Wars, Earthquakes & Pestilences

"6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Matthew 24:6-7).

Two unrelated persons asked me the same question last week: "Do you think the end is coming?" We have had two major wars in as many years; there was the devastating earthquake in Iran, which killed more than 30,000; and there was SARS, and now the Bird Flu. And not only so, but were there not other troubles? There were devastating forest fires in America; mud-slides in Indonesia; heat wave in France which killed 11,400; freak snowstorms in America and Europe; and terrorism everywhere. The world seems to be turning topsy-turvy. Do you think the end is coming?

This was not the first time I have heard this question being asked. I heard it asked during the Gulf War in 1991. That time, the question was even more dramatic: "Could this be Armageddon?"

But the Gulf War happened not too long ago. Is the end coming?

My honest answer is that I do not know. No one knows. Even the Lord Jesus Himself says: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Mt 24:36).

But having said that let me add a few thoughts.

Last Day or A.D. 70?

First, we should realise that the ‘signs’ given by our Lord in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24; Mk 13; and Lk 21) were not only with regards to the end of the world. The Lord was answering the question posed by His disciples: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Mt 24:3). ‘These things’ referred to the destruction of the temple, which our Lord had just prophesied about (v. 2). Therefore the ‘signs’ He spoke about must have referred first to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, and perhaps secondarily to the end of the world.

But in what ways are they, and the other predictions related to A.D. 70, and in what ways, and to what extend do they refer to the Last Day? Could it be that they all refer to the destruction of Jerusalem as a microcosm of the world, and therefore the predictions were fulfilled in Jerusalem to serve as a reminder of what will happen at the Last Day? Or were they fulfilled only typically in Jerusalem and will actually be fulfilled in the Last Day? Or could it be that some of the predictions refer to the Last Day, while others refer to A.D. 70? Or could it be a mixture of these possibilities? Much debate and controversy has arisen because of these questions.

For this reason, I would be very hesitant to say that what is happening today is precisely what the Lord had in mind when He spoke the prophecy.

Signs or Non-Signs?

Secondly, we should realise that the Lord did not mean for us to use the ‘signs’ to take drastic actions as some of the Thessalonians appeared to have done (cf. 1 Th 2:2-3; 3:6-10). Notice the exhortation of our Lord: "see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (v. 6). Notice that we are not to be troubled by them. And notice the words, "the end is not yet". So then the ‘signs’, are ‘signs’ and yet ‘non-signs.’ The Lord seems to be saying that in days before A.D. 70 and in the days following until the Last Day, there will be many troubles in the world.

Are there more wars, earthquakes, pestilences and famines today than ever before in the history of mankind? I do not know if anyone has done a study, but it does not appear to me that the troubles in our own days are any more frequent or dramatic than in days past. Perhaps, we are seeing an apparent escalation of problems because the world has become, as it were, smaller through more and more effective communication channels. A hundred years ago, many of the same things happening in many parts of the world would simply have gone unnoticed elsewhere. Not so, today.

What I am saying is this: It is not helpful to speculate whether the events in our days signal the beginning of the end. This also means that, we should really not live any differently from any other Christian in other ages. We have the same message given to us. We are witnessing the same ‘signs.’

What to do?

But thirdly, if the ‘signs’ do not necessarily point to the imminence of the Last Day, does it mean that we should take no heed to what our Lord is saying? Certainly not! But what must we do? Well, our Lord does not leave us to speculate. He exhorts us: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Mt 24:42; cf. Mk 13:33, 35, 37; Lk 21:36).

If there is one word that we must bear in mind when providence leads us to think about the coming of Christ, it is "Watch!" (Mk 13:37). No, we are not to watch for the signs. We are rather to watch ourselves! We are to be prepared to meet the Lord! This is clearly what the Lord has in mind, for immediately after those prophecies, He preaches the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt 25:1-13). How does He apply the parable? "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Mt 25:13).

We must not be like the foolish virgins. We must be prepared for the coming of the Lord like the five wise virgins. What does it mean to be prepared? No, it is not simply expecting and desiring the Lord’s return. The foolish virgins were equally expecting and desiring the Lord’s return! But the condemnation of the prophet Amos would apply to them:

"Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light" (Am 5:18).

What then is it to be prepared? Much may be said on this duty, but I think it can simply be summarised with the Lord’s word: "Take up the cross, and follow me" (Mk 10:21; cf. Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23). To watch and to be prepared, in other words, is to live a grateful and obedient Christian life such that we are ready to meet the Lord at any time.

The Lord may return in my lifetime. Sometimes, providence provokes me to think that this is likely to be the case. Other times, I think it will probably be a while yet. Nevertheless, if He does not return in my lifetime, still I will return to Him and I may return to Him at any time. The question is: Am I prepared? Or will He find me sleeping (Mk 13:36)? Will He find me disobedient to His Word, prayerless, despising the means, desecrating the Sabbath, failing to seek reconciliation with the brethren, being a poor witness for Christ, loving the world and loving self, rather than loving Christ and His Church?


Do I think the end is coming? I do not think this is a right question to ask. The question I should be asking is: Am I prepared to meet my Lord? Am I watching? Amen. W

Matthew Henry on Matthew 24:4

Now the prophecy primarily respects the events near at hand—the destruction of Jerusalem, the period of the Jewish church and state, the calling of the Gentiles, and the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world; but as the prophecies of the Old Testament, which have an immediate reference to the affairs of the Jews and the revolutions of their state, under the figure of them do certainly look further, to the gospel church and the kingdom of the Messiah, and are so expounded in the New Testament, and such expressions are found in those predictions as are peculiar thereto and not applicable otherwise; so this prophecy, under the type of Jerusalem’s destruction, looks as far forward as the general judgment; and, as is usual in prophecies, some passages are most applicable to the type, and others to the antitype; and toward the close, as usual, it points more particularly to the latter. It is observable, that what Christ here saith to his disciples tends more to engage their caution than to satisfy their curiosity; more to prepare them for the events that should happen than to give them a distinct idea of the events themselves