Timing Is Everything in the Olivet Discourse

I saw a post on Facebook related to the timing of prophetic events based on Jesus’ pronouncement to some of the disciples about the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1-2) and the judgment on Jerusalem that was to take place before their generation passed away (Luke 21:32).

And [Jesus] said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time has drawn nigh!’ Do not go after them” (Luke 21.9). Do not go after those who are saying, “the time has drawn nigh”. In other words, folks going around preaching that the “end is near” in terms of time – don’t go after them.

At first, I was confused since that’s not what Luke 21:9 says. The author of the post was referencing Luke 21:8.

The author is trying to make the case (I think) that the use of “near” does not always mean what preterists claim it means. “Since ‘no man knows the day or the hour,’’ he writes, “when ‘heaven and earth will pass away’ – then no one can say in terms of time that such event is near in terms of timing – don’t go after date setters, whether 70 AD date setters, or 2020 date setters.”

It’s not really clear to me the exact point that’s being made. It’s somewhat confusing.

The thing of it is Jesus is not describing the passing away of the physical heavens and earth in Luke 21:33 or Matthew 24:35. He’s describing events related to the destruction of Jerusalem before their generation passes away.

Jesus is warning His disciples about false prophets and false Christs (Matt. 24:5, 11, 24; Mark 13:6, 21; Luke 17:22-23)) who might claim the time was near and most likely wanted the people to join in a possible insurrection against Rome. Jesus warns, “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them” (24:26).

There was a list of signs that had to take place before the judgment would descend upon the temple and city. Wars and disturbances were just some of the signs. There would be more to come before the end, that is, the end of the age that would be manifested by the judgment on Jerusalem (24:1-3).

Ed Stevens makes some good points:

Jesus said the reason his disciples should not pay attention to anyone saying “the time is at hand” in those days was because the other signs he gave them had not happened yet. Jesus gave enough signs that they could not miss it. When compared with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark, this is even more apparent. For instance, if Jesus had given them 30 signs to look for and only 5 of them had taken place, it wouldn’t make much sense to believe that the end was immediately at hand. But if all 30 had taken place (by the year 66 AD), they could be sure the end was indeed at hand. There is another reason also.

The people who were trying to lead away the brethren were probably caught up in the nationalistic mindset and looking for a materialistic kingdom or paradise, or they were Judaizers. To follow them would have been fatal in view of what happened to such zealots at 70 AD.

In Luke 21:9, Jesus puts the warning in context:

When YOU hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately [εὐθέως].

As that generation was coming to an end and most of the signs had occurred, Jesus makes the following pronouncement:

“But immediately [εὐθέως] after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL [Ezek. 32:7-8; Isa. 13:10; 24:33; Amos 5:20] from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt. 24:29).

What days? The days preceding the destruction of Jerusalem.

The New Testament is filled with statements confirming the fact that an eschatological event, described as Jesus’ coming, was near. We find this in the epistle of James:

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door (5:7-9).

Does James contradict Jesus? Not at all. Jesus told His disciples not to be misled by false prophets and false christs who would claimed the “time is near [ἐγγίζω]” (Luke 21:8), as if it was just right around the corner and these imposters were the fulfillment of Jesus’ promised judgment coming.

Consider these verses:

  • For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand (Rom. 13:11-12).
  • Let your forbearing spirit be known to everyone. The Lord is near (Phil. 4:5).
  • For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay (Heb. 10:37).
  • The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober-minded for the purpose of prayer (I Peter 4:7).
  • Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour (I John 2:18).

Were these statements about the nearness of certain prophetic events what Jesus had warned about in Luke 21:8?

It’s important to note that the context describes what was going to take place before their generation passed away (21:32). Jesus issued His warning about imposters around AD 30. The epistles of Paul, James, Peter, and John were written closer to the time of the end of their generation.

This is all confirmed when Jesus adds the following: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

“These things” refer to what Jesus states the signs they would see described in Luke 21:9-27. Anyone claiming to be the fulfillment of what Jesus was saying about His coming, that would happen before certain signs took place, would be an imposter. Matthew’s version states it this way: “when you see all these things, recognize that He/it is near, at the door” (24:33; cp. James 5:9).

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