Jesus and the Mount of Olives [33 page pdf file]
When the disciples came to Jesus, and asked about the sign of his coming, he related the prophecy that has been called the Olivet prophecy, because when he gave it to them, they were on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is a hill to the east of Jerusalem. From it one could get a good view of the temple area.
The questions asked by the disciples show they were interested in when the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem was to occur. They thought it would occur at the end of the world, but that is not how things worked out. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. It was not the end of the world. Matthew says:
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Reading through Matthew's account of the prophecy, we find a list of events, including a time called the great tribulation. Verse 30 says the "sign" of the son of man will appear in heaven, and "all the tribes of the earth will mourn." Then a trumpet sounds, and angels are sent out to gather God's elect. However the "sign" that the disciples wanted is not easily identified.
Mark gives a similar account. Mark also says a "sign" was requested by the disciples. He wrote:
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
In Mark's list of the events that were mentioned by Jesus, there does not seem to be a specific "sign".
Luke includes a similar account of the prophecy. Luke's account does not say it was given on the Mount of Olives, but he does say that Jesus lived there.
And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.
And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
The Mount of Olives was the subject of a very well known prophecy of Zechariah, and when the disciples asked Jesus about the sign of his coming, they must have been aware of it. They were sitting on the mountain that Zechariah had named. Strangely, Jesus seems to have made no reference to that prophecy. Zechariah wrote:
Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
Dispensational theory says the prophecies of the scripture are always to be understood literally; the Mount of Olives in Zechariah's prophecy must refer to the literal Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, and its splitting into two parts must be understood as a literal geological event. But the trend of the main tectonic features (faults) in that area are oriented N-S, not E-W, so the earth movements described by Zechariah are not in accord with the facts, as tectonic movements tend to occur along existing faults. Also, for movement to occur toward both directions, north and south, seems strange, and rather unlikely from the point of view of tectonics. An earthquake with significant horizontal displacement, as would be required for the formation of a wide valley in the middle of the Mount of Olives, would cause widespread destruction, yet Zechariah tells people to flee towards the valley generated by the event. One would expect that the warning should be to flee before the earthquake occurs, and get away from the area, not to flee after the event, and go towards the site of the earth movements!
What is it that people should flee from? Dispensationalism does not say. And Preterism, which offers a figurative interpretation, says that the mountain being split means that a way was opened for Gentiles to come into the Church. Both Preterism and Dispensationalism claim the prophecy does not apply today. The Preterist interpretation says almost all Bible prophecy was fulfilled in the first century AD, especially when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. In the traditional Dispensationalist view the prophecy applies to the Jews in a future age, after the Church has been 'raptured'.
So what was Zechariah referring to? Is it a literal event, or could the Mount of Olives be symbolic, or a metaphor? How would one flee to that valley, unless he lived right there in Jerusalem? Will it be a major fault zone? Why would anyone flee towards a geologically unstable area? And why flee after the event?
Another interpretation of Zechariah's prophecy says the Mount of Olives represents the Olivet discourse that Jesus gave to his disciples when he was there during his earthly ministry. The mountain being split into two parts represents the two opposing interpretations of the Olivet discourse. Preterism is the half that goes north, and Dispensationalism is the half that goes south. Zechariah says "flee to the valley of the mountains", or abandon the flawed explanations offered by Preterism and Dispensationalism, and go to the valley between those two mountains. Prophecies such as the Olivet prophecy of Jesus, and this one by Zechariah apply to the Church today; in fact most Bible prophecy applies to the Church in the present age. The claims that prophecy is either fulfilled already or applies to a future age are false.
Zechariah tells us to flee from Preterism and Dispensationalism, which deny that many Bible prophecies apply to the Church today. They are the two halves of the Mount of Olives in Zechariah's prophecy, and the wide valley between them is where we should go, and it is where we can find the truth about prophecy. And that explains why Zechariah says to flee; all the flawed interpretations of prophecy that dominate Christians today are chaff for the fire (Matthew 3:12).
How does this help identify the sign the disciples asked about? Perhaps it is prophecy itself! As prophecy is understood, we are nearing the time Jesus spoke about. Let's understand, and forsake false interpretations.
Copyright © 2010, 2014 by Douglas E. Cox
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