In the Fulness of Time/Part 136

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2011
In this final woe the beautifying was condemned because it was another example of their hypocrisy. There was nothing wrong with perpetuating the memorials of righteous men. The matter of hypocrisy entered in by way of the claim that if the scribes and Pharisees had been living in the days of their fathers, they would have had no part in the slaying of the prophets. After all, why would they be going to all the trouble of preserving and adorning their tombs?

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Prophecies of the King: The Olivet Discourse. Matthew 24-25

Years ago it was a simple matter to go to the drugstore for cough medicine. There was virtually only one choice; Dr. Hobson’ White Pine and Tar, and the claim was that it could cure anything and everything related to the common cold. Now there are hundreds of potions, powders and pills which fill multitudes of shelves, but the claims are no less comprehensive or confusing!

Something akin to this has happened in the interpretation of prophecy. That which used to be fairly simple has become so complicated and divisive that one must wade through amillennialism, promillennialism (which says, in effect, “I don’t really know what this is, but I’m all for it!”), postmillennialism and reconstructionism, plus the numerous variations of premillennialism, including pre-tribulationism, mid-tribulationalism, pre-wrathism, post-tribulationism and progressive dispensationalism, not to mention theories of imminent or non-imminent return of Christ, or whether there is one rapture of the Church or two!

In light of all this, some have neglected to deal with prophecy, relegating it to the back burner altogether! Yet, it is still there, involving one-fourth of Scripture. With reference to all the theories listed, there have been excellent volumes dealing with prophetic themes. To repeat even a fraction of that information is not within the purpose of this series. Indeed, it would be impossible to deal with all the possibilities in one volume of a book. Instead, the Olivet Discourse will be approached in accordance with the purpose of the entire Gospel of Matthew, and specifically with regard to the place it occupied in the culmination of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Plan of the Future for the Jews. Mt 24:1-25:30

The questions of the Disciples. Matthew 24:1-3

Mt 24:1-3 “And Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and his disciples came to him to show 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 age?

At the end of chapter 23, Jesus made a compassionate lament over the city of Jerusalem, and at the same time pronounced the coming judgment upon Israel. Soon after, Jesus left the Temple, and His disciples wanted to show Him the buildings of the Temple. Herod the Great had started to rebuild the Temple in 20 BC, and it was not completed until 64 AD. At the time of Matthew 24 it was approximately 50 years later and most of the buildings had been completed. No doubt the disciples were proud of these buildings and desired to show them to Jesus. It is significant that the Temple was destroyed only six years after it was finished. This occurred in 70 AD in the war with Rome.

Jesus predicted in verse 2 that all the stones of the Temple would be thrown down. Neither Matthew nor Mark give details of the overthrow of Jerusalem; it is Luke who relates the words of Jesus concerning the armies encompassing the city with the resultant confusion and distress which was to accompany “the days of vengeance” fulfilling the prophecy of their house being left desolate unto them (Matthew 23:39). This constitutes the answer to the first question: “When shall these things be?” Luke’s account also includes the words of Christ concerning that which is to befall the disciples personally: “Before all these things they shall lay hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:12). Much of this would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the remainder of their troubles would continue until the end of the century when the last remaining disciple, the aged Apostle John, died after his exile on the Isle of Patmos.

The question which remained: “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?” involves two events which would not occur during the course of the age, but rather at the end. The only “age” they knew about was that which Jesus taught them in the parables of Matthew 13. In that discussion He revealed The Age of the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, as explained in the comments on that chapter. That “age” was to have three sections; a time of sowing, to begin by the Lord Himself before He went to the Cross (13:27), a time for the growing of the wheat and tares together (13:30) and a time of reaping, when the angels would come: “at the end of the age” (13:30) and separate the tares from the wheat. After the wheat (the good seed of 13:24, 30) is gathered into His barn, it would be the occasion for the righteous to “shine forth in the kingdom of their father” (13:43).

That “age” therefore, would extend from the pre-Cross ministry of Christ and would end with the coming of Christ with His holy angels to remove the wicked and begin the Messianic Kingdom on earth. Someone might conclude that the Church Age is included in such a concept, yet the Church is never mentioned nor described, and can only be comprehended very generally as part of the period of “growing” in the statement “Let both grow together until the harvest” (13:30).

There are only two occurrences of the word ecclesia, “church” in Matthew. The first is in 16:18 and is the prophecy that Christ would build His Church in the future. There is no explanation of its organization, doctrine or destiny. The second is in 18:15-20 with instruction for discipline, but again, nothing more is revealed. Right after this, in 19:27-28 Christ answered Peter’s question about what the disciples should expect for following the Lord. Christ’s answer did not involve the Church; rather, He said: “Ye who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Further, in 20:20-23 James and John, with the help of their mother were still concerned with sitting on the right hand and left hand in His kingdom. There were no questions about the Church.

When were the different aspects of the Church revealed? It was not until Paul wrote his epistles that the various “mysteries” or new revelations concerning the Church came to light. In AD 51 Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, and in 4:15 it is recorded: “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,” and then he proceeded to elucidate the doctrine of Christ coming “in the air,” when the dead saints are raised and along with the living saints are: “caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17). The expression “caught up” is from harpagesometha,used of divine power transferring a person marvellously and swiftly from one place to another, to snatch or catch away” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, pp. 74-75). This is referred to as the rapture of the Church. About five years later, in AD 56, Paul communicated the same truth to the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” He then proceeded to add that the dead would put on incorruption and the living would put on immortality.

About four years after this, in AD 60, Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church telling them of the “mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ (Ephesians 3) and as the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32). One wonders just what the disciples remembered from the Upper Room Discourse in John 14-17, where Jesus mentioned that He would go away and come again to receive them unto Himself, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and of his indwelling them forever. That Discourse, by the way, was two days after the Olivet Discourse, and the information Christ then gave would not have entered into their question about “the end of the age” in Mt 24:1-3

Whatever they did remember, it did not change their thinking until after the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost and altered their outlook considerably. Even in Acts 1:4-6, after He reminded them of the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (which He promised in the Upper Room Discourse), when they were come together, “they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even at this late date they were not thinking of a Church Age, but of an earthly, Israelitish kingdom! At the time of the Olivet Discourse, therefore, He spoke to His disciples as Jews who believed in Him as their Messiah/King, which would eventually be fulfilled “in the fulness of time” but it is unthinkable to include the Church in the answer Christ gave to them.

Read Part 137

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