Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

175. The Olivet Prophecy [3] (Matt. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23)*

In the two preceding studies, so many indications have been found suggesting a fulfilment of the whole of this prophecy in the last Jays that it may be worth while to review briefly Ike relevance of a number of the details which have commonly been assumed to have only an A.D.70 fulfilment.

One question which is not easy to resolve is the scope of the fulfilment to be looked for in the present era. There can be little doubt that in its primary reference the prophecy is about events in the Holy Land. Then to what extent is the interpreter justified in generalising any later application to world-wide conditions?

Clearly, this is right regarding such details as "the gospel of the kingdom preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations." And the fact has to be faced that even though the efforts of those most blessed with Bible Truth are relatively meagre (and not just because of fewness of numbers and smallness of resources), the main aspects of the gospel are going out far and wide through the efforts of Bible Societies and other organizations, especially through the medium of broadcasting.

The modern media also seem to match the Lord's warning: "When ye hear of wars and rumours (literally: reportings) of wars, see that ye be not troubled." The efficiency of the newsmen today conspires with modern violence ond lawlessness to make such an exhortation as this, highly necessary everywhere.

Some have also fastened on the Lord's prophecy of persecution (Mt.24:9,10) as ground for a frightening expectation that in the last days the Lord's faithful remnant will be put to the test perhaps more ruthlessly than any preceding generation of disciples. Such a conclusion has become almost popular! How true is it?

So far as can be seen this interpretation rests on the two verses referred to and a very idiosyncratic interpretation of a couple of passages in Apocaiypse. is this an adequate foundation for a dogmatic conclusion?

Since the Olivet prophecy, in its primary fulfillment, clearly has specific reference to the Holy Land, isn’t it fairly likely that he same restriction will hold good for the more important application yet to come? And if, as plenty of Scriptures indicate (“The Time of the End” ch.2), there is to be a faithful remnant in Israel in the last days (and signs of their emergence are already traceable), then is it not likely that the persecution foretold will be directed specially against such?—and maybe by their Jewish brethren!

Christ's word: "the beginning of travail" has special fitness. The rabbis had a phrase: "the birth-pangs of the Messiah," to describe the troubled prelude to the Messianic kingdom.

"Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." These words, difficult of application to the era when Roman might imposed Roman peace everywhere, are appropriate enough to the twentieth century, and specially to the Holy Land and the surrounding countries. The last forty years have seen wars enough in that area, and obviously there are more to come.

"Earthquakes, famines, and pestilences" have been known in every era, but never in any age has there been such a massive world-wide combination of these evils as in recent times. Yet it may be that the real fulfilment is yet to be looked for in and around Israel. The "time of trouble such as never was" is still to come (Am.8:8; Zech.l4:4; Is.2:21).

Of special importance here is the warning against a collapse of faith because of the difficulties of the times—many becoming offended, many false teachers leading disciples astray, the love of "the majority" growing cold. The New Israel is to endure much discouragment before it comes to rejoice in the vision of Heavenly Glory. It may be surmised that one trial of faith especially will do a great amount of damage in days to come—so many have been encouraged to hold strongly dogmatic convictions about the sequence of events in the last days (and have even been taught to regard such interpretations as an essential element of the True Faith!), that when events turn out very differently, as they well might, the collapse of faith could be both dramatic and tragic.

It has already been shown (in Study 174) that there is ample evidence in the text for believing that the “abomination of desolation” passage (24:15-22) about the siege of Jerusalem should be read with reference to events yet future. Those who have so ably and devotedly re-built the state of Israel will flee to the mountains, hoping to evade the horrors of invasion. Nevertheless many will suffer the worst horrors of war, and many will be led away captive (Dt.28 :68; ls.19 :18-22; Joel 3 :2ff,19). Will the fugitives in that evil time have to face the rigours of winter? Or may it be that then, as formerly, for the elect's sake there will be an easing of the severities of the "great distress and wrath upon this people"? And for the elect's sake will those days be shortened? The saints in Christ may yet have a mighty work to achieve in their "praying for the peace of Jerusalem." Jerusalem is to be trodden down of the Gentiles once again until the times of the Gentiles ("a time, times, and an half"; Dan.12 :7) have had their literal fulfilment (Zech.U :2; Obad.12,13; Ez: 36 :2; 35 :5).

