When was the Olivet Discourse Fulfilled?
The largest body of prophecy outside of the book of Revelation is found in the so-called Olivet Discourse. It is contained in the parallel passages of Matthew 24/25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Most Christians agree that at least some of the events prophesied by Jesus in the Discourse were fulfilled in the past, most notably the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
Jesus listed certain events that would happen prior to that terrible event, and some that would happen coincident with it. But many Christians pick and choose some events to have already been fulfilled and some others as yet to be fulfilled.
But there is little consistency among Christians as to which events may be still future to us. Interpretations are a confusing mishmash of arbitrary inferences. While this can be a shock to some Christians, we should consider that Jesus was telling the truth when He said that ALL the events He listed would be fulfilled in the literal generation of those living in the first century (Matthew 24:34; Luke 21:22, 32). These were events that were ABOUT TO HAPPEN when Jesus spoke to his disciples (Luke 21:36)! (See the NASB, NIV, or Young’s Literal Translation for the correct translation of verse 36.)
In my book Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy I cover several topics that were fulfilled in the first century—the close of the age (Matthew 24:3), the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15), particular hardship for women (Matthew 24:19), and the tribulation (Matthew 24:21). I demonstrate how these happened in the Jewish-Roman War from AD 66-70. But the Olivet Discourse contains other prophetic details that we should consider.
One that is a major consideration for many Christians is whether the gospel has been preached all over the world (Matthew 24:14). Jesus marked this as a distinct prerequisite to “the end.” The Greek word the Bible uses here for what Jesus stated as “world” was oikoumene. While the word can mean “the inhabited earth,” it is also means (and may be translated/rendered as) “the Roman world”—for example, Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; Acts 17:6, and Acts 24:5.
But even more importantly—and this will come as a huge surprise to many Christians—the Bible itself, in multiple places, proclaims that the gospel had already been preached in the whole world/to every nation in the first century! There are some eight passages that affirm this. See Acts 19:10; Romans 1:8; 10:18; 16:25-27; Colossians 1:6; 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:16. This specific prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled, if you believe the Bible, by the time Paul wrote his letters. Any honest reader must acknowledge this fact.
Gary DeMar, in his book Last Days Madness, does an excellent job covering in detail every aspect of Jesus’ prophecies in the Olivet Discourse. Anyone who wants to go over these things with a fine-toothed comb can do so in DeMar’s very helpful book. In each case it can be verified that the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled in the first century. Below is a short summary.
- wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6)—We know of wars and rumors of wars in the first century from general history, including from period historian Tacitus. Tacitus said of the period, “It was full of calamities, horrible with battles, rent with seditions, savage in peace itself.”
- famines (Matthew 24:7)—Four famines occurred during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54). One of them was recorded in Acts 11:28.
- earthquakes (Matthew 24:7)—Notableearthquakes occurred during the reigns of Caligula and Claudius (AD 37-54). See also Matthew 27:54; Matthew 28:2, and Acts 16:26.
- persecution of Christ’s disciples (Matthew 24:9)—This is a well documented fact in the Bible (Acts 4:3; Acts 4:17; Acts 5:40; Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1; Acts 9:1; Acts 11:19; Acts 12:1-3; Acts 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:24-26; Revelation 1:9) as well as general history (Josephus, Tacitus, etc.).
- a great apostasy (Matthew 24:10)—Paul, John, and Peter’s letters all refer to this fact during their lifetimes. As put by Don Preston, “The unbroken testimony of the epistles is one of the inspired writers attempting to stem the tide of apostasy and encouraging faithfulness! The Great Apostasy happened in the first-century generation as Jesus said it would! How much clearer could the Bible tell us it had already happened? Since the apostasy occurred as Jesus predicted and it was to be a sign of the coming of the Lord, then the coming of the Lord was to happen in that generation as well. If not, why not?”
- flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:16)—According to the early church historian Eusebius, the Christians did in fact flee Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War. History does not record any Christians having perished in the siege of Jerusalem. So those who followed Jesus’ instructions and fled were saved from the slaughter (Matthew 24:13). This passage, by the way, further confirms that the tribulation was to be a regional event rather than global. It makes little sense if this prescribed way of escaping the tribulation given by Jesus was an instruction for us 2,000 years later.
- false prophets (Matthew 24:24)—Josephus mentions many false prophets and false messiahs. See also Acts 5:36-37; Acts 13:6; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Timothy 4:1 (note reference to the “latter times”); 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Timothy 3:13; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:7.
- astronomical signs (Matthew 24:29)—In this verse we see the sun and moon being darkened, the stars falling, and the heavens being shaken. It is difficult for many people to get over the idea that this language is not about the end of the physical universe. We have already covered this topic and have shown that such language in the Old Testament is often symbolic language about literal events. At least some of such passages are widely acknowledged as having already been fulfilled (Isaiah 13:9-13; Isaiah 34:4-6; Isaiah 51:5-6; Jeremiah 4:1-28; Jeremiah 15:9; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:1-10; Joel 3:15-16; Amos 8:9; etc.). But indeed, literal astronomical signs were reported by various historians in AD 66-70, including Josephus. And some have been confirmed by modern astronomy. Nevertheless, this was familiar language to those to whom Jesus was speaking and they would have understood Him to be speaking about national judgment rather than the end of the universe. Note specifically Acts 2:15-21 where Peter quotes, as you will recall, astronomical language of the prophet Joel. Peter placed the fulfillment of that prophecy in his own day.
We should also be more fully aware how clearly Jesus told his disciples that THEY would be the ones to experience these things:
- Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2)
- Take heed that no one deceives you. (Matthew 24:4)
- And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled. (Matthew 24:6)
- Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9)
- Therefore, when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24:15)
- But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. (Luke 21:20)
- So, you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! (Matthew 24:33)
- Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
- Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44)
Now let’s consider a common objection―that Jesus was asked three separate questions by his disciples in Matthew 24:3, which allows for fulfillment of each question in at separate times. But that objection is easily overcome. In the parallel passages in Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7, we see that there were not three separate questions, but rather one question with different aspects of that question.
James Stuart Russell had some poignant thoughts about those who pick and choose items in the Olivet Discourse, making some past and some future. He said:
“The disciples came to their Master with a plain, straight-forward inquiry, and it is incredible that he would mock them with an unintelligible riddle for a reply. In such a view, our Lord, in answering the question of his disciples respecting the destruction of Jerusalem mixes up different events—now to Jerusalem and now to the human race; now to events close at hand and now to events indefinitely remote—that to distinguish and allocate the several references and topics, is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Is this the manner in which the Savior taught his disciples, leaving them to grope their way through intricate labyrinths? There are no words too strong to repudiate such a suggestion.” 
You are invited to see reviews and details of my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming? An exposition of Evangelical Preterism (at Amazon.com).Also, to learn more about apologetics, theology, and eschatology, check out my websites listed below.
Especially, see my articles about the timing and nature of the Second Coming in Section A here:
See also this very helpful video presentation by Riley O’Brien Powell, one of the contributors to my book:
And here is a great video about one man’s journey of discovery:
 Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision), Fourth revised edition 1999, chapter 6.
 J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming (Bradford, Pennsylvania: International Preterist Association, 2003, originally published in 1878). This quote is a summary of Russell’s comments on pages 56 and 57.