The Olivet Discourse – Can God Tell Time

02Jul11

The questions “can god tell time?” is one that was asked by Gary DeMar in his book, Last Days Madness. Gary also raised this question in his now famous debate at BIOLA University with Thomas Ice that I had the privilege of hosting and promoting. This all important question is one that is completely ignored by Dispensationalist.

Dispensationalist, known for their strict adherence to a wooden literal hermeneutic take this odd detour around any and all “timing” passages related to prophetic pronouncements. The odd hermeneutic of the dispensationalist dictates that pretty much everything needs to be taken in a wooden literal fashion except for the blatantly obvious time text and any time related words or phrases like “now,” ” soon” or “at hand.” The obvious, plain and normal usage of those words or phrases becomes symbolic, subjective and definitely not literal. In no instance is it ever more obvious than in relation to the time text of the Olivet Discourse.

The disciples ask the “time” question amongst their questions related to the prophesy of the coming destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. As we discovered in the previous post the Olivet Discourse is an answer to questions from the disciple’s that were raised after Jesus cursed the Temple and then told them that not one stone of the Temple would rest upon another. This led to the following exchange with the Disciples.

Matt 24: 3As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”

One a side note it should be noted that the correct translation of the term “age” is actually “age” and not “world” as is often translated, especially in the King James Version. The term “aeon” is an age of time and not related to the world. In fact, even the most ardent Dispensationalist cannot argue that term be translated “world” as they have at least 1,000 to 1,007 more years of history to follow these events.

So, if the Disciples ask a “when” question where is the “when” answer?

Matt 24:32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

The following will look at the primary arguments around this passage and what is the most consistent and biblical way to look at this timing passage.

First it is important to note that Dispensationalist do not like this passage. Thomas Ice in his debate with Gary DeMar and in his debate book with Dr. Ken Gentry continually argues that he tires of the preterist usage and constant referral to this passage to defend their position. There is also quite a bit of hermeneutic gymnastics in which words must be inserted into the passage for it to meet the qualifications of the dispensationalist. These will be dealt with throughout the post.

Before that, though, I do want to emphasize the constant use of the personal pronoun “you” throughout the passage as well. Remember Jesus is speaking directly to His disciples and continues to use to term “you” throughout the discourse as He is speaking to them directly.

THIS GENERATION

Jesus blatantly states that these things will happen to “this generation.” The most common and correct understanding of the term is the generation to whom Jesus is speaking. A generation being roughly 40 years. This hearkens back to the Exodus and the Israelites needing to wander in the wilderness for 40 years in order to have the current generation die off. This is also the same term in Matt 23 when Jesus stated that the coming judgment of all of the blood of all of the saints would be “held against” this generation.

Some arguments have been used to try and push this generation into some sort of future context. But do they hold water?

The first and most popular argument is that the term generation refers to the Jewish race. The Greek work used for generation in this passage is “genea.” The primary definition for this word is the group of people alive at the present time – the contemporary generation. There is another word translated generation which is “genos” which means a race or group of people. The use of the term “genea” argues that the timing aspect of this passage is that Jesus argues that these events would be fulfilled within a generation of His speaking these words.

Also the argument of “race” really makes no sense. It’s like saying, “all these things will happen to the Jews before the Jews disappear.” Well…duh? These things couldn’t happen to these people if these people didn’t exist, could it? Plus, that is not an answer to the when question. That would be such a vague answer that it would not be an answer at all. And remember, Jesus is answering questions related to the destruction of the Temple. Also note that the Disciples see the destruction of the temple as something related to an end of an age (see previous post on End of the Age for more details).

Finally it should be noted that Jesus could have used the term “that generation” to refer to a future generation if that is what he had in mind. But He purposely uses the present tense term “this generation” to describe the generation in question.

