The Olivet Discourse
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
Matthew 24:1-3 (emphasis mine)
When we consider Bible prophecy of the end, we must look at Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse. In this discussion with His disciples, Jesus answer the disciples questions about the coming destruction of the temple and it’s buildings. The late teacher Derek Prince likened the interpreting Bible prophecy in terms of reassembling a skeleton. He said that the thing you have to start with is the spine. For Bible prophecy of the end, he claimed that Matthew 24 and the parallel passages (Luke 21 and Mark 13) were the spine of Biblical Eschatology.
When we look at the Matthew 24 passage, which is the primary passage, we must take note of the context of the passage.
The disciples were remarking on the buildings then standing, and asking about two separate questions. When the destruction of the then standing buildings that Jesus described would take place, and when His final coming would be in the full glory of His Father.
For the most part, the dialogue of Jesus follows the destruction of Jerusalem, including the various calamities leading up to its destruction in 70AD. These are the “these things” the disciples were asking about. Additionally, however, they asked about His second coming.
It is here that we have to make an interpretational juncture.
In Matthew 24:29, the verse is typically translated, ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days…’ Now, the Greek language for the text ‘Immediately after’ is fairly consistently translated as “Immediately” and is the Greek phrase ‘eutheos de meta’. Now eutheos is derived from the Greek word for straight. It could also be translated as “straightway’. The problem with this word is that it does not necessarily have the connotation of ‘time’, but more specifically indicates sequence of events.
The same root word is used in John 6:21 describing the boat that Jesus entered after walking on water.
Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Now, what this probably wasn’t was a miraculous transport of the boat. Rather, it is simply saying that next in the sequence of events, the next notable thing in the narrative is that the boat reached the other shore. If it had been “immediate” in the way we think of that word in English, it would have been a miraculous transport of the craft. If that had been the case, the Gospel writer, John, most certainly would have identified it as a miracle, and would have attributed the subject of the verb to be God, and not the boat.
Since we see that “Eutheos de meta”, “immediately but after”, or “next but after” in Matthew 24:29 can indicate “sequence” without implying time, depending on the context, we must consider what Jesus was saying in the discourse.
All the way leading up to around v26, Jesus describes the “these things” of the disciple’s first question. Then, follows a small transitional section. And, finally, what has tied the second coming to the Great Tribulation for so many, comes in v29.
Immediately after the distress of those days, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”, v29.
Jesus has just finished describing the coming destruction, which He will in a few verses say will happen within that generation, in under 40 years in 70AD. But, now, rather than saying that the second coming must follow “immediately”, he describes the second coming, as “next, after the the tribulation…”. In the passage in Luke 21, the difference is made plain, in that Luke’s Gospel records the interim time as the “Time of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
Jesus then describes the second coming events, literally the same events as those described in the end of Revelation 20.
Now, Jesus continues with his discussion and now that He has described the events themselves, establishing context, he specifically answers the disciple’s real question concerning both, that is, the TIMING.
Jesus first says that “these things“, the same “these things” the disciples began questioning him about, the destruction of the temple, Jesus says this will be within that generation (v34). Next, He explains that no one knows the day or hour of the second event, the second coming (v36).
For the disciples, He has answered the questions they asked. He has described the signs concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Luke, He describes that there will be an undisclosed length of time known as the “times of the Gentiles”. And, finally, he concludes the chapter saying that concerning the second coming, there will be NO signs.
This is where we stand today. The events concerning the Great Tribulation, that particular destruction of Jerusalem which was the worst the world ever saw, not in numbers, specifically, but in particular cruelty, and devastation upon the Jews. Not a world-wide tribulation, but the time of “Jacob’s troubles”. And, we wait in the immanency of the Lord’s second coming, of which He said this,
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.