False teachers

Just as the first century was plagued with false Messiahs and false prophets (Acts 5 :36,37; 8 :10; 21 :38), so also, in a somewhat different sense, the same phenomenon is here in the days before the Lord's return—one false Christ is modern science showing signs and wonders and leading men off into the wilderness; but also, the charismatic leader influencing more by personality, or by false claims to Holy Spirit power, than by the Word of God; the delusions of nationalist or political aspiration; the false teaching that Christ is here already, invisible yet powerful, and has been for a generation. Plenty of them I

"Behold, I have told you before," warned Jesus. And Peter and Paul, seeing clearly the need for renewed admonition, repeated it to their converts (2 Pet.3 :17; 1 Th.5 :1,2).

The Lord became even more explicit. Any claim that his coming has already transpired, in some secret or remote place, is to be given no credence—nor any teaching that it will so happen: "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert (of mount Sinai); go not forth: if they shall say, Behold, he is in the secret chambers (J.W. doctrine); believe it not."

"As the lightning"

As a corrective to such twisted notions Jesus emphasized the true expectation with the most vigorous simile available: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Lightning is always vivid, impressive, startling. More than this, it is always readily recognizable for what it is. Its sudden flash, seen from an enormous distance, is anything but secret or obscure.

But why should the Lord describe it as flashing from east to west? In no country of the world is lightning known to have preference for any particular point of the compass. As might be expected, explanation is supplied by the Old Testament. Jesus was not alluding to commonplace natural lightning, but to the lightning of the Lord.

In the early part of his ministry Ezekiel saw the Chariot of the Cherubim—flashing with fire and lightning (1 :4,14)—leave the temple, cross to the mount of Olives on the east of the city, and so disappear heavenward (10 :19; 11 :22,23), When the new temple was revealed to him, he saw the Glory return to the mount of Olives, and so "by the way of the east" into the sanctuary (43 :2-4). "So shall also the coming of the Son of man be."

This interpretation harmonizes excellently with the repeated declarations that when the Lord returns he comes "in the glory of his Father" (Mt.16 :27), "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (24 :30).

Eagles and carcase

But what did the Lord mean by his strange mini-parable: "For wheresoever the carcase is, there will be the eagles (vultures) be gathered together"? The same words are to be found also in Luke 17 in a somewhat different context. A suggested explanation can only be given serious consideration if it fits the context in both places. Nearly every proposed interpretation falls down in the face of this test.

Thus, reference to Jerusalem and the Roman eagles in A.D.70 is clean out of context in bold places.

Another popular interpretation, that here is a figure of the saints being gathered to Christ at his coming must be discarded on the grounds of sheer unseemliness, for it requires that the brd of Glory be equated with a carcase and his saints with an assembly of voracious vultures,

Again, the carcase is Jerusalem, and the vultures are the invaders of the Land in the last days (Heb.l :8; Jer.4 :13). This is better, but still it does not easily fit the context in Matthew, and not at all in Luke.

There is a better alternative.

Jesus was warning against false prophets teaching error concerning his coming. He then continues: If you (my disciples) show yourselves to be spiritually a carcase (as in Rev.3 :1), you will certainly find yourselves the prey of these "vultures," the false teachers.

So also in Luke 17:

"One shall be taken and the other left." The question: "Where, Lord?" is commonly taken to mean: "Taken where?" in spite of the plain fact that the Greek text does not say "Whither?" (see notes). But the meaning could just as easily be: "Left where?" Grammatically this has more to recommend it. It is also intrinsically more likely, for is not "Taken where?" a needless question, its answer being, fairly obviously: "Taken to meet their Messiah, of course." But, "What shall be the fate of those left behind?" is a natural enough question. And to this Jesus gave answer: 'Those who are spiritually dead will be left to the godless influences where they feel more at home.' (See "The Last Days," chs.11, 12).

Notes: Mt.24:23-28

Believe it not. Gk. aorist implies: Don't give it credence for a moment.
False prophets. Note Dt.13 :3.
I have told you before, as God warned Abraham; Gen. 18 :17.
He is in the secret chambers. Catholics make this claim, regarding "the very Body of Christ" kept in the aumbry in church. Mystics say that he comes to their secret chamber in moments of prayer and contemplation (s.w. Mt.6 :6). Neither of these has the remotest connection with the real Second Coming.
As the lightning. Lightning and thunder are inseparable. So, as might be expected, the seven Thunders of Revelation 10,14 belong to the same time of the Lord's manifestation in glory. Cp. also Ps.29 : "the voice of the Lord."

Shineth. This verb—phaino—always has reference to divine phanerosis; cp. v.30: "appear."

The Son of man occurs 8 times in Mt.24,25, to emphasize not his human weakness but his divine right as Messiah; Dan.7:13.
Wheresoever the carcase is. In. Lk.17 :37 this is in answer to the disciples' question: "Where, Lord?'—not "Whither?", as the question is usually read. It is true that John uses pou in the sense of "Whither," but Luke never.

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