Immediately preceding the Olivet Discourse, Jesus provided three specific answers as to the timing of three specific events that were still in the future, when a certain question was asked of Him by His disciples.
The disciples may or may not have realized it at the time, but they were asking a very relevant three part question about three specific future events.
First they asked about the timing of the destruction of the second temple that they were currently admiring, which was completed in 516 B.C. and subsequently renovated by Herod the Great. The second temple was reduced to rubble by the Romans in 70 A.D.
The disciples also asked two subsequent questions:
“And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3b).
It is these two questions about the sign of Christ’s coming and of the end of the age that we will investigate further in this article.
Jesus proceeded to provide two different answers to these two different questions while at the same time providing an answer to the disciple’s first question about the destruction of the second temple.
Even though the specific elements of the Church Age had not yet been divulged to the disciples when the Lord gave the Olivet Discourse, He still provided details to be better understood at a later time, as revealed through the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit along with the ministry of the Apostle Paul and others.
As an example, throughout the Olivet Discourse the Lord merged details surrounding the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. with a similar siege that will occur during the Tribulation period.
In the study of prophecy we often see that the Lord explains an early partial fulfillment of a specific prophecy while also explaining a later, final fulfillment.
Now, as to the question of His coming, Jesus provided the world with aspecific timeframe as to when His Second Coming will occur.
He said that the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven and the world will see Him coming on the clouds immediately after the Tribulation.
No one will be caught by surprise when the Lord returns immediately after the end of the Tribulation:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).
So this explanation provides a specific timeframe of Christ’s coming after the Tribulation but what about His coming at the end of the age?
The question then is, exactly what “age” did the Lord provide an answer to that would end with His return? It may be that the Lord was alluding to the end of the Church Age which is also called the Age of Grace.
The followers of Christ would experience intimate knowledge and understanding of the Church Age after the ascension of Jesus and beginning on the day of Pentecost as revealed through the Holy Spirit.
However, Jesus clearly taught early on during His earthly ministry that Law was about to be fulfilled through Him:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
The Lord even referred to the church as a local assembly during His earthly ministry:
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
As mentioned above, the Lord would reveal even more intimate details about the Church Age through the Apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit as time went on.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:25, 29, 32).
Back to the Olivet Discourse, Jesus also clearly said that His return would not be expected at the end of the Age.
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
I believe that in the Olivet Discourse the Lord taught us that the end of the Church Age will happen suddenly and without warning as opposed to His coming at the end of the Tribulation which will happen immediately thereafter (Matthew 24:29-30).
I believe this explains why many in the Church repeatedly say that the signs specific to the restoration of the millennial earthly kingdom of Israel are to be of no concern to us as they are not specifically relevant to the Church at this time.
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).
It then makes perfect sense that the Lord referred to two specific phases of His return during the Olivet Discourse:
1st Phase: His return at the close of the Church Age.
2nd Phase: His return at the close of the Tribulation which will begin the millennial kingdom of Israel.
The sign of His coming immediately after the Tribulation will be as lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the other.
“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27).
However as for what signs to look for of His coming at the Rapture of the Church and the end of the Church Age we are taught the following:
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37).
“Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:41-42).
I believe no specific signs will precede the end of the Church Age. The end of the Church Age will occur without warning in similar fashion to the Flood during the days of Noah.
In conclusion, we see that the teachings of Christ during His Olivet Discourse are in perfect keeping with the further teachings revealed to the Church as to the timing of the end of the Church Age and the Rapture of the Church.
Church Age believers are exhorted to remain sober, watch, and pray that we through the Rapture will escape the Tribulation about to come upon the whole earth, so that we can stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
“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” (Luke 21:34-36).
Take courage, your Lord and Savior will return for His Church and He willtake you to be with Him in heaven before the coming Tribulation!
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).