Geographic Scope

In his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus describes key events that will occur in the future, especially the destruction of the Temple and the “coming of the Son of Man.” In doing so, he provides geographic details related to each event that alternate between the local and the universal, depending on which event he is under discussion.

REGIONAL


First, he describes events that will affect Jerusalem and the surrounding region, NOT the larger Roman Empire or the world in general. For example:

  • (Mark 13:9) – “But take heed to yourselves: they will deliver you up into councils, and in synagogues, you will be flogged, and before governors and kings, you will be set for my sake for a testimony to them.

Here, the Greek word rendered “councils” is sanhedrin, the same term used in the gospel accounts for the ruling council of religious authorities in Jerusalem. But Jesus puts it in the plural - “sanhedrins” – and applies it to local councils held in the towns of Judea.

These councils made judgments and meted out punishment on matters of Jewish religious law, but they had no legal standing with the Roman government or authority over local Gentile populations. The book of Acts provides examples of the persecution of Christians by said councils - (Acts 4:15, 5:21-41, 6:12-15, 22:30, 23:1-6).

The term “synagogue” refers to the building where Jews gathered in a town or village for prayer and Scripture reading. The book of Acts also gives examples of conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews in synagogues - (Acts 9:1-2).

Flogged” refers to the Jewish punishment of forty lashes. Traditionally, the whip was applied thirty-nine times to avoid exceeding the designated maximum of forty lashes. Paul endured this form of punishment on several occasions - (2 Corinthians 11:24, (Deuteronomy 25:2-3).

The reference to “governors and kings” is generic. It could refer to Jewish or Gentile political leaders, kings, and governors. Once again, Acts provides several examples of Christians examined by Gentile rulers- (Acts 25:13ff).

In his discourse, Jesus warns of the “abomination of desolation.” When it appears, “those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The description locates the event IN JUDEA, and not in Rome, Alexandria, or any other part of the empire.

The gospel of Luke is more specific – “When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know that her DESOLATION has drawn near. Then they who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jerusalem is the place from which believers are to flee. And “desolation” translates the same Greek word used for the “abomination of DESOLATION” in the discourse- (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21).

And Jesus instructs disciples to pray that “it may not happen in winter.” In Palestine, the rainy season comes in winter. A gully that is dry most of the year can quickly become a swollen river, and flash floods often make them impassable.

He expresses the wish that one’s flight from Jerusalem will not occur on a “Sabbath Day.” Travel was severely restricted in Judea on the Sabbath, and the gates of Jerusalem were customarily closed to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

And Luke describes a coming time of “great distress upon the land and wrath against this people.” As the context demonstrates, “the land” refers to the region of Judea, not the entire planet - (Luke 21:22-23).

And in Luke’s account, Jesus predicts that the people of Judea will “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.” This will transpire in Judea, and the city of Jerusalem will be the center of the conflagration.

The description of the “captivity” of the Jews and the city being “trodden down by the Gentiles” indicates the destruction of the city will occur during a period of some duration before the “coming of the Son of Man.”

GLOBAL


Prior to the arrival of the “Son of Man on the clouds,” humanity will experience terrestrial and celestial upheavals. The effects will be universal. They will not be limited to Palestine and the surrounding regions.

  • (Mark 13:24-27) – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened and the moon will not give her brightness, and the stars will out of the heavens be falling and the powers which are in the heavens will be shaken. And then will they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then will he send forth the angels, and they will gather his elect out of the four winds, from the utmost bound of the earth to utmost bound of heaven.

The preceding passage portrays a cosmic event distinct from the local ones depicted in the preceding paragraphs - “Then will they see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” To whom does the pronoun “they” refer? In Matthew, to “all the tribes of the earth” that will “mourn” when they see the “Son of Man” arriving.

When these cosmic events occur, the angels of heaven will “gather the elect out of the four winds, from the utmost bound of the earth unto the utmost bound of heaven.” The geographic scope will be global, not regional since the elect will be gathered from all four corners of the earth.

When disciples see the “abomination of desolation” in Jerusalem they must flee to the mountains, but that will NOT constitute the “end” when Jesus arrives in glory, in which case fleeing to the mountains would be pointless.

In contrast, Jesus gives no warning to flee when believers see the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Instead, his angels will gather them from every region of the earth. On that day, the “tribes of the earth” will mourn since, for them, there will be no escape.

Thus, the ‘Olivet Discourse’ describes two key events set in different geographic settings. First, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in Judea, and the effects will be regional.

Second, the arrival of Jesus in glory will be heralded by cosmic and terrestrial upheaval. Its effects will be global if not universal in the truest sense of the word.

These two events may be related, but they are separated by a period of some duration, however long or short it may prove to be.

In sorting this out, we must bear in mind the questions that prompted Jesus to discuss these future events - “When will these things be,” that is, the destruction of the Temple, and, “What will be the sign of your arrival and the conclusion of the age?”


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