THE TRIBULATION TO COME
CHAPTER 11: THE TRIBULATION IN
THE OLIVET PROPHECY
11-1 The Olivet Prophecy And The Last Days
A fundamental starting
point of all Bible study is that we must not be afraid of the conclusions
to which our Bible research leads us. This is especially true in
the field of prophecy. God's prophetic word has always required faith
to believe it and visualize its fulfilment; it invariably predicts things
which at the time seem almost impossible to conceive of. Think of Noah
proclaiming destruction by flood to a self-satisfied world that had probably
never seen rain. Or of Jeremiah pursing his lips and sticking to his grim
message of doom for Babylon, the great and invincible power of his day.
Brother Thomas nailing his colours to the mast concerning the return of
the Jews was of the same ilk.
It is therefore likely
that interpretations of prophecy which will later be proved correct, may
in the short term appear unlikely in the light of the present world situation.
Our faith in the supremacy of God's inspired word should help us accept
this. And even on a human level, it is worth reflecting that the course
of human history is full of dramatic, unexpected changes. World events
seem to change with increasing rapidity. For example, who would have thought
in 1929 that within the next 15 years the affluent, powerful, respected
Jewry of Europe would be systematically persecuted and coolly exterminated
by their thousands- without a whimper of significant protest from the
Gentiles living in the region?
We may be guilty of
increasingly seeking to interpret prophecy by trying to fit it around
current events, to the exclusion of studying the Scriptures and letting
them alone paint the likely picture of the future. We need to be
prepared to accept that they may prophecy things which the contemporary
world scene would not appear to countenance. Many times our expositors
have had to re-work time periods and prophetic interpretations to show
how they have been fulfilled by world events.
This section suggests
that as natural Israel will be persecuted in the last days, so spiritual
Israel will follow suit. There
is a large amount of Biblical information concerning the latter day tribulation
of the saints, especially in the Olivet prophecy. This prophecy has many
connections with those of Daniel and Revelation, which refer to the same
persecution period. Obviously there is ample room for divergence of opinion
in this area. The following 'persecution thesis' is put forward only in
a spirit of serious suggestion.
The Olivet Prophecy: All About The Last
The disciples (in their
childish way) showed the Lord the greatness of the temple, and he commented
that soon it would be destroyed. They asked the obvious question: When?
Usually, the Lord didn't reply directly to questions; he gave answers
which branched out into something altogether more comprehensive than the
original question (Consider Mt. 13:10,11; 15:2,3; Mk. 10:4,5; Lk. 17:20;
Jn. 3:4,5; 4:9,10; 6:28,29; 8:53,54; 11:8,9; 14:22,23). Nearly every
example of the Lord Jesus answering a question includes this feature.
To the disciples, the destruction of the temple meant the end of the age-
it was a calamity. They assumed that if the temple was destroyed, it must
be replaced immediately by their Jesus coming again with his Messianic
Kingdom. Their minds were still not suitably distanced from their Judaist
background. They asked one question: " When shall these things
(the destruction of the temple) be? and what shall be the sign when all
these things shall be fulfilled?" (Mk. 13:4). Mt. 24:4 can make it
seem that they asked two questions: " When shall these things be?
And what shall be the sign of they coming, and of the end of the world?"
. But the parallel record in Mk. 13:4 makes it clear that actually these
were parts of the same question concerning the temple's destruction. To
the disciples, the coming of Christ, the end of the world and the temple's
destruction were all the same event. The Lord answered their question
by speaking of how there would be the destruction of the temple , but
his real coming and the main ending of this world would be at a future
date. His answer was therefore fundamentally relevant to his second coming,
although built into it was some reference to the destruction of the temple
As he so often does,
the Lord turned round the terms of the question. They thought his "
coming" would be at the temple's destruction, and so they asked for
signs of his " coming" . But Christ shows that this wasn't a
correct view: his real " coming in the clouds of heaven with power
and great glory" (Mt. 24:30) would not be then, but after all the
various signs he described were fulfilled. He was surely saying: 'OK the
temple will be destroyed, and many of the signs I'm giving will have some
application to that period; but the destruction of the temple isn't the
sign of my coming. Note the signs I give you, and watch for their fulfilment:
and then you'll know when to expect my coming'.
It's a tragedy, a real
tragedy, that a school of thought has arisen (based on an expositional
blunder of JohnThomas) which insists that Christ " coming in the
clouds of heaven" refers not to his second coming, but to some mystical,
invisible 'coming' of Christ in AD70. This is a perpetuation of
the disciples' mistaken perspective.
If we insist that the
Olivet prophecy concerns AD70 and not the last days, we must answer
the following points:
- The prophecy is an
answer to the question concerning when Christ would come. The Lord's answer,
especially in Mk. 13, reads as if it is a flowing narrative, leading up
to the crux: " Then...they shall see the Son of man coming
in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send
his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together
his elect from the four winds" (Mt. 24:30,31). No way can this refer
to anything other than the second coming; and the whole prophecy has been
leading up to this.
- The flow of the prophecy
is indicated by the repetition of words like " then" : "
Then shall they deliver you up...then shall many be offended...then
shall the end come...then let them which be in Judea...then
shall be great tribulation...then if any man shall say unto you,
Here is Christ...immediately after the tribulation of those days
(" in those days, after that tribulation" , Mk. 13:24)...then
shall appear the sign of the Son of man...then shall all the tribes
of the earth mourn, and they shall see the son of man coming" (Mt.
24). There is no suggestion here of any break in application, from AD70
to the last days. If the reference to Christ coming in glory with the
Angels is accepted as referring to the last days, but the earlier verses
of the prophecy to AD70 alone, we have to find the point where Christ
breaks from AD70 to the last days. And I would suggest such a point cannot
- Mk. 13 speaks of how
" in those days" those in Judaea should flee to the mountains;
" for in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from
the beginning of creation...neither shall be (referring to Dan. 12:1 concerning
our last days)...except that the Lord had shortened those days...in
those days, after that tribulation...then shall they see the
son of man coming" . Surely " in those days" shouts for
a continuous application to the same " days" - the days of the
second coming. At best, " those days" can have a primary reference
to the events of AD70, but the main fulfilment of the whole prophecy
must be in the last days. This point seems impossible to answer by those
who disallow any reference to the second coming.
- The Olivet prophecy
doesn't finish at the end of Mt. 24; the chapter break with chapter 25
is unfortunate. The context runs straight on. The Lord spoke a number
of parables at the end of the prophecy, which teach us the need for watchfulness
against his coming. Each of them speak of his " coming" and
the state of his ecclesia. They refer back to various parts of the Olivet
prophecy. Without any doubt their main relevance is to the second
coming; whatever minor relevance they may have to AD70, when they speak
of the Lord coming and judging us, they speak of his second coming. They
are a further elaboration on the things of which he had been speaking
in the prophecy: and therefore the prophecy must basically concern his
second coming and the state of the ecclesia at the time of the end.
- Some parts of the
Olivet prophecy had a limited application in the first century (e.g. Mt.
24:14 = 10:18), but this doesn't mean that this is the only fulfilment
of it. It is a feature of prophecy that it often has a short term fulfilment
in order to validate the prophet in the eyes of his own generation. It
would be strange indeed if the Olivet prophecy had only a short
- When these things
begin to come to pass, we can know that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
There’s no way this applies to AD70. It clearly refers to the last days.