Are Church Age Saints in the Olivet Discourse?
by Cooper P Abrams III
It is a common mistake in interpreting Matthew 24-25 to conclude that this passage is addressing events within this present church age. For example Matthew 24:40-41 seems to be a reference to the rapture (1 Thess. 4:18:13-18, 1 Cor. 15:51-58). Matthew 25:31-46 by some is understood to be describing the end of the church age, and presenting a single end time judgment with the saved or sheep on one side and the lost or goats on the other. The result of these views has cause a great deal of confusion as to the timing of the rapture. The following is presented as a response to explain hermeneutically that these are incorrect views and Matthew 24-25 supports the Pre-Tribulation rapture view of eschatology.
The context of the Olivet Discourse is established by Matthew 24:3. It is critical in interpreting a passage of God's word to fully understand the context in which a statement is made. The context would include who is being addressed, the subject of the discourse, the historical and cultural situation at that time. The disciples asked the Lord the question , ". . .what shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world." The word, "coming" is parousia, and basically means, "presence" or "arrival." (see 1 Cor. 16:17, 2 Cor. 7:7) The word translated "world" is the word aion, and means "age or a period of time." The question they asked was, "What shall be the sign when will you return will be the end of this present age?" The present age was the period just prior to His crucifixion, which was the Old Testament dispensation. The dispensation of the Church Age that was are presently in had not begun.
Next, to understand Jesus' discourse we need to determine what "age" were they asking about? Many falsely conclude that the age Jesus is talking about is the Church Age, and was addressing New Testament believers. however, the context and statements Jesus made negate that being the case. The age He speaks of here is the coming Seven Year Tribulation that would end with the Second Coming of the Messiah. At His Second Coming the Lord will then fulfill God's promises to the nation of Israel in what is referred to as the Kingdom which we know is the coming Millennium (1000 year reign of Christ - Revelation 20:6).
The parallel accounts in Mark 13:1f and Luke 21:5f tells us that Jesus' discourse of Matthew 24-25 occurred just after Jesus had left the temple for the last time and had predicted its destruction. He said that not one stone of this magnificent structure would be left upon another. (See Luke 21:5) The disciples perceived that Jesus was referring to events at the end of their present age and the coming of the promised Kingdom. The age the disciples referred to is the end of the Old Testament dispensation which would end in God restoring the nation of Israel and their Messiah ruling from Jerusalem. This present age in which we are living today is a different age we refer to as the Church Age. At the time Jesus spoke the current church age was not in view and did not begin until fifty days after Christ returned to Heaven.
The disciples as ,well as most of the Jews, were looking for God to fulfill His promises to Israel and were asking when Christ would return and set up His promised Kingdom. The strong condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, clearly set the stage for the disciples to be very concerned about these events. Jesus said that judgment would come upon this generation (Matt. 23:36-39). In Matthew 24:2, Jesus said that the beautiful Jewish temple would be completely destroyed. This was shocking news to the disciples, greatly alarming to them. Jesus then left the temple grounds proceeding east, probably through the Eastern Gate and across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives which was in sight of the temple mound. As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciple came to Him privately as Matthew 24:3 records and ask Him when these things would occur and what would be the signs of the end of the age. Therefore contextually that is the question that Jesus answered in the Olivet Discourse and the subject of His discourse. Christians of our present age were not in view in what the Lord said as He was addressing the subject that was on the mind of the Jews. The disciples did not know anything about the coming Church Age or institution of the local church. Therefore Jesus's statements were not about our present age, but rather addressed the end of the Old Testament dispensation.
Matthew 24-25 addresses the events of the seven year Tribulation which is the final seven years of Daniel's prophesy which states that the Messiah would come and reign in power in 490 years. Jesusí ministry as the Gospels record, was in the Old Testament dispensation. So far only 483 years of the prophecy has transpired which leaves the final seven years (Daniel's 70th Week) still future. The Old Testament dispensation is not completed, but will be finished with the coming of the Messiah at the end of the week. Thus none of the statements in Matthew 24-25 refer to the Church Age or Church Age saints (Christians). Clearly Christians are not present or mentioned in the Tribulation events of Matthew 24-25, nor in Revelation 4-19. Yes, an innumerable amount of people will be saved in the Tribulation which will include Jews and Gentiles (Matt. 24:14). But these saved people will be Old Testament saints not Christians and not the body of Christ. The Tribulation is a Jewish event when God will restore Israel, restore the Temple worship, and save a remnant of the Jews who will populate the earth in the Millennium. The coming seven year Tribulation when end with the fulfilling of Daniel's prophecy of 490 to the coming of the Messiah and His setting up His kingdom. Thus at the end of the seven year Tribulation will end the Old Testament dispensation which was postpone by God when Israel rejected Him as their Messiah.
