This is the first in an installment of posts related to a partial or orthodox, preteristic harmony of the Gospel accounts of the Olivet Discourse.
This an attempt to recognize an exceptionally important hermeneutical approach to the Gospels. That is, recognizing that although each Gospel has a different perspective, they don’t have a different message. Each perspective can and should be taken in light of the others. This is something that will become clearer when approaching the Olivet Discourse from the perspective of allowing all three accounts to speak for themselves.
All three accounts of Christ’s lengthy presentation begin the same way. There’s an examination of the Temple and a promise and prophecy by Christ of its destruction. What is specifically interesting is how much information is contained in one account and how little information is contained in the other two.
The reason for the interesting differences in the amount of information is because of the typical assumption by both futurists and full-preterists of the discourse relating to, almost entirely, the actual event of the Parousia of Christ. Christ does refer to and concludes His discourse with a presentation of the Parousia, for example, after Matthew 24:34. However, the beginning content that holds as the primary material for responding to the disciples happens to include everything but the actual event of the final coming or Parousia of Christ.
Christ basically initiates the discourse the same way in all three accounts. That is, the Temple is going to be destroyed, and there are going to be certain events that surround its destruction.
But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
— Matthew 24:2 ESV
And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
— Mark 13:2 ESV
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
— Luke 21:6 ESV
It really is quite remarkable to point out the fact that this discourse was introduced by the specifics of Christ pointing out merely the destruction of the Temple.
He didn’t introduce His final coming. He introduced the Temple’s destruction. Beyond that, all Christ had introduced before this point is the fact that the promised Kingdom of God was at hand (of course never referring to it as a thousand years).
That kingdom that Christ said was not of this world (John 18:36). That same kingdom that Christ indicated He inaugurates within the lifetime of some of His contemporaries, and that He Himself would come to bring into effect (Matthew 16:28).
This is further underscored by the fact that the Greek word παρουσία referring to the Second or Final Coming of Christ isn’t used in Matthew’s Gospel prior to Matthew 24. It isn’t used at all in Luke’s Gospel nor in Marks.
Which means, in the parallel accounts of Mark and Luke, there are absolutely no mentions of the parousia by name. They only mentioned the Parousia by inference, recognizing the specifics of events that coincide with the Parousia (Mark 13:32). Interestingly enough, it appears from Luke’s account that Luke really does not discuss the Parousia at all.
This means that in Luke’s and Mark’s account it is incumbent upon the interpreter to actually spot and recognize the Parousia. Which would logically conclude that there is a margin of error that may feasible on all sides of the eschatology debate. If there is nothing intrinsic in the text itself, then it requires us to think critically about the text its context to determine if a text is Parousia or not.
Moving on to the actual question of the disciples themselves. This brings us back to one of the original assertions, namely, harmonizing each Gospel account together. The fact is, that we must interpret all three accounts in a symbiotic way. The fact that one account has less information than another requires us to apply the same understanding to both. The Gospel with more information must be used to define the Gospel with less information and vice versa. Each Gospel can say more or less but no Gospel can something different.
We cannot assume that because a Gospel has less information than another that the Gospel with less information recorded the account incorrectly and the Gospel with more recorded information either “fixed” or “got it right”.
The lack of information supplied, therefore, must serve as a sufficient amount of information to essentially be saying the same thing as the account with more information. And the account with more information must be capable of providing further clarity, understanding, and insight to the account with less information.
Furthermore, each account must be capable of standing on its own and, therefore, the interpreter must be able to arrive at the same conclusion about the meaning of the discourse in one account as would be the case in any of the others. This is necessarily the case. Another way of stating is, is that even with looking at, for example, Luke’s account which states less that Matthew, we should still be able to arrive at an accurate conclusion of Luke’s message that is similar to and in harmony with Matthew’s account without needing Matthew’s account to correct, expand, or fix our interpretation.
If we interpret Luke, we should expect to find consistency with our understanding of Luke’s account when we open up Mark. The only thing that should happen is that we would find greater clarity and insight into the discourse itself, not a difference of information.
Mark and Luke record the Disciples’ question as asking for less than Matthew’s account does. Both Mark and Luke only ask for when the Temple will be destroyed. Whereas Matthew records the Disciples asking for the destruction of the Temple, the sign of Christ’s παρουσία, and the end of the age.
So here’s the point. Mark and Luke’s Gospels are actually not asking for different information than Matthew’s Gospel, they are asking for the same thing.
In other words, what Matthew records as the destruction of the Temple, the sign of Christ’s final coming, and the end of the age are all simultaneously the same event and can be spoken of with the simpler, summary form of purely asking about the destruction of the Temple.
The only clarification is to point out that the disciples were most likely asking for the end of history and the end of the world. They did, in fact, ask for συντέλεια i.e. the consummation or the total, final end of everything. This word is a compound Greek word, combining τέλεια, meaning “end” with συν meaning “with”.
In other words, it would be totally accurate to state that this would refer to all things that should be ending together. Whereas τέλεια would simply refer to a singular end of some particular thing. In this case, it’s a specific reference to the age.
However, there is a misunderstanding then on the part of the Disciples. Because they were using the word συντέλεια, with the singular word for “age”, αἰών, they weren’t asking for the consummation of the end of the ages but were thinking that the end of the world would then be synonymous with the end of the age they were currently living in. Thus conflating the idea of the destruction of the Temple with the end of the world.
This is essential if were are to understand the discourse correctly. As the Temple was the center of Jewish religion and life, for it to cease was certainly devastating. Therefore, the disciples were primarily interested in the destruction of the Temple and were confusing the destruction of the Temple with the end of the world.
But what about the portion of their question that deals with the Parousia? Certainly, the order of events as recorded by Matthew in 24:3 would indicate they thought there would be the final coming of Christ as well that would happen after the Temple’s destruction but before the end of their age.
The problem though, for futurists and full-preterist is that they didn’t ask for His Parousia, they asked for the sign of His Parousia. And considering how frequently the Jews of Jesus age were asking for a sign, we can recognize that Jews were very interested in signs as proof of something. The BDAG confirms this definition:
a sign or distinguishing mark whereby something is known, sign, token, indication.
William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 920.
Why would this be an important definition? Because they’re specifically asking for proof that Christ will have another Advent before their age ends. They’re asking for proof that there will be another Advent of Christ. They also asked for the timeframe. When will these things be, and how will know whether or not Christ will visit another time?
Before we conclude it’s important to introduce the definition of Parousia. It differs from “come” in the sense that “come” only involves the action of moving from one place to another whereas “Parousia” means coming and staying, just like a visit. We can distinguish between Grandma’s coming to visit and when Grandma is actually here.
The two events are linked, but they are not the same. As we continue through our harmonization as well as continuing to discuss eschatology, we will constantly need to recognize when “coming” is discussed verses when “arrival” or “visit” is discussed.
This is a good starting point for recognizing the harmony between the three accounts. Even though the disciples may have conflated the destruction of the Temple with the end of the world, their entire focus was still on the destruction itself. And the specific reason why Luke and Mark don’t record that would have to solidify the understanding that the entire focus of the question was centered on the Temple’s destruction.
And Jesus answer didn’t quite deviate from that understanding as well. We will continue this series of posts to attempt to further harmonize these accounts.