Classical pretribulationism minimizes the application of the Olivet Discourse for the church.
The motivation for this claim recognizes the implication that the church would encounter Antichrist’s great tribulation. They must then posit a secret rapture that occurs before the events in Matthew 24 because their theology teaches that Christ can come back at any moment to rapture the church before the Antichrist’s great tribulation. Accordingly, they will claim that the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31 does not refer to the rapture, but instead refers to the re-gathering of Israel. In addition, they interpret Jesus coming back in power and great glory in Matthew 24 as happening at the battle of Armageddon. Therefore, the events described in the Olivet Discourse do not apply to the church. This theological presupposition is a forced interpretation upon the natural reading of the text. The following points will show that this is an unwarranted position:
First, in the Great Commission, Jesus taught these same disciples—and by extension the church—that he would be with them to the end of the age (Matt 28:18–20). And Jesus also taught them that this end of the age extends into the events of the Olivet Discourse, since he places the end of the age inside his Olivet Discourse: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14 ESV).
Having established that the church will be present to the end of the age in verse 14, we can take it a step further and show how verse 14 relates to what follows it. In verses 9–14, Jesus spoke of “tribulation,” the persecution of the saints, followed by the end of the age. Next, in verse 15, Jesus unpacks that persecution explaining how it will come about, which begins a parenthetical section clarifying the previous section. That is, verses 15–31 do not follow chronologically verses 9–14; instead, it thematically develops verses 9–14 on the tribulation, persecution, and spiritual action the believer is to take. There are two good reasons for this. Grammatically, verse 15 begins with the conjunction oun, rendered “therefore” (or “so” in some translations). This conjunction functions inferentially as a deduction or summary to the preceding discussion. Jesus gives the additional detail that those who experience the persecution described in verse 9 will do so because of the consequences of the abomination of desolation that causes great tribulation. There is another reason we know that verses 15–31 thematically develops verses 9–14. Notice in verse 15, Jesus says, “Therefore when you see.” He has the same audience in view from verse 9. There is no justification to claim that the “you” in verse 15 is a different “you” in verse 9.
Second, it has been argued from many pretribulationists that since the book of Matthew is “Jewish,” the Olivet Discourse cannot be for the Gentiles. This assertion is riddled with the following problems. (1) The Olivet Discourse is also found in the books of Mark and Luke whose audience were principally Gentile. (2) In Matthew when Jesus was being rejected by the Jewish leadership, he taught that the gospel would expand beyond Israel to other nations: “For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt 21:43). Accordingly, he was preparing his disciples for church instruction. (3) Matthew is the only gospel that mentions the word “church,” ekklēsia (Matt 16:18; 18:17). This does not mean, of course, the other gospels do not apply to the church; the point is that those who seek to disconnect church teaching from Matthew must contend with that biblical fact. (4) By their logic we should not observe the Lord’s Supper since it is commanded in Matthew 26:17–30. (5) Pretribulationists agree that the Great Commission is for the church, and yet that passage is found in the book of Matthew (Matt 28:19–20). In addition, in the Great Commission, Jesus says, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Why should his teaching on the Olivet Discourse and his commands therein be excluded from “everything”? Selective interpretation is a sign of a failed argument. The reasons could go on and on, but the point is that the consequences of the presupposition to a secret pretribulational rapture results in a tortured reading and application of Matthew 24–25, and a presupposition that affects other teachings in Matthew. In short, it is a false dichotomy to claim that since the book of Matthew is Jewish, the Olivet Discourse does not pertain to the church. But how some can so easily forget that the first members of the church were all Jewish, preparing to take all of Jesus’ teachings and commands to the Gentiles!
Third, frequently pretribulationism asserts that Matthew 24 is not for the church and thus does not contain a rapture teaching. Yet in the same conversation they will unmindfully quote the following verse in respect to the rapture: “But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven–except the Father alone.” This verse is from Matthew 24:36, the Olivet Discourse! So they cannot have it both ways.
Fourth, in Paul’s teaching for the church in Thessalonians, he draws from at least 25 parallels from Matthew’s Olivet Discourse, demonstrating that the Olivet Discourse is intended for the church.
Fifth, other reasons can be given to why the Olivet Discourse pertains to the church. For example, the “elect” in Matthew 24 refers to Gentile and Jewish believers (i.e., the church). And a cluster of New Testament authors who wrote to local churches reference back to Jesus’ teaching on the parousia, applying it to their own churches. Further, the early church fathers in their writings applied Jesus’ Olivet Discourse to the church. For a detailed defense of these latter three points, see Charles Cooper’s, God’s Elect and the Great Tribulation: An Interpretation of Matthew 24:1–31 and Daniel 9, chs. 1–4.