Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

14) The Olivet Prophecy

Matthew 24

On the face of it the Lord’s Olivet prophecy is in three easily separable sections: (a) concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 — this in response to the question: “When shall these things be,” when not one stone of the temple is to be left upon another? (b) the Last Days, the time of the Lord’s return—in answer to the question: What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (c) exhortation to preparedness, and warning regarding the day of judgement.

Such an analysis of Christ’s discourse actually over-simplifies it. There is fair reason for believing that the A.D. 70 section of the prophecy will also find another fulfilment in the Last Days. In other words, the brethren of the first century saw the fulfilment of the first part of this prophecy in their day, and were able to profit from the knowledge of it; the brethren of the twentieth century will see the entire prophecy fulfilled from start to finish.

Even apart from the Bible evidence, which is available, pointing to such a conclusion, this may be deemed reasonably possible or even probable, because this is the character of such a big proportion of Bible prophecy. The idea is familiar, to the point of obviousness, that the prophets were inspired to utter words which mostly had some kind of fulfilment in their own time or soon after, but which were also prophecies of the consummation of the age. Psalms written by David about his own experiences were also Psalms about the Messiah (Acts 2:30, 31). Isaiah based many of his prophecies on the suffering and glory of good king Hezekiah, but these were also prophecies of Messiah (John 12: 41). So it would be strange indeed if the greatest prophecy of the greatest prophet of all time did not have a similar double application.


Here, then, are six more reasons educed from the text itself why the first section of the Lord’s Olivet prophecy should be re-studied with reference to the Last Days:

  1. “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes” (Matthew 24: 17, 18). In Luke 17: 31 Jesus had already used almost identical words concerning “the days of the Son of man.” If this fact stood by itself there might be some (though not much) justification for the assumption that the Lord used the same language because there was the same urgency about the occasions. Those who have really absorbed the spirit of Bible prophecy will know how inadequate such a view is. But in any case there are corroborative reasons.
  2. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew. 24: 21). Yet the Old Testament prophets had already made the same portentous declaration over and over again regarding the Last Days! One recalls Daniel’s “time of trouble such as never was” (Daniel 12: 1) and the extreme emphasis of the words of Joel: “there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (2: 2). Either the words do not mean what they say, or they are to be reconciled by being applied to the same occasion.
  3. It is in this section of the prophecy also that the words come: “But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (24: 13). There is more innate difficulty in this saying than has generally been conceded. If “the end” is A.D. 70, was Jesus saying: He who keeps the faith till the temple is destroyed shall be saved? Or did he mean: He who keeps the faith to the end of his life shall be saved? But this is a truism valid for every disciple in every age. Had Jesus said: “He that shall endure in the time of the end (of the Mosaic dispensation), the same shall be saved,” there would have been little difficulty. But he did not say that. On the other hand, reference to the Last Days allows the words to be taken literally, at their face value.[19]
  4. Verse 29 begins: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days ...” This word “immediately,” the meaning of which has been evaded by a variety of tortuous or inaccurate devices (e.g. by suggesting that it does not mean “immediately” but “suddenly”) requires a very close connection between the tribulation Jesus has already foretold and the time of his second coming.
  5. “Then let them which be in Judæa flee to the mountains” (v. 16). This is the experience of Lot over again: “Escape for thy life ... escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19: 17). In Luke 17: 28, 29, 32 Jesus pointed to an emphatic parallel between the Last Days and the deliverance of Lot. So it is hard to believe that here also in his Olivet prophecy he used similar language without intending a similar idea.
  6. “And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24: 14). In the first century these words had their fulfilment in the matchless work of Paul who in humble truth was able to write about “the hope of the gospel ... which was preached to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1: 23). “And then shall the end come”—about a year after Paul was beheaded, the three and a half year’s Jewish War began in Judæa. Yet as the words of Jesus are read and pondered, there is a finality about them that suggests a grander fulfilment. In this twentieth century, in spite of the blameworthy lethargy of God’s elect, the message of the imminent return of Christ goes out from scores of radio stations. Today in a much more universal fashion than was true in Paul’s day the gospel is being preached in all the world, even though it be mixed with error.

The foregoing assembly of Bible arguments will surely predispose any earnest student of prophecy towards re-examining this part of the Lord’s discourse with a view to learning more concerning the time of his coming. The following are some of the details specially worthy of re-consideration.

  1. Verses 9, 10 speak of persecution and bitter hatred of the faithful. At the time of writing there is no sign of this. Would God there were, for the Household of God needs the bracing influence of external adversity to save it from the eroding effects of a soft materialistic civilization and to provide it with new and better opportunities of evangelism. This could well come.
  2. “And then shall many be offended ... and many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24: 10a, 11, 12). The words plainly mean that many will openly renounce the Faith, many others will pervert it, but many (most) will just drift. To the modern mind these seem to be incompatible with what has just been mentioned. Yet Jesus saw no incompatibility.
  3. An “abomination of desolation” is to stand in the holy place (v. 15). This means: an abomination which desolates the holy city, Jerusalem. Such a conclusion is indicated by the parallel in Luke 21: 20: “And when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies ...” Since Jesus adds: “whoso readeth, let him understand,” it is a reasonable inference that the great sign of the imminence of the Lord’s return will be the desolation of Jerusalem, lately freed from nineteen centuries of Gentile domination. In Daniel 12 the prophecy already quoted continues: “And from the time that ... the abomination that maketh desolate is set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days;” whilst in Luke 21 the prophecy already quoted continues: “and Jerusalem shall be trodden down until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” This suggests that “the times of the Gentiles” which Jesus had in mind were not the long centuries of Gentile mastery of the city but the “time, times and a half,” a period of literally three and a half years when the city is laid desolate just before the coming of the Lord.
  4. “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24: 22). There are several impressive examples to be found in Scripture of a divine fore-shortening of evil days. The three days’ pestilence in which David preferred to fall into the hand of God was shortened, by grace, to less than a day—again, for the sake of the elect. David prayed for the people and took the guilt upon himself (2 Samuel 24: 13, 15, 16, 17). The siege of A.D. 70 was shortened, in the mercy of God, to five months precisely (Nebuchadnezzar’s siege lasted the whole of a terrible year). This also was for the elect’s sake: Revelation 9: 5 and 8: 3, 4. Similarly it may well be that the times of the Gentiles which are still future will be shortened through the faith and prayers of the saints who discern the pattern of God’s working and influence it by their intercession as Abraham did in the days of Lot.
Tentative conclusions such as these may be momentous. The possibility of such sensational developments has perhaps not been ventilated and discussed as fully as it might be.

[19] Readers may like to probe further and seek an answer to the question why Jesus chose to include these words here and not in a later section of his discourse where they seem to be so much more appropriate.

Next Next Next