Tuesday, May 21, 2013





            The Olivet Discourse is a lengthy discourse given by Jesus and related in Matthew 24-25.  Mark 13:1-36 and Luke 21:5-36 also have accounts of this discourse.  I have posted a series of articles analyzing in detail the account in Matthew.  In this article I shall discuss the similarities and differences in the parallel accounts.

            The fact that I am using Matthew’s account as a framework for a discussion of the parallels ignores the “Documentary Hypothesis,” which posited Mark as a primary source of Matthew and Luke.  For a brief and insightful discussion of that theory and other theories see the commentary on Mark by Alan Cole (Cole, 23ff).  The theory has been pretty much abandoned as the critics have moved on to other ideas.  I am using Matthew, partly because it was where I began studying the Discourse and partly because it is the longest and seems to be the most complete account. 

            I have put a detailed table that compares the three gospels at the end of this article.  I encourage the reader to consult his own Bible.  In this article, I shall not discuss every difference among the parallel accounts, but I shall try to focus on what seems most important.

            Specific Disciples Named:  Mark 1:3 mentions that four specific disciples asked Jesus the questions that were the occasion for the Discourse.  The other gospels simply mention “disciples.”  It is possible that only those four disciples were present for the Discourse, or it is possible that all the disciples were there, but that the four led in the asking the questions.  Matthew gives his account, and this would favor the second hypothesis.

            Persecution:  Matthew mentions persecution in 24:9a, but gives very little detail.  Mark 13:9 and 11 and Luke 21:12-15 give considerable more detail.  Notice that in those accounts there are two instigators of persecution.  “Councils” and “synagogues” imply that Jews would be the instigators of persecution.  Also, “kings and governors” imply that Gentiles also would persecution Jesus’ disciples.  If one accepts that Matthew 9a is referring to this same persecution that is discussed in the expanded versions in Mark and Luke, then the latter gospels shed light on what particular persecution Jesus is predicting.  The early church, in the first century, especially endured persecution at the hands of the Jews.  In the early centuries of the church, the Romans and their puppet governments also instigated persecution of the church.  The material from Mark and Luke seems to confirm that this particular persecution is what is referred to.  Of course, a persecution that might break out against Christians in the last days would not be ruled out by this conclusion.  However, Pentecost understood Matthew’s mention of persecution to refer to the persecution of Jews during the Tribulation/70th Week period.  The fact that Jews are referred to as instigators of the persecution would seem to contradict that idea.  The only way that Pentecost’s theory would survive would be to determine that Mark and Luke are referring to a different persecution than is Matthew.

            Deterioration in the church:  In the verses, Matthew 24:9b -12, there is a continuation of developments within the church.  These verses describe a deterioration of morale and faithfulness.  There is, in addition to the persecution from outside the church, apostasy, betrayal, deception, and loss of love.  The parallels to these verses in the other gospels are Mark 13:12-13a and Luke 21:16-18.  The parallels in Mark and Luke do not give the full story of developments within the church, but simply extend the notion of persecution to betrayal within the church.

The end:  Matthew contrasts the general developments within the church with those who stand firm to the end and are saved (Matthew 24:13); this is replicated in Mark 13:13b.  Luke’s version is slightly different (21:19).  It does not mention “the end.”  I think this may be significant, since Luke does not use the term “the end” in additional material.  Matthew and Mark both mention that the gospel will be preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10).  Although Mark does not mention “the end,” it does say “the gospel must first be preached…”  This implies the preaching is a precondition for what will follow.  Luke does not include this saying.

Jerusalem surrounded by armies:  The most significant difference among the parallels is found in Luke 21:20-24.  Luke describes Jerusalem being surrounded by armies.  When this is seen, it is a signal that Jerusalem’s “desolation” or “destruction” is near.  Jesus warns three groups of people.  Those in Judea should flee to the mountains.  Those in the city should get out.  Those in the country should not enter the city.  This is a “time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.”  There will be wrath against “this people.”  They will be taken away as prisoners.  Jerusalem will be trampled on by Gentiles until the “times of the Gentiles is fulfilled.”  This appears to be a description of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans as well as the aftermath to that event.  It appears to be an expansion of Jesus’ description of that destruction in Luke 21:6 and the answer to the question of the disciples as to when this will happen and what will be the sign (in verse 7).  Pentecost refers to the three questions of the disciples recorded in Matthew 24:3.  The first of those three is in Luke and Mark, but the others are not.  These latter questions refer to the Parousia and the end of the age.  Pentecost notes that Luke answers the first question and Matthew does not, whereas Matthew answers the second and third questions (Pentecost, 276).  Actually, Mark and Luke also answer those question, but less fully than Matthew.  Though this understanding of the parallels would not be fully satisfying to some critics, it does make a lot of sense. 
The Abomination of Desolation:  This term is found in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, but is not found in Luke.  Most critics simply believe that Luke 21:20 is an equivalent statement to Matthew 24:15.  Certainly both use the word “desolation.”  This word (eremosis) is a general word that can mean “destruction.”  It is used only in these three parallel verses.  Its cognate verb is found in Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17, where Jesus says a kingdom “divided against itself will be ruined.”  It is also used in Revelation 17:16 and 18:17 and 19 to refer to the ruin of wicked Babylon.  Thus, the term “desolation” of itself does not define the nature of the ruin, destruction, or desolation.  But in Luke 21:20, the ruin is caused by surrounding armies.  The wicked city of Babylon of Revelation will come to ruin, no doubt through military action.  In Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, however, the ruin is caused by an “abomination.”  That is something that is detestable or sacrilegious.  Whereas the desolation or ruin caused by the
Roman Legions in AD 70 was a physical destruction, the Abomination of Desolation stands in the holy place (Matthew 24:15) and causes a spiritual desolation. 

