Doomsday? Will Earth Be Destroyed? (Olivet Discourse) Part 1

The Olivet Discourse was a prophetic conversation that Jesus had with his closest followers. From where they would have been sitting, they faced one of the most beautiful buildings in the world at the time, the Temple that had been reconstructed by Herod the Great.[1] Jesus noticed that they were impressed by the structure and He said:

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2, NIV)

In the above passage, Jesus predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The center of all religious and cultural life for the Jewish people was about to be flattened.[2] As the disciples gazed upon the glory of the Temple, two questions came to mind that would spur on Jesus to begin to speak prophetically.[3] The first question was: When will these things be? The second: What will be the sign of their fulfillment? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain a version of this discourse, however only Matthew contains the added idea of Christ’s coming and the end of the age.[4]

Many theologians over the years have assumed that Jesus’ answer to the above two questions deal mostly with yet unfulfilled prophecies about the end of the world. In older translations of Scripture, the word aion and kosmos (cosmos) are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake and has been corrected in most translations of modern versions of the Bible. The word that is used in the Olivet Discourse is aion, and therefore the question that concerned the disciples had to do with their current age coming to a close rather than the current world coming to an end.[5] Keeping that in mind, one must discern if this teaching has more to do with the future of the world, or was Jesus pointing to some other event?

In the past few hundred years, the narrative that follows the disciple’s questions has had to do with our future. What this means is that Jesus was speaking of things that did not directly affect the lives of the disciples, but rather of cataclysmic events that in our future would lead to the end of the space-time cosmic universe. John MacArthur, for instance, believes that Jesus’ statements were fulfilled in regards to the destruction under the invading Romans in the first century; however, the “…most important aspects of His prophecy were not fulfilled in the destruction in AD 70.”[6] Other evangelicals have understood this discourse as Jesus’ commentary on some first century events (those that led to the destruction of the Temple), but that they were a foreshadowing of the great tribulation that corresponds to the futurist perspective of other apocalyptic literature. Andrew Perriman comments:

“But the questions put by the disciples are not our questions. Jesus is not—on the fact of it—addressing the concerns of a later Gentile church impatient for, or skeptical about, the second coming. If we allow the historical dimension to be collapsed in this way, we risk severely damaging the delicate tissue of significance that connects the discourse with the actual historical circumstances that it both presupposes and predicts. The narrative setting in the Gospels must be taken seriously.”[7]

So, here is what I want to discuss. Who is being addressed by the questions the disciples pose to Jesus? What have you thought or been taught in your tradition? Does Mark chapter 13 (and corosponding passages) speak: 1) mostly about the future tribulation leading to the destruction of the present heavens and earth, 2) [both/and] Jesus uses the question about the Temple as a springboard to also talk about the ‘End Times,’ or 3) Jesus uses images familiar to his hearers to depict the coming destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Can our view of this passage affect how we view our world in the present?

_______________________________

[1]John MacArthur, The Second Coming:: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1999), 69.
[2]R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 31.
[3]MacArthur, The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age, 69.
[4]Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return?, 31.
[5]George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), 25-27.
[6]MacArthur, The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age, 78.
[7]Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press, 2005), 18-19.

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  • http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    Kurt, you really have my interest with this new series. I’ve considered doing something similar on my own blog, and kudos for taking on what is an always difficult and sometimes heated topic. Look forward to hearing more from you on this.

    Alright, I’m really familiar with the ‘traditional’ take on this passage. I spent much of my life in churches which espoused the position of MacArthur, if they acknowledged any historical reference at all.

    However, I have come to the point in my studies where I find the foundations for the ‘traditional’ take to be profoundly weak, and much of it to be downright unbliblcal.

    For many reasons: be it studying the context Jesus is speaking in, taking seriously the question he is answering, deep exegesis of the passage itself, the linguistic details, a clearer understanding of how apocalyptic language worked, and a better grasp on just what happened during the fall of Jerusalem- I would say that most if not all of Mark 13 and its parallels are referring to 70ad and the events leading up to it.

