Day 44 – The Olivet Discourse

Today’s reading: Matthew 24:1-22

Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives about the signs of the end of the world is a fascinating study of the structure of ancient speech making.  The people of Jesus’ day are from an oral tradition and they used memory tricks to organize and remember speeches and stories.

The Olivet discourse uses an “Inclusio” to mark the beginning and the end of the discourse.  In other words, the first and the last sentence are of the same subject showing that the speech is “included” within these two markers.  The discourse actually begins in yesterday’s reading, Matthew 23:26.  The beginning and end of the discourse is marked by the reference to “this generation”.  Inside the Inclusio is a “Chiasm”.  This is where the ideas (or theme) of the discourse are stated until the climax is reached and then repeated in reverse order.  Likes this: “Inclusio, A, B, C, … Climax …, C, B, A, Inclusio”.  The conclusion is verse 14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  The ideas then repeat in reverse order until the second Inclusio marks the end in verse 32-35, “From the fig tree learn its lesson as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Try re-reading the entire discourse as part of tomorrow’s reading.

While the discourse is undoubtedly referencing the end of days early Christians understood it in a second way.  For them the “abomination of desolation” spoken of in line 15 was a clear reference to the defilement of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This happened in A.D. 70 and lead to a Jewish revolt in the city.  This brought about “war and rumors of war” by the “vultures”, who are the Romans (because their standard is an eagle) and because the emperor pretended to be a God, “a false messiah”.  Thus, when the city was surrounded by Roman troops the Christians new it was the end.  However, something interesting happened.  Power plays were happening in Rome and the leader of one of the factions called back his troops from Jerusalem to assist.  This led to a short window of escape so the Christians did what had been instructed by Jesus, they fled the city.  The power struggle in Rome was resolved more quickly and the troops that had left Rome were turned back without having gotten very far.  They returned and again sieged Jerusalem, destroying it.  The burned the temple, which was a building plated from top to bottom in gold.  After the city was taken and the temple burned the gold that had adorned it had literally melted in between all the stones so the roman soldiers took the temple apart brick by brick to remove the gold in between the stones.  This fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy, “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Tomorrow: Matthew 24:23-44

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