To gain perspective and wisdom about the death of the United States, we need to understand it in the larger context of history. In this post and following, we will see what the Bible says about historical patterns found throughout this present evil age (the age between Jesus’ first and second coming) and its culmination at the day of judgment. We will do this through the lens of the Olivet Discourse which was Jesus’ key eschatological (end times) teaching before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
The Olivet Discourse is recorded in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. It is important to read all three versions of it since they all give a different perspective. It is also important to realize the Discourse relies on all the other parables Jesus told about the present evil age, the day of judgment, and the age to come.
Beginning with Matthew 24, Jesus tells a parable about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end. The parable is confusing because it is general and specific. It is general in the sense that it intermingles signs of the end with specific information about the destruction of the temple. The signs of the end are actually a description of the pattern of the period between Jesus’ first and second coming, which Peter describes as “these last days.” The destruction of the temple (v 1-2) is the end of not only the physical structure but also the culture of Second Temple Judaism which also serves as an example of wicked cultures reaching their full measure of iniquity (Luke 21:22) and being swept away between Jesus’ first and second coming. Beginning in verse 3, Jesus begins answering the question
“…when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
That Jesus concludes this first paragraph with an analogy to childbirth is significant. This is the main idea of the whole paragraph. What is childbirth like? It starts with mild contractions that get stronger and closer together until the baby is born. Thus Jesus is saying, “things are going to get worse and worse more frequently as the Day of Judgment draws near.” He continues in verses 9-14
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
There will be false teachers, persecution, betrayal and the love of most will grow cold because of the increase of wickedness. The “increase of wickedness” is an idea from Genesis 6: the world before the Flood where man had multiplied greatly, were doing whatever they wanted in marriage, and wickedness, frivolity and cynicism had increased to the point that it required God’s intervention. Wickedness has increased not only because there are a lot more people, but also because those people were more wicked. This is very similar to our day where the Earth’s population is now over 7 billion and projected to reach 10-12 billion sometime this century. More people will result in much more wickedness and men’s hearts will grow colder towards one-another, meaning that friendship will become increasingly rare. Jesus resumes the Flood motif later in verse 37. Peter gives another perspective on the days of Noah before the Flood in 2 Peter 3
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The period before the flood was not only filled with frivolity and sexual immorality, but also cynicism and scoffing. In the days of Noah, unbelievers scoffed at the huge ark he was building when it had never rained. He warned them that a Flood was coming. In the same way, Jesus warned the cynics and scoffers of Second Temple Judaism. The Sadduccees cynically asking Jesus about a resurrection when they didn’t believe in it. He told them there was going to be a day of judgment. The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ observation of the Law when they failed to keep it themselves. He told them they were going to Hell. Herodians lived just for pleasure and in Acts we read about Herod being struck down by an angel and worms eating his guts. Pilate, the least guilty of them all, cynically asked, “What is truth?” But most egregious example of cynicism and scoffing was their rejection and crucifixion of the Son of God. Vengeance came upon them in AD 70 at the hands of Titus, son of Vespasian. Titus killed an estimated 1.5-2 million Jews in a time where the world’s population was estimated to be around 231 million people. Legend has it that the first century Christians escaped because they read the Olivet Discourse and understood the implications of Rome’s invasion.
Imagine yourself as first century Christian of Jewish descent in AD 70. Your entire cultural heritage is about to be wiped off the planet. Jews want to defend Jerusalem and part of you wants to join them but they persecuted you for your faith (read the book of Hebrews) and crucified the Son of God saying, “Give us Barabbas!” who was a murderer. The Jews defending Jerusalem end up dividing in three factions and killing one-another in AD 67 until a final unified stand in AD 70 when it was too late. This brings to mind Matthew 24:10-11: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. ” Meanwhile, these Jewish factions won’t let noncombatants leave the city despite Titus’ entreaties for them to surrender for mercy. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, instead of picking up their ARs and joining their Jewish kinsmen to defend Jerusalem and ultimately their relatives and culture, wisely heed Jesus’ advice to “flee to the mountains” letting the “dead bury their own dead.” Had they not, they would’ve been trapped in the city first by their own ethnic kinsmen and later by the Romans. They would’ve been slaughtered and they would’ve deserved it because they failed to heed Jesus’ warnings about the destruction coming upon Jerusalem.
Does this incident and the Olivet Discourse have wider implications for Christians today? It does. Next time, we will unpack them.