Many times before, Jesus had explained to the disciples that He would killed and that He would be leaving them. For example in Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus told His disciples He would be killed and be raised from the dead on the third day. (See Matt. 14:1f) These statements about His death and leaving all preceded Matthew 24 had set the stage for the uneasiness of disciples concerning future events. They were looking for Him as the Messiah to set up the Kingdom, but He had not explained to them how this would be done. Thus, contextually the Olivet Discourse is related to the Jews and Jesus is addressing the coming promised Kingdom which would begin with the Daniel's 70th Week (the Seven Year Tribulation) and His Second Coming. The present church age is not in view here. What was in view was Daniel's prophecies:
"And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the over spreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." (Daniel 9:26-27)
Note that in Matthew 24:14, the Gospel that is being referred to is the "Gospel of the Kingdom." Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:5-7, records that John the Baptist, and Jesus preached the "Kingdom of God is at hand." Throughout Jesus' ministry this was the Gospel He preached. The Good News presented to the Jews proclaimed was that He was the Messiah. The Jews clearly understood that the coming of the Messiah would bring about the promised Kingdom Age of the nation of Israel that the Old Testament prophets had foretold and the Jews had been looking for centuries. Therefore Gospel of the Kingdom Jesus preached was of the coming Kingdom and is not the Gospel of the Church Age which presents salvation based on the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men Jew and Gentile alike. (Compare Matthew 24:14, with 1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Although Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 clearly predicted the Messiah suffering and dying for their sins it still remained a mystery to the Jews. They saw the Messiah as coming victoriously destroying the enemies of Israel and could not seem to relate a suffering Messiah with a victorious one.
Further, Matthew 24:21-22, specifically states that Jesus was referring is to the events of "Great Tribulation" and leaves no room for doubt as to the period Christ is describing.
Carefully note the sequence of events:
THE GREAT TRIBULATION BEGINS.
24:5 - Many will come and claim to be Christ.
24:6-7 - Wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom famines, pestilences, earthquakes in many places.
24:8 - These things are the beginning of sorrows (birth pains).
24:9 - Persecution unto death of believers
24:10 - Open apostasy, betrayal, and hatred among those professing to be believers.
24:11 - Many false prophets deceive many.
24:12 - Iniquity shall abound, and the love of many will grow cold.
24:13 - God promises physical salvation to those would endure and survive to the end. These are saved people will go into the Millennial kingdom in their natural bodies and repopulate the earth. (This is not a reference to spiritual salvation. Salvation is not received during any age through the works of man. Salvation is the received by faith and is a free gift of God.)
24:14 - The "Gospel of the Kingdom" shall be preached unto all nations and then the end comes.(This is accomplished by the 144,000)
24:15 - Temple will be defiled by the Anti-christ (Dan. 9:27) (This is the tribulation temple)
24:16-20 - Those in Judea flee to the mountains. (How can one relate this to the church? Geographically Jesus is referring to Jews in Israel)
24:21 - Then shall be the "great tribulation." The magnitude and scope of these events have no parallel in history, past or present. This is a reference to the bowl or vial judgments of Revelation 15-18 which occur at the end of the Seven Year Tribulation.
24:22 - The devastation on earth will be the worse the world has ever seen and if God did not shorten the days, no one would be left.
24:23-28 - People know all this is God's doing and related to the Second Coming, thus false christs seeking to profit form the world crisis will arise and misled the people.
24:29 - Immediately after the "tribulation," the sun and moon go dark, and star fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Note this is a Universal event not just a shower of meteors or asteroids hitting the earth. The whole Universe is shaken.)
