26 January 2019

The Olivet Discourse (Part 1) – Confrontation in the Temple

Jesus Teaches
The “Olivet Discourse” is a part of the larger story of Christ’s final week in Jerusalem and his conflict with the Temple authorities, which help set the stage for his crucifixion (Matthew 24:1-25:46, Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-38 [Psalm 2: “The rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ”]).
     The Discourse begins with a prediction by Jesus of the impending destruction of the Temple. This came immediately after Christ’s final denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, and his departure for the last time from the Temple (Matthew 23:34-39; 24:1-3; Mark 13:1-4).

      Several terms in his denunciation of Israel’s religious leaders become links to his subsequent discourse on the Mount of Olives (e.g., “this generation,” “desolate”). Similarly, verbal allusions to clauses from Daniel 9:24-29 prepare the reader for Christ’s reference to the “abomination that desolates” in the Discourse Matthew 24:15. (Matthew 23:32-39; 24:15).
      Mark’s gospel begins with a citation from Isaiah, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:2-3; Isaiah 40:3-4).
      The “ministry” of Jesus is the story of God’s Messiah on “the way” from Galilee to Jerusalem where he meets inevitable death from a conspiracy against him by the priestly Temple authorities. Christ’s final confrontation with Israel’s leaders is centered in the Temple. Members from the major Jewish sects and political parties conspired to betray their Messiah to the Romans for execution, just as the Hebrew Bible foretold (Psalm 2:1-2; Acts 4:25-27).
Christ’s ministry began only after John the Baptist was himself betrayed into the hands of Herod. Jesus then appeared in Galilee to proclaim the gospel (Mark 1:14). John’s arrest set the stage: Christ’s ministry would be characterized by opposition; from start to finish priests, scribes, Herodians, Sadducees and Pharisees resisted him (Mark 2:6; 2:15-17; 2:23; 3:1-6; Mark 3:22; 7:1-24).
     This opposition peaked with Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem before the Passover celebration. Matthew’s account is the most complete; in it the final confrontation begins with Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and his teaching activities in the Temple. The crowd’s enthusiastic reception annoyed Temple authorities, and the “chief priests and scribes” took great offense when he overturned the tables of money-changers (Matthew 21:1-17).
      As he was returning to the city the next morning, Jesus hungered and approached a fig tree. Finding only leaves but no “fruit,” he cursed and withered the tree. This was an enacted parable, a picture of the fruitlessness of the Temple and the consequent judgment on it (Matthew 21:18-22. cp. Mark 11:12-19).
       When he returned to the temple the “chief priests and scribes” confronted him about the previous day’s activities. By what authority did he presume to act within their domain? Jesus responded by exposing their duplicity. They had refused the preaching of John the Baptist, unlike Jews far less scrupulous about ritual purity. Therefore “tax-collectors and whores are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:15-32).
       Christ next gave a parable about a landowner who leased out his vineyard to others. They coveted it for themselves and so conspired to abuse the landowner’s servants and to kill his son when he came to collect his father’s “fruit.” Likewise, the temple authorities conspired to kill God’s Messiah; “let us kill him and take his inheritance!” But the chief priests and elders inevitably would learn that the “stone which the builders rejected was made the head of the corner… I declare to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits.” The “chief priests and Pharisees” perceived correctly that they were the targets of Christ’s words. Enraged, they intended to arrest him but feared the crowd (Matthew 21:33-46).
      The Pharisees next took their shot, along with their political rivals, the Herodians, (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”). This mismatched pair proceeded to “take counsel how they might ensnare him in his words,” they “took counsel” is remarkably similar to the Septuagint rendering of Psalm 2:2, “the rulers took counsel against the Lord and against his Christ.” Jesus outfoxed his opponents by using the very coin by which they intended to trap him. Dumbfounded, they could only walk away (Matthew 22:15-22).
      Next, the Sadducees challenged him about bodily resurrection, a belief they denied. This group looked to the five books of Moses for scriptural authority and rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees. While Jesus also rejected that oral tradition, he used a passage from the Torah to demonstrate that the Sadducees understood neither the scriptures nor the power of God. His exegesis left the multitude “astonished” at his teaching (Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-39).
      As the Sadducees slinked off, the Pharisees made one last attempt. They sent one of their lawyers to ask Jesus, what is the greatest commandment in the Torah? He responded swiftly, “to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” To this, the Pharisees could only assent. But Christ took his turn and posed a question in response. If the Messiah is the son of David, how then could David call him “Lord”? No one could answer so from then on “no one dared ask him anymore questions” (Matthew 22:34-46).
      Matthew next gives a detailed account of Christ’s denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees. This chapter continues the narrative about Christ’s last week in Jerusalem; he is still in the Temple as he begins to speak.
      Since his opponents could no longer “ask him anymore questions,” he proceeded to pronounce judgment on the scribes and Pharisees, a series of woes to list his indictments of them. They culminated in a judicial pronouncement against the Temple, Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-39). In this denunciation key terms were used that surfaced again in the Olivet Discourse (e.g., “this generation,” “these things,” “desolate”). Chief among their sins were hypocrisy and a history of violently rejecting Yahweh’s messengers.
      The scribes and Pharisees “sit on Moses’ seat and love the chief seats in the synagogues,” yet they employ their traditions to create loopholes in the Law. “You blind guides that say, Whoever swears by the temple it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated(23:1-22). Outwardly the Pharisees appear righteous and law-abiding, but “within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” their religious attitudes and practices rendered them ritually unclean.
      The scribes and Pharisees adorned the tombs of the prophets, claiming that if they had been around in the “days of our fathers” they would not have slain them. But this very claim demonstrated their descent from the men who did murder them.
      Jesus, therefore, commanded the religious leaders of Israel; “Fill up then the measure of your fathers” (Matthew 23:32), a clause that alluded to Daniel 9:24, “seventy weeks have been divided concerning your people and concerning your holy city, to consummate transgression and to sum up sin” (Daniel 9:24). In their plot to murder Yahweh’s designated Messiah, the sins of the nation reached their zenith; judgment was inevitable (cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16; Matthew 21:33-43; John 15:22-27; Acts 2:22-23; 3:13-15; 7:51-53; 4:25-28).
      The time had come, iniquity had run its full course, therefore “all righteous blood poured out upon the earth, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah, son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar, all these things, will come upon this generation…Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:27-38).
     “These things” (tauta) becomes a term used multiple times in the Olivet Discourse to summarize future events, in particular, prophetic events linked to the Temple’s destruction (Matthew 24:2-3; 24:6; 24:33-37). Similarly, “this generation” is a chronological key; all “these things” would come to pass before “this generation” reached its end. Furthermore, “this generation” was previously used to refer to the generation contemporary with Jesus that rejected him (Matthew 12:34; 12:39-45; 16:4; 17:17).
     The reference to a “house left desolate (erémos)” is another allusion to Daniel 9:24-27, “he will confirm a covenant to the many for one week, but in the middle of the week will cause sacrifice and offering to cease, and in his stead shall be the abomination that desolates (erémōseōn), even until a full end and that a decreed one, shall be poured out on him that desolates (erémōsis)” (Septuagint).
      The Greek term erémōsis does not mean “destruction” but “desertion, abandonment.” In Daniel the “abomination” or “trespass” that desecrated the Sanctuary caused the presence of Yahweh to abandon it (Daniel 8:13; 9:26-27; 11:31; 12:11).
      The “desolation” of Israel was promised by the Torah if the nation broke its covenant. Yahweh would accordingly “desolate” its high ways (26:22), bring its sanctuaries and land into “desolation” (26:31-32), let the land lie “desolate” and enjoy its “Sabbaths” (26:34-35), and all because “they despised my judgments and abhorred my statutes.”

      Jesus completed his dirge with a declaration: “For I am declaring to you, you will certainly not see me from this time until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39). Up that moment Jesus had revealed himself to Israel in his teachings and miracles. However, once he left the Temple for the last time that generation of Israel would not see him again unless they recognized their Messiah.

