Jesus, the Olivet Discourse, and All that “End Times” Speculation that Isn’t about what Tim LaHaye Claims It’s About (Part 1: The Jewish War Series)

If you are like me, having grown up within Evangelicalism in the 70’s and 80’s, you probably are all too familiar with the End Times speculation by the likes of Hal Lindsey and his famous (infamous?) book, The Late, Great Planet Earth. Perhaps you watched that horrifically awful (and terrifying for the time) movie A Thief in the Night in your youth group (Click here to see a trailer!). Maybe you listened to Larry Norman songs like “U.F.O,” “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” or “Six Sixty-Six.”

And of course, unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you are familiar with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, and the countless “End Times” movies that have come from it—all with stars like Kirk Cameron, Nicholas Cage…and yes, even the likes of Howie Mandel and Gary Busey.

Whether it comes from these publications and movies, or whether it comes from countless TV Evangelists and “End Times experts” like Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, or Grant Jeffery, if you grew up in Evangelicalism for the past 40 years, you are well-familiar with the End Times obsession of the late 20th century/early 21st century Evangelical world in America. It’s funny how these types of things work. I remember generally just assuming that the “rapture” could happen at any moment, then at some point a one-world ruler would arise and a 7-year tribulation period would begin. I didn’t really know why I believed it—it was all in the Book of Revelation (or so I was told), and that was that.

At the same time, I distinctly remember being in my 5th grade Sunday School class, when the Sunday School teacher told us that he was convinced that we were already living in the first 3 ½ years of the tribulation (this was in 1980)—and I remember thinking, “Hmmm…I don’t think that sounds right.” Nevertheless, around that time, I remember telling my best friend that I thought Jesus would come back in the year 2000, because it was a good round number. And I remember lying in bed every now and then, wondering if God had chosen me to be one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, specifically when I went to graduate school, when I started to realize that not only were the “End Times views” that I had grown up with in Evangelicalism probably not fully right, but that they were, in fact—I can put it no other way—completely unhinged, unbiblical, and up until the past 100 years or so, had never been believed by anyone in Church History before.

Now, if you want to get morbidly entertained, look up some videos from Jack Van Impe. He and his wife Rexella conduct a show that is in the format of a news show, where they sit behind their news desk and try to explain how current events fit into biblical prophecies. I have no doubt they are completely sincere, but it is quite astounding to watch. When Jack gets going, he just rattles of references to random Bible verses and passages, strings them all together while completely ignoring any attempt to understand their original contexts, and comes to a confident conclusion that…Revelation mentions ISIS, or the European Union is the ten horns on the head of the fourth beast of Daniel 7…or whatever (Click here for a taste).

But if you pay attention, you will notice, regardless of any current event, the Bible passages he refers to are always the same. It will always be something from Revelation, or Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, or I Thessalonians 4:13-18, or Daniel 7, or Daniel 9—there might be one or two more, but if you’re the betting type, you can put money down that with every show, Jack Van Impe will touch upon one or more of those passages.

Jesus and the Olivet Discourse of Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21
I say all that as a prologue to what my next few posts will be specifically, as well as to a series that I want to produce for my blog this year. The simple fact that I realized more than 20 years ago is that the stereotypical Evangelical understanding of all things “End Times” is simply wrong. Most people believe it, not because they’ve actually studied and come to that conclusion on their own, but because it is what they’ve been told. They might try to read Revelation, or make sense of Daniel 7 and 9, and if they are honest, they can’t make heads or tails of it. And so, they either hear someone speak in church or come across some “End Times expert” on TBN—and that person sounds so confident, well, he must know what he’s talking about…maybe Pope Francis really is the antichrist!

In any case, one of the often-cited “End Times passages” is found in Mark 13, and the parallel passages in Matthew 24 and Luke 21—The Olivet Discourse. It’s the chapter where Jesus talks about the Abomination of Desolation, and things like stars falling from the sky, and the rapture (well, not really, but people think he does), and the second coming.

Well, it is that passage, the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, that I am going to talk about in the next couple of blog posts. And I’ll be blunt and to the point: that passage is not about what your typical Evangelical, End-Times prognosticator claims it is about. It truly is an utterly fascinating and incredibly important passage that, if you don’t get, will cause you to probably miss one of the most important messages the three Synoptic Gospels are making, and thus one of the fundamental proclamations of the early first century church.

Simply put, in the Olivet Discourse, in roughly 33 AD, Jesus was not prophesying about the end of the world, the rapture, or his second coming. He was prophesying about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple—and that happened in 70 AD…right around the time the Synoptic Gospels were produced.

This is an incredibly important thing to realize, as I will show in the next few posts.

Josephus and the Jewish War
In addition to a few specific posts on the Olivet Discourse, I am also planning to do what will probably be a year-long series about Josephus’ account of that very Jewish War. Josephus was a first century Jew who basically lived a generation after the events of the gospels, and lived through the horrific events of the Jewish war with Rome that took place 66-70 AD. He originally fought on the side of the Jews, but after he was captured by the Roman general Vespasian, he switched sides and tried to convince his fellow Jews to lay down their arms and surrender. He was there, outside the walls of Jerusalem with the Roman army, during the long and bitter siege, and thus was an eyewitness to those very events.

About a decade after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Josephus wrote The Jewish War that told about those tragic events.