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
24:30 - The sign of Christ coming appears in the skies. What this sign is, is not revealed, but everyone on earth will see it and know it means Christ is returning. This is in counter distinction to the teaching of the imminent return of Christ presented in the Epistles to the churches in this present Church Age. Believers in this dispensation are not told to look for signs but to look for Christ's imminent return. Paul states that signs are related to the Jews, not the Gentiles. "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:22)
24:31 - Christ sends his angels with a great sound of a trumpet to gather His "elect" from "the four corners of the wind and one end of heaven to the other." Mark uses the term "from the uttermost part of the earth to the utter most part of heaven." Thus Christ gathers the saved in all of heaven and all over the earth at the moment of His Second Coming. The believers of this present church age as the "bride of Christ" will have been raptured before the Seven Year Tribulation and will accompany Christ Jesus, along with the saints throughout the ages past, at His coming. On the earth, those believers still alive, will be gathered to Jerusalem to meet the Savior.
This is not the rapture because the details of these two events are different. Here in Matthew 24:31, Christ sends angels to gather the saints to be present at His arrival. In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, states that Christ Himself will descend with a shout and the dead in Christ shall arise first and those a live will be change and "caught up" (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, states that those caught up will be changed in the "twinkling of an eye." The "gathering" of the saints by angels clearly is a different event than the instantaneous "catching up" of Christians of this age in the rapture.
24:32-35 - Parable of the fig tree. Jesus uses the process by which a fig tree produces fruit as a illustration of relating the sign He has just mentioned to His Second Coming. He is saying that as you see these events happening look for the Second Coming and the age to end. He is now answering the disciples question as to when the Kingdom would be set up. Up to this point He is telling them what the signs would be. There is no correlation between 1 Thess. 4:16, and Matthew 24:31. In 1 Thess. 4:16, there is the voice of "one" angel, identified as the archangel. In Matthew 24:31, Christ sends forth, a plurality of angels, meaning more than one. Contextually, the "elect" of Matthew 24:22, are the same "elect" of Matthew 24:31, which are on the earth during the Tribulation.
24:36-39 - Comparison to the days of Noah. Only God knows the hour of His coming. "BUT" Jesus says, it will like it was in time before the Flood. Noah preached for one hundred and twenty years and worked to complete the ark. He too did not know when the Flood would come. Jesus is predicting a long interval between His leaving and His promised return. Using Noah as a example of perseverance and faith He is telling them not give up hope during the long interval.
24:40-41 - The rapture of the lost. This is not the Rapture of the church. The context places this event at the Second Coming which ends the Tribulation. The ones that are taken, are taken in judgment and parallels those taken in judgment in the Flood. In the Flood those that were taken were lost and those left were saved. At the Second Coming Christ will remove the unsaved from the earth in judgment. (see Ezek. 20:38, Mt. 8:12, 13:41-42,49-50, 25:41, 2 Thess. 1:7-9). The saints alive at the Second Coming will remain and enter the kingdom in their natural bodies (Isa. 4:3, Ezek. 20:40-42, Zech. 13:8-9, Matt. 13:43, 24:34). Those alive on the earth at the Second Coming will include Jews who believed during the seven years and are the remnant God promised would remain and be saved.
This cannot be the Rapture, because you would have all the saints removed from the earth, thus no one to populate the Millennial Kingdom in their natural un-glorified bodies. Further, at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom there would only be the lost left on earth. This clearly cannot be referring to the rapture of believers of this present church age, as the whole of the Olivet Discourse is dealing with the 70th Week of Daniel and relates to Israel.
24:42-44 - Parable of the householder. Warning to the Jews to watch and be ready.
24:45-51 - Parable of the wise servant. Note that in these parables there is a warning to watch for the signs and get ready. Again it needs to be stated that believers in the church age, who are the Bride and Body of Christ, are told to look for His imminent return. We today are not told to look for signs, but to be ready to be caught up at any second to meet the Lord. "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:22)
THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB.
25:1-13 - Parable of the Ten Virgins. Again Jesus is using a parable to warn the nation of Israel to be ready for the coming of their Messiah and the subsequent promised Kingdom. This verse specifically states that the coming Kingdom is "likened" to the ten virgins. The picture is the wedding of the Bride Groom who clearly is the Lord Jesus Christ. The believers of this dispensation, the church age, are called the bride of Christ.(Matt. 21:9) The virgins of this parable are invited guests of the Bride Groom to the wedding. The virgins clearly are not the bride, but guests who are told to be ready. Clearly is a serious mistake to conclude that those that are to be looking for the coming of the Bride Groom is church age believers. They are the bride and they are already prepared and waiting. Certainly the bride would be prepared for her wedding day. However, here the invited guests, who are the Jews, are warned to be ready. The point is this. In Israel during the Tribulation there will be Jews who see the signs of the coming Messiah and will make themselves ready for Him. Others referred to a foolish virgins were not prepared and they missed the wedding. In other words the wise virgins were ready and entered into the Kingdom, and the foolish virgins not being prepared or watching did not. Revelation 19:7-9 is the first reference to believers of the Church Age since Revelation 2-3. This is describing the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Verse 19 specifically distinguishes between the bride and the invited guest to her wedding. "And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:9) The invited quests will be the Jews and Gentiles saved during the seven years of Tribulation.
