The Expository Files

Wars And Rumors Of Wars

Matthew 24:6-7

At the beginning of Matthew 24 Jesus' disciples point out to him the majestic buildings associated with the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus' response to them is that one day these magnificent buildings would be torn down, that "not one stone shall be left here upon another." His disciples then ask Him when the temple buildings would be destroyed. He never actually answers that question (at least not in terms of a number of years), but He does tell them that there would be signs accompanying the end. Especially, He tells them to be on lookout for the "abomination of desolation" that Daniel had written about some six centuries earlier.

In the midst of this discussion about the temple's destruction, Jesus makes a statement that has been widely misunderstood and misapplied. He says in verses 6-7, "And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places." For as long as I can remember there have been folks who have fretted over nearly every catastrophic event in the world, believing it to be a warning of the nearing Apocalypse.

It goes something like this: "You know, there sure are a lot of wars going on all over the world. And look at the famines that have struck in so many places in the world. And did you hear about the earthquake in South America last year? Surely the end of the world must be near!" I will readily admit that anytime we focus on the destruction and despair that is going on daily all over the world, it is difficult not to think that Christ must be coming soon. But is Matthew 24:6-7 telling us that warfare and famine and earthquakes are signs of Jesus' near return and the end of the world? I do not think so, and let me tell you why.

First, because the end of the world is not Jesus' subject at this point in His discussion. Jesus is not talking about the destruction of the earth, but the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. In this discussion Jesus encourages His disciples to flee to the mountains (verse 16). What will that help at the end of the world? He pronounces woe to those who are pregnant or have nursing babies, and encourages the disciples to pray that their flight not be in winter or on the Sabbath. All that makes sense in a warning about the destruction of Jerusalem, from which a person could flee to safety. But in a warning about the destruction of the world? It makes no sense at all!

But someone may ask, "Didn't the disciples also ask Jesus about His second coming and the end of the age (aion, from which would come our word eon) in verse 3?" Yes, and He answers that question in verses 35-42. And He tells them that the destruction of the temple and the destruction of the world would be two separate events, totally different in time and in circumstances leading up to each. There is no indication that Jesus intended his words in verses 6-7 to be applied to anything but the destruction of Jerusalem.

Secondly, because Jesus is not saying that wars and famines and earthquakes are true signs of anything imminent. In verse 4 Jesus begins to warn His disciples that teachers will try to deceive them into thinking something terrible is imminent when it is really not. How would they deceive? They would claim to be Christ, and they would say, "Look here! A war! Look over there! A famine! You'll never believe what I heard! An earthquake!" What does Jesus tell them to do with such news? Nothing at all. "See that you are not troubled" (verse 6). He goes on to say that all these things must come to pass, but that does not mean the end is near.

Look again, closely, at what Jesus is saying. He is not saying that wars, famines and earthquakes are signs of the end of the world. He is not even saying they are signs of the end of the temple. He is saying that they are not signs of anything, no more than persons rising up claiming to be the Christ are signs of anything. He is saying that those things happen, they are a part of this world's order, and no one should be fooled by them into an "end of the temple" frenzy. And, of course, no one today should be fooled by them into an "end of the world" frenzy either.

Are wars increasing? Maybe. I really do not know. There have been wars going on all over the world since as far back as I can remember. The history books are full of wars. Are there more famines and earthquakes now than ever before? I do not know that either. With the advent of a global mass media we are certainly able to hear about more world tragedies than ever before. At any rate, we do not need to be looking for signs that the end of the world is near, because Jesus said in Matthew 24:44 that He is coming at an hour none expect. Peter said the end will come "as a thief in the night" (2 Peter 3:10). There will be no signs.

And that is why Jesus instructs His disciples to "watch" (Matthew 24:42) and always "be ready" (verse 44). Watch what? Not global events, but themselves. Peter said, "Therefore, beloved, looking for to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation" (2 Peter 3:14-15). That is what it means to watch and be ready. Are you watching? Are you ready?

By Jerry King
From Expository Files 9.1; January 2002