JESUS AND THE FUTURE: UNDERSTANDING WHAT HE TAUGHT ABOUT THE END TIMES, by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Alexander E. Stewart, and Apollo Makara

Published on February 26, 2018 by Joshua R Monroe

Weaver Book Company, 2017 | 196 pages

Reviewed by Robbie Booth



If you were to ask three New Testament scholars “What is the correct interpretation of Jesus’ teaching on the future?” you would likely receive four or more answers. The end times is a difficult topic to understand and often leads to people digging their heels into various camps and launching attacks at one another. I found Jesus and the Future to be a refreshing and very helpful introduction to the end times.

Köstenberger, Stewart, and Makara’s goal is not to write an academic book or scholarly monograph. Rather, their goal is “to help interested readers understand Jesus’ teaching about the future in the Gospels” (28). In this regard, they are very successful. The book is well laid out and well written. The language is not overly technical and is easy to follow.

The structure of the book also helps the reader understand what Jesus teaches about the future. The authors have divided the book into two major parts. Part 1 focuses on Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse, which is foundational for Jesus’ teaching on the future. Part 2 looks at other teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. The four broad themes that the authors take up in Part 2 are (1) persecution of believers, (2) judgment of “this generation,” (3) the coming of the Son of Man, and (4) the future resurrection, judgment, reward, and punishment. The final chapter of the book discusses the Gospel of John’s contributions to Jesus’ teaching on the future.


Part 1: Jesus’ Major Discourse about the Future: The Olivet Discourse

Chapter 1: Jesus’ Prophecy and the Disciples’ Questions

(Matthew 24:1–3; Mark 13:1–4; Luke 21:5–7)

The first chapter addresses Jesus’ dramatic prophecy that the temple will be destroyed. The authors give helpful background information concerning the temple’s architectural grandeur as well as its religious importance to the Jewish people. Jesus’ prophecy is significant for at least three reasons. First, Jesus reveals that he was fully aware of what the future would bring. Second, none of the Synoptic authors mentions the fulfillment of this prophecy, suggesting that the Synoptic Gospels were written before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. Third, this prophecy sets the stage for the Olivet Discourse. The authors rightly point out that “the disciples would have understood the temple’s demise as a cataclysmic event that would take place only at the end of the present evil age and the dawning of the promised age to come” (38). The disciples’ questions were a natural reaction to Jesus’ astounding prediction. They had two queries: (1) When would the temple be destroyed? and (2) What will be the sign of Jesus’ coming at the end of the age? It is imperative that readers keep these in mind because Jesus answers both of the disciples’ questions in the discourse that follows.


Chapter 2: Possible Signs, the Abomination of Desolation, and the Destruction of the City

(Matthew 24:4–28; Mark 13:5–23; Luke 21:8–24)

The challenge for interpreting the Olivet Discourse is in discerning when Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and when he is referring to his future coming to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus did not simply ignore the disciples’ question about the temple and begin talking about events that would happen thousands of years later. He begins the Olivet Discourse by responding to the disciples’ first question: the timing of the destruction of the temple. Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus first gives them a series of non-signs. False messiahs, wars, famines, and earthquakes will appear, but they will not indicate that the end is near. These disturbing events are merely an ordinary part of unfolding history. He warns his disciples not to be deceived by them or unduly alarmed at their occurrence. These first non-signs would be experienced by Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus then proceeds to give instructions to his followers and warn them of the coming persecution. They will be beaten, thrown in prison, and killed. He exhorts them not to fall away, but to persevere until the end.

The specific sign Jesus gives his disciples regarding the timing of the destruction of the temple is what he calls “the abomination of desolation.” The authors suggest that this sign was fulfilled when Zealot defenders of Jerusalem desecrated the temple in AD 67–68 by appointing an unqualified high priest. This rebellion forced the Roman rulers to send an army to put down the Jewish uprising, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. Luke’s account provides clarification to the timing of the sign: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation has come near” (Luke 21:20). The desecration of the temple and the attacking Roman army were signs for Jesus’ followers to flee from Judea without delay. Nothing in the Olivet Discourse so far suggests that Jesus has moved from speaking about the destruction of the temple to his second coming. Luke records that Jesus ends his discussion on the destruction of Jerusalem by mentioning the indefinite period called “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). The authors point out that Matthew and Mark also transition from the topic of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in their parallel accounts (Matthew 24:23–28; Mark 13:21–23).


