What were the disciples asking about? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
One of the great mistakes we make in interpreting the Olivet Discourse is we interpert it from our place and time. We live in a time after the death, resurrection, and ascension. If we look at the Gospels, the disciples had a tendency to be clueless about this stuff. Jesus had told them He would die and rise again repeatedly and they still never got it.
So now let’s look at the verse and realize the timeframe they are in.
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Okay. Let’s tackle the last part first. If you read this in the KJV, you will be told it asks about the end of the world. That is actually a poor translation. There is a word for world that would fit better, but this isn’t it. Besides, suppose the world is ending. Why would you flee to the mountains as Jesus advises later? Do the mountains get a free pass from total destruction somehow?
No. What is ending is the age. God is moving to a new system. It will no longer be a system of the Law. It will be the age of the Messiah and hence, the disciples ask Jesus about “your” coming. They know who will be the Messiah and if the temple is gone and Jesus is the Messiah, then Jesus must be ruling.
Now notice also that they ask about the sign of His coming. Isn’t it fascinating so many people think this passage is about the return of Christ? But here’s why it isn’t. Think to what was said earlier. The disciples didn’t even understand Jesus dying and rising again. They had no concept of Him ascending and going away to return later. For them, this was one straight linear path. Go to Jerusalem, become king, age of Messiah begins. The idea of any of the other stuff happening was foreign to them.
But what is Jesus coming to? One obvious answer. His throne. Jesus is going to begin His rule. Notice the disciples connected the destruction of the temple to all of this. Now they want to know how they will know that this will happen. So as we go into the teaching portion of the discourse, we have these questions.
When are you taking your throne?
When does the age of your rule begin?
What signs will tell us that this is happening?
These are all good questions. Jesus, as usual, will answer them. We are going to be looking in-depth because many times today, like the people of the past, we do not understand what Jesus said properly. In John, people often misunderstand Jesus because they read Him in a literalistic way. Let’s hope that we don’t do the same this time.