The Futurist Interpretation of Luke’s Version of the Olivet Discourse

Among commentators, there is an ongoing debate concerning Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. This end-time sermon is found in the synoptic gospels of Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. While most commentators are okay seeing a fully futurist interpretation of Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13, many others have a hard time seeing Luke 21 through a fully futurist lens, especially the following portion of the text:

“they (The inhabitants of Israel) will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Luke 21:24

While it is understandable why many would prefer not to see this portion of Jesus’ prophecy as yet-future, as painful as it is, I am of the opinion that we must understand all of Luke 21 as yet to be fulfilled. The purpose of this brief post is not to argue exhaustively for this case, but simply to present one simple historical argument for a futurist interpretation as opposed to a fulfillment in 70 AD. The argument revolves around a simple examination of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD under General Titus.

I believe that even a brief review of the manner in which Titus’s siege of Jerusalem unfolded will show that Jesus could not have been speaking of the events of 70 AD. The historical record shows that the vast band of Roman legions and auxiliaries led first by Vespasian, and then by his son Titus, made its way to Jerusalem quite gradually over a period of years. But Jesus described the assault of Jerusalem as an event that is to unfold rather suddenly, leaving no time even to gather one’s basic items.

How the Siege of AD 70 Actually Went Down

In AD 66 the advisors to Vespasian, the Roman general in charge of the campaign at that time, had actually directed him to ransack Jerusalem then. But because the city was already in the thick of a drastic internal civil war, Vespasian determined to simply let the Jews wipe themselves out, as they seemed to be doing a much faster job than he himself could have done. Vespasian also didn’t want an invasion to bring unity to the deeply divided city against a common enemy. So for almost three years, it was quite easily discernible that thick storms clouds of an invasion were gathering on the horizon. In both AD 67 and 68, there were two substantial Roman campaigns launched from Caesarea in the north that saw the fall of several cities throughout the land.

When the assault of Jerusalem did finally begin, Titus established a camp on Mount Scopus, just northeast of the city. Initially, to test the resolve of the Jews, he led a small detachment of a mere six hundred troops to the city. But defenders rushed out of the city walls, divided Titus’s troops, and nearly captured Titus himself. Then, in early AD 70, Titus, utilizing the full force of all of his legions and auxiliaries, erected three camps around the city and set up a siege line. By this time, fleeing the city for the mountains was simply no longer an option. Surrender was an option, but fleeing to the mountains was not. In fact, many who did attempt to flee at that point were captured or slaughtered in the process.

My point is this: if Jesus was warning about the siege of AD 70, then He actually gave some truly terrible advice. Notice that Jesus did not say that when armies begin marching toward Jerusalem, then it is time to flee. He did not say when the Romans come for the first preliminary assault, then it is time to flee. He did not say that when troops enter into the land of Israel, then it is time to prepare an escape. No, Jesus specifically warned that “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies” that was the time to flee. And so I repeat, if Jesus’ warning in Luke 21:20–21 concerned Titus’s destruction of Jerusalem, as so many commentators argue, then He gave some truly poor advice. Anyone in Jerusalem who waited until the city was surrounded to attempt to flee would have been taken prisoner or killed.

If, on the other hand, Jesus’ warning pertained to the last-days assault against Jerusalem by the Antichrist, then it is far more realistic to imagine a surge of troops being mobilized rather suddenly around Jerusalem. A few possible scenarios could explain this. Perhaps it will happen during a time when the city will be divided (see Joel 3:2) and shared by the Israelis and Palestinians, and perhaps even policed by some form of international “peacekeeping” forces. In such a case, it would be quite possible for a sudden surge of troops to gather against Jerusalem in a rather abrupt and unexpected manner, exactly as Jesus described. While it is difficult to know precisely how the events will unfold, it seems that there will come a moment at the center of the final seven years before Jesus returns when the Antichrist will remove his mask of tolerance, and will demand full control of the city of Jerusalem, including the Temple, using his troops, many of who will have already been in the land to carry this out. This is the aforementioned abomination that causes desolation wherein the Antichrist will sit in and desolate the Temple of God (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4). And of course, all of this will be accompanied by terror for Israel’s inhabitants, many of whom “will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations,” a time of tribulation so severe that Jesus described as unparalleled throughout all of world history—and beyond

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