Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem
Sunday: Triumphal Entry (11:1-11).
Lesson from Fig Tree (11:20-26).
Jesus’ Authority Questioned (11:27-33).
Parable of Wicked Vinedressers (12:1-12).
On Taxes (12:13-17).
On Resurrection (12:18-27).
The Greatest Commandment (12:28-34).
An Unanswerable Question (12:35-37).
Warning About the Scribes (12:38-40).
Widow’s mites (12:41-44).
Difficulties in interpretation.
Setting the stage (13:1-4).
Leading up to the destruction (13:5-13).
Jerusalem’s destruction (13:14-23).
Abomination of desolation (13:14).
Time to go! (13:15-18).
Some object to this being a reference to these 45 days because of how great it is said to be.
Josephus records only 1.1 million dead with 97 thousand taken captive (War vi.9.3). The Holocaust killed over 6 million Jews, and many others.
True, but think of it this way. The Nazis certainly killed many more people, but that was over the span of the 12 years that the Third Reich was in existence.
This was 1.1 million in just a month and a half.
Don Blackwell breaks this down from Josephus’ writings, giving the casualty and captive counts as I did, but also this:
Women ate their own babies (cf. 2 Kgs 6:24ff), men broke into houses and stole food from children’s mouths, and neighbor robbed neighbor for their food.
Rich Jews swallowed gold coins and deserted to the Romans. When the Romans figured this out, they killed and gutted these wealthy Jews to find their coins. Thousands died like this, 2 thousand one night.
Many were beaten, tortured, thousands crucified. They even ran out of wood and places to crucify them.
When all was said and done, 115,800 bodies were carried out through one gate in three months, and altogether 600k were disposed of. They ran out of room outside the city to dispose of the bodies, so they were stored in large houses.
Thousands of the captives were forced to fight beasts and each other in the arena for spectators’ amusement.
And of course, the temple was destroyed.
Josephus here also states (War vi.8.5):
But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is, of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching any thing. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood.
Not very many people realize just how terrible this was.
Jesus very plainly tells us it was going to be bad, and Josephus tells us that this was quite literally fulfilled.
Thankfully the days were shortened so that it would last 45 days.
Jesus again foretells of the false christs and false prophets that would try to fool the Jews and even the Jewish Christians.
These people would fill them with a false sense of security, thinking that God was on their side, but He very clearly was not.
They would even show signs and wonders to deceive, which also reminds me of the strong delusion that Paul foretells (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
Whether or not Paul is talking about this event, I can’t say, but it is interesting that Satan will use whatever means at his disposal to fool people, including Christians, the elect.
Plus, Jesus tells them about this beforehand so they can be ready for it and not be fooled by these charlatans.
Celestial Events (13:24-25).
This next section has brought up much debate as to its meaning—surely nothing this catastrophic has happened to the Sun, Moon, or stars!
First, the time statement Jesus gives (“in those days”) refers to the days He was just talking about—the destruction of the temple—but after the tribulation just discussed. This implies it’s not long afterward.
To find out exactly what He’s talking about, it would be helpful to consider prophecies in the OT that discuss similar celestial happenings.
Several OT prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel use similar language to describe catastrophic earthly happenings.
This is a genre of biblical literature called “apocalyptic.”
It is highly symbolic and allegorical of historically significant yet quite ordinary events.
It didn’t come into vogue until the intertestamental period, but elements certainly exist in the OT prophets and it definitely appears in NT prophecies.
So what does it mean? Let’s start by looking at Isaiah 13:10.
Isaiah 13:1 specifically states that this is a prophecy against Babylon, and later in 13:17, the Medes will rise up against them. In 13:19 Isaiah reaffirms this is talking of Babylon, not the end of the world.
As Wayne Jackson states of this verse: “The darkening of heavenly luminaries is frequently depicted in the Bible as a symbol for judgment—especially relating to nation powers (cf. Eze. 32:7-8; Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29); here it represents the fall of Babylon” (Jackson 32).
And that certainly came to pass by the end of Daniel 5.
We see similar language in Isaiah 34 concerning Edom, and in Ezekiel 32 concerning Egypt.
In context, Jesus is talking of the judgment of God upon Jerusalem. Another commentator holds that these different celestial bodies represent specific elements of the Jewish religion: “The high priest was the sun, the Sanhedrin Council was the moon, and the many rabbis were the stars” (Wilcoxson).
Whether or not that is what it refers to specifically, it is clear that this did occur in a.d. 70.
Some take this passage a bit more literally, that it refers to the end of time, and that the next couple of verses bear that out.
Since vs. 30 comes after that, saying that these things will come to pass in this generation, it seems that at least everything before it refers to the temple’s destruction.
This just shows that there are various valid interpretations for different parts of the Olivet Discourse, and that’s okay.
We may not have concrete answers for certain passages this side of eternity, nor do we need them.
Let’s look at the next few verses to see what we mean.
There is no doubt that Jesus is coming again at the end of the world—there are plenty of other NT passages to back that up (e.g. Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16).
Yet there are other days talked about in Scripture when the Lord comes in the clouds for the purpose of bringing judgment (Isa. 19:1).
To be fair, there are many “days of the Lord” talked about in Scripture referring to judgments.
There have been many local judgments, but there will be one final global judgment.
What we see in Mark is a reference to Daniel’s prophecy in Dan. 7:13-14.
This occurs during the time of the Roman empire, where“One like the Son of Man, [is] coming with the clouds of heaven!”
This is the time when Christ begins to reign in the first century, and of course He reigns even now since all authority has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18; cf. Psa. 110:1).
Jesus also alludes to this later when He is under interrogation by the high priest (Mark 14:62).
So this could refer to the Second Coming at the end of the world, but the fact that it doesn’t have to plus the time statements given in the context (13:24, 30), it does not seem likely.
Gathering His elect (13:27).
But what about the angels gathering the elect?
It certainly seems to have reference to the angels doing this very thing in the final judgment in Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:37-42).
In that parable, the angels are the reapers gathering, not just the elect, but everyone. The focus is on gathering the wicked for punishment.
Such judgments are not limited to the final judgment and could include the judgment mentioned here in the Olivet Discourse.
However, this is specifically mentioning the gathering of the elect, those chosen in Christ, not gathering everyone.
So how can this fit within the a.d. 70 time frame we have established?
Many of you know that the Greek word for “angel” is ἄγγελος.
“Angel” is, in fact, a transliteration of the word, and we typically think of it as a spiritual being, a messenger of God.
That could be how Jesus is intending it to be understood, but it’s not necessary.
That word literally means “messenger,” and can refer to a human messenger or a heavenly messenger.
Here are some examples where it definitely refers to human messengers:
John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27).
John’s disciples (Luke 7:24).
Jesus’ disciples (Luke 9:52).
Spies sent to Jericho (James 2:25).
Even when translated as “angel,” it can refer to a human messenger, as in the case of Rev. 2 and 3, when Jesus says, “To the angel of the church of ______, write.”
John is writing to people, ministers, leaders in these congregations.
And what more blessed a messenger is there than a messenger of the gospel of Christ? (Rom. 10:15).
That makes this a prediction of the continued fulfillment of the Great Commission.
As the gospel has gone out into the world to every nation before this point (13:10), it still needs to be carried out and will always need to be carried out.
Otherwise the Great Commission need no longer apply to us!
Indeed, the gospel message goes out to gather the elect into His church, the church of Christ.
So, similar to before, this could refer to the final judgment, but since it doesn’t have to, along with the facts that the wicked being gathered up isn’t mentioned with the time statements given in context (13:24, 30), it does not seem likely to refer to the end of the world.