In my graduate studies, I had read small bits and pieces of The Jewish War, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I actually sat down and read the whole thing from beginning to end. It was simply riveting, horrific, and heart-wrenching. On top of that, after reading it, I became more certain than ever that the Jewish War of 66-70 AD was seen by the early Christians as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet Discourse. In fact, I am pretty convinced that was the very impetus for the writing of the Synoptic Gospels in the first place: what Jesus had prophesied had come true.

The thing is, though, The Jewish War is extremely long, and can be really tough sledding. And one of things I’ve wanted to do for a long time was to somehow make a more easy-to-follow account of Josephus’ work for anyone who wanted to read it. And so, over the course of this year, as I am re-reading The Jewish War for myself, I am also going to basically strip Josephus’ account down and then tell a “Cliff Notes” version of it on my blog.

And so, if you want to learn about Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21—be sure to check back on my blog over the next week or so. And if you want to learn more about what was no doubt one of the most important, pivotal events of the first century that had an undoubtedly impact on the early Church and Jewish people—an event that I’m willing to bet most Christians today have absolutely no idea about—check back ever so often over the course of this year…I’m going to tell you a story.

And if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to my blog—that way, you will get a notification every time I post something, and thus you won’t miss any of the tragic story of the Jewish War of 66-70 AD.

10 Comments

  1. Besides which, as the 1997 film *Millennial Madness,* hosted by actor Bruce Marchiano (who played Jesus in *The Gospel According to Matthew* series) and featuring Hank Hanegraaf (I think based on Hank’s book by the same name) and Gordon D. Fee, pointed out, all of the end-times prophets (Seventh-Day Adventist “founders” William Miller and Ellen G. White, John Darby of the Plymouth Brethren [who essentially founded Dispensational Premillennialism], Charles Taze Russell and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, etc.) all have a 100% failure rate, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their exegesis or their status as prophets. Jesus himself stated unequivocally that you can judge a prophet by whether what he prophecies comes to pass or not. His predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 *did* come true.

    And I’ve noticed that The History Channel absolutely *loves* these end-times prophecies because of their sensationalism. Anytime they do a documentary on Revelation this is their go-to interpretation. They apparently have no idea that most Christian traditions haven’t and don’t hold to these end-times views.

    Pax vobiscum.

    Lee.

    1. I took a number of classes under Gordon Fee at Regent College. He is by far my all-time favorite professor.

  2. Perhaps after talking about the supposed apocalyptic prophecies, you could do a review on a great christian book of the post apocalyptic genre, like “A Canticle for Lebowitz ” for instance.

  3. Given that the Synoptic Gospels were written at or soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, isn’t is also possible that the Olivet Discourse was either made up or embellished in order to lend more credibility to the founder of the fledgling new religious movement known as Christianity?

    1. Well, it is a legitimate question to ask, but I think there a number of factors that would lend one to the conclusion that that wasn’t the case. For one, when we say Mark, Matthew, and Luke were all written circa 70 AD, we’re not saying that Mark just wrote his book out of the blue, and then Matthew and Luke copied him and added their own things out of the blue. We’re saying that when Mark wrote his Gospel, he took the teaching and testimony of the apostles (and possibly written sources) from the previous 40 years and put them together. There are also a number of passages throughout the NT Epistles (many of which pre-date the gospels) that I think could be references to Jesus’ prophecy against the Temple.

      I’m going to go into this more in the next few posts, but I am of the mind that one of the very reasons Christianity survived was because the early Christians saw the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD as a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy against the Temple and city. This goes back to the reason why the Jews kept the works of some Old Testament prophets, and not others. For example, Jeremiah was hated in his day because he prophesied Babylon would come and destroy the Temple. When that happened, the Jews were convinced he was a true prophet, and thus preserved his prophecies. I think the same goes in part for what we see in the New Testament: during his ministry, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, and when it happened, his followers made it a point to preserve his prophesies (and in this case) put them within a story of his ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.

  4. That could very well be the case, I’m just saying that we can’t rule out the possibility that the prophesy was added and that Jesus never really predicted it. I agree that the author of Mark didn’t just write his Gospel out of the blue, but it could be that he had been working on it and when it either seemed eminent that the Temple was going to be destroyed or it had already been destroyed, he could have inserted the Olivet Discourse.

    Interestingly, many years ago I took a class entitled “Harmony of the Gospels” where the professor actually argued that the Synopic Gospels had to have been written BEFORE 70 AD for the reason that if they were written later, it would have been too easy for the authors to have inserted the prophesy after-the-fact.

    1. Well, I think it is entirely possible that Mark was in the 60s; then the Temple was destroyed, abd Matthew and Luke then took Mark and expanded it to wider audiences.

    2. Another thing to keep in mind is that Jesus speaking against the Temple isn’t just found in the Olivet Discourse. From his trashing of the Temple, to a number of his parables, to the very accusations leveled against him before the Sanhedrin–there are a number of places where Jesus pitted himself against the Temple. And in addition, consider the accusations made against Stephen in Acts 6-7–speaking against Moses and the Temple. His reply? “I’m not speaking against Moses–your forefathers were the one constantly rebelling against Moses in the wilderness, and you’re just like them! But the Temple? Yeah, God never asked for one!” So that is an indication that in the earliest days of the early Church the “God doesn’t need this Temple” idea was already there. Something to think about.

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