What is the Olivet Discourse?

by Matt Slick

The Olivet Discourse is the last major teaching section of Jesus, that he gave on the Mount of Olives, as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Matthew 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:5-36).  It deals with the signs of Christ's return and events associated with it. Matthew has the longest version and begins with the disciples asking Jesus when the Temple will be destroyed, when Christ will return, and what will be the end of the age (Matthew 24:3).

The basic structure of the Olivet Discourse is as follows.

Topic Matthew Mark Luke
Signs of Christ's return accompanied by wars and tribulation. 24:4-8 13:5-8 21:7-11
False prophets will arise along with persecution 24:9-14 13:9-13 21:12-19
The abomination of desolation 24:15-22 13:14-23 21:20-24
The return of Christ 24:29-51 13:24-37 21:25-38

The Olivet Discourse is preceded by Jesus exposing the hypocrisy and false teachings of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:13-40; Luke 20:1-47).  In Matthew it is followed by the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and the judgment that will come with Christ's return (Matthew 25:31-46). In Mark is followed by the Passover in the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:1-31). In Luke 22:1-23 it is followed by The Passover account and the Lord's Supper. 

Exegetical Issues in the Olivet Discourse

There are varying interpretations surrounding the Olivet Discourse along with a few Bible difficulties. Some see it as fulfilled by AD 70 with the period of tribulation, false prophets, persecution, and the abomination of desolation.  In short, this view says that when the Roman armies came into Jerusalem to destroy it, there was great famine, disease, intense persecution, and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  Jesus said in Matthew 24:34 that this generation would not pass away until all these things were fulfilled.  This view is called preterism and sees the return of Christ in the form of the Roman armies.  CARM does not hold to this view.

Another view was called partial preterism. It is the position that what Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse was partially fulfilled in the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but will also be fulfilled completely shortly before the return of Christ with the manifestation of the antichrist, that man of lawlessness who exalts himself in idolatrous worship.

2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God."  

 Partial preterism would maintain that the generation alive at the time of Christ's teaching saw the fulfillment of Christ prophecies, but that they are partially fulfilled and will be completely fulfilled at the return of Christ which Acts 1:9-11 says will be a body return from the clouds, not in an army. Therefore, the generation then alive could refer to the future generation near the end of this age. The debate between these views continues among Christians.  But whichever view is held, Jesus taught that Christians will face Tribulation and persecution.

In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says no one knows the hour of his return except a father. Some non-Christian cults have used this as an attack on the deity of Christ.  For a response to this, please see the article If Jesus is God why did He not know the hour of His return?  A similar article deals with the omniscience of the Holy Spirit and a related article on CARM:  If the Holy Spirit is God, why didn't he know the time of Christ's return? 

So, whether or not the Olivet Discourse's history or prophecy or a combination of the two is still being debated among Christians today.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.