Monday morning he returned with his disciples to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it had failed to bear fruit. Scholars believe the symbolism extended to all believers, demonstrating that genuine, living faith is more than just outward religiosity.
Mark 11:12-25New International Version (NIV)
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
True faith must bear spiritual fruit in a person’s life. Christ was speaking of God’s future program for Israel. Other passages to consider when studying the Olivet Discourse are Daniel 9:24-27 and Revelation 6:1 – 19:21, which refer to the future seven-year period called the tribulation. God’s program for the Church concludes with the rapture, which is not taught in the Olivet Discourse. The rapture of the Church is found in John 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
In Matthew 23, Jesus had spoken to the Pharisees concerning judgment. This can be seen in the “woe” statements in that chapter. In 24:1, Jesus was leaving the temple when the disciples called His attention to the magnificent buildings on the temple mount. Jesus then tells the disciples that “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (verse 2). This prophecy was literally fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. The temple was burned. The gold in the temple melted in the fire and ran down into the cracks between the stones. As people later searched for the gold, they toppled every stone from its place. This destruction of Jerusalem was but a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.
Jesus’ prophecy of doom got the disciples curious, and probably more than a little concerned. When they were alone with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (verse 3). What follows in Matthew 24–25 refers to the future, seven-year tribulation period and the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. During that time, God will complete His chastisement and purification of Israel and judge the whole world (Daniel 9:24-27; Revelation 6–19).
Daniel 9:27 indicates that the tribulation will be divided into two equal parts. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:4-8 refers to the first half. The “birth pangs” (verse 8) refer to the sufferings that Israel will experience during the first 3 1/2 years. The signs with reference to the end of the age are the coming of false messiahs (verse 5), the threat of wars and widespread conflict (verses 6-7), and various natural catastrophes (verse 7).
Revelation 6 is a parallel passage. The apostle John writes of the seal judgments. Revelation 6:2 speaks of a rider on a white horse, which refers to a false messiah called elsewhere the Antichrist and the Beast. Revelation 6:4 says that peace is taken from the earth. Revelation 6:6-8 speaks of famine and death. Jesus said these things are only the “beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). Worse is yet to come. In Revelation 13, the second half of the tribulation begins when the Beast, or Antichrist, sets up his rule for 42 months (cf. Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15).
In the Olivet Discourse, the second half of the tribulation is described in Matthew 24:9-14. Persecution of the Jews and death (verse 9) will be the result of the Beast’s rise to power. The Antichrist will also persecute anyone who refuses to follow him (Revelation 13:1-18).The salvation promised in Matthew 24:13 is deliverance from the Beast’s persecution. The one who endures until Christ returns will be saved from the Beast. Jesus says that “this gospel of the kingdom” will be preached worldwide before the end comes. In other words, the good news (gospel) will be available during the tribulation; the message will be that Christ will soon return in judgment to set up His earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6). This message will cause many people to realize their sinful state and receive the Savior during the tribulation.
Matthew 24:15-26 gives further details concerning the tribulation. Jesus refers to an “abomination” and desolation of a future temple in Matthew 24:15-22; this is more clearly spoken of in Luke 21:20-24. The Beast will take authority and set up an image of himself in the future temple (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; Revelation 13:1-18). When this happens, Jesus says, head for the hills.
When Jesus arrived at the Temple he found the courts full of corrupt money changers. He began overturning their tables and clearing the Temple, saying, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:46). On Monday evening Jesus stayed in Bethany again, probably in the home of his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.