Chapter 3 Cosmic Upheaval and the Coming of the Son of Man

(Matthew 24:29–31; Mark 13:24–27; Luke 21:25–28)

At this point in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus appears to transition to speaking about his second coming at the end of the age. There is, however, no scholarly consensus on this point. The authors recognize the possible validity of interpretations by scholars such as N. T Wright and R. T. France, who understand these verses as occurring in conjunction with the temple’s destruction in AD 70. In contrast, the authors connect these passages to the second coming of Christ. They argue this in four points. First, they agree that “this generation” indicates the current generation alive when Jesus gave the prophecy. They disagree, however, that the phrase “all these things” in the following verses (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) refers to everything in the Olivet Discourse up to that point. Rather, “these things,” drawn from the disciples’ initial question, refers to comments about the destruction of the temple. Second, there are several ways to understand the language of cosmic upheaval and the coming of the Son of Man that immediately follows those days. The authors note, “The common early Christian perspective was that the entire period between Jesus’ first and second coming was a period of tribulation, and Matthew’s immediacy could be pointing to the end of this broader period of tribulation” (67). Third, while the Old Testament prophets did use language of cosmic upheaval to describe God’s judgment of cities and nations executed by human armies and wars, the authors argue that Jesus was not using such language figuratively. Many first-century Christians and Jews believed that literal cosmic upheaval would characterize the final day of judgment. Fourth, not every mention of the coming of the Son of Man must be understood as Jesus’ enthronement at God’s right hand. Jesus’ enthronement occurred at the ascension, not in AD 70. Jesus’ coming will also be clear to all people. Perhaps most significantly, the earliest Christians seem to interpret these verses as referring to Jesus’ second coming.


Chapter 4: Concluding the Olivet Discourse

(Matthew 24:32–51; Mark 13:28–37; Luke 21:29–36; 17:26–36; 12:39–40)

In Chapter 4, the authors address how in his conclusion to the Olivet Discourse Jesus returns to both the destruction of the temple and his second coming in order to “provide further information about the specific timing of the event in question” (73). Jesus also uses parables to shape his followers’ thinking about the future. The parable of the fig tree addresses the destruction of the temple. Jesus explains that his followers would see certain things that revealed that the destruction was near. This language mirrors the language used earlier concerning the abomination of desolation. Jesus confirms that this will take place within the lifetime of the current generation.

Jesus then transitions to the timing of his return. While there would be visible warning signs to indicate the coming destruction of Jerusalem, there will be none for the second coming. It will be sudden, unexpected, and occur in the distant future. Mark emphasizes this with his inclusion of the parable of a man going on a journey. Luke uses the imagery of a trap to imply Jesus’ sudden and unexpected second coming. Matthew’s ending includes a good bit more material than Mark or Luke. Luke has included some of this additional material in different places throughout his Gospel. The authors observe, “This is a likely indication that the Olivet Discourse does officially end where Mark and Luke indicate” (83). This is an example that much in the Gospels is arranged topically rather than chronologically. Matthew compares Jesus’ second coming with the judgment that came upon Noah’s generation. This example does not refer to a rapture. In fact, in Matthew’s example, “You would want to be one of the ones left behind because the ones swept away are taken away in judgment” (83). Matthew 24 concludes with two other parables that emphasize the need for believers to stay alert and prepare for Jesus’ second coming.


