The Olivet Discourse can be found in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Whole books and chapters have been written on this complex sermon given by Jesus in Holy Week, so it lies beyond the scope of this post to cover everything that arises from such complex subject matter.

The sermon was triggered by Jesus’ words of judgment against the religious authorities and by his prediction that the Temple would be destroyed.

For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

-Matthew 23:39

And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

-Matthew 24:2

Following these words, His disciples asked Him: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” It can be easy to forget how strange the second part of this question is. At this time, the disciples did not understand the crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension. It is not clear that they realised Jesus would go away into heaven, although there were hints of this this in His earlier teachings. They certainly had received teachings that described Him coming in judgment with His angels (e.g. Matthew 16:27). In the transfiguration, they had glimpsed the glory of the coming Kingdom and the resurrection of the dead. So, their reference to coming, which presupposes going away, may have meant a return to Jerusalem in glory and judgment, but without the crucifixion and a long period of absence. Even after the resurrection, the disciples were hopeful that Jesus would soon restore the Kingdom to Israel. He did not disclose when that event would occur: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7).

The disciples may have thought they asked a simple question: they got a complex answer. Even now scholars debate whether the assault on Jerusalem and the abomination of desolation refer exclusively to the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70 or to a future attack on the city also. I am of the latter view. In any event, the time immediately before the return of Christ is described in frightening terms.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

-Matthew 24:29-30

The “powers of the heavens” bear a literal and spiritual meaning. Literally, they refer to astral bodies, and astrophysics and geology provide evidence to confirm that physical realities could lie behind the poetic language here (e.g. solar flares, meteorites, darkness caused by ash clouds from seismic activity, etc). Spiritually, this phrase could refer to the sons of God. Satan is described as the “Prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and John the Revelator describes Satan being cast out of heaven (Revelation 12), as indeed Jesus Himself saw when His disciples cast demons out of people (Luke 10:18). The powers were conquered at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but it is not clear that their destruction has happened yet. It is possible that the present age is analogous to the time between D-Day and VE Day, with D-Day as the triumph of the cross, and VE day as the Parousia. With the Watchers finally destroyed in judgment as Psalm 82 promises, the world of men will be free of their influence.

Isaiah described the time of God’s wrath at the eschaton as so severe that very few humans would be left on earth: “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir” (Isaiah 13:12). Jesus likened the judgment to the world-destroying flood of Noah’s day (Matthew 24:37), while Peter wrote that God would not use a flood (against which He had made a covenant in Genesis 9:11), but fire at the end of the world (2 Peter 3:10).

Amidst all this stern language lies an important message: evil will continue to rage until its final destruction by God. In this age we all face a choice: join Jesus or stand against Him – there is no middle ground. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, as is His right following the incarnation and crucifixion. Choose Jesus, choose life: by His cross He has made a way to escape the judgment.

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

-2 Corinthians 5:18-20

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

-John 3:36