I have a special place, a mountainside in New Mexico. I’ve thought a lot there. I’ve prayed and communed with God in unique ways there. Important transitional events in my life are marked there. God revealed the way I should go forth from there. Community was formed and still exists because of my time there. My daughter has met God there too. My son was baptized by my husband on that mountain, in the icy cold stream that runs through it. A special place indeed. If I had to choose one place to leave my final words, it would be on this mountainside, surrounded by the people I cherish most.
I love the scholarly title of Jesus’ last long speech recorded in the gospel of Matthew. It’s called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25). That means that he spoke these final words at his special place, the Mount of Olives, to his peeps, his cherished disciples. Perhaps, this was no accident.
The Mount of Olives overlooks the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley divides these two mounts. Many private gardens were found here, as gardens were not allowed in Jerusalem proper during Jesus’ day. Perhaps it was a beautiful respite. Jesus often found refuge and rest there, a place to commune with his Father in prayer. (Lk 21:37, Jn 8:1) He frequently gathered with his community, his disciples, on this hillside to regroup and commission. (Mk 13:3) Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem would be from this mount. (Mk 11:1) He would anguish in prayer before his crucifixion in a garden at the foot of this mount. (Lk 22:39) His ascension into heaven was from the top of this mount. (Acts 1:12) A special place indeed.
As Matthew 24 commences, Jesus’ disciples were confused. Jesus was preparing them for the events that were about to transpire, but they still didn’t understand that he would die, raise back to life, and then ascend to the Father. The kingdom he spoke of was still ambiguous, at best. The temple, across the valley, was still God’s dwelling place, in their minds. Little did they know, He would soon make his home inside each of them. They asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3)
Have you ever felt like that? “Jesus, just tell me what’s going to happen and when this will all make sense. Give me a sign.” They asked the right person. He gave them some specific answers, but I wonder how much they really understood? As hard as it is for us to make sense of the details (I will leave the bulk of this chapter to your own interpretation), I think the disciples were even more confused, and emotionally stressed out!
Jesus understood. I think his most encouraging words were, “But concerning the day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only…Therefore stay awake, for you don’t know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:36,42) Jesus essentially said, “Look guys, I don’t even know. Let’s stay awake, and watch and wait together.” Jesus, was listening and waiting for his Father’s direction to lead him to the cross, out of the tomb, and back to heaven. He’ll just as patiently wait for his direction to come back to the earth, in the manner and timing of the Father’s choosing. From his special hillside, Jesus encouraged his close friends with practical advice.
He follows with three simple stories to show his followers and us today how to watch and wait for Jesus’ return, as we follow our Lord and Savior in the meantime. As we close out the year, we’ll reflect on these stories.
The Olivet Discourse. Specially chosen last words from a very special place. The last words of instruction by Jesus on his way to the cross. Perhaps we should hang on every word.