Part 2: Other Teachings of Jesus about the Future in the Gospels

Chapter 5: Persecution

Chapter 5 addresses the first of four common themes found in Jesus’ teaching about the future: persecutions. “Jesus regularly emphasized that the future would entail persecution for any who chose to commit their lives to him. … Jesus doesn’t present future persecution as an ‘if’ but as a ‘when’” (89). Matthew records the single longest statement on persecution when Jesus commissions his disciples (Matthew 10:16–23, 24–25). If Jesus, their master and teacher, was persecuted, his followers should expect to be persecuted as well. Persecution is also a prominent and important theme in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s original audience likely faced persecution, and Jesus’ teaching on the topic would have brought great comfort. Though Jesus’ followers were going to be persecuted, those who persevered would inherit eternal life in the age to come.

In Luke 12:1–12, which parallels some of the material in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus makes two important points about persecution: (1) some of his followers will be put to death because of persecution; (2) death is not the end. Jesus does not want his followers to be overwhelmed with what might happen in the immediate future. He desires that they set their eyes on their eternal hope, which is the greater prize. In the Synoptics, Jesus tells his followers that they will be persecuted, yet he also promises that their faithfulness in the face of persecutions will be worth it in the end, for they will receive future glory and eternal life with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth. Followers of Christ must live lives of integrity, being faithful even in the small things. The authors rightly remind us that a “reliable guide to our decisions in possible future moments of persecution are our daily decisions in the present” (98).


Chapter 6: Growing Conflict, Rejection, and the Judgment of Jerusalem

A chapter on Jesus’ conflict with religious leaders may seem out of place in a book on Jesus’ teaching about the future. The authors, however, astutely note that “Jesus’ continued references to ‘this generation’ as well as his growing conflict with the Jewish leaders prepare the way for his climactic discussion in the Olivet Discourse of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem within the lifetime of his original hearers” (100). In the Synoptics, “References to ‘this generation’ always carry negative connotations of disobedience, unbelief, and rejection” (101). Matthew records how the present generation not only rejected the forerunner for the Messiah (John the Baptist), but he also highlights how they were in the process of rejecting the Messiah himself. He includes three conflict parables that were clearly directed at the Jewish religious leadership: (1) the parable of two sons (21:28–32); (2) the parable of the vineyard owner (21:33–46); and (3) the parable of the wedding banquet (22:1–14).

The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders starts slowly and grows throughout the Gospel of Mark. Luke follows Mark closely in the escalation of conflict, but includes more material and focuses more on the coming judgment in AD 70. It can be clearly seen in the Synoptics that “Jesus’ pronouncement and discussion of the temple’s destruction in the Olivet Discourse are not isolated incidents but the culmination of a trajectory of conflict between Jesus and ‘this generation’” (118). Today we often read the Gospels focusing on how they apply to our current situation. This causes us to miss how they are historically rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus. An awareness of historical context helps us see more accurately how the Olivet Discourse addresses the future from Jesus’ perspective.


Chapter 7: A Call to Patient Waiting for the Coming of the Son of Man

A significant aspect of Jesus’ teaching about the future concerns his self-designation as the Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7:13–14. Jesus uses this title to refer to two events: (1) his coming to the Father and his enthronement and exaltation at his ascension; and (2) his second coming in the distant future to fully establish his kingdom on earth. There is an element of Jesus’ kingdom having already been established in part, but it will be fully established at his second coming. Jesus gave his disciples and followers parables to prepare them for a long interval between his first and second coming. These include the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30), and the parable of the master’s return (Luke 12:35–46). These parables highlight the unexpected nature of Jesus’ return and the need for his followers to be prepared. According to the authors, “This already/not yet aspect to the coming of the Son of Man resembles the way in which God’s kingdom has already been inaugurated through the enthronement of God’s Son but not yet been physically consummated on earth” (133).


