On Olivet, Jesus reiterated key information that is necessary for his followers to avoid being misled by deceivers.
Christ’s final block of teaching is commonly called his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ a series of instructions given to the disciples shortly before his arrest, trial, and execution. In it, three warnings are repeated that disciples must heed to avoid deceit and disaster, warnings about deceivers, the timing of his return, and the need for constant vigilance.
DECEIVERS. His discourse began by warning his disciples to “beware lest anyone deceive you,” liars and charlatans who will come in his name and, apparently, succeed at “deceiving many.” Likewise, “many false prophets” will come, and not just a few. They will target the very “elect” of God with their false teachings – (Matthew 24:4-11, 24:23-24, 24:26).
The contents of their teachings will include false information about the return of Jesus. They will claim that he “is here” or “there.” Or that he is “in the wilderness” or “in the secret chambers.” Some will set false expectations about the imminence of Christ’s return by claiming that the “season had drawn near” – (Matthew 24:23-26, Luke 21:8).
Disciples will “hear of wars and reports of wars.” These deceivers will point to wars, earthquakes, and similar calamities as “signs” that the “end” is near. Certainly, wars, seismic activities, and famines will occur over the course of human history; however, they are not indicators of the proximity of the end. They constitute “birth pains,” evidence of the eventual and inevitable end of the present age. Nevertheless, as Jesus said, the “end is not yet” – (Matthew 24:4-6).
TIMES AND SEASONS. Jesus warned that “no one knows the day and hour, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, except the Father alone.” For emphasis, he ended this declaration with the term “alone,” which is emphatic in the Greek sentence. The Father is the ONLY exception to the rule, period.
He repeated this warning at least four times. Additionally, he stated that believers do not know “on what kind of day” he will come, for he is coming “at an hour you do not expect.” The version in Mark adds that we do not know “when the season is” – (Matthew 24:42-44, 24:50, 25:13, Mark 13:32-35).
Jesus made his most complete warning about the timing of that day prior to his ascension. When the disciples asked when he would restore the kingdom, he replied, “ “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has set within His own authority.” The Greek nouns rendered “times” and “seasons” are both plural in the passage, and together, they cover virtually any way one might wish to delimit time – (Acts 1:7-8).
VIGILANCE. Rather than calculate chronologies, his disciples must concern themselves with proclaiming the gospel to all nations. THAT is the mission assigned to the church by Jesus himself.
But in the interim between his ascension and return, they must always remain prepared for his sudden and unexpected arrival. And it is because they do not and cannot know the timing of the end that believers must be ready every moment of every day for it – (Matthew 24:14, 24:42-44, 25:13, Mark 13:32-36).
The ‘Olivet Discourse’ is NOT a detailed outline of future events that must occur during history’s final few years, nor does it provide a timetable by which believers can ascertain the time of his arrival in glory. But it certainly does provide clear and emphatic warnings about deceivers who will plague the church with deceptions and false expectations about the future, a trend that will continue for the entire period between his resurrection and return.
In the end, what matters is not knowing the timing of that day, but whether you are prepared for it, and that he finds you busy about his business when the “Son of Man arrives in power.”