      The warning is addressed to Christ’s contemporaries, that is, “to you,” which in the Greek clause is plural and emphatic. Though by association, this may have included future generations, the words were addressed to “that generation” contemporary with Christ; “to you.” The context of Matthew chapter 23 reminds us that Jesus first addressed the “multitude and his disciples,” then the “scribes and Pharisees.” His criticisms were aimed at the latter group. The former were exhorted to heed the teachings of the latter but not their deeds (23:1-12).
      Jesus gave faithful witness before the nation of Israel and its leaders, including priests, scribes, lawyers, Herodians, and Pharisees. But from the moment he abandoned the Temple members of the nation would not see their Messiah until like the multitude that greeted him on his arrival in Jerusalem, they also recognized him as Lord and Messiah (Matthew 21:15). 
      Christ’s confrontation with the religious authorities culminated in his departure from the Temple and the announcement of its doom (Matthew 24:1-3). “Do you see these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.”
      The chapter begins with “Jesus, having departed, going away from the temple.” Jesus is the Son of God, the designated Messiah and Lord of Israel. His final departure signified the abandonment of the temple by Yahweh’s presence. It would henceforth be “desolate.”
      In reaction, the disciples attempted to bring his attention back to the Temple, its great buildings, beautiful facades, and enormous stones. The idea of Yahweh abandoning His temple and destroying it was unthinkable. It was the very heart of Israel’s faith, the center of Jewish belief and practice. The religious rites of Israel’s faith were dependent on the Temple; it was the only place on earth where sacrifices could be offered to Yahweh and therefore atonement for sin achieved.
      Jesus responded to their appeal; “do you see these things,” using the Greek demonstrative pronoun tauta already seen in Matthew 23:36 (“all these things shall come upon this generation”). The only antecedent in the context for this pronoun is the Temple standing in Christ’s day, the same one upon which he pronounced utter destruction. It cannot refer to another Temple in a distant future.
      The disciples responded with two questions; first, “when will these things (tauta) be?” Second, “what will be the sign of your arrival and of [the] consummation of the age?” It appears they linked both events; the demise of the Temple could only mean the end of the present age, or so they thought. Jesus responded and corrected their understanding.
      The first question included the demonstrative, tauta, “when will these things be?” That is, the destruction of the Temple. The second question concerned the “sign” (sémeion) of the Son’s “arrival” and “the conclusion of the age.”

The disciples’ questions set the stage for the Discourse that follows. Its contents are directly related to the literary context; the confrontations between Jesus and the religious authorities, his departure from the Temple and the disciples’ questions. What led to his predictions about the Temple's demise was opposition and rejection by the religious authorities of Israel.
      As we will see, the Olivet Discourse includes thematic and verbal links to the concluding acts of the gospel narrative; Christ’s arrest, trial, death, and resurrection.
      The geographical range of the Olivet Discourse alternates between the local and universal depending on what event is in view: the destruction of the Temple or the coming of Jesus. Events that lead up to the Temple’s destruction are regional; the ones that culminate in the arrival of the Son of Man in glory are universal in scope.
      Two basic questions are addressed in the Discourse: when will the Temple be destroyed, and what will be the sign of the Son of Man’s arrival at the end of the age. The geographical scope of each prediction is dictated by which question is addressed.
      Jesus warned his disciples they would be “delivered up to councils, and in synagogues flogged.” The Greek term rendered “councils” is Sanhedrin and refers to local Jewish councils with the authority to rule on matters of Jewish law. Such councils had no legal standing with Roman officials or authority over non-Jewish populations (e.g., Acts 4:15; 5:21-41; 6:12-15; 22:30; 23:1-6).