Chapter 8: Future Resurrection, Judgment, Reward, and Punishment

Chapter 8 focuses on two distant future events that are associated with Jesus’ second coming: resurrection and final judgment. The authors point out that a future resurrection was central to both first-century Jewish and Christian worldviews. One of the reasons the resurrection often receives less explicit attention is because it is frequently assumed as part of a bigger scenario involving future final judgment. It was also a commonly shared belief of Jesus and his contemporaries. The authors note that “Jesus doesn’t add anything to this doctrine in the Synoptic Gospels” (138). By contrast, Jesus often spoke of the future judgment, which would lead either to eternal condemnation or salvation. This is the central element of Jesus’ teaching about the end time. Much of what Jesus teaches in the Synoptics regarding the resurrection and final judgment is in line with the traditional and widespread understanding in Judaism. His most striking claim is that as the Son of Man, he himself would inaugurate the final events and preside with God the Father over the final judgment.


Chapter 9: Jesus and the Future in John’s Gospel

The final chapter of the book looks at John’s Gospel and its contributions to our understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the future. Like the Synoptics, John affirms Jesus’ teachings on the certain persecution his followers will encounter. While John does not use “this generation” language, he clearly presents the growing persecutions as part of the trajectory of escalating conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. In the same way, John’s record of Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man is consistent with the Synoptic accounts. More so than the Synoptics, John emphasizes the present reality of events that are typically consigned to the future. This is known as John’s “realized eschatology.” John shows “that we needn’t simply wait for the second coming to experience the end-time benefits of Jesus’ coming” (168). Whoever has believed in Christ has already entered into the age to come. Only Jesus’ second coming, however, will fully remove the presence of sin, death, and suffering. John also teaches that God’s judgment on people is self-inflicted; that is, they have brought it upon themselves by rejecting Jesus. In John 3:36, John writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” A final emphasis unique to John that the authors highlight is Jesus’ inauguration of the new creation. In Jesus’ first coming, the new creation was inaugurated and is now moving toward its consummation at his second coming. The central message of John’s Gospel is this: “We must trust in Jesus in the here and now so that we will receive eternal life and escape eternal judgment” (168). The authors rightly claim that “John’s account of Jesus’ teaching about the future is both congruent with that contained in the other Gospels and yet significantly deepens it by broadening its scope and probing its deeper theological significance” (154).



One aspect about the book that I really appreciate is the authors’ fair-mindedness. They do not accuse other interpretations of being misguided at best or heretical at worst. They often present a range of valid interpretations before arguing for a specific interpretation. In this way, they allow readers to study the evidence and come to their own conclusion. They are considerate and fair to other scholars and their differing understandings of the Scriptures. This is especially refreshing in the area of eschatology.

In addition to the helpful structure and tone of the book, I found the various excursuses both fascinating and helpful. For example, when addressing Jesus’ prophecy that there would be many false pretenders, the authors include a discursion where they list historic details of about eight messianic pretenders between AD 36 and 70. At different points throughout the book, the authors also include practical applications of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. These are helpful to anyone preparing Bible studies or sermons, or even engaging in personal study.

The authors’ purpose for the book highlights a potential weakness. As this book is not meant to be an exhaustive academic volume, the reader may be left wanting at times. Knowing that their volume would not be able to cover every aspect of Jesus’ teaching on the end times, the authors have included many footnotes throughout their book that direct readers to further information. They have also attached two very helpful appendices to the end of their book: (1) the first is a thorough study of cosmic upheaval in the Old Testament; (2) the second is an exhaustive list of scriptural passages found in the four Gospels that address the four major themes discussed in Chapters 5–8. While the authors could not engage the entirety of Jesus’ teaching on the end times in this single volume, they have included helpful information for further study that many curious students of the Scriptures will be eager to chase down.

All things considered, Jesus and the Future is an invaluable introduction to Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The authors are well equipped to write on this topic, and readers will find their transparency and humility refreshing. The book is an enjoyable read that is easy to follow. Whether you are an expert on the end times or just beginning to scratch the surface, you will find Jesus and the Future both theologically edifying and personally enriching. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in studying what Jesus had to say about the future.


Robbie Booth is a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

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Jesus and the Future: Understanding What He Taught about the End Times

Weaver Book Company, 2017 | 196 pages

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