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A friend sent me a video of John MacArthur preaching on Mark 13, the Olivet Discourse. There is no need for me to interact with it in detail since I’ve written a verse-by-verse commentary on Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Two items caught my attention. The first has to do with context. Here’s how Mark 13 begins:
“As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.’ As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?’”
Here’s how John MacArthur sets up the context:
“This prompted a question on the part of the disciples, as you remember. They asked Him privately in verse 4 of chapter 13, ‘When will these things be?’ That is, the destruction of the temple, ‘And what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?’ They wanted to know about the end of the age. Matthew’s account of this, he says, they asked about the end of the age and His coming.
“Jesus had told them, ‘I’m going to die and rise again.’ Maybe they had come to some understanding of that, although they resisted it. But more importantly to them, whatever that meant, they wanted to see the establishment of the Kingdom and Jesus has just said to them, ‘This thing is coming down, not one stone will be left on another. This system will be destroyed, this temple will be destroyed and with it the city and the nation.’
“So they want to know when are You going to establish the Kingdom? ‘You are the King, You are the Messiah. We know that. You are David’s Son, but You are David’s Lord. You are the Son of the living God. You are the Christ, the Messiah. When is the Kingdom coming?’ That was on their minds.’”
I’ve checked the Olivet Discourse in all three gospels, and the disciples never ask about when Jesus is going to establish His kingdom. They ask about when the temple will be destroyed, and in Matthew’s gospel, additionally, about the end of the age, which was in the process of passing away (see Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26-27; 1 Cor. 10:11).
In all three accounts, the word ‘kingdom’ is used as a reference to earthly kingdoms (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10). Jesus uses the phrase in Matthew 24:14: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole inhabited world [oikoumenē not kosmos: Luke 2:1] as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).
We know from the epistles that this prediction had been fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70 (Rom. 1:8; Rom. 16:25–26; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Tim. 3:16). Luke’s version does mention the kingdom. But notice the audience reference: “So YOU also, when YOU see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31). The kingdom of God was near to them: “when YOU see these things.”
John the Baptist had proclaimed, as the forerunner to Jesus’ ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). We know that the word “near” means “near,” not some distant time in the future. In fact, the context of Luke 21 confirms this (21:30).
Jesus follows this promise with the following: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place” (21:32). This generation is always a reference to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. I could write more, but I’ve already dealt with this topic so often that it gets tiresome having to go over the same material.