When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said, ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’
This account from Luke’s Gospel has become known as the Olivet Discourse, or little Apocalypse, occurring just prior to the passion narrative. Jesus’ discourse, preached on the Mount of Olives, is considered to be a prophecy of the ‘end times’. More importantly perhaps, this discourse affirms a message that is ageless and enduring i.e. we need to persevere and be faithful in the face of trial and tribulation.
‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ The Olivet Discourse opens with a prophecy foretelling the future destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish worship and sacrifice. Such a dramatic event had occurred once before in 586 BC, when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar descended upon Jerusalem. This event itself had been prophesised in the stark and dire warnings of the prophet Jeremiah.
In the time of Jesus the Temple had just undergone a complete renovation, commenced decades earlier by Herod the Great. The structure was now immense, with many of its stones measuring nearly 12 metres in length. According to Jesus, its indestructible appearance is only an illusion and he gives a warning reminiscent of that of Jeremiah. Though he leaves the timing of this future calamity obscure, his words will bear truth within two generations, when Roman armies under Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70-and on August 10th! This was in fact the same day as the destruction wrought by King Nebuchadnezzar. This catastrophe was a historical preview of the end of the world, showing how God’s judgement upon the one nation of Israel prefigures the judgement of all nations.
In the midst of this coming trial the followers of Jesus must fearlessly persevere despite persecution. Persecution will provide opportunities for Christians to publicly proclaim the gospel. Luke elsewhere recounts several such episodes where believers are locked up in prisons and hauled before kings and governors (Acts 4; 5, 8; 12; 16; 25; 26).
Unlike professional orators who rehearse their speeches before delivering them, Christian disciples should only prepare to be faithful. Christ will give them the words through the Holy Spirit. Stephen was an example of this by his powerful witness in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9-10), as were other early Christians (Acts 4; 26). Whilst having apocalyptic overtones the Olivet Discourse provides a source of hope, for Jesus assures us that anyone who suffers in his name will ultimately be rewarded for “your endurance will win you your lives.”
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation