The Temple Discourse in Luke 21 (not the Olivet Discourse)

Luke 21 does not contain the Olivet Discourse

Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed. Later in the evening, four disciples come privately and receive instruction concerning the Coming of the Son of Man and the End of the Age, but Jesus’ immediate response to the crowd recorded in Luke 21 did not occur on the Mount of Olives.  It occurred publicly at the temple in the hearing of the crowds.

Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13 both contain a discourse which occurs on the Mount of Olives, hence the name, the Olivet Discourse. Luke 21, while containing some of the same aspects, is significantly different from Matthew and Mark. The first difference is that the basic framework of Matthew and Mark is missing from Luke. Matthew and Mark both possess sections which mention the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:4-8, Mark 13:5-8), the preaching of the gospel in the midst of persecution unto the end of the age (Matthew 24:9-14, Mark 13:9-13), and the section which PreWrathers love in Matthew 24:15-31, Mark 13:14-27, containing the clear sequence of

#1- The Abomination of Desolation
#2- The Great Tribulation
#3- The Cosmic Signs
#4- The Coming of Christ
#5- The Gathering of the Elect

In Luke, we have some description of those things which are described as birth pains in Matthew and Mark, but they are not designated as such. In Luke, we have persecution, but there is no mention that the gospel will be preached during this time of persecution for a witness in all nations and then the end [of the age] will come. The Abomination of Desolation, Daniel the prophet, the Great Tribulation, and the Gathering of the Elect are nowhere to be found in Luke 21. We do have mention of signs in the sun, moon, and stars, but not specifically what those signs will be (i.e. it doesn’t say they will go dark). We also have mention of the Coming of the Son of Man.

The second difference (which actually comes first) is that there is no mention of the discourse beginning on the Mount of Olives in Luke. As far as we know from reading Luke’s gospel, the crowd asks Jesus the questions concerning the destruction of the temple. Jesus responds directly to the crowd speaking of a number of things including false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and even great signs from heaven. He then talks about persecution for those who believe in Him.

Then Jesus answers the question posed to Him concerning the destruction of the temple in the ears of the general public. He tells all who are standing in the temple court that when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies that the destruction [of which He had just spoken] is quite near. Every person clearly understood what Jesus the Prophet from Nazareth was saying. Quite soon, in the not too distant future, armies will surround Jerusalem and the temple will be desolated. Jesus goes on to say that this will begin a dispersion for Israelites during a time period which Jesus terms “the times of the Gentiles”. Please note that these comments are unique to Luke.

The sign that they asked for concerning the destruction of the temple had been given. The sign is that Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies.  Jesus gives no other sign as recorded by Luke. But Jesus goes on to describe other events. After verse 24, the narrative continues. Jesus describes what occurs after the “times of the Gentiles” has concluded at His glorious coming.  The events surrounding His coming are summarized in comparison with what the disciples will hear later.  There is a break between verses 28-29 which may indicate Luke is inserting two parables from another point in time into this particular event. The summary at the end of the passage in 21:37-38 shows us that Luke could have drawn from sources who heard Him speak in front of the temple or those who heard Him speak in private on the Mount of Olives. The main point still stands that Luke lays out Jesus’ initial response as occurring at the temple.  Luke 21:37 seems to indicate that the teaching on the Mount of Olives occurs subsequent to this Temple Discourse.

Later on in the evening when four of Jesus’ disciples come to Him privately, the subject is slightly different. While we do not have the words in Mark, Matthew does point out that the disciples are inquiring concerning two things which He has spoken of throughout His ministry on different occasions. Those two things are His Coming and the End of the Age. The curiosity of the disciples is piqued. They heard Jesus speaking in front of the crowds concerning the destruction of the temple. They understand vaguely about this Coming and the End of the Age, but how does it all fit together?  After this inquiry by these four disciples, the response is what we know as The Olivet Discourse whose main subject is the Coming of Christ, not the destruction of the temple since Jesus had already given those details in front of the crowds.

The difference in the arrangement of each gospel is something we may never fully understand. Each gospel writer was free to choose events or leave them out depending on what themes he was highlighting. It seems that Luke had an affixation with Jerusalem and its fate. Luke alone includes Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus as an infant at the temple in Jerusalem. Luke alone records the discussion during the transfiguration concerning the death of Christ which must happen at Jerusalem. Luke alone records the time when Jesus “set His face toward Jerusalem”. Luke records the hauntingly strange phrase, “it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” In Luke, Jesus anticipates those who believe that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear simply because He was going to Jerusalem. Luke alone records the address to the daughters of Jerusalem. Luke alone records the instructions to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high.

And most notably, Luke is the only one who records Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as He beholds the city.  This event is just after the triumphal ascent, which began at the Mount of Olives, and just before the cleansing of the temple. For our study, it would be noteworthy to examine exactly what Jesus said as He wept over the city.

19:41  And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

It is obvious that Luke wanted to focus on the theme of Jerusalem’s future destruction by highlighting this little clip in Jesus’ sorrows. Luke’s presentation of the answer to the question of the destruction of the temple further clarifies what Jesus was weeping about as He beheld Jerusalem. Luke’s boldness in including these awful, foreboding words of Jesus actually authenticated Jesus’ ministry as a prophet to that generation. Luke’s gospel was published before Acts, which was published before the death of Paul, which occurred before the destruction of the temple. So as Luke included those words, their fulfillment was yet future. It is difficult not to see the similarity between these words and the words which Jesus uttered which prompted the questions from the crowd.

21:6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Jesus prophesied events that were fulfilled in 70 A.D., but the Olivet Discourse was not fulfilled in 70 A.D. 70 A.D. fulfillment is important. It validated Jesus’ ministry as a prophet to His generation.

Luke 21 contains a discourse at the temple

The premise is that in Luke 21, there is a question concerning the destruction of the temple and a sign to look for just before that destruction would happen. Jesus answers the question by describing the sign of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. Later, in a private setting, four disciples come to Jesus and inquire about when these things would happen, and more specifically, what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age. Jesus then delivers the Olivet Discourse which focuses on His coming since He has already answered questions regarding the destruction of the temple in a public setting.

The issue that I left open up above is whether or not Luke included any material from the Olivet Discourse in the latter part of what we should term the temple discourse. After verse 24, Jesus makes a leap to the end of the age describing His coming, which is precisely the point at which Jesus has answered the question concerning the sign of the destruction of the temple. I mentioned that Luke could have drawn from other sources which occurred later and inserted them back into this particular Temple Discourse. While that is possible, it is not probable. All of Luke 21:8-36 was most likely spoken in public at the temple at the same time. There are two main reasons that I believe there is a continuity in the entire text.

#1- In verse 24, Jesus has mentioned the dispersion of Israel amongst the Gentiles nations and Jerusalem being trodden down by Gentile nations, both continuing until the times of the Gentiles have been fulfilled. Why would Jesus leave this issue open ended? Although His Coming was not inquired of, the description of this period in time should be followed by the conclusion of this period in time. As Jesus describes His coming, He is giving the conclusion for the times of the Gentiles. It may at first seem out of place. Jesus is supposed to be talking about the temple, right?

As Jesus inserts comments concerning His coming, He is not off-topic at all. The subject is still the destruction of the temple which would lead into a period of time characterized by Israel dispersed and Jerusalem trodden down. (Note: I believe that the times of the Gentiles began with the Babylonian captivity.  Jesus is addressing the conclusion of that time, not its onset.) What will bring this time to a conclusion? The Son of Man will come with power and great glory. Luke goes on to include a comment concerning the kingdom of God being close at hand when these things come to pass. The kingdom of God will obviously bring to a close the times of the Gentiles. So all comments that Jesus makes concerning His coming are completely appropriate even though He has not been asked concerning His coming in this setting. He is bringing the original question to a complete conclusion.

