n considering the Mount Olivet prophecy it is useful to first review three foundation truths concerning the prophetic word.
First, prophecy is designed to give a vision of things to come -- to tell about the future. For example, Daniel 2:28-29 declares:
"But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known...what shall be in the latter days....he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass."
The future may be only forty years away (as in the Mount Olivet prophecy) or it can span centuries of time (as is also the case in this prophecy). There can be a short term fulfillment and there may be a long term application.
Two further foundation truths establish the purpose of prophecy. One purpose of prophecy is to develop hope and faith in the life of the believer. This is accomplished as he or she witnesses the fulfillment of the prophecy -- or in reading about the evidence of fulfilled prophecy as verified by history. The importance of such a vision can be seen from Proverbs 29:18.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish....."
When men and women read of prophecies concerning such things as the restoration of God's people -- the Jews -- to their homeland and then read accounts of recent history where this happened, or have actually witnessed it themselves, it provides faith and hope in the truth of God's word.
Another purpose of prophecy is to provide an opportunity to prepare for an event of the future. This is a truly amazing feature of prophecy. It is the express purpose of God that His children be warned in advance of events that He will send upon the earth, so that they have opportunity to respond in a way of life that manifests watchfulness. This is pointed out by Peter:
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed..." (2 Peter 1:19).
In this second epistle Peter goes on to develop his thought. In chapter 3 (verses 1 and 2) he tells believers to be mindful of the words of the holy prophets and of the apostles, for "the day of the Lord will come as a thief" (verse 10). In view of this, and "seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?"
With these foundation truths in mind, let us now consider the Olivet prophecy. Jesus, in his capacity as a prophet, foretold of amazing and catastrophic events that would transpire in the future. First, in the very near future to those who heard him -- namely, only 40 years later, in A.D.70.
Secondly, he foretold of events that would happen twenty centuries later -- the very time period in which we live, events that would herald his second coming.
Our Lord spoke these words to give guidance and encouragement to those who would witness these events, and endure trial, upheavals and wars. By this prophecy they would be strengthened to remain steadfast and faithful throughout these experiences. Also, in order that they might live in watchfulness and preparedness -- that they might preserve their lives in both literal and spiritual terms. Their very salvation was involved!
History verifies that faithful, believing and watching Christians were able to escape the destruction of A.D.70.. This was the result of their having heard, and then responding to, these words of prophecy.
The message is also a powerful one for us as we live out our lives today.
At the time Jesus uttered this prophecy (approximately A.D. 30) there was relative peace in Judea, but he knew that conditions were to change for the worse over the next 40 years and that terrible judgements were to be poured out upon the nation of God's chosen people. There would be great destruction of the the Land, the City, the people and of their beloved place of worship, the great temple.
God's judgements were to be unleashed against a people, who in rebellion, had consistently refused to respond to His glorious offer of salvation, through His Son Jesus of Nazareth. The words of earlier prophecies found in Deut 28, Micah and Joel, as well as our Lord's words -- were soon to become a tragic reality!
But these prophecies gave both warning and opportunity to escape for those who were "wise"enough to listen and respond.
In Luke chapter 21, verses 5 and 6 we see that the prophecy concerned the temple. This was fulfilled in AD 70 when the armies of Rome under Titus, sacked Jerusalem. The very thing which God's people would have never accepted -- that their beloved place of worship would be destroyed -- came to pass! So concerned were the disciples about this prediction regarding the future of the temple that they questioned the Lord about it (see verse 7). One of the key words used in their question is "sign" -- What sign ( or signs) would there be?
A "sign" has to do with events; situations and conditions that come about or exist at a certain time and which have a special significance. So a sign gives a message to those, and those only, who observe and watch these "Signs of the times".
Jesus then, gave signs as he began his reply. He did not give a time or date; he gave his listeners "signs" that would indicate the impending great calamity. These signs would in fact strengthen the faith of the believersand guide them as to what to do.
Let us note some of his predictions.
In verse 8 Jesus said that false Christs and leaders would appear. The disciples were not to respond or follow them and the false teachers came (See for example, Acts 5:36-37; 1 John 2:18).
Jesus then proceeds to warn of wars and commotions (verse 9). There would be political strife. In verse 10 he goes on to point out that upheavals would come. Natural disasters were to come also (verse 11) -- and history reveals that all this came to pass.
There would be a personal aspect also (verse12). Persecutions, trials, imprisonment and even death for some followers of Christ would be experienced "for my name's sake" (see verses 12 and 17).
In all these things we note the purpose and the power in this prophecy for those who heard it. It would give faith, conviction and strength as they witnessed the predictions coming to pass exactly as their Lord had said -- They would call to mind his words and be encouraged!
In verse 9 of Luke 21 the words were recorded: "Be not terrified". Further, they would have help in the form of the Holy Spirit* (verses 14 and 15). He would be with them. In the final analysis salvation would be granted to them; there was a wonderful promise of hope.
