Jesus' Teaching on the End Times
Most of Jesus' teaching on the end of the age takes place on the Mount of Olives, and therefore scholars refer to it as the Olivet Discourse. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 24, begins with Jesus' describing the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, followed by his disciples asking for more input about the things that must come to pass before the end of the age.
Prophetic passages in the Old Testament symbolize things taking place when the prophet speaks and preaches, but at the same time other phrases are dropped in that foreshadow the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate salvation of Israel.
Jesus' speech seems ambiguous, as though in the same sentence his focus may be on the disciples and the generation they still have to live out, but a few words later seems to be focusing a millennium or two into the future. It is not hard to see why Christians of every age since the first generation want to find in these words, which seem to scan down the centuries, ways to apply parts of them to themselves. At the very least, these words are intentionally, ambiguously, speaking to both the end of the age of Israel under the Old Covenant in A.D. 70 and the culmination of the age of the church some undefined time in the future.
At least some Catholics, Orthodox, and amillennialist Protestants take this discourse as speaking of both the end of the age of Israel and the culmination of the age of the church. Jesus is talking about the persecution of the church under Emperor Vespasian and Military Commander Titus in the first Jewish-Roman war, and of the persecutions of the Christians that would be just beginning when the abomination of desolation takes place in the Temple and it is destroyed.
Jesus' description of how Christians will die and will want to run for the hills closely captures the waves of persecutions that began when the Temple fell in the church's first generation, and continued for the next three centuries. He mentions repeatedly that those who withstand the tribulation, the great persecutions, meaning those who do not turn back on their baptisms to be spared, will be saved. The Orthodox churches have always said he does not give the people hope that they will escape the tribulation by being raptured.
Signs of the End
Yet amillennialists, too, find prophecies here pertaining to the Second Coming, still in the future. An anonymous Orthodox writer finds “signs of the second coming” in the Olivet Discourse, beginning with “The Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). There are signs that this is being fulfilled in the twenty-first century as never before.
Another sign appears in Luke's Gospel, where Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Though the Gospel is being spread far and wide, its faith, especially in the churches established for many years in the West, seems to have waned, its depth eroded. Another sign of the end is the proliferation of false messiahs and false prophets trying to lure away the faithful, as Jesus says will precede the Second Coming: “many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:5), “for false Christs and false prophets shall arise and show great signs and wonders so much so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Fulfillment of Prophecy
The Jewish people figure in this anonymous Orthodox writer's interpretation of what signs will precede the Second Coming, based on Paul's prediction in Romans 11:25–33:
Dispensational premillennialists see the church as a small part of the larger plan of God for Israel. Under the amillennialism that sees the church as the inheritor of all the covenant promises of God to Israel, it is the church that becomes the fulfillment of what God promised to Abraham, that through his seed all the nations shall be blessed and his descendants would be uncountable.