    I don’t know if I’d see some reference to second advent events in the later parts of the passage, though if I remember right R.T. France who does some of the best Gospels work I’ve ever read and has written excellently against the traditional view here does see a small portion of it as speaking to larger scale events.
    For the most part I would take this passage as historical, a partial-preterist take if you will, and think Wright and France do very well in arguing for such a take though with slight differences.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on Perriman’s book. I quite enjoyed “The Coming of the Son of Man” and he makes a great case for preterism, but I thought he took it too far into a full preterist position (as in there are no second coming passages anywhere in the Bible, not just here) which I’d highly disagree with.

    Sorry for the long comment, just really got me thinking.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

    I loved Wright’s argument that the new earth is a re-creation of the old. Reading Surprised by Hope caused me for the first time to think about the notion that present creation was to be renewed, not replaced, and I like the thought. I don’t have the book with me so I’m going out on a limb, but I don’t recall that Wright addressed 2 Peter 3:10-12 in there (somebody correct me if I’m forgetting). That passage certainly seems to imply a pretty total destruction of present creation.

    Personally I don’t have a problem accepting that the notions of destruction and renewal have to be held in a somewhat paradoxical tension, not least because Peter’s contention in v. 11 (that the eventual destruction of all things mandates holiness now) has the same praxis as Wright’s notion of “building for the kingdom.” Both are intended to call us to emulate Jesus, and if we do that, whichever way things wrap up we’ll be OK. . .

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    Mason, thanks for the prop’s my friend. I will look forward to you interaction on this subject. Not sure I will get to all the details, but at least will look at some of the big picture issues that this passage presents for us… may even tick off some dispensationalists in the process :-)

    In regards to your perspective on most or all of Mark 13 dealing with 70ad ish stuff…I am in full agreement as will become evident in my next posts. Jesus is talking with his contemporaries about something that will take place in their lifetimes. More about that later.

    As for Perriman, he actually used a post of mine a while back to discuss the nature of the planet and if it would be renewed “new heavens and new earth.” He basically believes in a brand new earth rather than a renewed one. I believe that this has both huge implications in the theology of the narrative of scripture and the praxis of the church. I do like him most of the time, but differ on how to interpret the last couple chapters in Revelation… (and at this time I lean towards a ‘late date’ but am willing to hold the alternative in tension). I would say that his book is good overall.

    Dan, I believe that the renewal rather that replacement of the cosmos is vital. As for 2 Peter 3… I think that this is imagery of judgment and purification.

    6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

    The verses above come right before the passage you refer to speaking about when the earth was “destroyed” by the flood of Noah. Now, the world wasn’t actually “Destroyed” at this time, it was purged and renewed. I think we need to keep that in mind when we read the passage that follows in verses 10-12. Anyway, just something to think about…

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

      Good points, Kurt, and truthfully I am not all that concerned as I pointed out in my previous post, as the discipleship to which we are called is not conditional on the details of the “end of things” (which we all acknowledge to be more of a new beginning than an end in any case).

      What bothers me, I guess, in this discussion like many others, is that there seems to be somewhat of an either-or mentality that (to my eyes) chooses one set of verses that parallel the conclusion being made, and discounts or provides a symbolic interpretation to those that lean the other way (not saying that’s what you’re doing, more pointing out the risk).

      As you already know from my own writing, I’m not a verbal-and-plenary-inspiration proof-texter. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we ought to acknowledge the tension between passages that appear to be describing, for example, “the old heaven and earth passing away” with those that describe renewal rather than replacement. If we accept that the intent of both was to imply that the end result is a new and perfected (but clearly still material) creation, I don’t know that it matters all that much whether it is a recycling, refurbishment, reconditioning, or replacement that God will use as his method. What mattered to the writers of scripture was “this is NOT as good as it gets.”

      I do not take the slightest issue with the notion that, whichever end is in store, we are called to be stewards of God’s creation, and in his image also co-creators in a certain sense. That’s obvious unless you are of the notion that “dominion” in Genesis means “rape and pillage” as I’m afraid it does for some. I’m just not sure I would build that sense of our duty on whether (or not) the present material I’m stewarding will be preserved. . .rather more on the simple notion that we’re acting (or we ought to be acting) under orders. Am I making sense, or has Friday gotten to me? ;{)

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    I agree with you for the most part, especially with your statemtent: “What mattered tot eh writers of scripture was ‘this is NOT as good as it gets.’” I think you are right that we need to be carefull about prooftexting and accept the reality of paradox between other authors on various issues. I am still hesitant to read any of these authors as believing that this world was going to be detroyed completly, because i dont see it complementing the narrative theology of the whole of Scripture. Besides the passage in 2 Peter, not too many others passages seem to have much of an issue with this.

