Geographic Range of the Discourse

The ‘Olivet Discourse’ presents two key events that are linked to two different geographic contexts - one regional, and one global

Maps - Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash
In his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus described several key events that would occur in the future, specially, the 
destruction of the Temple and the “coming of the Son of Man” at the end of the age. In doing so, he provided geographical details and clues related to each event, which alternated between the local and the universal, depending on which event was under discussion - [Maps - Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash].

REGIONAL. First, he described events that would affect Jerusalem and the surrounding region, NOT the larger Roman Empire or humanity in general.
  • (Mark 13:9) – “But take heed to yourselves: they will deliver you up into councils, and in synagogues you will be flogged; and before governors and kings you will be set for my sake, for a testimony to them.
The Greek word rendered “councils” is sanhedrin, the same term used in the gospel accounts for the ruling council of religious authorities in Jerusalem. But here, he puts it in the plural, that is, “sanhedrins,” which refers to local councils held in the towns and villages of Judea. They had the authority to make judgments and mete out punishment on matters of Jewish religious law, but they had no legal standing with the Roman government or authority over local Gentile populations. The book of Acts provides examples of this predicted form of persecution - (Acts 4:15, 5:21-41, 6:12-15, 22:30, 23:1-6).

Synagogue” refers to the building in a town where Jews would gather for prayer and Scripture reading. Acts also gives examples of conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews in synagogues, for example:
  • Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem - (Acts 9:1-2).
Flogged” refers to the Jewish punishment of forty lashes. Traditionally, the whip was applied thirty-nine times to avoid exceeding the designated maximum of forty lashes. Paul endured this form of punishment on several occasions - (2 Corinthians 11:24, (Deuteronomy 25:2-3).

The reference to “governors and kings” is generic. It could refer to Jewish or Gentile political leaders, kings and governors, or both. Once again, Acts provides several examples of Christians examined by Gentile rulers- (Acts 25:13ff).

Jesus warned of the coming “abomination of desolation.” When it appeared, then “those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” The description locates the predicted event in Judea, not in Rome, Alexandria, or any other part of the empire. Again, the geographic area affected by this event was regional, not global.

The Gospel of Luke is more specific:
  • When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know that her desolation has drawn near. Then they who are in Judea, let them flee into the mountains.”
The city of Jerusalem was the place from which believers were to flee with all haste. Here, “desolation” translates the same Greek word used for the “abomination of desolation” - (Matthew 24:15Mark 13:14Luke 21:20-21).

Jesus also instructed disciples to pray that “it may not happen in winter.” In Palestine, the rainy season came in winter. A wadi or gully that was dry most of the year could quickly become a swollen river, and flash floods often made them impassable.

He expressed the wish that the flight from Jerusalem would not occur on a “Sabbath Day.” Travel was severely restricted in Judea on the Sabbath, and the gates of Jerusalem were customarily closed to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

Luke describes a time of “great distress upon the land and wrath against this people.” As the context demonstrates, “the land” refers to the region of Judea (verses 21, 24), not to the entire planet. This was to be a time of “wrath” against “this people.” Luke employs the Greek term laos for “people,”a term applied often to the “people” of Israel in distinction from the “Gentiles,” or ethnos - (Luke 21:22-23, Matthew 2:4, Acts 10:2, 15:14).

In Luke, Jesus predicted that the people of Judea would “fall by the edge of the sword and be carried away captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This would transpire in Judea and center on Jerusalem.

The description of the “captivity” of the Jews and the city being “trodden down by the Gentiles” indicates the destruction of the city would occur during a period of some duration before the “coming of the Son of Man.” How long this period would last Jesus did not state - (The “times of the Gentiles”).

UNIVERSALPrior to the arrival of the “Son of Man in the clouds,” humanity will experience terrestrial and celestial upheavals. The effects will be universal, and not limited to Palestine or the immediately surrounding regions.
  • (Mark 13:24-27) – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon will not give her brightness, And the stars will out of the heavens be falling,—and the powers which are in the heavens will be shaken; And then will they see the Son of Man—coming in clouds, with great power and glory. And then will he send forth the angels, and they will gather together his chosen—out of the four winds, from utmost bound of earth, unto utmost bound of heaven.
The next passage portrays a cosmic event distinct from the local ones depicted in the preceding verses: “Then will they see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” To whom does the pronoun “they” refer? In Matthew, they are identified as “all the tribes of the earth” that will “mourn” when they see the “Son of Man” arriving.

NASA Earth - Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

When these cosmic events occur, the angels of heaven will “
gather the elect out of the four winds, from utmost bound of the earth unto the utmost bound of heaven.” The geographic scope will be global, not regional; the elect will be gathered from all four corners of the earth.

When disciples saw the “abomination of desolation” in Jerusalem, they were to flee to the mountains. That event did NOT constitute the “end,” when Jesus arrived in glory, in which case, fleeing to the mountains would be pointless.

In contrast, Jesus gave no warning to flee when they saw the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Instead, his angels would gather the “elect” from all regions of the earth. On that day, the “tribes of the earth” would mourn because there will be no escape for them.

CONCLUSIONSThe ‘Olivet Discourse’ describes two key events set in different geographic settings. First, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem that would occur in Judea. Their effects would be regional, not universal.

Second, the arrival of Jesus in glory that will be heralded by cosmic and terrestrial upheaval. Its effects will be global in scale. The two events may be related, but they are separated by a period of some duration, however long or short.

In sorting this out, we must bear in mind the questions behind the Discourse.’  “When will these things be,” that is, the destruction of the Temple, and “What will be the sign of your arrival and the conclusion of the age?”


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