The Olivet Questions

Disciples' Question Timing of Temple's Destruction

In 4 Parts

The questions of the disciples, concerning the destruction of the temple, are worded differently in Matthew, than in Mark and Luke.

Matt. 24:1-3 Mark 13:1-4 Luke 24:5-7
1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. 2 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. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? 1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? 5 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, 6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 7 And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?

In all three accounts, the disciples initiated the conversation with Jesus concerning the temple. Jesus did not announce He would hold a Prophecy Conference, and have His scrolls for sale at the conclusion. No, this was completely initiated by the disciples. They were naturally impressed with its beauty and magnificence. They called special attention to its stones and rightly so. It is made more obvious in Mark’s account, where the disciples say, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” To which, Jesus responds, “Seest thou these great buildings?” From this we can clearly see where the other gospel accounts use the phrase, “these things,” from Mark’s account we see that these things refer to the buildings of the temple complex. The questions of the disciples revolve around Jesus’ statement of the future destruction of the temple, and all that this meant.

In Mark and Luke, the questions the disciples asked are, when will this happen and what sign will occur when they are about to be fulfilled. Because of the very close similarity of the questions in Mark and Luke, we should accept that these were the actual questions asked by the disciples. So why does Matthew record different questions?

Matthew is fleshing-out the meaning behind their questions for his predominately Jewish audience. In Mark and Luke, the “these things” is understood as the sign when there should not be left one stone upon the other. So for Matthew, the destruction of the temple is directly related to “the sign of thy coming [presence] and the consummation of the age.

What did the destruction of the temple mean to the disciples? It signaled the end of the entire Mosaic system, i.e., the end of the Israel as created at Sinai. The temple was the visible representation of the entire Sinai system. The system which the then existing world Judaic society was based upon would come to a devastating end. This destruction of the old Mosaic system is described as, the sun being darkened, and the moon not giving her light, and the stars falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is common Old Testament prophetic language for divine judgement upon a society or government (see Isa. 13:10; 34:4, and others).

It signals the end of one age, the Law, and the beginning of another, the reign of Messiah. It was the end of the Israel as constituted at Sinai, and the Creation of the Israel of God. As the writer of Hebrews says,
“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb. 8:13)

The first question asked by the disciples, is agreed upon by all three gospel writers. This first question being, “When shall these things be?” That is, when will this demolishing of the temple, when one stone will not remain upon another, occur? The second question, according to Mark and Luke, is what shall be the sign when this is about to be fulfilled? As stated earlier, Matthew fleshes-out this last question into two more detailed parts. As the KJV renders these parts, we have. . .

  1. what shall be the sign of thy coming, and
  2. of the end of the world?

We want to look much deeper into each of these parts, to understand what the disciples are really asking. We will take the second part first.

However, before we continue, there is one thing we must first come to terms with. We must not force our own eschatology upon the disciples. They had their own, and it is our task to uncover it. When the disciples asked about the “sign of thy coming,” they are not speaking about His second coming, as we understand it. We have to realize, that at this point in their worldview, they had no concept of a second coming of Jesus. They haven't even come to terms with the fact that He was going to die, even though He plainly told them so. They didn’t realize He was going away, so how can they ask when He would return?

When the disciples asked about the sign of His coming, and the end of the age, they had their very own Messianic eschatology they were operating by.

The End of the World

This is really an unfortunate translation of the Greek. The Greek reads,
τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος

In our day and time, the phrase “end of the world” holds a very specific meaning. However, this phrase is more correctly rendered, “the consummation of the age.”

Let’s deal with the word, αἰῶνος, first.

aion (αἰών, 165), “an age, era,” signifies a period of indefinite duration, or time viewed in relation to what takes place in the period. The force attaching to the word is not so much that of the actual length of a period, but that of a period marked by spiritual or moral characteristics.[Vine’s Greek Dictionary]

This signifies a period of time, an age, that has an indefinite duration of time, and that is marked by some spiritual or moral characteristic. As stated above, in the minds of the disciples, the age that would come to a close, with the destruction of the temple, would be the Mosaic Age, or the Sinai Age.

Next we address the word, end. This is a rendering of the Greek, συντελείας.

sunteleia (συντέλεια, 4930) signifies “a bringing to completion together” (sun “with,” teleo, “to complete,”), marking the “completion” or consummation of the various parts of a plan. The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax.

The idea behind this word, is the coming together of all the different parts and aspects of a plan, into a final realization. The idea behind this phrase here, is that the age they were then living in, the Age of the Mosaic Law, as given at Sinai, had reached it goal and purpose, i.e., the coming of the Messiah [Gal. 3:19]. It therefore, was on the verge of being done away with, as symbolized by the destruction of the temple [Heb. 8:13]. The temple was the visible representation of the Age of the Law, "ready to vanish away". With it destroyed, the operation of the Mosaic/Levitical Law would no longer be necessary.

The disciples were not the first to use the phrase, consummation of the age. They actually heard it from the mouth of Jesus.

The Parable of the Tares

There are two parables recorded in Matthew 13, wherein Jesus uses this exact phrase, τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. In his explanation of the Parable of the Tares, he says,

Matt. 13:40 “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.”

In this statement, Jesus is very specific. He says that the tares will be gathered and burned in the fire, so it shall be in the consummation of this age. He specifies “this age.” That current age, i.e., this age, would be the Mosaic Age, the Age of the Law. He continues, saying,

41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

He will gather out of His kingdom “all things that offend and them which do iniquity” and cast them into a furnace of fire. What is this furnace of fire? See Isaiah 31:9.

9 And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

This tells us the “furnace of fire,” which Jesus speaks of, is Jerusalem under judgment, or on fire. This is a perfect description of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Here we see another connection of the Parable of the Tares to the Olivet Discourse. When we come to this section in the discourse,

37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

This portion speaks of the separation for judgement and for deliverance, just as the Parable of the Tares speaks. This is the point of Jesus in this section on the days of Noah. Many read into this much more than Jesus intended, such as the return of the Nephilim. His singular message in this was SEPARATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS FROM THE WICKED. This portion of Scripture does not teach the rapture of the saints. It is a reference to the separating of the tares from the wheat. For those who do not know, a tare is considered a degenerative form of wheat, which is poisonous if consumed.

Remember, in the parable when it was noticed that tares had been sowed with the wheat, the servants asked if they should go out and remove the tares.

29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Just in case the point made in the Parable of the Tares was not understood, Jesus then told them another parable with the same lesson, the Parable of the Net.

47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
50 And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
51 Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.

Here again in verse 49, Jesus uses the same phrase, “τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος,” the consumption of the age. To make sure they got the point and understood, Jesus specifically asked them if they “understood all these things?” They responded, “Yes, Lord.”

This phrase “casting them into a furnace of fire,” would appear to be a reference to what he later says in the Olivet discourse,

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” This reference to a great tribulation, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be,” is an obvious reference pointing back to Daniel 12:1.

12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

There cannot be two times of trouble, such as never was, nor ever shall be. We must take Jesus word in this. The time of the great tribulation, which He connects to the time of Jerusalem's destruction, was a time of tribulation for the nation of Judea, that had not occurred in the past, nor would happen again in the future.

It is also important to note, that the above clearly states that “thy people shall be delivered.” In order to correctly identify who “thy people” are, the descriptive phrase, “every one that shall be found written in the book,” is added. God’s people are those whose names are written in the Book of Life [Rev. 20:12].