Eschatology Outlines: No. 3B The Olivet Discourse (conc.)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Jesus:
The Birth Pains Period from Beginning to End

I. The big picture: The Olivet Discourse starts with a survey of the time from the beginning of birth pains to the end of the age (i.e., the end of the birth pains period). See Matt 24:4-14//Mark 13:5-13//Luke 21:8-19. In other words, Jesus begins the Discourse by giving an overview of the entire birth pangs era.

A. The beginning of the birth pains period, Matt 24:4-8 and parallels—Jesus pointedly says the following are not yet the end: false christs, wars, and rumors of wars, 24:4-6; famines, pestilence, and earthquakes, 24:7-8. (See also Rev 6.) It is relevant here to remember the history of Cain and his descendants: according to Jesus, culture (with nature) suffers from degradation during the birth pains era (Matt 24:4-8) just as it did during the era narrated in Gen 4:17–6:8. Each age of birth pains culminates in the birth of a new world.

B. The end of the age = the end of the birth pains era, Matt 24:9-14 and parallels—The end comes only after gospel witness goes to all the nations, 24:14 (see 28:19-20). The end marks the limit of gospel preaching, persecution, and perseverance, 24:9-13.

II. Tribulation and persecution, from beginning to end—It is noteworthy that tribulation and persecution take place throughout the period of birth pains. That is, they last as long as gospel witness lasts, and the spread of the gospel witness to the nations brings the spread of tribulation and persecution to the nations. Tribulation and persecution, therefore, occur both early and late in the period.—From Christ’s 1st Coming through His 2nd Coming, there is intensifying pressure on the church to apostatize because of cultural degradation (i.e., apostasy, removal of restraint, lawlessness). In other words, the days of Noah and the days of Lot recur, and tribulation and persecution bear the fruit of apostasy and betrayal; false prophecy multiplies deception; lawlessness increases and culture suffers corruption.

IV. Tribulation in Jerusalem, Matt 24:15-20//Mark 13:14-18// Luke 21:20-22—After giving an overview of the entire birth pains period, Jesus answers the disciples’ question about Jerusalem and the temple.

A. Jerusalem in spiritual decline—In Matt 23:13-39, Jesus pronounced judgment on 1st century Jerusalem. Just as Moses compared the people and land to Sodom in Deut 30:22-28 and Isaiah compared Jerusalem to Sodom in Isa 1:9-10, so Jesus did (Matt 11:23-24; Luke 17:28-29). He characterized the city’s population for its apostasy, hypocrisy, murder, corruption, robbery, self-indulgence, lawlessness, and moral blindness. In short, they were very much like the neighbors of Lot and Noah in their days. With its worship and justice corrupted, Jerusalem had also persecuted the church.

B. Jerusalem to be destroyed: Your house is being left to you desolate, Matt 23:38.—The temple will be abominated by an enemy nation. In the destruction of Jerusalem, nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:7). With these words, Jesus connects Jerusalem’s tribulation and destruction to the beginning of birth pains, not the end of the age. As predicted by Jesus, then, the destruction of Jerusalem is at the beginning of birth pains, not the end; the tribulation in Jerusalem is early tribulation, not late.

C. A remnant to be delivered, Matt 24:16-20: like Noah and Lot, the Christian remnant in Jerusalem will escape to the mountains (cf. Matt 24:16 with Gen 8:4; 19:19).

V. Tribulation and false reports of Christ’s coming throughout the birth pains period, Matt 24:21-28//Mark 13:19-23//Luke 17:23-24, 37—Next, Jesus answers the question about His coming and the end of birth pains.

A. Tribulation in Jerusalem is only one early example of the tribulation that occurs during the entire birth pains period to the end of the age, Matt 24:21-22.—Jesus emphasizes three traits of the tribulation in the age of birth pains. That tribulation is great in its increasing severity, longevity, and scope, Matt 24:21. Tribulation in the birth pains period is comprehensive, in that it threatens not just Jerusalem, but all flesh, Matt 24:22a. (Note: tribulations in the earth threatened all flesh before the flood, Gen 6:11-13.) Tribulation in the birth pains period is shortened, even though it is great and comprehensive, Matt 24:22b. According to Gen 6:3, God had limited the duration of tribulation on the earth before the flood by limiting the apostates’ years in the earth without the Spirit’s restraint. God will limit the duration of tribulation again before Christ’s return.

B. False reports of Christ’s coming and the true character of His coming, Matt 24:23-28.—False christs and false prophets appear throughout the era, Matt 24:23-25: these pseudo-christs and pseudo-prophets will mock the true God and deceive the world with great signs and wonders.—False sightings of Christ recur during the age, Matt 24:25-27: we’re to remember that Christ’s coming will be not be secluded or hidden, but public, unmistakable, universal, cosmic. False prophets, like vultures on a corpse (of a dead nation or a dead world), will prey, however, on their hearers, Matt 24:28. Again, it’s important to recall that false christs and prophets are not yet the end; they appear from the beginning of birth pains, Matt 24: 6, 8.

VI. The end of birth pains, the end of the age, Matt 24:29-31 // Mark 13:24-27 // Luke 21:25-28—Christ returns to judge heaven and earth. It is the judgment of heaven and earth, not the judgment of Jerusalem, that marks the end of birth pains and the end of the age.—Note the shift in focus and scope from Jerusalem to heaven and earth. With the heavens shaking (sun, moon, stars, heavenly powers, Matt 24:29; see Heb 12:26-27), the end of the world that now is comes in days of cosmic judgment, like the days of Noah.—The sign of the Son of Man and the gathering of the elect, 24:30-31 (//13:40-43, 49-50). Note the elect are gathered from the four winds, the point being that the gospel will have gone to all the nations before the end of the age comes.

VII. Admonitions and instruction on alertness between the beginning and the end, Matt 24:32-25:30//Mark 13:28-37//Luke 21:29-36—Jesus declares that His disciples are not to be afraid, misled, or surprised. Instead, we’re to be courageous, discerning, and vigilant.

VIII. The transition from the end of this birth pains age to the regeneration of heaven and earth, Matt 19:28; 25:31-46—The transition from this age to the age to come, the eternal state, is accomplished through redemptive judgment, according to which God’s people are ushered into eternal life in the world to come, while His enemies depart into eternal judgment.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 4 The Apostolic Writings