The aftermath of the two desolations:  In Luke 21:22, Jesus defines the events He is describing as “the time of punishment” and in 21:23b He declares that there will “wrath against this people.”  Since Jerusalem is the focus point in verse 20, one may conclude that “this people” would be the Jews.  The punishment would be for their rejection of their Messiah.  They had called for Jesus’ blood to be upon them and their children (Matthew 27:25).  The people would fall by the sword and taken away as captives (Luke 21:24).  Jerusalem would be trampled on by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24).  This is a picture of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when over a million would die and those remaining would be taken captive, many to be enslaved. 

This kind of specificity is not given in Matthew and Mark.  There is no mention of the fate of Jerusalem and no mention of the fate of the Jews.  After the warnings to flee and how difficult that flight will be, there is the prediction of “great distress,” as NIV renders it.  The word that is translated “distress” is thlipsis.  It means “trouble, distress, hard circumstances, suffering” (Newman, 83).  The phrase in the King James Version is “great tribulation.”  This has become a technical phrase among Dispensationalists.  The idea that it will a seven year period just before the Second Coming is based on several Scriptures and a complex set of theories. 

Although those theories cannot be based on the material in the Olivet Discourse, one should note the verses following the prediction of (the) tribulation.  First, it is stated that for the elects’ sake, those days will be shortened (Matthew 24:22 and Mark 13:20).  That really has no meaning in the context of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.  The Romans completed their task and then moved on to other things.  Then, Jesus warns of deceptions by false prophets and false Christs (Matthew 24:23-26 and Mark 13:21-23).  Although Russell points to one false prophet in Jerusalem during the siege, deception—especially deception about Christ and His Coming—was not a key factor in that time.  When one studies Revelation 13 and the rise of the Beast and the Second Beast or False Prophet, deception is a very important element.  See also II Thessalonians 2:9. 

So, when one compares the material in Matthew 24:15-26 and Mark 13:14-23, on the one hand, to the material in Luke 21:20-24, the material is quite different.  Luke describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the aftermath and what that will mean for the Jews.  Matthew and Mark describe a severe spiritual crisis in which the “holy place” is desecrated.  This is a signal to flee to the mountains.  There follows a time of great distress or tribulation that includes numerous spiritual deceptions, especially about the Coming of the Christ.  I believe that Matthew and Mark are pointing to events that will occur at the end of the age we presently live in, whereas Luke is predicting the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the aftermath.

            The Second Coming of Christ:  Matthew, I believe has the most complete account of the Second Coming of the three gospels.  Moreover, that gospel gives a smooth transition that anticipates the material on the Second Coming.  So, Matthew’s account, beginning at 24:15, goes like this:

·         The Abomination of Desolation as a signal to flee to the mountains (24:15-16)

·         Commentary on the urgency and hardship of the flight (24:17-20)

·         The Great Tribulation (24:21-22)

·         Deception in that day, especially regarding the return of Christ (24:23-26)

·         Contrast of that deception of a hidden return with the very public actual return (anticipating the return that is described in 24:30) (24:27-28)

·         The celestial signs (24:29)

·         The Second Coming and gathering of the elect (24:30-31)

      Mark contains much of this same material.  Mark 13:14-23 is very close to the material in Matthew 24:15-25.  It does not have the material in Matthew 24:26-28.  It does have the material in Matthew 24:29-31 except it omits the “sign of the Son of Man” in Matthew 24:30.  So both of these gospels give an account that anticipates and tells of the Second Coming of Christ.

