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A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The Olivet Discourse" in Luke 21

Kuruvilla Thomas
Bangalore
Published on 4 October 2017




Luke 21 Timeline

Fig. 1


Introduction

This study treats the "Olivet Discourse" in Luke 21 as a cryptochiasmus in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text. Text that is structured as a cryptochiasmus must be rearranged based on certain principles to be correctly interpreted. A cryptochiasmus is a new concept; see definition in [1]. If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Section 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.

Many scholars have come to the conclusion that the "Olivet Discourse" is an interweaving of several prophecies into one narrative, and we concur. With this chiastic reconstruction, we will show that this prophecy from Jesus makes predictions about three distinct Periods, and we will address some of the confusion regarding this text, including the "this generation will not pass..." problem. The chiastic structure and content of this passage is quite similar to the one in Matthew 24 [6].


Note:
We will use the term "Judahite" to refer to the Israelites - primarily those of the tribe of Judah and their descendants - that remained after the Assyrian exile of the Northern Tribes; we will try to avoid the term "Jew" to avoid the confusion it introduces.



Discussion

1. Presuppositions

In the Olivet passage in Matthew 24:3, the disciples ask Jesus three questions: when will this happen? (the destruction of the temple predicted in vs. 2), what will be the sign of your coming?, and of the end of the age? Jesus' prophetic reply, we believe, is regarding the three Periods listed below:

  1. The attack on Jerusalem (70AD) during the The First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD).
  2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD). The tribulation and persecution of this Period seem to come from Satan through his human worshippers. We get the 2017AD date for the start of this Period from our parse of Revelation 12 [9].
  3. The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD). Christ returns in all his glory and the faithful are gathered up. We get the c. 2967AD date for the End of the Age from our parse of Daniel 10-12 [8].

2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will use the NIV translation for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing the text into three categories as above. We will call the period of the First Jewish-Roman war Period 1, the period of the pre-millennial tribulation Period 2 and the "End of the Age" or the last days Period 3.

Categorizing vs 8-36

Vs 8-19 belong to Period 2. False messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution, betrayal by family, signs from heaven.

Vs 20-24a belong to Period 1. The Judahites are warned to flee as soon as they saw the Roman army in Jerusalem. These verses refer to a localized event in Judea because only the residents of Judea are warned to flee to the mountains. The few Judahites in Jerusalem who were not killed by the Romans were taken into slavery.

Vs 24b belongs to Period 2. Jerusalem will continue to be trampled by the Gentiles, as it has been through most of its history, until the Messiah establishes the New Jerusalem and rules the world from the city.

Vs 25-28 belong to Period 3. Signs in the heavens. Christ appears in all His glory and the faithful are redeemed.

Vs 29-31 belong to Period 2. The proverb of the fig tree indicates that the coming of the Millennial reign can be discerned by the signs of this Period.

Vs 32 belongs to Period 1. The text "this generation will not pass away..." points to a period within one generation of Jesus' time.

Vs 33 belongs to Period 2. The text "my words will never pass away" is a reference to the Gospel that is preached to all nations by the end of Period 2, as we see in the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 [6].

Vs 34-36 belong to Period 3. No one knows the hour of the coming of Christ in glory. Christ will return unexpectedly, like a trap that closes without warning


Original text

We color-code the chiastic units of the original text (NIV) below for easy visual identification using: red for Period 1, blue for Period 2, green for Period 3, and black for text outside the chiasmus


Chapter 21 5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24a They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.
24b Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”


3. Building the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that verses 8-33 form a 3-unit cryptochiasmus as below:

A1   8-19 Period 2. False messiahs, wars, famines, persecution, betrayal.
  B1   20-24a Period 1. The Romans at Jerusalem. Flee to the mountains.
    C1   24b Period 2. The time of the gentiles is fulfilled.
      X   25-28 Period 3. Signs in the heavens, Christ in glory, redemption.
    C2   29-31 Period 2. Fig tree parable.
  B2   32 Period 1. This generation will not pass away.
A2   33 Period 2. ...but my words will never pass away.


We now reconstruct the phrases in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a cryptochiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For ex., subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For ex., A1,A2 is a unit) so that we get a list of such units.

The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]  [C1,C2]       (1)

We have the following sequence when we include verse 34-36:
X         - Period 3
[A1,A2] - Period 2
[B1,B2] - Period 1
[C1,C2] - Period 2
v 34-36 - Period 3. Christ's unexpected return.

We still have text for the Periods in a non-contiguous form. We treat this as multiply-applied cryptochiasmus as below:


M1   X Period 3
  N1   [A1,A2] Period 2
   XX   [B1,B2] Period 1
  N2   [C1,C2] Period 2
M2   v 34-36 Period 3

The sequence selected for rearrangement is:
XX  [N1,N2]  [M1,M2]        (2)

Note that we placed [N1,N2] before [M1,M2] in order to get the time Periods in chronological sequence. The rules of cryptochiasmus [1] allow this as there is no discernible change in meaning.

Translating this sequence (2) into the sub-units of the first chiasmus, we get:

[B1,B2]  [[A1, A2], [C1,C2]]   [X, v 34-36]        (3)

Further translating (3) into verse numbers, we get:

[20-24a, 32]  [[8-19,33], [24b, 29-31]]   [25-28, 34-36]        (4)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (4). Verses 5-7 are included, though they fall outside the chiasmus, because they introduce the discourse.



4. Luke 21 Reconfigured

Introductory passage (vs. 5-7)

(Verses 5-7 lie outside the chiasmus but are included here because they introduce the prophecy.)


