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In the passages that provide the setting for the Olivet Discourse, Jesus seems to move up the hierarchy of the Jewish classes. First he is greeted by the common people, he then has a confrontation with the chief priests and elders of the people, followed by the Herodians, followed by the Sadducees, followed by the Pharisees.

The setting of the prophecy is after Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to be greeted by the people with the waving of palm branches and shouts of Hosanna (Matt. 21:8-11). He next went into the temple and chased out the moneychangers, then people came to him in the temple to be healed, which greatly displeased the chief priests and scribes. Jesus then left the city and spent the night in Bethany (Matt. 21:12-17).

In the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry and saw a fig tree, but there was no fruit on it. Jesus spoke to the fig tree, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever," and the tree very rapidly withered away (Matt.21:18-22). In scripture, the fig tree represents Israel (Hos. 9:10; Joel 1:8), and Israel was shortly going to reject and crucify Jesus because they did not know the time of their visitation. Although they had the outward appearance of righteousness and were intent on keeping the law right down to the smallest jot and tittle, they did not have the word of God in their hearts which would have produced good fruit.

In Matt. 21:23 Jesus enters the temple where the chief priests and elders demand to know by what authority he teaches and who gave him this authority. Jesus turns the tables on them and asks them if John baptized under the authority of heaven or of men, they discuss it among themselves, then tell Jesus they cannot tell. He responds that neither will he answer their question. They completely fail to recognize the scripture that prophesied of John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; Mal. 4:5). Jesus said of John (Matt 11:14) "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." The "it" that Jesus wanted them to receive was the fact that he was the Messiah of Israel. If they had understood and accepted that fact, the kingdom of heaven (the millennium) would have begun two thousand years ago. But they did not understand and accept, and because of this, salvation was opened to the Gentiles. This turn of events was tragic for the Jewish people, but glorious for the rest of the world. And it should serve as a warning that those in our day who profess Jesus as Christ should study the word of God so we truly know GOD and do not get stuck in our own ideas about who he is, what he has done and what he yet will do. We need to be able to recognize him, and the only way to know the real Jesus is to know him, first hand, as revealed in the word of God.

Jesus continues his discussion with the chief priests and elders and teaches them several parables regarding the rejection of Messiah by his own people with the result that they will not enter the kingdom, thus the kingdom will be opened to other people. Jesus seems to give this group more time than he gives those who come after, perhaps because they were students of the law and were considered legal experts, thus were teachers. Today they would be called Rabbi.

Jesus is next questioned by the Herodians (Matt. 22:17), who ask, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?" The Herodians appear to be a political party, and Jesus tells them to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesarís and unto God the things that are Godís.

Next come the Sadducees (Matt. 22: 23-32) who do not believe in the resurrection. They present a scenario of a woman who had been consecutively married to seven brothers, all of whom died, and they want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection. Matt 22:29 "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." This is a very interesting statement because Jesus identified a specific group of angels. Gen. 6 records the fact that the "sons of God" were marrying the daughters of men, and a few verses later, were producing children. The phrase "sons of God" is used six times in the New Testament (speaking of Christians), but only five times in the Old Testament: twice in Gen. 6 and three times in Job (where it is clearly a reference to angels). Jesus specified the Ďangels of God in heavení because there was another group of angels who did not keep their first estate but left their own habitation and are currently reserved in everlasting chains under darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 6).

Jesus went on to tell the Sadducees that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are living, the implication being that they will be resurrected.

Finally, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees (Matt. 22:36). They want to know which is the great commandment in the law. Jesus tells them it is to love God first, then to love their neighbor as themself. In verse 42 Jesus gives the Pharisees a chance: he asks, "what think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?" Notice Jesus is not declaring himself to be the Messiah, he is asking the Pharisees to identify the father of Messiah. They respond that he is the son of David, and Jesus comes back by asking them how it is that David called him Lord, and since this is so, how could he be Davidís son. He is making the point that Christ, Messiah, would be more than a human son of David, he would, in fact, be God. Jesus is actually questioning them on their knowledge and understanding of the scripture. They were supposed to be experts, but the Pharisees are not able to answer this question, and the passage states that from that time forward no one dared to question Jesus.

In Matt. 23 Jesus tells the multitude that the scribes and Pharisees sit in Mosesí seat, and they are to do what they say but not as they do, because they do their works to be seen of men and to receive honor of men. He then delivers a scathing indictment: woe to them because:

  • they shut up the kingdom of heaven to others and do not go in themselves
  • they devour widowís houses and for a pretense make long prayer
  • they make proselytes and then make them twice the children of hell
  • these blind guides say to swear by the temple is nothing but to swear by the gold of the temple makes a man a debtor
  • they pay tithes but omit the weightier matters of judgment, mercy and faith - they should have done both
  • they are clean outside but inside are filled with extortion and excess
  • they are like whitewashed tombs
  • they honor the righteous dead but claim that they would not have killed the prophets

Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees to fill up the measure of their fathers and calls them a generation of vipers. He will send prophets, wise men and scribes who will be murdered, scourged and persecuted by the scribes and Pharisees, and upon them will come the blood of the righteous. Jesus concludes by saying that all these things shall come upon this generation, and he laments over the loss of Jerusalem.

The groups who confronted Jesus, and who were confronted in return, have their modern parallels. I have heard criticisms of the Jewish people because of their rejection of Jesus. The reason the rejection occurred was because, as Jesus said repeatedly, the people of the time did not know their scriptures thus they were not able to recognize him. They were relying on their own or othersí ideas of what the scriptures said rather than on what the scriptures actually said. Sadly, this same thing is happening in the church today. In many churches the Bible has been replaced with The Purpose Driven Life or some other book that is not the Bible. Like the Herodians, some people are looking for their salvation in political action. Like the Sadducees, some Christians are frozen and without joy in their faith because they do not know Jesus. Like the Pharisees, the Word of Faith movement apparently knows the scriptures, but they have a defective understanding of the word and they are in fact preaching a different Jesus based on a different gospel leading people to receive a different spirit (2 Cor 11:4): different from those presented in the Bible.

It seems to me that rather than being critical of the Jewish people for their failure, we would be wise to look at how they arrived at that point of spiritual blindness and examine ourselves on an individual level to make certain we are not committing the same offense. Two thousand years ago the Jewish people had a visitation, but in our day, the entire world is going to have an encounter with God. We need to put away the books and tapes and get back to our foundation document to see if these things be so (Acts 17:11).

Olivet Discourse


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