            Luke, on the other hand, has much less material and it does not separate very well from the material on the destruction of Jerusalem.  The result is a certain degree of ambiguity.  The parallel verses in Luke to the Second Coming material in Matthew are Luke 21:25-27.  There is no previous material on deception.  The account leads straight from the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem to a statement about celestial signs, with an emphasis on the reaction of people.  The celestial signs then lead to the Second Coming in 21:27, which is almost exactly the same as Matthew 24:30c (…coming on clouds…great glory) (Luke uses “cloud” rather than “clouds”).  There is nothing about the gathering of the elect. 

            I remarked that the account in Luke has some ambiguity.  I wrote that with Russell and the Preterists in mind.  Russell contended that the celestial signs were poetic metaphors for the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem.  Of course, also, he maintained that Jesus’ “coming” was really equivalent to the destruction of Jerusalem.  I have already argued why I believe that idea is inadequate.  One of my arguments, with the Matthew account in mind, was that Jesus predicts a number of events and gives a chronology of events that cannot all be accounted for by the singular event of the destruction of Jerusalem.  That argument, admittedly, is not as strong if one is only looking at the Luke material.  However, one should note the final statement in the material that I have labeled as describing the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24).  Note the last statement is the following:

Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  (Luke 21:24b)

That statement anticipates a very lengthy time period.  If we consider Luke 21:25-27 to be at the end of that time period, then Luke harmonizes with Matthew and Mark.  Moreover, we are justified in not attributing Luke 21:25-27 to the period of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.  I believe that this interpretation is consistent with the entire flow of the Luke material.

            The Parable of the Fig Tree:  All three gospels have this parable and the sayings surrounding it in very similar language.  Luke has, in addition, verse 21:28.  That verse anticipates the parable and its application.  Moreover, verse 28 really is consistent with the interpretation that I and many others have given to the Matthew 24:34 (Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32).  I say this because Luke 21:28 states that, when “these things” begin to happen, we should look for our “redemption.”  Redemption is not the destruction of Jerusalem.  Surely, redemption is going to be fulfilled with the Second Coming of Christ.  So, “these things” are not the events of AD 70, but the celestial signs that anticipate the Second Coming of Christ.

            Final warnings:  We find that Matthew is far more complete in the account of the Jesus’ commentaries and warnings.  Matthew gives us verses 36-51 (16 verses) plus all of chapter 25 (46 verses).  Mark on the other hand only has verses 33-37 (5 verses), and Luke has verses 34-36 (3 verses).  The content in Mark and Luke is similar in message to that of Matthew:  Be alert because you do not know when the Lord will return; be especially aware of your spiritual attitudes and habits of life so that loose living or anxieties of life do not side track you or prevent your being alert.  Matthew, on the other hand, gives examples from Scripture, such as Noah, parables and analogies and insight into the nature of judgment—all to help us to be watchful and ready for the Coming of the Lord.

            Summary:  Matthew and Mark have very similar material, although Matthew’s account tends to be fuller, especially in the latter part of the Discourse.  Mark departs from Matthew and contains material very similar to Luke in the description of persecution, which is much lengthier in those two gospels than in Matthew.  Matthew tends to emphasize the progressive internal deterioration of the church whereas Mark and Luke seem to focus on persecution in the early years.  Luke has a section that appears to focus on the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the aftermath to that.  At the very end, it opens up the time line to the centuries.  Matthew and Mark focus on the Abomination of Desolation, a spiritual crisis for the world.  This is a signal to flee from harm in Judea.  Matthew and Mark then follow this with a focus on end-times tribulation and deception and anticipation of the Second Coming.  All three gospels mention the Second Coming of Christ, though Matthew is a more complete account and Luke’s account is very brief.  The parable of the fig tree is found in all three gospels.  Luke’s addition in verse 28 lends support to understanding “this generation” to be the generation of the Second Coming and not the generation of AD 70.  The additional commentary material in Mark and Luke, which echoes that in Matthew, is quite brief.  The three gospels are compatible in their accounts.  Luke gives a great deal of focus on the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, while Matthew and Mark anticipate the Great Tribulation of the last days.


Cole, Alan.  The Gospel According to Mark. Vol. 2 of Tyndale New Testament

            Commentaries.  General Ed. R. V. G. Tasker, Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ.

            Co., 1961.

Holy Bible, New International Version.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, International Bible Society. 


Newman, Barclay M.  A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament.  United Bible

            Societies, 1971.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publ. Co. 1958.

Russell, J. S.  The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our

            Lord’s Second Coming.  (Google Internet Book)  London:  Daldy, Isbister

            & Co., 1878.

My apologies for the following table.  The formating was not retained when it was pasted into the website.