#2- Practically everything that Luke writes is original and unique to Luke. No other gospel writer includes the words of Christ as Luke records them here. There are a couple of parallels, but they are not identical and contain significant differences. Consider the following.

Vs. 25 ~ Has a vague parallel in the description of the cosmic signs in Matthew and Mark. However, Luke does not describe exactly what the sun, moon, and stars will do; just simply that there will be signs. Luke includes that there will be roaring of the waves of the sea as well.
Vs. 26 ~ “Men’s hearts failing them for fear.” No other gospel writer records this.
Vs. 27 ~ Christ coming with great power and glory. Parallels in other gospels, but not just in the Olivet Discourse. This is how Christ spoke on a number of occasions concerning His coming, Matthew 13:41, 16:28, Mark 8:38, 14:62, Luke 9:26.
Vs. 28 ~ “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” No other gospel writer records these words.
Vs. 29-33 These words have parallels in the Olivet Discourse. The wording has a few key differences that lead me to believe that Christ spoke them during the temple discourse, then further clarified and spoke them again during the Olivet Discourse. In Luke, Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of God as the conclusion for the times of the Gentiles. In Matthew and Mark, He has given the sign of the abomination of desolation to occur just before His coming. So the words apply slightly different to both circumstances.
Vs. 34-36  “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” No other gospel writer records these words. They are unique to Luke. There is simply too much original material for me to believe that Luke copied from Mark, Matthew, or even Q. Luke received his material from those who heard Jesus speak at the temple. Matthew and Mark received their material from those who heard Jesus speak on the Mount of Olives.

Based on these two reasons, I believe that Luke’s entire discourse as recorded here in Luke 21 was spoken at the temple. There are parallels, but the first discourse led into the second discourse which prompted Jesus to review some of the things He had already said and further clarify them.

Anyone disagree?

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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3 Responses to The Temple Discourse in Luke 21 (not the Olivet Discourse)

  1. David Randall says:

    Do I disagree? Perhaps. A few years ago I was teaching the book of Mark and when we got to the Olivet discourse in preparation I did a parallel study of Mark 13, Mat 24, and Luke 21. I arranged the 3 passages in parallel columns aligning the parallels verse by verse. While no two are exactly the same I cannot see anything that significantly sets Luke apart from the other two as being a different discourse based on content. In some cases Luke is word-for-word the same as one or both of the others. Mathew and Mark both say that the question was asked and the response given on the mount of Olives while Luke simply says “so they asked Him, saying…” without indicating when or where the question and discourse took place. This might imply that it took place immediately after Jesus statement, but by no means necessarily. In all three accounts the occasion, the question, and the answer are the same within the normal variation of the accounts of three witnesses. There are certainly more than just “a couple parallels”. Neither do Mark and Matthew include any significant new material which could be considered further clarification. The differences you point out between Luke and Mark are no more substantial than the differences between Mathew and Mark which are obviously by their own accounts the same discourse. To see them as different discourses we must assume that the disciples (or some subset) asked the same question and got the same answer on two occasions (probably on the same day). We also have to take as necessary the implication that “so they asked him” took place while still in or near the temple.

    But I guess my main question is “so what?” Allowing that it is possible the they are different discourses (which is doubtful), does a significantly different interpretation of the accounts result if we assume they are separate discourses? I don’t think so. If there IS a difference in interpretation are we justified in basing a doctrinal position on an assumption that is so unverifiable (that the discourses are different)? Again the answer is, no.

