ST504 Ecclesiology and Eschatology
November 30, 2012
PRETERIST AND FUTURIST INTERPRETATIONS OF THE
The Olivet Discourse is a prophetic narrative spoken by Jesus Christ and recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus’ disciples initiate the discourse when they praise the magnificence of the Jewish temple during the Passion Week. At the mention of the temple, Jesus states, “Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down”
(Matt. 24:2; Mark13:2; Luke 21:6).1 Jesus’ statement prompts the disciples to ask him, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt.
24:3). Matthew chapter twenty-four, Mark chapter thirteen, and Luke chapter twenty-one record
Jesus’ answer to these questions. This narrative is called the Olivet Discourse since Jesus spoke these words while with his disciples on the Mount of Olives.
When comparing the discourse narratives found in each gospel, the reader will notice many similarities and some differences. All three accounts predict the coming of false Christs, wars, famines, and earthquakes, and assert these events are not signs of the end, merely “birth pains” (Mark 13:8). In all three gospels, Jesus warns his disciples that believers will be persecuted on account of their testimony. Each account also contains a flight from Judea, signs among the sun, moon, and stars, and the coming of the Son of Man “in great glory” (Luke
21:27). The gospels differ in their presentation of the Olivet Discourse with respect to the tribulation. Matthew and Mark speak of the “abomination that causes desolation” (Matt. 24:15,
Mark 13:14) which ushers in a great tribulation “unequaled” though all history – a tribulation so
The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).
2 severe it would wipe out all humanity if this period were not “cut short” (Matt. 24:21-22, Mark
13:19-20). Luke, on the other hand speaks of Jerusalem “surrounded by armies” which will bring
“desolation” upon that city (Luke 21:23). This ushers in “the times of the gentiles” when Jews will endure punishment and tribulation (Luke 21:24). Also, Luke is the only gospel that predicts
Israel’s “redemption” at the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 21:28).
As in many cases concerning prophetic passages of the Bible, evangelicals disagree how the Olivet Discourse should be interpreted. Currently, two competing ideas dominate this discussion: the preterist position and the futurist position. The preterist believes most, if not all, the events presented in the Olivet Discourse took place in the first-century A.D. and had their climatic culmination at the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. The futurist believes some of the events presented in the discourse, such as the destruction of the Jewish temple, took place in the first-century A.D., but most of the events contained in this passage will not have their fulfillment until the end of the age. The following text describes each position in more detail. The Preterist Position
The preterist believes the key to understanding the Olivet Discourse is found in Jesus’ statement, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”
(Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Preterists insist this passage “leads to the inescapable conclusion that ‘these things’ are to occur in the first-century generation of Christ’s original audience.”2 They arrive at this conclusion for a number of reasons. First, the “most obvious and legitimate interpretation” of genera, the Greek word meaning generation, is for a period of time
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Olivet Discourse Made Easy: You Can Understand Jesus’ Great Prophetic
Discourse (Draper, Virginia: The Apologetics Group, 2010), 117.
3 spanning twenty-five to forty years.3 Second, Jesus repeatedly uses this phrase