THE FIG TREE

So then the discussion will more than likely move to the concept of the “budding of the fig tree.” The argument is this:  The generation that sees the budding of the fig tree is the generation that would not pass away. So as is argued by Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith and a host of other leading Dispensationalist, the budding of the fig tree is the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Supposedly in 1948 when Israel regained its national status the time clock began ticking and there was only to be one more generation lasting 40 years. That is why there was so much rapture fever in 1981 and 1988. The idea was if the a generation lasted 40 years and the “terminal” generation began in 1948 then the end would have to come in 1988. If you subtract 7 years for the 7 year tribulation then the rapture should take place in 1981 (see previous post on date setting). Since then the dates of Israel’s “budding” have come into question as well as the length of a generation. Perhaps it started at the 7 day war? Maybe a generation lasts 70 years? Maybe it’s until the last person born during that time passes way? All to lengthen the generation and, I would gather, keep books selling.

There are several problems with this argument even outside the obvious “missing it by a country mile” lack of fulfillment. The first is that the nation of Israel is not generally represented by a fig tree, but rather by the olive tree (Psalm 52:8, Jer 11:16, Isa 24:13, Rom 11:17). Also if one is to remain consistent in ones “wooden literal” interpretive method whenever the fig tree is used it must ALWAYS represent Israel. If this is true then what would one do with…

Matt 21:19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

If Israel must be represented by the fig tree than when Jesus curses the fig tree in this passage it must be noted that it will NEVER bear fruit again!!!

But using our rule of letting Scripture interpret scripture let us look to see if there is a “brighter” passage to help us interpret the darker or more difficult one. Is there a parallel passage to consider here? Yes there is and we find it in Luke’s accounting of the Olivet discourse is Luke 21.

Luke 21:29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Note that this is an obvious parallel passage and not one dealing with a different event. The passage is nearly word for word! The primary difference is that Luke states the Jesus referenced the fig tree and ALL THE TREES. There is no special or specific thing about the fig tree. Matthew simply refers to the fig tree, but Luke’s reference to all the trees shows nothing significant about the fig tree itself. Jesus is simply stating that when you see the events occurring it’s like noting when the trees begin to bud…it’s a hint as to when the “end” will come. Jesus then makes it even more obvious by stating that the end would come before the end of this generation.

JUST ADDING A FEW WORDS

Another very weak argument by Dispensationalist is that it is the generation that sees these events that will be the final generation. This argument struggles in that nearly every generation has seen those events unfold within it’s lifetime. Also, as stated previously, that does not answer the “when” question because of the pure vagueness of the possibilities and the fact that every generation has postulated that it is the terminal or final generation.  Plus you have to add several words to the passage that simply are not there. It would have to be changed to say…

34 Truly, I say to you, this generation “that sees all these thing take place” will not pass away until all these things take place.

But unfortunately the passage does not state so. This is eisegesis at it’s most blatant! There is no warrant for this intrusion and again, Jesus could have just as eerily used the term for “that” generation, but uses the same phrase He used previously in Matthew, especially within the immediate context of Matthew 23.

Now considering the usage of the term “this generation” in Matthew it must be noted that it always is in reference to the generation alive at the time of the speaker.

Matthew 11:16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

Matthew 12:41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Matthew 12:42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Matthew 12:45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Matthew 17:17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”

Matthew 23:36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?

In some instances to demand the rendering of the term to be related to the Jewish race would make one, including Jesus Himself, intensely anti-Semitic. On more than one occasion the term is “this wicked generation.” If we are to use the Dispensational rationale then one must conclude that Jesus was calling the Jewish race a wicked race!

And what of the rest of the New Testament?

Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?

Mark 8:38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation

Luke 7:31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?

Luke 9:41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?

Luke 11:29-32 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation.

Luke 11:30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

Luke 11:31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation

Luke 11:32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it…

Luke 11:50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,

Luke 11:51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.

Luke 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

So, in conclusion, it must be understand that the timing text demands a fulfillment of the prophetic pronouncement within a generation of Jesus’ speaking. One must find the event or events that correlate with the pronouncements to find their fulfillment between 30 and 70AD. Was there such an event or events and can the Bible student “have ears to hear” and discover what it could have been?

And also why it would be so important!


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5 Responses to “The Olivet Discourse – Can God Tell Time”

  1. 1 Adam Minneapolis

    This is a very good analysis, and I agree that when Jesus said, “…this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” He was referring to the generation which was alive when He spoke these words.

