Let’s see how Mark records the Olivet Discourse:
Mark 13:1-ff – 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.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now – and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
“But in those days, following that distress,
” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!‘
First of all, Mark records the question of the disciples a little differently; here, they don’t specifically ask about “your coming and the end of the age” as in Matthew. But His answer includes it.
Did I detect a pattern in His answer? I think so. I put it in boldface. It’s a theme: Be prepared. As Tom Lehrer irreverently pointed out years ago, it’s the Boy Scout motto! I counted eight different references to the idea; there may be more that I missed.
Clearly, many of the events Jesus predicts came to pass when Titus of Rome set seige to Jerusalem, and over a period of years took it and pretty much leveled it. Jesus refers to the “abomination that causes desolation” predicted by Daniel, which was partly fulfilled by the entry of general Pompey into the temple’s most holy place; later, in the sacrifice of a pig to Zeus on an altar of the first temple in Jerusalem by conquering Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, and – probably in Mark’s own lifetime – the destruction of the second temple. (Some think that Titus erected Roman eagle images of some kind in the ruins of the temple, profaning it further and fulfilling Jesus’ cryptic remark in Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37.)
Mark’s record makes no clear distinction between that cataclysm and Jesus’ return – only that “in those days, following that distress” it would take place. (Mark doesn’t quote Jesus saying “immediately,” but Matthew does.) And Mark, along with Matthew and Luke, quotes Jesus as saying that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” He doesn’t seem to be delaying the deadline past the lifetimes of those listening to Him right then; on the contrary, it sounds like it will all happen within the lifetime of most of them.
So, what are you getting at, Keith? you ask.
As a college student at Harding, I read the Olivet Discourses in all three Synoptic gospels for the first time without blinders or explanations or interpretations. I read it for what it says. I read it in every English version of the Bible I could put my hands on. I read it and I hit the wall.
Either Jesus meant what He said and was the son of God, or He lied and He wasn’t. Because, as nearly as I can tell, the end of time did not occur when Jerusalem fell. Time continued on course.
I started reading commentaries, works on eschatology, weighing interpretations and theories and belief systems built on layer upon layer of supposition, and frankly they all had flaws and none of them agreed with each other.
Albert Einstein, however, had something to contribute that I doubt he perceived as having eschatological repercussions.
Time is not necessarily a constant.
Certainly not in God’s hands.
If He wished it to continue flowing forward after the “end of time” or “close of the age” or Jesus’ return or revelation, He could. He doesn’t have to cease history to stop Satan. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, He can change us at the very point of death itself into eternal beings with incorruptible bodies. He can connect us at that moment with the presence or coming of Christ at whatever point in history – or outside of time itself – that it happens. He could do it for Moses and Elijah, snatching them from that point in the past to a transcendant, transfiguring appearance with Jesus – even before Jesus had died and been resurrected to make it possible. What better way to strengthen Jesus for the trials and crucifixion ahead of Him than to share with Him a taste of the result? If God could present them forward in time, could He not instantaneously take us back (or forward) to the moment of Christ’s triumph and judgment? He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of the living; not the dead.
Point is, we look to the future for an event yet to occur. Christ’s return may well have already occurred.
By God’s grace and power, we don’t have to miss it.
Sure, it’s a theory. Whether I’m right about it or not makes little difference in the grand scheme of things – and I will be delighted to discover what God has in mind when it takes place for me. It will probably involve truths I couldn’t possibly grasp in this life, anyway.
The important thing is not to establish the perfect intellectual theory about eschatology. The important thing is to live our belief in the fundamental, inescapable truth that Christ and his angels will come back for each one of us. So …” Watch!” “Be alert!”