Foundational Signs of Destruction
After teaching many things in the temple courtyard, and after telling His disciples once again that the temple would be cast down, Jesus left the city and spent the night camping on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3). Luke 21:37 says that He normally spent the night on the Mount, rather than going back to Bethany.
Hence, that Tuesday evening, perhaps sitting around a campfire, the disciples desired to know more about the timing of the temple’s destruction. Luke 21:7 says,
7 And they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
The three Synoptic gospel writers give accounts of Jesus’ warning, for this was very important to them. Only John, who wrote later, saw fit to omit this, because he was giving other details that had not been covered by the other gospel writers. John chose to focus more upon Jesus’ final instructions at the Last Supper.
Matt. 24:3 gives one further detail in regard to the disciples’ question, asking, “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” They believed (and Jesus did not correct them) that the coming of the Messiah would usher in the Messianic Age of the Kingdom. In asking about “the end of the age,” they were referring to the end of the present age.
The disciples believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but He had told them that He would be rejected and would even suffer death in Jerusalem. This alone overthrew their prior beliefs about Christ and the Kingdom, leaving them somewhat confused. If that Passover was not the time for Christ’s coronation, then when would this take place? What signs ought they to observe before the present age came to an end?
Keep in mind also that Judas was present in this discussion. As we will see shortly, he could not alter his prior belief and was determined to see Jesus succeed. He believed that if Jesus could be forced into manifesting His power—for surely He would not allow Himself to be killed—then the religious leaders would be forced to crown Him and recognize Him as the Messiah. Hence, part of the drama of this Olivet prophecy is in knowing the effect that it had upon Judas.
The Main Issue—Who is Christ?
Luke 21:8, 9 says,
8 And He said, “See to it that you do not be misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is at hand’; do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
Luke’s gospel was the last of the Synoptic gospels, so he was simply quoting from Matt. 24:4-6 and Mark 13:5-7. Jesus indicated that before the temple’s destruction, some would come in His name, saying, “I am He.” Who were these people? Who would they claim to be?
Matt. 24:5 is the only verse (out of the three accounts) which actually says “I am Christ” in the text. The others say only “I am he,” or more literally, “saying that I am,” with “he” being implied. Hence, Matthew’s “I am Christ” should dispense with any other speculative interpretations.
The issue of who is the Christ lays the foundation for the rest of the discussion. It is the most critical issue, because all the war and tribulation that is subsequently discussed has its origin in the rejection of Jesus as the Christ and, secondarily, the people’s willingness to follow “antichrists.”
Dual Fulfillments of Prophecy
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “There is no record of any person claiming to be Christ between A.D. 30 and 70” (p. 972), claiming this proves that the whole prophecy applied to our time, rather than to the first century.
In my view the prophecy has a dual application, as we see so often. The original pattern had already been set 600 years earlier in the first destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. At that time, we find the prophecy of Jeremiah 19 being fulfilled, with verse 11 remaining for another time. Verse 11 says that Jerusalem’s destruction will be so complete that it would not be repaired (or rebuilt) again. Yet Jerusalem was rebuilt after its destruction at the hands of Babylon, and it was rebuilt again after 70 A.D. The city stands to this day, proving that Jer. 19:11 has yet a future fulfillment.
It is difficult for some to comprehend how prophecy repeats in cycles. When the same prophecy is fulfilled on more than one occasion, or when parts of a prophetic passage are fulfilled at different times in history, many are confused. Yet we see this from the start of Jesus’ ministry, when He quoted Isaiah 61:1, 2, but stopped in the middle of verse 2. That which He quoted was applicable to His first coming, but the last half of verse 2 would apply to His second coming. This angered His audience in Nazareth and caused His former neighbors to try to throw Him off the nearby cliff at the edge of town.
Therefore, when we study this prophecy, we should recognize from the start that it applied first to the coming seven-year war (66-73 A.D.), but that it also applies to the time when Jerusalem is fully destroyed—which is yet future at the time of this writing.