    So far I have only heard this distinction between the discourses made by folks in the pre-wrath camp. Is this interpretation held outside this view? I confess ignorance on this point. By the way, my own position is pre-millennial/not-pre-trib :). I (loosely) held a pre-trib position for decades until I did the study of the Olivet discourse in Mark mentioned above. I found I couldn’t really support the pre-trib interpretation of this discourse as directed to unbelieving Jews who would be converted after the rapture. That and other contributing factors led me to abandon that position. Having the pre-wrath view recommended to me, I read both VanKampen and Rosenthal and find their hermeneutics doubtful, particularly some to the attempts at exegesis from Greek that are in some cases just plain wrong, and also lifting verses out of contexts that don’t supply their conclusions. They just read too much into the Scripture as the pre-trib defenders do, On the other hand I am not at all closed to some form of a pre-wrath rapture view that might have better support.

    • Well hello there David Randall. Thanks for the comment. This post was part of a larger series I did a while back and I reposted some of the aspects in this post here. The main point is that Matthew and Mark describe events which surround the second coming of Christ (abomination of desolation, then great tribulation, then the events surrounding the second coming) while Luke focuses more on the destruction of the temple in 70AD before moving into a brief description of the events at the end of the age. Matthew and Mark do not mention Jerusalem being surrounded with armies which is the sign for the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke does not mention the sign of the abomination of desolation which is the direct precursor to the great tribulation which begins at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week.

      Both of them mention the persecution which the disciples will go through, but this is not new since Jesus had already revealed this in Matthew 10 as he sent out the 12 disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Luke records in chapter 21 that the disciples will go through persecution which was fulfilled in the new testament church. Then the events move on to the destruction of the temple in 70AD. Then Jerusalem is trampled down by the Gentiles until the end of the age. Then very briefly there is the description of the Son of Man coming. Matthew and Mark record that there is persecution throughout the world as the gospel is being preached until the end of the age, which Matthew 28:18-20 tells us is fulfilled by the church. Then there is the description of the events which take place in the last half of Daniel’s 70th week. The abomination of desolation is the sign for the great tribulation (which is the intensification of persecution against the disciples of Christ for the testimony of being associated with His name.) Then after the abomination of desolation, after the great tribulation, then comes the cosmic signs, the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and the nations see the Son of Man coming in power and glory. So the focus in the temple discourse is different than the focus in the Olivet Discourse.

      As far as “so what?”, the difference is that we should not expect things to be fulfilled at the end of the age which were already fulfilled in 70AD. Likewise, things that will be fulfilled at the end of the age cannot have been fulfilled in 70AD despite the claims of Preterists. Thanks again for the comment.

      Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

      -The Orange Mailman

      • David Randall says:

        Hi. Thanks for the clarification. I think we are in agreement on the interpretation of these passages; i.e. that there is content which refers to events that were fulfilled in 70 A.D as well as eschatological events. After all, Jesus original prophetic statement that the temple that the disciples were admiring would be destroyed, was what the disciples were asking about. To read these passages as purely futuristic is to assume that Jesus is ignoring their question. On the other hand to read them as purely dealing with a 1st century events requires a major stretch to include the cataclysmic events surrounding the return of Christ. I believe that Jesus covers both topics because in the minds of his disciples the two were confused. I think possibly for them such a traumatic event as the destruction of the temple could only be associated with the end of the age. They ask “when will these things be” obviously referring to Jesus statements about the temple; but they also add “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age”. (Only Mathew explicitly mentions His coming and the end of the age, but it is clearly part of the context for all three accounts.) Christ then goes on to explain both events. That they are not the same is indicated by Jesus’ words when he says “the end is not yet” or “the end will not come immediately”. In fact a lot will happen between the two.

        There are some distinctives in all three accounts and each contributes some details. Of the three, Mathew is probably the most “different” from the other two in terms of sections that have no clear parallel in the others. But, I believe that the most is to be gained from these passages by construing them all together, rather than trying to separate one from the other two. Even if you believe they took place at different times, they all share the same context: Jesus’ response to the disciples questions following His prediction of the destruction of the temple. This is why I tend to think the question of whether or not they took place at the same time doesn’t really matter much.

        Keep up the study. God be with you.

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