25:14-30 - Parable of the Talents. Once again Jesus using the term "For the kingdom of heaven is as" sets the context of His remarks. Jesus in this parable presents a contrast between who looked for the Master's return and wisely used their talents and those who did not. They all knew the Master would return and require an accounting of them. Two servants faithfully used what they were given, but the third was slothful and indifferent and he was condemned. The unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness which is a reference to hell. Taken the context of the parable, Jesus is saying to Israel that they should be looking for the Master's return and use the talents they have. Verse 29 makes the point that Israel had the knowledge of the Messiah and the coming Kingdom. They had been given much and therefore they would be judged accordingly.
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.
25:31 - Jesus then says the Kingdom would begin when Christ comes with all His angels.
25:32-46 - The Judgment of the people of all nations. (The sheep and goat judgment)
This is a judgment of the individual Gentiles who are alive having survived the Great Tribulation. It is referred to as the "Judgment of Nations" as verse 32 specifically states. However, it means individuals of the nations of the earth, not a whole nation or a nation as a whole. No nation is made up of all saved or all unsaved people, thus the judgment is of individuals of the nations of earth. This judgment is referred to in Joel 3:1-3:
"For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3 And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink."
Note the this judgment of the Gentiles takes places at the same time that God restores the Nation of Israel to their land. It takes place before the Millennium, because those that are accepted are taken "into" the kingdom. (Matt. 25:34) This judgment takes place on earth as the Lord divides the saved from the lost living inhabitants of this world. (Matt. 24:41-42 the "rapture" or catching away of the lost) The saved are those on earth who believed and by faith were saved during the Seven Year Tribulation and survived unto the Second Coming.
There is no resurrection involved here and no mention of a judgment of the dead. God is judging living people on earth. Joel 3:2, says it will take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat." Some believe this is the Valley of Berachah (2 Chron. 20:26) where Jehoshaphat defeated the Moabites and Ammorties, which gave the valley a new name. Others refer to the place as being the Valley of Kidron outside Jerusalem. Others refer to Zechariah 14:4, which says the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives and a great valley will be opened. Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges." Thus the valley of Jehoshaphat is the name of this new valley where Christ will judge the nations. No one can be dogmatic as to the place of this judgment. Your writer holds to the latter view, which seems to be more likely.
The basis of this judgment is based on how they treated "my brethren" (Matt. 25:40) which refers to saved Jews they had contact with during the Tribulation. God sends, at the beginning of the Tribulation, 144,000 Jewish evangelists who preach all over the world. (Rev. 7:1-8, 14:1-5) This division of nations is based on how the Gentiles received these Jewish preachers of the Gospel that determines their salvation. The main focus of the Antichrist, who is possessed by Satan will be to destroy the Jews in the Tribulation. If the Jews could be destroyed the Millennial kingdom promised to Israel could not occur and God would default on His promises. Thus this is Satan's goal in using the Antichrist and His forces to destroy Jews from off the earth. This is not a judgment in the sense that those saved worked for their salvation by doing the good deeds of helping these Jewish evangelists. Salvation is never received because of one's good works. (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:5) The works of compassion shown to the 144,000 is evidence that these Gentiles, who are to be part of the Kingdom, believed their message that Jesus was the Messiah (Savior) and accepted the message of Christ these men preached. They were saved the same way all men are saved, by believing and receiving Jesus Christ (Messiah) as their Savior.
The result of these who believed are that they enter into the kingdom alive in their natural bodies. They are not resurrected, but remain in their human bodies unchanged. They remain alive and they with the saved Jews who remain alive at the end of the Seven Years populate the world in the 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. This tells who the earthly inhabitants of the Kingdom will be. This fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 7:14, Isa. 55:5, and Micah 4:2 which state a large group of Gentiles will have a part in the kingdom. Note also that there will be many Jews alive and these will be the ones who actually inherit the earth in the Millennium kingdom. The Jews who have died will be resurrected and in their spiritual bodies they too will take part in the kingdom.
