The Olivet Discourse – Intro – Hermeneutics


As we now begin our lengthy discourse on the Olivet Discourse it is important that before we consider the passage in question we deal with the issue of hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is defined by Hank Hannegraaf as “the art and science of Biblical interpretation.” I like that definition because the work of interpretation is both an art and a science. There are rules of language, context, translation. There is also an art to understanding the author’s intent, original audience, poetic language usage and more.

In the world of Biblical prophetic interpretation this makes things even more difficult as language usage such as hyperbole, figurative language, spiritualization, metaphoric and “eastern mind” issues take center stage. So before walking through the passage it is important to get an understanding of the language, mindset, context, timing, audience and parallel passage idiosyncrasies. This post will deal with the initial context of the passage in relation to the previous chapters and how they lead up to the discourse in question.


The first, and possibly most important, issue to deal with is what is the context of the passage in question. What has preceded the conversation and events that may give us clues as to why what is said is actually being said. Taking into consideration that chapter and verse separation is artificial, one must quite often venture further back into a passage to discover what causes the conversation topic. It is important especially with this passage since the Matthew and Luke passages differ in intention while coming to the same conclusion. Also, the Luke passage is divided up over a few chapters while the Matthew passage is contained in one complete discourse. We will deal with those differences and their reasons in a later post.

For our purposes we will deal primarily with the Matthew passage since it is the most complete, concise and is not interrupted. The Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24 and 25, though the bulk of the “prophetic” discussion is found in chapter 24. It begins this way:

Matt 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 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?”

Note the initial context here is the leaving of the temple. Just the sight of the temple that Jesus and the disciples had just left causes a curious dialogue. The dialogue is not actually spoken, but it states that the disciples “pointed out the building of the temple.” They were just there so why would they point out the buildings and why would Jesus respond this way? That is why we must go further back to see what has happened that would cause the disciples to act this way and for Jesus to respond in the way He did. The announcement of the Temple’s destruction is what leads to the follow up questions, so it is important we understand Jesus’ announcement regarding the temple before venturing further into the disciple’s follow up inquisitions.

The last words of Jesus in the Temple are quite stinging.

Matt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38See, your house is left to you desolate.

Jesus proclaims what can be described as a prophetic curse upon the Temple and in doing so, upon the people of Judea as well. Their house, their temple, is to be left desolate? Powerful words that would harken the hearer back to Daniel’s proclamation in the 70 week prophecy. Remember the first century Jew would be much more well versed in the Old testament than today’s evangelical – including many prophetic prognosticators.

Dan 9:26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator[desolate].”

Here we see the prophet Daniel use the same words Jesus later uses to describe the Temple and the city. The initial hearer and the first reader would have no problem making this connection. The coming catastrophe would be related to the Temple and the proof of the fulfillment would be the destruction of that Temple.

But again we must ask why would Jesus’ statements be so fierce and shocking. The immediate context of chapter 23 is the “7 woes” placed against the Pharisees. There is a danger in stopping there because the relationship between the Pharisees and Jesus starts even earlier and chapters 23 and 24 culminate into the discourse.

Matthew may be the most “Jewish” of the Gospels and in some way appears to be the most “anti-Jewish.” Matthew takes great pains in showing the Pharisees in quite a negative light and uses, by far, more Old Testament references than any of the other gospels. One could call it an apologetic to the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. As a result the book is much more centered around the Jesus/Pharisee confrontations than the other gospels. So for our context we need to go back to chapter 21 and the “triumphal entry” to see this building crescendo of diatribes against the Pharisees.

Jesus enters the city on a donkey and is greeted by the people as hero which, of course, sends the Pharisees into even a more destructive frenzy against Him. Jesus adds to the Pharisee anger by entering and cleaning out the Temple. Something important, though, is found in this act that is quite often overlooked.

Matt 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Note the bolded reference in which Jesus quotes the Old Testament and refers to the Temple as “My House.” This is in contrast to the 7 Woe passage of Matt 23 in which refers to the Temple as “your house.” Over the next couple chapters we begin to see this important shift as the Temple – the ultimate symbol of the Old Covenant (Heb) – goes from being the house of the Lord to the house of apostate Israel.

Jesus then begin teaching parables and is occasionally interrupted and challenged by the pharisees. The main thrust of these parables is about true faithfulness and to whom the Kingdom of God is given.

  • The cursing of the fig tree that bears no fruit
  • The pharisees challenge Jesus authority and He responds by asking them about the baptism of John and by whose authority did John baptize…putting them into a catch-22
  • The parable of the two sons who were one says he will not work but does and the other says he will but does not. Jesus tells the Pharisees that the prostitutes will see heaven before they do because they do not believe.

Then comes propbably the most important parable in this discussion and one of the most damaging passages to the Dispensationalist and Zionist.

Matt21:33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

This is breif snapshot of the Jews in their history. God gives them a land (kingdom) to tend. He send prophets and rulers who are beaten, killed and stoned by the people. He then sends His Son and they kill Him as well. This relates directly to the later 7 woe passage as Jesus states

Matt 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!

These words are nearly the same! This brutal attack against the Pharisees and the Jewsish people is important to understand as it relates directly to the discourse. But note one other thing regardiong the story of the vineyard…

Matt 21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

Even they understood that these parable were about them. This incites their anger even more as the plot His death! Jesus then continues in chapter 22 with more parables about the pharisees and those who would see the kingdom of God.

  • The wedding feast in which those of high value refuse to attend and those of lower class are invited. The invited guests are also seen killing those with the invitations (v 6)
  • Rendering unto Caesar – this plays a part as the pharisees would later use Rome to kill Jesus while claiming they had no other king but Caesar.
  • Whose son is the Christ? Here Jesus claims that the Christ is greater than David and that even David calls his descendant Lord

It’s at this point that the pharisees are done with Him.

But Jesus is not done with them!

Chapter 23 relays what is known as the 7 Woes. In each woe Jesus attacks the pharisees with the following complaints

  • They shut down the kingdom to others and will not enter themselves
  • Calls them children of Hell as well as their disciples
  • Value gold more than the temple and what it stands for
  • Value the gift rather than the giver
  • Neglect the weightier issues of the law
  • They are outwardly clean but evil within
  • They are whitewashed tombs with dead man’s bones
  • They murdered the prophets and will kill the Messiah – just like their covenantal predessesors

Jesus then curses them, the temple and departs!!! He does so, though, with this proclamation

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

So, there is the back story to the Olivet Discourse. The question about the tmple and it’s future make much more sense at this point. Remember the disciples still saw their salvation residing in the temple and it’s right and rituals. The concern of the temple being desolate was real. jesus words were more than provocative. They were a curse!

His response about the Temple’s desolation follows with His words that not one stone would be left upon another. This leads the disciples to ask their next questions which leads us directly to the discourse itself. But we could not begin to deal with their immediate questions without understanding how those question were formulated.

Next we will look at the issues of audience, language and the questions that lead to the Olivet Discourse.


One Response to “The Olivet Discourse – Intro – Hermeneutics”

  1. I think it is very sound to begin the context of Matthew 24 starting with Matthew 21!

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