      “Synagogue” refers to buildings where Jews gathered for prayer. The book of Acts provides examples of conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews that occurred in synagogues (6:9; 9:1-2).“Flogged” refers to the Jewish punishment of forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:2-3), something to which Paul was subjected several times by synagogue leaders (2 Corinthians 11:24).
      “Standing before leaders and kings” is generic and may refer to Jewish or Gentile political leaders, or to both (e.g., Mark 13:9). The book of Acts also gives examples of Christians examined before Gentile rulers (e.g., 25:13).
      Jesus warned of a coming “abomination of desolation.” When this thing appeared disciples “in Judea” must flee, which locates it in Judea. Disciples resident in and near Jerusalem must flee to the mountains, not disciples in Rome, Alexandria or other parts of the Empire. The gospel of Luke is more specific. “When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, know that her desolation has drawn near. Then they who are in Judea, let them flee into the mountains” (21:20-21).
      “Desolation” translates the same Greek term used for the “abomination of desolation” or erémōsis (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20). It occurs only in these three passages in the Greek New Testament and only for this event. The same Greek term is used by the Septuagint for the “abomination that desolates” in Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11. This desolation would occur when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies. Then Christians must escape from Jerusalem. The impact of this event is local, not global.

     Disciples must pray so their flight is not in winter during the rainy season in Palestine. Winter storms often turned dry gullies into raging rivers, making flight difficult. Flight from the city was also problematic on the Sabbath when travel was restrictions were imposed and Jerusalem’s gates customarily closed until sundown. Again, escape would prove very difficult.

      This catastrophe would strike at a time of “great distress upon the land and wrath against this people” (Luke 21:22-23). “Land” refers to the region or land of Judea (21:21-24), not the entire earth. “People” translates laos, a term applied in scripture to the “people” of Israel in distinction from other “nations” (e.g., Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 2:4; Acts 10:2; 15:14; Romans 9:25-26). Luke further qualifies this by adding the demonstrative pronoun or “this people,” which parallels Christ’s reference to “this generation” (Matthew 23:34-39; 24:34).
      The people of Judea would “fall by the edge of the sword and be carried away captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). All this transpired in Judea in 70 AD.
     The reference to a period of captivity indicates a period of some duration between the destruction of Jerusalem and the arrival of Jesus in power and glory.
      Jesus referred to a period “after” the tribulation when “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her brightness.” This pictures universal and even cosmic events rather than regional ones (Mark 13:15-27). The local and universal events may be related but are separated by a period of time, however long. The events detailed in verses 5-23 are localized in the land of Palestine, those in verses 24-25 are universal in scope and include cosmic upheaval.
      Jesus predicted cosmic upheaval when “they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” “They” refers to “all the tribes of the earth who mourn” when he arrives (Matthew 24:30). “Tribes” or phulé are different ethnic groups or nations. Since “all” are impacted, the events involve an area vastly larger than Palestine.
      When these cosmic events occur the angels of heaven then “gather together the elect out of the four winds, from utmost bound of earth unto utmost bound of heaven.” The range is again universal, global (Mark 13:27).
      Events detailed in Mark 13:5-23 culminated in Jerusalem with the arrival of the “abomination of desolation” and a time of unparalleled affliction. However, it was followed by a period of some duration; the “abomination of desolation” does not result immediately in the arrival of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
      In contrast, the passage in Mark 13:24-27 culminates with the arrival of Jesus in glory or ALL to see. There is no instruction to flee when he arrives; doing so would be pointless. His arrival causes terrestrial and celestial upheaval, leaving nowhere to which one can flee to escape what is coming. The Son of Man will send his angels to gather his “elect” from all corners of the globe. “All the tribes of the earth” mourn because there is no escape; it is too late for the unprepared (cp. Revelation 6:12-17).
      The Olivet Discourse describes two sets of events that occur in different geographical settings. The first set occurs in Palestine and affects Judea and Jerusalem. The second set culminates in cosmic upheaval and its impact is universal. The two may be related but are separated by a period of time, however long.
      When he predicted the destruction of Herod’s Temple the disciples asked Jesus: “When will these things be?” Their question referred to the Temple standing in their day. They next asked, “What will be the sign of your arrival and the conclusion of the age?” The first question concerned events localized in Palestine, the second is about ones far more universal in scope.

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