The "goats" are pictured on the left hand of the Savior, and Matthew 25:41 states they are condemned "into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." They had the same opportunity as the "sheep" who received the Gospel and repented of their sins. They heard the message of the 144, 000 and other saints saved during this period, but rejected it and thus sealed their eternal doom. Matthew 24:41-42 explains that these who reject the Messiah during the Tribulation will be caught up, removed from the earth and judged. Those left on earth are saved people, the elect, who will enter the Kingdom Age. The place of their torment is called the, "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." This plainly is a reference to "Gehenna" the "Lake of Fire" (Revelations 20:14) and not to "Hades" the present abode of the unsaved dead. Satan is never said to be in Hades, the present abode of the lost who are awaiting the final judgment or his angels. Revelations 20:10, says that Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, before the judgments of the unsaved lost at the Great White Throne judgment (Revelations 20:11-15). Thus this verse is saying the lost of the Great Tribulation are judged and condemned immediately to the eternal Lake of Fire and are not a part of the Great White Throne judgment that happens after the Millennium.
As Warren Wiersbe says, "Next to the 13th chapter, no part of Matthew has suffered more misinterpretation than the chapters 24-25! Almost every major cult has used Matthew 14:1-41, along with Daniel 9:20-27, to "prove" that Christ has already returned! Even well meaning evangelicals confuse the issue by applying this section to the church in this age." (Warren W. Wiersbe, Expository Outlines on the New Testament, Calvary Book Room, Covington, KY, 1982, p61)
Every detail of Matthew 24-25 is related to the Jews and the nation of Israel. There is nothing in these two chapters which relates to the present church age or believers of this dispensation. It is therefore a serious mistaken to interpret the Olivet Discourse as referring to end of the church age and there is not found here any support for a Pre-wrath, Mid or Post Tribulational rapture or Amillennialism. If understood properly these passages support the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulational rapture of believers in this present Church age and of the Pre-Millennial return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 24-25 addresses the events of the Tribulation which is the final seven years of Daniel's prophesy that the Messiah would come reign in power in 490 years. Christ's Second Coming will end the Old Testament dispensation and not the Church Age. Jesus' ministry was in the Old Testament dispensation. So far only 483 years of Daniel's prophecy has transpired which leaves the final seven years (Daniel's 70th Week) still future. The Old Testament dispensation is not completed, but will be finish with the coming of the Messiah at the end of the week. Thus none of the statements in Matthew 24-25 refer to the Church Age or Church Age saints. Clearly Christians are not present or mentioned in the Tribulation events of Matthew 24-25, nor in Revelation 4-19. Yes, an innumerable amount of people will be saved in the Tribulation which will include Jews and Gentiles (Matt. 24:14). This begins at the opening of the Tribulation period with God saving and sealing 144,000 Jews. If Christians in the Church Age are present in the Tribulation why did He not include Gentiles as well. The absence of Gentiles plainly shows the Jewish nature and emphasis of Daniel's 70th Week and the end of the Old Testament dispensation. These saved people will be Old Testament saints not Christians and not the body of Christ or Bride of Christ. The Tribulation is a Jewish event when God will restore Israel, restore the Temple worship, and save a remnant of the Jews who will populate the earth in the Millennium and fulfill His unconditional promises and covenant with His chosen people, the nation of Israel.
The modern teachers who teach the Pre-Wrath, Middle and Post Tribulational views are making the same mistake the Judaizers of the first Century. They mixed God's promises to the nation of Israel with that of Christians in the Church Age. Clearly, God through Paul condemned this false interpretation of His word.
Mixing God's promises to Israel with those to Christians in this the Church Age is the error of the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the Amillennialists, the Reformed movement and those who in error purport the Lord will cause His bride to go through the catastrophic events of the Tribulation. These false teachers fail to understand the context and emphasis of the Gospels and God's separate programs for Israel. Though we have a common Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5, not Matt. 4:17) and are grafted into the God's plan for the Israel....Christians in this age are not Israel and God has not abandoned His plans and promises to them as a nation. Further God has promised the blessed hope which is to come for believers in this the Church Age, in the rapture that precedes the Tribulation.