Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Olivet Discourse

This morning Jesus and his disciples headed once again into Jerusalem. As they reached the summit of the Mount of Olives they came to the fig tree that Jesus had cursed yesterday. It was completely dead with scarcely a leaf left on it. Even if it had been cut down the tree wouldn't have died so quickly. This is the first miracle performed by Jesus that destroyed rather than healed. It must have seemed just as odd to Jesus' disciples as it does to me that he would curse a tree. As with everything that Jesus did in his life it must have had a purpose but there is no record anywhere that would explain why he did what he did.

One possible explanation that I've heard that makes sense to me is that Jesus used it as an example of the danger of hypocrisy. If you think about it, the tree was a hypocrite. A fig tree normally bears fruit at the same time that it leafs out. This tree had leaves which would suggest that it would bear fruit but upon closer inspection it had no fruit. This could be compared to a person who pretends to be something good but in actuality isn't. Jesus did to the tree the same as he did with the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees yesterday and attacked them quite forcefully.

I can only imagine that after the first two days that they spent on the Temple Mount that Jesus' disciples were on constant watch for retaliation from the Sanhedrin or for another confrontation but none came. At one point one of the disciples commented on the majesty and beauty of the Temple. Jesus responded by drawing their attention to the Temple and telling them that soon there would not be one stone left upon another. Remember that this temple took forty years to build and it contained massive stones. This prophetic statement must have seemed impossible to them but they probably remembered that just two days earlier as they made their grand entrance into the Jerusalem Jesus had stopped on the path coming down off of the Mount of Olives and made the same prophecy about how Jerusalem would be surrounded by their enemies and destroyed and that not one stone would be left upon another. These last few days with Jesus must have been very solemn days.

As they left Jerusalem and returned to Bethany they got part way up the Mount of Olives and then suddenly Jesus turned and led them on a path that lead off of the main road. He found a comfortable spot and together they sat there and admired the beautiful view they had of Jerusalem. Finally Peter got the guts to ask what must have been on all of their minds. He referred back to the comments that Jesus made while they were in the temple. He asked Jesus when these horrible things would happen to Jerusalem and then almost as an afterthought he reminded Jesus that he had told them that he would return before the end of the world and he asked what signs they would have of his return.

The response that Peter received to his question was probably a lot more than he had expected and includes most of Matthew 24.

4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold
13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 And this gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)
16 Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there;
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect
25 Behold, I have told you before.
26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, 
to give them meat in due season?
46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The disciples must have looked out over the beautiful city of Jerusalem and tried to imagine the horror that was to come. Jesus then told the parable of the ten virgins. He told them that his return would be like the bride groom at a wedding. In Jesus time the groom traditionally prepared for his wedding at the home where he and the new bride would be living. Meanwhile the bride to be was preparing at her parents home. When the time for the wedding came the groom and his male friends would parade through the streets to where the bride was and pick her up and lead her back to their new home where the wedding would be performed. The entire time as they are marching through the streets they are calling out for their friends to join them. Once they all return to the grooms home the wedding is performed and the partying begins; sometimes lasting through the night. 

In this parable there were ten virgins waiting for the bride groom to come so they could join in the celebrations. Five of the girls were unprepared and their lamps ran out of oil. While they were off getting more oil the bridegroom came by and the five virgins who were prepared joined the party but the five who were not prepared missed it. 

Jesus ended saying, "Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."

Jesus then shared the parable of the talents and following this story he described how the Son of Man shall come in his glory and sit on his throne and divide his people as a shepherd divides his sheep from his goats. He will then set his sheep on his right hand and invite them to enter into his kingdom for when he was hungry they fed him and when he was thirsty they gave him drink and when he was a stranger they took him in, naked and they clothed him. When he was sick they visited him and when he was in prison they came unto him. The people shall then ask when they did all of these things and the Lord shall tell them that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have don it unto me."

The prophecy that Jesus gave regarding the destruction of the Jews and his second coming includes details about the last days as well as prophecies regarding the time shortly after his death. Less than forty years following his crucification the Jewish revolution became so great that the Romans realized they had to put it down once and for all. At one point the Romans entirely surrounded Jerusalem and for some unknown reason they retreated. When the Christians at that time saw this they remembered Jesus' prophecy "and when ye shall see Jerusalem compass with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains." 

The Christians did flee to Pella, a city on the east side of Jordan and they were spared. The Romans came in and killed more than a million Jews. Judea ceased to exist as a nation of Jews. 

On another note, it was probably today that Judas went to the Sanhedrin with his offer to lead the Temple guards to Jesus in a quiet and secluded place and to identify him. Oddly enough, he chose to identify Jesus by kissing him.

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