5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

Period 1. The Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs. 20-24a, 32)

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24a They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Period 2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD) (vs. 8-19, 33, 24b, 29-31)

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

24b Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Period 3. The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD) (vs. 25-28, 34-36)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”




5. A Commentary on the Reconfigured Text

The passage has been split into 4 sections for analysis: The introductory statement and the 3 periods.

5.1 Introductory statements (vs. 5-7)

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”


The disciples were admiring the magnificent temple at Jerusalem that Herod built when Jesus predicted that the temple will be completely destroyed. This prediction that "not one stone here will be left on another" came true, quite literally in 70 AD.



7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”


The disciples then ask for signs that indicate when Jesus' prophecies will take place.




5.2 Period 1. The Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD during the First Jewish–Roman War (66AD–73AD) (vs. 20-24a, 32)


20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.


The Roman army and its allies surrounding Jerusalem are the sure sign indicating the immediate start of this period of tribulation. ( Matthew, Mark and Daniel refer to the Roman army attacking Jerusalem as the "abomination that causes desolation".) The Romans killed almost all the Judahites in the city and destroyed the city and its temple. (For more details on this Period, see our paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] and a history of the war in [3].)



21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23a How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!


Jesus exhorted his followers in Judea to flee immediately on seeing the Roman soldiers. According to some historians, the Judahites fled to Pella [4] which is located at the foothills of the Transjordanian Mountains. For a short period, as the Romans prepared to lay siege to Jerusalem, the Judahites were allowed to enter the city but Jesus warns his followers against doing so. Many prophecies in the Old and New testaments - notably all passages that are structured as cryptochiasmi - predict this period of devastation.



23b There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24a They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.


The Romans were completely ruthless and thorough in their efforts to annihilate the Judahites and destroy their city. The small number Judahites in Jerusalem who were not killed were exiled into slavery.



32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.


The events of 70 AD happened within a generation of Jesus' time. The Judahites who converted to Christianity were the only people who moved from the Old Covenant to the New without a break.



5.3 Period 2. The tribulation period before Christ's millennial reign (from 2017AD) (vs. 8-19, 33, 24b, 29-31)

The narrative of this Period seems to be arranged in a chiastic structure (a regular chiasm and so no rearrangement is required). The first section (vs. 8-11) and the last (vs. 29-31) seem to describe events before the start of the reign of the Antichrist and Beast system, and the central pivot section (vs. 12-19, 33, 24b) seems to describe the reign itself and its end.



8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.


Jesus outlines some of the signs of the this period: False messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. The tribulations of this Period come from Satan and his worshippers, who rule the world at this time. Satan may also display wondrous signs in the skies to lead people astray.



12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.


For Christians, this time of tribulation comes in the form of persecution that begins during the Antichrist's reign. The faithful will have the Holy Spirit to guide them. If we take "synagogue", which means "a place of assembly", to represent the Christian church, then it appears that the completely corrupt church of this time will participate in the persecution of the faithful.



16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


Many Christians will be betrayed by their own family and friends because of the rewards that the Beast system offers. Christianity and its adherents will be vilified. Verse 18 (not a hair of your head will perish) may seem to contradict verse 16 (some of you will be put to death), but vs. 18 is a proverbial expression which means that God is in complete control of everything that will happen to you and any loss taken for staying true will be rewarded.



24b Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


At the end of this Period of tribulation, the Messiah will establish a New Jerusalem from where he will rule the world. Jerusalem will no longer be trampled upon by the Gentiles and non-Christians, as it has been, literally and figuratively, for most of its history.



29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.


Just as tender twigs and sprouting leaves on a fig tree indicate summer is here, so also the signs of this Period (wars, famines, earthquakes etc.) indicate the Messiah's reign will come soon.



5.4 Period 3 The Start of the End Times Tribulation (unknown date before 2967AD) (vs. 25-28, 34-36)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.


Terrifying earthly events and signs in the heavens herald Christ's coming. The heavenly bodies seem to represent Satan's angels that control the nations outside Israel - their reign ends and they face judgement (see Isaiah 24:21-23, Psalm 82:6-8 and the opening of the 6th seal Rev 6:12-14).



27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, comes in great glory and begins to redeem (rapture) the faithful.



34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”


The coming of the Son of Man and the rapture (of those deemed worthy of escaping the final tribulation) will happen at a completely unexpected time. The "thief in the night" parable of Matthew 24 and the "returning home-owner" parable of Mark 13 is replaced by the "suddenly closing trap" metaphor here.





Conclusion

With this chiastic reconfiguration, we have shown that this passage contains three interwoven prophecies. While the First Jewish-Roman War appears in all prophetic chiastic reconfigurations, the common theme that connects the other two Periods seems to be the advent of Christ's reign and the associated tribulations (ie., the start of his earthly Millennial Reign, and the start of his Heavenly Reign).

The versions of the Olivet discourse in Matthew, Mark and Luke are all chiastically arranged in a similar manner. Although there are variations in the versions on the surface, remarkably, they all are the same at a deeper structural level. This, to us, is further evidence that the Bible ia divinely inspired and that every "jot and tittle" has been preserved in the text.





References

[1] A Definition of Cryptochiasmus
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"
[3] First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) by Wikipedia.
[4] Flight to Pella by Wikipedia
[5] Jewish Christian by Wikipedia
[6] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24
[7] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 8
[8] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Daniel 10-12. Part 3: Daniel 12.
[9] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of Revelation 12








Related pages

Daniel 9
Mark 13
Luke 21
Luke 17:22-37
Cryptochiasmus