BEGINNING OF SORROWS
you will 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 will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be
famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All
these are the beginning of
sorrows. (Matthew 24:6–8)
is not uncommon to hear Christians saying that we are living in the end times.
World news is full of wars and rumors of wars, and Christians often will mention
Matthew 24:6 when talking about these wars as if this passage predicted such.
Whenever the news reports famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, Christians
knowingly think of verse 7. But, in these three verses Jesus is not making
predictions about our times or the time just before His Second Coming—wars and
rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have been with us for the
past 2000 years; this is nothing new.
told His disciples these things must come to pass, but they do not signify the
end. In Matthew and Mark the words of Jesus are “but the end is not yet;”
Luke writes, “but the end will not come immediately.” These things are only
the beginning of sorrows. So, of what time is Jesus speaking that will be
concerned with wars and rumors of war, etc.? Luke writes in 21:12, “But before
these things [that wars and rumors of war, etc.] they will lay their hands on
you and persecute you.” There must be a persecution of the church before the
things Jesus predicts. Jesus prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem
beginning in verse 15 of Matthew 24 (Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20), so we are given to
understand that these wars and rumors of war, etc., take place between the
beginning of the persecution of the church and the destruction of Jerusalem.
OF THE CHURCH
persecution of the church began shortly after the Day of Pentecost with the
death of Stephen as recorded in Acts 8:1, “Now
Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against
the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the
regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
martyrdom of Stephen happened approximately 36 a.d. and a general persecution of
the church by the Jews immediately followed. The things of which Jesus speaks in
verses 6–8 of His Discourse take place during the 34 year period between the
beginning of the persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS
there wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes during that
34 year period? Dr. Albert Barnes comments on these events in his Notes on
the New Testament.
Nation shall rise against nation, and
kingdom. At Cæsarea, the Jews and
Syrians contended about the right to the city, and twenty thousand of the Jews
were slain. At this blow the whole nation of the Jews was exasperated, and
carried war and desolation through the Syrian cities and villages. Sedition and
civil war spread throughout Judea; Italy was also thrown into civil war, by the
contests between Otho and Vitellius for the crown.
And there shall be famines.
There was a famine foretold by Agabus, Acts 11:28, which is mentioned as having
occurred, by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Eusebius; and which was so severe in
Jerusalem, Josephus says, that many people perished for want of food, Ant. 20,
2. Four times in the reign of Claudius, (AD 41–54,) famine prevailed in Rome,
Palestine, and Greece.
Raging, epidemic diseases. The plague, sweeping off multitudes of people at
once. It is commonly the attendant of famine, and often produced by it. A
pestilence is recorded as raging in Babylonia, AD 40, (Joseph. Ant. 18, 9, 8) in
Italy, AD 66, (Tacitus, 16, 13.) Both of these took place before the destruction
In prophetic language, earthquakes sometimes mean political commotions.
Literally, they are tremors or shakings of the earth, and often shaking cities
and towns to ruin. The earth opens, and houses and people sink indiscriminately
to destruction. Many of these are mentioned as preceding the destruction of
Jerusalem. Tacitus mentions one in the reign of Claudius, at Rome; and says
that, in the reign of Nero, the cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse,
were overthrown; and the celebrated Pompeii was overwhelmed, and almost
destroyed by an earthquake, Annales, 15, 22. Others are mentioned as occurring
at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, and Samos.
addition to the wars and rumors of wars mentioned by Matthew and Mark, Luke adds
in verse 11 “and there will be fearful signs and great signs from heaven.”
Again, these signs are in advance of the fall of Jerusalem. The ancient Jewish
historian Josephus made a record of some of the strange happenings that took
place in Jerusalem during that time. Dr. Barnes relates some of these strange
and ominous things as he quotes from Josephus.