Many Antichrists in the First Century
If there is no record of any false messiahs rising up during the forty years leading to Jerusalem’s destruction, then Jesus’ statement must surely apply to a future time leading to a second destruction of the city. Many modern commentators tell us that this was a reference to “The Antichrist” who was to arise. But such an “Antichrist” hardly fulfills Jesus’ word, “many will come in My name.” It is better explained in 1 John 2:18, 19,
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
Hence, while the Wycliffe Bible Commentary searches in vain for a false messiah (or Antichrist) to arise from 30-70 A.D., John saw many antichrists already. These, he said, proved the fact that “it is the last hour.” There was no single Antichrist on the scene in the sense that many have been taught today. John saw many antichrists in his time, and this is consistent with Jesus’ statement, “many will come in My name.”
1 John 2:22, 23 describes these antichrists more fully, saying,
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
John defines “antichrist” as those who deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). The context shows that many Jews who had confessed Jesus as the Christ later renounced that belief and rejoined fellowship with the temple with its unbelieving priesthood.
In other words, they returned to Judaism. This was part of the problem in the Jerusalem church, which did not make a clear break with Judaism until they left the city just before its destruction. They left town when they saw the signs of war that Jesus had prophesied in the passages that we are now studying.
The records of church history are far from complete, but John implies that many Christians reverted to Judaism and thereby became “antichrists.” In their reunification with the temple, they believed that they were following Yahweh (“the Father”). But John tells us that if they deny the Son, they deny also the Father. “Whoever denies the son does not have the Father,” he asserts.
John’s definition of antichrist, then, points to Judaism itself, which rejected Jesus as the Christ. This includes former Christians who then reverted back to temple worship. Such former Christians apparently did not believe that the temple would be destroyed, but that God would defend Jerusalem from its enemies. No doubt many of them died in the coming war with Rome.
The Final Destruction
We must keep in mind that this entire fireside chat on the Mount of Olives was an extension of Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21:6 about the utter destruction of the temple. That temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Many are expecting to see a new temple erected in its place in the near future. I do not know if this will take place or not, but if such a temple were to be constructed, its existence would be short-lived. Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21:6 would apply again, because that physical temple competes for the hearts (allegiance) of men with the heavenly temple in the New Jerusalem.
The fate of such a rebuilt temple would be tied to the fate of Jerusalem itself. If Jerusalem is to be destroyed permanently (as per Jer. 19:11), then so also will any temple that may be built there. Paul tells us in Gal. 4:25 that Jerusalem is “Hagar,” who, like the original Hagar, must be cast out along with the son who was born after the flesh. The reason, as seen in the “allegory,” is that the flesh seeks to usurp the birthright that God intends to give to the spiritual son who is born through the free woman (New Covenant) through the promise (vow, oath) of God.
The flesh and the spirit are enemies, both personally (Rom. 7:23) and between the two Jerusalems with their temples. This is also a battle between the two covenants, and Paul makes it clear that the New Covenant will win. The New Jerusalem will be the capital of the Kingdom in the Age to come. The antichrists who advocate for the earthly Jerusalem and place their faith in an earthly temple (to be built there, as they say) will be affected in various ways by the divine judgment.
The irony is that John’s description of some first-century believers who reverted back to Judaism is being repeated in our own life time. We live in a parallel time. Those Christians who support a physical temple and look to Jerusalem as their “mother” decry The Antichrist, and yet support the antichrists described by John. Modern prophecy teaching since the 1850’s has brought us to the place where Christians are returning to Judaism. This is because most Christians lack understanding about God’s purpose for allowing the Israeli state to be formed in 1948. I explained this fully in my book, The Struggle for the Birthright.
The solution, of course, is for Christians to stop reverting back to Judaism and to declare Sarah (the New Jerusalem) to be their “mother.” They should have faith through the New Covenant, with its new way of life, and renounce the Old Covenant with its physical temple, Levitical priesthood, and animal sacrifices.
By individually casting out the bondwoman and her son from our hearts, we show our acceptance of the New Covenant that Jesus came to mediate, and we no longer side with those who not only rejected Him but who also crucified Him.