In verses 20 and 21 of Luke 21, the prophecy becomes more specific. Words of warning and direct instructions, were to be heeded by Christians as great devastation, destruction and then dispersion would come upon a people who had rejected their God and their Messiah! (verses 22-24).
Just 40 years later this special portion of the Olivet Prophecy came to pass -- just as Jesus said it would -- and we can read all about it in history books such as that written by Josephus who actually witnessed the events himself.
Thus far we have seen the primary fulfillment -- it was a prophecy given concerning God's impending judgements and served as a warning to those who would listen and act.
Now we move on to consider a secondary application of the prophecy that again warns of God's impending judgements on a godless world -- and provides opportunity for the wise to be prepared.
A time span of some 2000 years takes place in verse 24 of Luke chapter 21, and we are brought right into our present time period.
Jerusalem has been trodden down by Gentiles from A.D. 70 right up until very recent times when a dramatic change took place. In 1967 at the end of the Six Day War the Jews regained use of the Wailing Wall (a part of the western retaining wall left since the time of the Herodian temple). Jesus had said, "Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled". This, then, brings us to our time period, 1967.
Jesus continues (verse 25) using symbolic language to describe world conditions that would exist prior to his return at the second advent. Again, he says, "There shall be signs" -- and again they would only be for faithful observers and watchmen. These signs would be "In the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars". This is symbolic language referring to ruling powers and governments of the world.
He continues: "and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity". This word perplexity literally means -- at a loss for a way, no solution -- no way out, at a loss as to how to proceed. A state of hopelessness -- utter confusion -- chaos is thus described. It would be accompanied by "the sea and the waves roaring" -- a commotion and rising up of the masses. This is a reference to peoples and nations of the world in great tumult and upheaval such as we have seen in places like Russia, South Africa, Yugoslavia and so forth.
In verse 26 Jesus proceeds to give more signs and predictions: "Men's hearts failing them for fear" -- world leaders and statesmen, doctors, scientists, environmentalists, law enforcement agencies and people in the streets are concerned, even scared and terrified as they witness their world going out of control. Yet greater fears are coming for Jesus says, "the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (verse 26). Here are events that are to shake up the governments of our world.
It is at such a time as this -- amidst such chaos and catastrophic events that the return of Jesus Christ takes place! (verse 27).
It is while describing these chaotic times that Jesus adds certain words of comfort and hope for those who are prepared (verse 28). He says that it will bring a time of Redemption -- a release from a world in chaos.
The prophecy then continues (verse 29) with a parable that is designed to reinforce what he has just presented with yet another very telling "sign"; "Behold the fig tree." The fig tree represents the nation of Israel. Putting forth leaves represents a coming to life, but no fruit, notice -- that is no spiritual result.
This parable foretells of the revival of national Israel purely on a political basis, there is no faith or fruit of faith! This is an event that is history now, and has been witnessed by our generation. These things have happened in our time period! It was in 1948 that the Jewish nation was established. Here is a sign that Christ's return is very near. Jesus leaves no room for doubt that what he has spoken and predicted by way of prophecy, will surely come to pass. It is guaranteed to happen.
The son of man is coming with power and great glory (verse 27) along with legions of angels, to execute divine judgements upon a world that rebels against its Creator and refuses to respond to his offer of salvation. This judgement will again include the nation of Israel, "the elect" (Matt. 24) -- this is not a reference to the saints as many believe.
Now just as our Lord spoke words of prophetical utterance to his immediate disciples so that they would be warned and given opportunity to prepare for AD 70, so he gives words of warning and the opportunity for preparation to his followers in this our day and age.
Let us take careful notice - very careful notice -- of his words in verses 34 to 36. Here they are:
"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man."
Consider these words carefully:
"Take heed to yourselves" -- watch yourselves; this was spoken to disciples!
"Overcharged," the word means heavily burdened, greatly occupied with something.
"Surfeiting," this is overindulgence and drunkenness -- what we call creature comforts.
"Cares of this life," involvement in things that use up our time, our money and our energy, so much so that there is no time for God! (Compare Matt 24:44-47).
"Unawares," without knowing it, without being prepared; without having paid heed to the signs!
The scenario Jesus portrays here and in Matt 24 is one of a person being so involved in the creature comforts of life, in the pursuits of materialism and in the many pursuits of ordinary daily life, that he or she is oblivious of world events -- of the signs and of their significance. Such are thus unprepared for our Lord's second coming.
"It shall come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth." This is the lot of the worlds' inhabitants. It is their destiny! The Lord's warning and instruction continues -- to us! "Watch ye", we must be observers and watchmennot just of signsbut of our own personal state! Matt. 24:44 adds, "Be ye also ready!" This is an action that we have to take!
We are then told what we have to prepare for: "That ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass" and to be accepted by Jesus Christ!
This Olivet Prophecy is powerful and we should take heed to it as unto a light that shineth in a dark place. It extends to us hope and assurance -- along with warning -- that helps us to prepare at a time when we are witnessing a world in hopeless chaos -- the very sign that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is near!
Where we stand in that day of reckoning will depend upon -- and is directly related to -- what we are doing with our lives now!
"What are you doing with your life?"