    There is one thing I do have a hard time wrapping my mind around, though. The above quote is in Matthew 24:34. However, in Matthew 24:27-31 Jesus spoke of His Second Coming, the darkening of the sun and moon, the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and the gathering of all the elect by His angels. These things clearly haven’t taken place yet.

    Were Jesus’ words in verse 34 somehow referring only to the events in verses 15-22? I see the point that Jesus was answering two questions in this chapter (the questions asked by the disciples in verse 3). It seems, though, that He didn’t answer them one at a time and chronologically, but He answered them together and in a back-and-forth (or subject switching) manner.

    • 2 low5point

      I don’t know if you’ve gotten to the point in the blog where the discussion of the cosmic/celestial events take place, but they are addressed in great detail there and in several other posts throughout the entire blog. This celestial darkening language is VERY common in the old testament and represents the end of a nation. Most importantly for israel it represents the end of the covenantal nature of their relationship with God. but for the purposes of how they are used in the Olivet Discourse, they represent the end of a nation.

      https://low5point.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/the-olivet-discourse-signs-in-the-heavens/

      Every major nation that fell in the Old testament had the EXACT same language used against the, This included Egypt, Babylon, Idumea and the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Similar language is used in the book of revelation as well to represent the fall of Jerusalem in similar symbolic fashion. Below are just a few samples….

      IN REGARD TO BABYLON

      ISA 13:10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

      IN REGARD TO EDOM

      ISA 34: 4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall…9And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. 10Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever.

      IN REGARD TO EGYPT

      EZE 32: 7 When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; will cover the sun with a cloud, and the tmoon shall not give its light. 8All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord GOD.

      ISA 13:10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.”

      All of the following are passages related to Israel’s falls to it’s enemies Egypt, Assyria and Babylon

      * Amos 8:9 “And on that day,” declares the Lord God,” I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.

      * Jeremiah 4:14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? … [23] I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.

      * Jeremiah 4:28 “For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark

      * Isaiah 5:30 They will growl over it on that day, like the growling of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds.

      * Jeremiah 13:16 Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.

      * Joel 2:10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.

      Much more is said in the several posts discussing the usage of this symbolic language…

      The use of the phrase “all these things” must refer to everything before that point at least, which would include the catastrophic language and the picture of the coming. Those issues are addresses individually in each of the following posts in order they are presented in the discourse. The coming in view is the question. It cannot be the Second advent but rather His coming in judgment against apostate Israel in 70AD and within the framework of “this generation.” This is the same “coming” He refers to in matt 16 in which some in His midst would be witness to, the same one He said the high priest would witness (Matt 26) and that would be “seen” by those who pierced His side (Rev 7). That is the crux of the issue…what “coming” is being referred to. Here in the Discourse it is related to His judgment coming that is simultaneously seen as taking place with the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age, which is to be seen as the end of the Old Covenant as discussed clearly in Hebrews 8.

      It is a step by step process and that is why the blog is put together in the manner that it is…building block upon block.

  2. 3 Adam Minneapolis

    Thanks for your informative reply. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I only stumbled onto your blog 3-4 days ago for the first time, so when I have the time I’ll have to go back and follow the posts step-by-step.

    As a way of giving some background, I grew up in a church that did (and does) embrace Dispensationalism. For the last several years I’ve been calling those beliefs into question. I’ve definitely concluded that the Pre-Tribulation view is unbiblical, and I lean toward the Post-Tribulation rapture view. I still have a lot to explore, though.

    If I might ask one more question regarding this Matthew 24 passage, in what sense did Christ in 70 AD “send out His angels with a loud trumpet call” to “gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (verse 31)?

    And one more question… Since, in your view, Matthew 24:29-31 does not speak of the Second Advent (Christ’s Second Coming), what do you see as the main passages which do? Do you see I Corinthians 15:51-52, I Thessalonians 4:13-17, and II Thessalonians 2:1-4 as referring to His Second Coming? Forgive me if this question has been answered elsewhere on this site.

  3. 5 Adam Minneapolis

    Thanks again for your reply, and for taking the time to retrieve all those links. I have begun to read them, and will continue to do so as I have time.


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