who had probably never heard of this prophecy, and who certainly would have done
nothing designedly to show its fulfillment, records the prodigies and signs
which he says preceded the destruction of the city. A star, says he, resembling
a sword, stood over the city, and a comet that continued a whole year. At the
feast of unleavened bread, during the night, a bright light shone round the
altar and the temple, so that it seemed to be bright day, for half an hour. The
eastern gate of the temple, of solid brass, fastened with strong bolts and bars,
and which had been shut with difficulty by twenty men, opened in the night of
its own accord. A few days after that feast, he says, “before sunsetting,
chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among
the clouds, and surrounding of cities.” A great noise, as of the sound of a
multitude, was heard in the temple, saying, “let us remove hence.” Four years before the war began,
Jesus the son of Artanus, a plebeian and a husbandman, came to the feast of the
tabernacles, when the city was in peace and prosperity, and began to cry aloud,
“A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a
voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegroom and
the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He was scourged, and at
every stroke of the whip he cried, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”—This cry he
says, was continued every day for more than seven years, till he was killed in
the siege of the city, exclaiming, “Woe, woe to myself also.”—Jewish Wars,
B. vi. ch. V.
verses 9–14 of Matthew’s account (Mark verses 9–13; Luke verses 12–19)
Jesus tells His disciples of more things pertaining to the coming persecution
and how they should respond to it. These things, which are clearly seen in the
Book of Acts, include such things as more tribulation and persecution, betrayals
by false brethren, more false prophets, an increase in lawlessness and the love
of many growing cold.
often make reference to what Jesus says here as proof that we are reaching the
end of time in our days. However, these signs are not new to our days; they have
existed throughout the past 2000 years of the church age and up to the time
Jesus does return.
gave His disciples good counsel in Luke 21:19 concerning these things; He said,
“By your patience possess your souls.” The Amplified Bible has: “By you
steadfastness and patient endurance you shall win the true life of your
souls.” Do not be distracted by these events or any importance a false prophet
may place on an event. Events such as these will happen. Our responsibility is
to stay true to the gospel of salvation Christ brought, live a holy life, and be
sure to make heaven in the end.
news is full of terror, wars, plagues, and all sorts of things; and, whenever
something happens in the Middle East, hordes of prophecy teachers jump on the
bandwagon almost with delight in spreading waves of fear and doom. They couch it
in millennial terms and in a manner as to imply they have a special gift of
prophecy from God. “Listen to me; I am the one who has figured this out!”
And then they add that they need you to send them money so they can continue
this Holy Ghost ministry and spread the word of warning.
THE GOSPEL IN ALL THE WORLD
said the persecutions and the wars and rumors of wars are only the beginnings of
sorrows. He ends His remarks in Matthew at verse 14 with a statement of what
will actually be the last sign before the end comes. “And this gospel of the
kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and
then the end will come.”
this statement is often taken in the context of the end of the world rather than
the end of Jerusalem. After His
resurrection, Jesus commanded the church to “go into all the world and preach
the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). This has been the missionary cry
throughout the church age, and we have heard it proclaimed loudly in our
lifetimes. The Wycliffe Bible Translators take this command most seriously and
have translated the Bible, or portions of the Bible, into all but very few
languages and dialects. There is not a people on the face of the earth that
cannot have God’s word in a language they can understand. However, our world
is rapidly approaching a condition where the gospel is being rejected and
missionaries are no longer able to work in foreign lands. While mission work
still is being done, the days of free access to unchurched lands may be passed.
Are we, then, approaching the end?
end of which Jesus speaks in His Discourse is not the literal end of the world,
but the end of Jerusalem. When was this prophecy of preaching the gospel to all
the world fulfilled so that the end came? The answer is found in Acts 2:5, on
the Day of Pentecost when “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men,
from every nation under heaven.” The first act of the church upon its
empowerment by the Holy Spirit was to preach the gospel of the kingdom to devout
Jews that had come to Jerusalem from across the world. Many would receive the
gospel and take it home with them. In Acts chapter 8, we see that when
persecution came on the church in Jerusalem, the saints scattered and went
everywhere preaching the word. The Book of Acts records the rapid growth of the
church and the spread of the gospel across Asia Minor to Europe as far as Rome.
History continues the marvelous record of that growth. In Acts 17:6 we read that
in Thessalonica, the charge was made against the church, “These who have
turned the world upside down have come here too.”
things of which Jesus speaks in verses 6–14 of Matthew 24 are certainly
evident in our time, and it is not unusual that they should be. But let us keep
them in the context of the Olivet Discourse and understand that the end of which
He speaks is not the end of time, but the end of Jerusalem. The things He
mentions are merely the beginning of sorrows; sorrows, not just for the
disciples and the church, but the great calamity that soon falls on Jerusalem