1.  Jesus left the temple...disciples...call his attention to its buildings
1.  As he was leaving ...one...said... “Look... massive stones... magnificent buildings
5.  Some of ... disciples... how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones
2. ...not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.
2.  Same
6.  Same
3.  Tell us... when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
3. ...Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4.  “Tell us, when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?
7.  Teacher...when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?
4.  Watch out that no one deceives you.
5.   Same
8a.  Watch out that you are not deceived.
5.  For many will come in my name, claiming “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.
6.  Same except “I am he”
8b. ...”I am he” and “The time is near.”  Do not follow them.


6. a. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,
b.  but see to it that you are not alarmed.
c.  Such things must happen,
d.  but the end is still to come.
7. a.  When you hear of wars...
b.  do not be alarmed
c.  same
d.  same
9.  a. When you hear of wars and revolutions
b.  do not be frightened
c.  These things must happen first
d.  but the end will not come right away.
7.  a.  Nation will rise against nation.
b.  and kingdom against kingdom
c.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8.  a.  same
b.  same
c.  same
10. a.  same
b.  same
11.  a.  great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places
b.  and fearful events
c.  and great signs from heaven

8.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.
8. d.  same
9.a.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death
9.  a.  You must be on your guard
b.  You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.
12. a.  But before this they will lay hands on you and persecute you.
b.  They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons
9c.  On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them
c.  And you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
13.  This will result in your being witnesses to them.
11. a. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand what to say.
14.  But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.
11b.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
15.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
10. a.   At that time many will turn away from the faith
b.  and will betray
c.  and hate each other.
12.  Brother will betray brother to death and a father his children.  Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
16.  You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.
9b.  and you will be hated of all nations because of me.
13. a.  All men will hate you because of me.
17.  All men will hate you because of me.
18. But not a hair of your head will perish.
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 he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
13b.  Same
19.  By standing firm you will gain life.
14.  a.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations
b.  and then the end will come
10.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
15. a.  So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation
b.  spoken of through the prophet Daniel
c.  let the reader understand
14.  a.  When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong
b.  let the reader understand
20.  When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.
16.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
14c.  Same
21a.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains
b.  let those who are in the city get out,
c.  and let those who are in the country not enter the city
22.  For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.
17.  Let no one on the roof ...go down to take anything
15.  Essentially the same
18.  Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.
16. Same
19.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
17. Same
23.  a.  Same

20.  Pray that you flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
18.  Essentially same, omits Sabbath
21.  For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.
19.  Essentially the same
23b. There will be great distress in the land
23c. And wrath against this people.
24.  They will fall by the sword, and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.
Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
22.  If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
20.  Essentially the same
23.  At that time, if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it.
21.  The same
24.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.
22.  The same
25.  See, I have told you ahead of time.
23.  So be on you guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
26.  So, if anyone tells you...out in the desert...in the inner rooms, do not believe it.
27.  For as lightning that comes from the east is visible...so will be the coming of the Son of Man... 28. ...vultures will gather.

29.  a.Immediately after the distress of those days,
b. The sun will darkened... stars will fall from the sky...
24. a. But in those days, following that distress,
b.  The same
25.  The same
25. a.  There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.
b.  On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.

26.  Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
30. a. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,
b.  And all the nations of the earth will mourn.
c.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
26. Does not have same as Matthew 24:30 a and b
Does have same as Matthew 30.c.
27.  Does not have same as Matthew 24:30 a and b.
Does have same as Matthew 24:30c.  Uses “cloud” rather than “clouds.” 
31. a. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call,
b.  and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
27.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
32.  a.  Now learn this lesson from the fig tree
b.  As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
28.  Same as 32a and b.
29.  a.  He told them this parable:
b.  Look at the fig tree and all the trees.
30.  When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.

33.  Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
29.  Essentially the same.
31.  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
34.  I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
30.  Same
32.  Same
35.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
31.  Same
33.  Same
36.  No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.
32.  Same
34.  Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
35.  For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the face of the whole earth.
36.  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
This ends Olivet Discourse in Luke.
33.  Be on guard!  Be on alert!  You do not know when that time will come.
37-41.  As it was in the days of Noah...eating and drinking...flood came...Two men will be in the field...one will be taken and the other left.

42.  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
43-44.  But understand this: if the owner had know [when] ...the thief was coming...
45.  Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
34. It’s like a man going away; he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
46.  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.
47.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
48-51 But suppose that servant is wicked..begins to beat his fellow servants and...drink with the drunkards.  The master will come...when he does not expect him...He will cut him to pieces...
35-36.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening or at midnight, ...dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
37.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”

This ends the Olivet Discourse in Mark.
25:1-13: Parable of the virgins.  It ends with verse 13: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
No parallel
No parallel
25:14-30: Parable of the talents
No parallel
No parallel
25:31-46: The sheep and the goats.
No parallel
No parallel

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