Prophecy Digest: Comparison of the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation A -Dr. Ron Bigalke

A Comparison of the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation

Dr. Ron Bigalke

The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate parallel events between the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation in a sequential format. Correlation of each event of the Olivet Discourse with its timing in the Book of Revelation informs our understanding of the current age (in regards to signs of the end times or stage setting), and interpretation of the return of Christ, and the judgment at that time.

Sequential and Successive, not Merely Recapitulation

There is an expanding development of the judgments in the Book of Revelation. In other words, there is a sequential relationship between the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments. The series of judgments are not parallel and simultaneous in the sense of recapitulation. Each series of judgments is best interpreted as generally chronological to its antecedent. This means the seventh seal judgment leads specifically into the series of the seven trumpet judgments, and the seventh trumpet judgment leads specifically into the series of the seven bowl judgments. 

The Beginning of theTribulation (Olivet Discourse and Revelation)

There are two differingviews among premillennialists as to the timing of prophetic fulfillment of thebirth pangs prophesied in the Olivet Discourse. In his commentary on the Gospelof Matthew, Dr. Walvoord referred to premillennial interpreters who understand24:4-14 "as a unit, describing the general characteristics of the age leadingup to the end, while at the same time recognizing that the prediction of thedifficulties, which will characterize the entire period between the first andsecond coming of Christ, are fulfilled in an intensified form as the age moveson to its conclusion." In other words, 24:4-14 are "general signs" whereas24:15-26 are "specific signs." Generally, this would mean "these [general]signs have been at least partially fulfilled in the present age and havecharacterized the period between the first and second coming of Christ."[1]However, even within this view, there are some who interpret 24:4-8 as generalsigns of the period between the first and second coming of Christ; therefore,24:9-14 would be events concerning the first half of the tribulation.[2]

It is not easy to arguethat the birth pangs (false messiahs, wars, famines, and earthquakes) have beenlacking in the present age. However, the relation of the disciple's questionsin the Olivet Discourse to parallels in Revelation 6 indicate that these signscannot refer to the current church age. Furthermore, these signs are unique toa period of which the world has never known. Since these signs are events whichfit contextually with the tribulation period, they should not be cited asfulfilled (in any sense) in the current age.

Forexample, famines and plagues are offered as proof of fulfillment, but the truthis they have been occurring throughout the course of human history forthousands of years. The worst famines in history occurred in North China(1876-79) and India (1876-1878). In North China alone, "deaths by hunger,violence, and subsequent disease are estimated at between 9 million and 13million.

"[3] The worst case of pestilence was the Plague ofJustinian (AD 500-650). The effects of the plague left three of every fiveinhabitants dead. The decline of the city of Constantinople, and the ByzantineEmpire, dates from the Plague of Justinian. Not until the ninth century did theEmpire begin to recover. "Recurring epidemics of bubonic plague," the BlackDeath, "killed as many as 100 million people." From 1347-51 "the diseaseaffected every level of society, killing an estimated 75 million people,depopulating more than 200,000 villages, and reducing the European populationby perhaps as much as one-quarter" in Western Europe.[4]None can deny the devastation of these select examples, but they will pale incomparison to those of the tribulation. No current frame of reference existsfor the judgments and signs of the tribulation.

If the events of 24:4-14 (or24:4-8) are general signs of disasters as ancient as the humanrace-representing familiarly distressing scenes of conquest, war, famine, anddeath-then what is different with the breaking of the first four sealjudgments? Obviously, nothing would be different.[5]

Another premillennialinterpretation of 24:4-14 would understand these prophesied events as occurringsolely in the first half of the tribulation.

