have reference
to both AD70 and the last days.
So it appears that we
have to face the uncanny conclusion: if the whole of the Olivet prophecy
applies to the last days, then the verses about persecution of the saints
must also come true. For many readers approaching the Olivet prophecy
seriously for the first time, what has been laboured at such length above
may seem painfully obvious. It will seem strange to them that some argue
so strongly and even aggressively that the Olivet prophecy has no relevance
to our days. I have often wondered why there has to be such enthusiasm
to disprove this relevance. Is it not something to do with the fact that
deep down, far beyond our conscious thought processes, we just can't brook
the idea that we could be in for a persecution which will shake our little
cosy world inside out?
We need to examine more
carefully how we have used the Olivet prophecy in our preaching to the
world. For ease of reference we will stick mainly with Luke 21. As with
many Bible prophecies, this had an initial fulfillment in AD70 as well
as a latter day one. The clarity of its reference to the last days before
Christ's return is frequently hammered home by Christian preachers. Time
and again we put the graphs on the Powerpoint, show the ghastly slides
from Oxfam- and then read Luke 21:9-11: " Wars and commotions...nation
shall rise against nation...great earthquakes, famines and pestilences...fearful
sights and great signs" . And yes, we make a convincing case. The
lecturer then does a dramatic Biblical leap-frog to v.24: " Jerusalem
shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles
be fulfilled" - cue to talk about the present position of Israel.
Next, v.25,26: " Distress of nations with perplexity, men's hearts
failing them for fear" - plenty to talk about there. " And then
shall they see the Son of man coming" (v.27)- the real crunch
point of the lecture.
Now there is nothing
wrong with interpreting Luke 21 this way. Only someone blind to reason
could deny that there is a marked correspondence between this chapter
and the present world condition. Indeed, what we are now seeing is but
a prelude to the real time of trouble and persecution: " Wars...famines...pestilences
and earthquakes...all these are the beginning of (the) birth pangs"
. These labour pains will result in the glorious birth of the Spirit into
the Kingdom (Mt.24:6-8). But we must not overlook Lk.21:12-23, which are
all about the persecution of God's people " before all these (things)"
, v.12. It seems that the real time of world crisis will only be seen
after a period of active persecution, and we are therefore only experiencing
a very small fulfillment of these prophecies now. In the same way, we
quote Ezekiel's prophecies regarding the fruitfulness of Israel and the
return of Israel in the Kingdom as having some fulfillment now, in the
present re-establishment of the Jewish state.
The greatest signs
The watchful student
will note that the persecution of God's people spoken of in Lk. 21 is
hard to slot in as coming before the earthquakes and famines in the parallel
records of Mark 13 and Matthew 24. A glance at Strong's concordance will
reveal that the Greek for " before" can also mean 'more importantly
than'. Now this fits the lock even better. Jesus is saying 'The greatest
indication that I will soon be back is when " they shall lay their
hands on you and persecute you" - a far more important and obvious
sign to you who suffer it than earthquakes, famines etc...'. So if there
is no period of persecution, will there be a second coming? Notice that
in v.12-20 Jesus is not talking to the natural Jews but to the believers.
They were to be delivered up to the synagogues (i.e. Jewish powers), and
the descriptions of being given the right word to speak in courts, and
being betrayed and put to death, find ample fulfillment in the record
of the early church in Acts. It is at this time that " ye shall see
Jerusalem compassed with armies" (v.20), a situation clearly foretold
in the prophets as occurring before the second coming. It could be that
the latter day witness to Israel that takes place within the land results
in the Jewish synagogues brutally persecuting the preachers (Lk. 21:12).
Orthodox Jewish response to some Christian preaching makes this not hard
" Jerusalem shall
be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled"
(v.24) is a direct quote from the Septuagint of Zech.12:3. This is a prophecy
of the latter day invasion of Jerusalem just prior to Christ's intervention.
This treading down of Jerusalem is probably that predicted in Zech.14:1,2
also. " The times of the Gentiles" connects with the 42 months
downtreading of Jerusalem in Rev.11:2, thus suggesting a 3.5 year period
of Gentile domination of Jerusalem in the last days- and an identical
period of persecution of the saints?
We have tended to think
that wars, famines, plagues etc. are the clearest signs of the second
coming. Yet this view of the Olivet prophecy fails to appreciate
the context. The preceding Lk. 20 and Mt. 23 concern the weaknesses of
the ecclesia of Israel at the Lord's time. The parables which follow directly
on from the Olivet prophecy are all concerning the state of the
ecclesia at the time of the Lord's coming. The prophecy itself
has the state of the ecclesia as its main focus. Again, notice
how the Lord turned the disciples' question round. They were so
worried about when the temple would be destroyed. He gave them some relevant
signs, but basically said: 'Don't worry so much about the physical temple.
Watch for the well being of the ecclesia, the spiritual temple. Weep not
for the temple, but for yourselves. Don't get too caught up with the feeling
that the world / age has come to an end when the temple's destroyed; look
instead for the day of my coming'.
Thus the persecution
of God's people was spoken of by the Lord as being one of the clearest
signs. And he also emphasized that apostacy within the ecclesia would
be the other major sign. When they asked him for the signs, Mk. 13:5 says
that Jesus began by warning them of deception from false teachers.
The way the NT writers allude to this passage indicates that they saw
this deception as not coming from the crazy bogus-Messiahs of the world,
but from false teachers within the ecclesia, sometimes supported
by apparent possession of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:6; 2 Thess. 2:3; Tit.
1:10; 2 Jn. 7). A state of total ecclesial apostacy was the sign which
Jesus began with, according to Mk. 13:5.
The reader who pays
attention to detail will note a significant use of pronouns in the Olivet
prophecy: " ye" seems to refer to the faithful minority, who
would (e.g.) understand, be persecuted, perish, lift up their heads, and
finally endure to the end. " The many" (Gk. the majority) in
the ecclesia would fall away. No fewer than four times does the Lord stress
that " the majority" would be deceived by false prophets, be
offended, and have their love wax cold (Mt. 24:5,10,11,12). Probably he
connected this, at least in his own mind, with his earlier statement that
" the many" would be called to his truth, but not chosen
(Mt. 22:14). This difference between " the many / majority"
in the ecclesia and the minority of suffering faithful is a theme in the
parables which are an appendix to the Olivet prophecy.