    As for the idea of the earth “passing away,” i heard something that was helpful from Dr. Rikk Watts from Regent College. He brings up the famous passage in 2 Corinthians 5.17: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” His point was that it is not as though when someone becomes a Christian that they “pass away” with no continuity to who they were prior to Christ. Anyway… not a huge deal, but sure was helpful for me in this area.

    I guess my concern, one that I share with the two Wright’s that i have mentioned on this blog, is that God’s mission is to be faithful to his creation project from start to finish. This is why continuity is pretty important to ecology, because we are called to join in God’s own missional activity to “gather up all things in Christ…” So, I think we agree with some nuancing here and there :-) Paradox doesn’t bother me, but i dont see this a biblical issue that has too much of it.

    Last thing… I dont think Friday has gotten to you :-) Thanks for coming by my friend!!!!!!

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

      Oh, no question we’re in agreement, Kurt! Not least in our DISagreement with those who would plunder the earth because it’s all going to burn. . . Whatever the writers of scripture taught, it clearly wasn’t that!

      • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

        In the words of my republican hero Rush Limbaugh: Dido! (well if that wasn’t ‘toungue in cheek’ nothing is!!!! ha)

  • azi

    when will earth be destroyed? will it be destroyed in about three or four years or a few hundreds of years?

  • olivetdiscouse

    I think you can find the answers if you compare the Olivet Discourse to the Book of Revelation.

    Please take a look at http://www.olivet-discourse-revelation.com for a comprehensive study.

    Blessings!

  • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

    I was just re-reading some of my past posts on my blog, and there was a link to yours at the end of one of mine. I have several posts on “The Last Days” and “The Olivet Discourse” at http://www.mystic444.wordpress.com in which I take a ‘full preterist’ position. I found your post to be very interesting, as well as the comments, and I’m looking forward to reading your future discussions on this subject. I’ll also be reading your other posts – they look very interesting also.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Since you are interested in this subject, you may enjoy the following paper on Mark 13 that I’ve written: http://groansfromwithin.com/articles-ive-written/unpublished-papers/signs-of-the-times-a-study-of-mark-13/

      Thanks for coming to the site!

      • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

        Thank you for the link to your Mark 13 study. It was well written, and I couldn’t stop reading to do anything else until I had finished it! If so called ‘prophecy experts’ would read those prophecies in their contexts (textual and temporal) and compare the usage of ‘apocalyptic’ language in other Hebrew prophets, all of the ‘last days’ nonsense so popular today would evaporate; and we could more properly understand our role in proclaiming the kingdom of God and His righteousness, justice, mercy, kindness, and love.

        If and when God ‘punishes’ an individual or a people, it is corrective in nature, not vindictive; it’s a ‘wake up call’. “Old things” or the “old creation” may indeed pass away; but it is only in order that “new things” (the “new heavens and new earth”) may come into existence. Even if we see the Haiti earthquake as a ‘punishment’ for unrighteousness and willful ignorance of God, our proper response is not to gleefully proclaim “see, they got what the deserved”, but rather respond in helpful kindness to both restore them physically and materially, and to lead them to the knowledge of God and righteousness. And God is quite capable of seeing that the Gospel is preached to those who are dead also, so that they can turn to Him and be saved! Death doesn’t ‘end it all’; and it doesn’t end God’s determination to bring His ‘lost sheep’ back to Him.

  • Anonymous

    In a few billion years, you can take your choice on what will destroy the earth forever.  The sun will become a red giant, consuming earth.  Our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy.  Or, the black hole at the center of the galaxy will go on a feeding frenzy. 

    The universe is constantly changing, and that includes our neighborhood.  We as biological beings will be destroyed forever unless we learn some really cool tricks in interstellar travel.