Gaebelein wrote, "The point whichwe wish to make is the following: If this is the correct interpretation, ifMatthew xxiv :4-14 refers to the beginning of that coming end of the age and ifRevelation vi refers to the same beginning of the end and that which followsthe sixth chapter leads us on into the great tribulation, then there must be aperfect harmony between that part of the Olivet discourse contained in Matthewxxiv and the part of Revelation beginning with the sixth chapter. And suchis indeed the case."[6]

The First Half of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:4-20)

In Matthew 24:4-5, 11; Mark13:5-6, and Luke 21:8, false messiahs and prophets are mentioned; and, inRevelation 6:2, we read of the rider on the white horse. Revelation 6:2indicates four significant factors of the horseman of the first seal: (1) thecolor of the horse is white; (2) the rider holds a bow; (3) the rider wears a stevfano";and, (4) the rider's conquering according to the verb nikavw.

Asopposed to the horseman of the first seal being identified as Antichrist, itwould seem best to understand the first seal referring to false messiahs andprophets.

Thesecond white horse rider consistently has a sword throughout the Book ofRevelation (1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21); therefore, such divergence with thefirst white horse rider results in an obvious distinction.

Aftergiving a warning of manyfalse messiahs, Jesus used a future tense (mellw) to indicate that at the timeof the false messiahs you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars (Matt 24:4-6). This appears to be an obviousparallel to Matthew 24:6-7a; Mark 13:7-8a; Luke 21:9-10 where we read about"wars and rumors of wars," and nation rising against nation, and kingdomagainst kingdom." A false peace and security, along with religious apostasy(the false messiahs inspire their devotees to insurrection and wars), characterizethe beginning of the tribulation that will develop into multiple wars near andaway from the land of Israel. All this is yet future and parallels John'sdescription of the second seal horseman in Revelation 6:3-4.

Thethird seal horseman, or black horse rider, brings famine (a forebodingindication of the pale horse rider). The third seal will likely occur shortlyafter the second seal judgment since famine often follows open warfare.

Thefourth seal horseman, the pale horse rider, brings death. This judgmentparallels the synoptic Olivet discourses that prophesy famine, pestilences, anddeath as part of the beginning of birth pangs. Luke simply mentioned famines,whereas John's usage ofthanatoswould include pestilences and death in general.

"For thus says the LordGod, 'How much more when I send My four sever judgments against Jerusalem:sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague to cut off man and beast from it!" (Ezek14:21). These same four figures are prophesied as God's wrath in several otherpassages (cf. Lev 26:21-28; Numb 11:33; 16:46; 25:8-11; Deut 11:17; 28:20-26;32:22-25; Jer 15:1-9; 16:4-11; 19:7-9; Ezek 5:11-17; 6:11-12; 7:3-15). Thetribulation commences with the outpouring of God's wrath in the seal judgments,followed by the trumpet judgments, and concluding with the bowl judgments. Thejudgments are sequential and progressive, which means there is no break in theoutpouring of God's wrath, and intensify as they are cast upon the earth.

The Birth Pangs

This is in keeping withthe analogy of birth pangs, since such pains do not occur at the beginning ofpregnancy, but at the end. In the same manner, the signs of Matthew 24:4-14 donot occur during the current church dispensation, but only during thetribulation immediately before Christ's return. The Olivet Discourse willinstruct Israel and Gentile saints, during the tribulation, that the events ofverses 5-6 are not yet the end.It is just the beginning of birth pangs before being able to straighten up and lift up [their] heads, because [their] redemption is drawing near (24:8; Luke 21:28).

TheGreek word, wjdivn, may be a technical term, as BAG define it as "of the'Messianic woes', the terrors and torments traditionally viewed as prelude tothe coming of the Messianic Age . . . associated with the appearance of the Sonof Man at the end of history, as the beginning of the (end-time) woes ajrchwjdivnon Mt 24: 8; Mk 13: 8."[7]The birth pangs of the first half of the tribulation are the beginning of thegreater birth pangs in the second half of the tribulation. The entireseven-year tribulation is the period of birth pangs, as Jeremiah 30:6-7indicates, "'Ask now, and see if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man,with his hands on his loins,as a woman in childbirth? And why haveall faces turned pale? 'Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; andit is the time of Jacob's distress, but he will be saved from it."

