Bible Warns of Apostasy and Persecution, Part 6
We discussed the first of several questions asked by Jesus’ disciples in our last installment – Bible Warns of Apostasy and Persecution, Part 5 – focusing in on question number one, the one that dealt with the destruction of the Temple. We can see the potential confusion the disciples might have had here and why some commentators believe that the disciples were essentially asking one long question that was all related to the coming destruction of the Jewish Temple.
In other words, some commentators argue that the disciples believed that the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the return of Jesus, and the end of the age were going to occur at the same time and in the not-too-distant future from their perspective. However, I think it’s clear that even if this is what the disciples believed, Jesus’ response to them dispels that and causes them to think in terms of near future for the destruction of the Temple and distant future for the end of the age and return of Jesus as Messiah.
By asking the second and third questions ( and as noted, some commentators believe the disciples were asking one question in two parts here), the disciples were in essence asking about the end of the age and also the return of Jesus. The disciples understood that when the Messiah returned, that event would also signal the end of the age. Whether or not the disciples fully understood that some time would elapse prior to the return of Jesus or not isn’t really clear, but at least initially, they did not believe much if any time would lapse. They were likely familiar with passages like Zechariah 9:9-10. Because of this we can discern that they likely saw no gap of time between those two verses.
9 Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you:
he is legitimate and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey—
on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.
10 I will remove the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be removed.
Then he will announce peace to the nations.
His dominion will be from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
Please notice that between verse 9 and 10, there is no mention of any sort of gap at all. It’s as though Jesus (Messiah) arrives on the scene and immediately begins to rule as King of kings (v. 10). Unfortunately, we know this did not occur. In fact, though Jesus fulfilled Zechariah 9:9 clearly enough (cf. John 12:12-19) during His physical life on earth (the first advent), it is also very clear that He has not yet fulfilled Zechariah 9:10. We are still waiting for this event to occur.
It is clear then that looking backward from our vantage point that a clear gap does exist between those two verses in Zechariah 9, though it was not clear prior to it occurring. The text itself gives no indication that there would be a gap between the two verses when played out in real life.
When people read these verses before Jesus came to this world (and even while He was here physically), they would not have seen any gap at all. In fact, orthodox Jews (but non-Christians), today still see no gap between these two verses because they do not agree that Jesus fulfilled even verse 9. They do not see Jesus as Messiah. We can see why the disciples who were asking Jesus questions about the destruction of the Temple and the signs of the end might have been confused, thinking things were going to happen soon.
Jesus starts to respond but He does so by providing a warning. In Matthew 24:4-8, Jesus lays the groundwork for His response to them.
Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.”
The very last sentence in the above text summarizes what Jesus is talking about. He says, “All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Exactly what things is He referring to here?
- false Christs
- wars and rumors of wars
- nation rising against nation; kingdom against kingdom
- famines and earthquakes throughout the world
It is interesting if we consider history since the time of Jesus. There has been a growing number of people who claim to be “Jesus” or “the Christ.” Whether they actually make that claim or someone else points to them all comes down to the same thing. Currently, there are at least three well-known individuals who all claim to be Jesus and who are alive right now. One is in the Philippines, one is in Australia, and one is in Europe. These are not simply your garden variety “Christs” who are easily written off as people with loose screws. These are people who have great followings. Those who follow them thoroughly believe them to be who they say they are and have no qualms about eating up everything they say.
Jesus warned about people like this who would come impersonating Him. His warning is that they should be avoided, yet He also states that “they will mislead many.” Why is that? Solely because of a complete lack of discernment and critical thinking skills. Today, people have been dumbed down to the point that they honestly cannot think rationally or intelligently. They are worse than sheep. As time marches on toward the end of this age, we will see more and more false “Christs,” culminating in the one final “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2), who will rise above all others and will be allowed to rule the world for a short period of time.
The wars and rumors of wars is exactly that. Since the time of Jesus (and even before), wars and conflicts have been with us. Jesus is simply saying that we can expect more wars and more rumors of wars to continue. Since the 1990s, there have been many conflicts and wars occurring throughout parts of the world, especially the Middle East. Whether it was some type of international war or internal conflict, the fact remains that these are unfortunately, part of fallen man’s nature. There is always someone who will try to become king of the mountain. Because of it, wars and conflicts exist.
Jesus’ other point is that there can never be true peace until He returns. Humanity is not capable of experiencing true peace. It simply cannot happen. This is one of the reasons Jesus what we should “not be alarmed” because wars and conflicts are inevitable in a fallen world, commandeered by Satan himself.
The term “nation rising against nation; kingdom against kingdom” is an interesting one. Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum (“Footsteps of the Messiah”), notes that this idiom “refers to a worldwide conflict and this worldwide conflict is the first birth pang, signifying the last days have begun.”  Fruchtenbaum uses several portions of Scripture to draw his conclusions. They are Isiah 19:1-4 and 2 Chronicles 15:1-7.
Referring to rabbinic sources for information, Fruchtenbaum also notes that “In Jesus’ day, the expression of nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom was a Jewish idiom of a world war preceding the coming of the Messiah,”  and he then quotes from the Bereshit Rabbah, as well as the Zohar Chadash.
Christians with a western mindset will completely miss this unless they deliberately seek it out. Many to most don’t because we have gotten out of the mindset of understanding that the Bible is essentially written from the eastern or Jewish mindset. We too often transplant the Bible to our western shores of America instead of learning what we can about the Bible’s origins, languages, and culture in which it was written.
Clearly then, if the idiom Jesus used references world war, then the first real world war was World War I, followed closely on its heels by World War II. I know of at least one writer today who has tried to argue that the War of Spanish Succession was the actual first “world” war, but his argument is really laughable. His entire book is an attempt to distort what the Bible teaches on the end times.
So if Jesus was actually looking way down the road to what would become the end of this age – and again, we are still in the same age that Jesus and His disciples lived in over 2,000 years ago – then obviously the end has not occurred yet, in spite of the fact that people would like us to believe that the age “ended” in AD 70 with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus is laying the foundation for His disciples to understand that the end was not as “near” as they thought it to be.
Lastly, Jesus also includes another fact about the end times. It would be marked by earthquakes and famines throughout the world. This has been what has occurred. During the first 1,000 years since the time of Jesus, there were approximately 5 recorded major earthquakes. Since that time, there have been thousands, many causing tremendous damage with major death tolls. Beyond this there have been famines in which millions have died since the early 1900s, including the war years (1918-1919), the Chinese Famine (1920), and the Great Russian Famine (1921).
Together then, worldwide conflicts, famines, and earthquakes all occurring together from 1914 – 1918 make up the first birth pain noted by Jesus Himself. Though He provided no specific date, history has proven Him correct with the way things have turned out. To recap, Jesus said that many would come in His Name and would deceive many. This was not a sign. Jesus also said that there would be wars and rumors of wars and this was also not a sign (“these things must be”).
Birth Pain #1
The first sign then starts with the global conflict, accompanied by many earthquakes and famines throughout the world. This has occurred. The first sign has taken place and interestingly enough, the first sign was not the destruction of the Jewish Temple. He mentions that in passing and as a means to enter into a deep conversation with His disciples about the specifics regarding the end of the age.
Birth Pain number 1 has occurred. What are the others? They are revealed in the remainder of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and we’ll discuss them next time.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah, p. 95
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