Theseven-year tribulation is clearly divided chronologically in the Books ofDaniel and Revelation, and characteristically in the eschatological discoursesof the synoptics, that is the beginning (less intense experiences) and the morefrequent and intense experiences of the tribulation period. Drawing fromextra-biblical sources, Raphael Patai devoted an entire chapter to "The Pangsof Time" and concluded,

Thepangs of the Messianic times are imagined as heavenly as well as earthlysources and expressions. From Above, awesome cosmic cataclysms will be visitedupon the earth. . . . All this will lead to internal decay, demoralization, andeven apostasy. Things will come to such a head that people will despair ofRedemption. This will last seven years. And then, unexpectedly, the Messiahwill come.

Becauseof this gloomy picture of the beginning of the Messianic era, which by Talmudictimes was firmly believed in, some sages expressed the wish not to see theMessiah. . . . In any case, both the people and its religious leaders continuedto hope for the coming of the Messiah.[8]

TheJewish understanding of the birth pangs of the Messianic times is certainlyconsistent with the sequence of the Olivet Discourse and the Book ofRevelation. The birth pangs are additional evidence that supports the conceptof Matthew 24:4-14 (and the parallels in Markan and Lukan discourses) asindicating events of the first half of the tribulation, which is also parallelto the four horseman of Revelation 6:1-8.

Theeschatological discourses of the synoptics warn of persecution and martyrdomduring the tribulation (Matt 24:9-10, 12; Mark 13:9, 11-13; Luke 21:11a-19).Mark and Luke stated the comfort given to the faithful during the tribulationis that the Holy Spirit will give them the words to speak. As martyrdom (24:9)is also the fifth seal, John recorded the prayer of those seeking justice fromGod.

Earthquakesare frequent throughout the Book of Revelation as judgment is about tointensify (Rev 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). The sixth seal should becorrelated around the time of the abomination of desolation at the midpoint ofthe tribulation.[9] It seemsthat the sixth seal is used to introduce the great tribulation (24:21), or the second half of the tribulationwhich begins with the abomination of desolation.

The Seal Judgments

Both Rosenthal and VanKampen gave attention to the similarities between the events of Matthew 24:5-9and the first five seals of the Apocalypse (Rev 6:1-8). However, their argumentis that the first five seals (6:1-11) are not the wrath of God, but that of manthrough the Antichrist (similar to midtribulationists).[10]

Both Rosenthal[11]and Van Kampen[12] argued thatGod's wrath does not begin until after the sixth seal. After the cosmic signsof Revelation 6:12-14, verses 15-17 provide the reaction ofthe kings of theearth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong andevery slave and free man.

Theywill cry to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from thepresence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for thegreat day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" A plain reading of Scripture here should causeone to conclude that the great dayof God's wrath has already come and is present during the sixth seal.

Sincepre-wrath rapturists do not believe God's wrath begins until the seventh seal,they must argue, "the aorist tense is, generally speaking, timeless."[13]Rosenthal wrote, " . . . the phrase, 'the great day of his wrath is come'refers, not to a past event, but to an event about to occur, and that inconcert with the opening of the seventh seal."[14] Following the sixth seal, God's wrath"is an event that is on the threshold of happening-a future event soon tooccur."[15]The aorist, h\lqen, in 6:17 is in the indicative mood which would confirm thereality of the action (God's wrath) from the standpoint of the world leaders.

Theaorist is not timeless as the pre-wrath view requires; rather, the time ofaction is past. Non-indicative moods may indicate the kind of action as opposedto the time of action. Dana and Mantey stated, "It has no essential temporalsignificance, its time relations being found only in the indicative, where itis used as past and hence augmented. . . . The aorist signifies nothing as tocompleteness, but simply presents the action as attained. It states the fact of the action or event without regard to its duration."[16]Robertson concurred, "It is true that in the expression of past time in theindicative and with all the other moods, the aorist is the tense used as amatter of course. . . ."[17] Wallace acquiesced, "In the indicative, the aorist usually indicates past time with reference to the time of speaking(thus, 'absolute time'). . . . Outside the indicative and participle, time isnot a feature of the aorist."[18]


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