Adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 16 May 2008

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. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt 24:6-8).

Our text is part of what is known as the Olivet Discourse because the Lord Jesus Christ preached this sermon on Mount Olivet. It is also known as the Eschatological Discourse because it is a sermon about end times.

But this sermon is quite difficult to interpret. There are some who believe that the Lord is speaking exclusively about the Second Coming of Christ

But this can’t be right because the Lord was really answering the disciple’s question: “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)

The Lord had told them that the temple would be destroyed and that not one stone of it would be left upon another. The disciples wanted to know when that would happen and at the same time, what would be the sign of the Lord's coming, and of the end of the world. They seem to have the idea that the day the temple is destroyed would also be the day that the present world comes to an end."

Well, the Lord did not correct that notion, but his answer clearly had a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70 in the hand of the general (and later emperor) Titus. For this reason, some believe that the whole chapter is about A.D. 70. We doubt this is the case because the disciples also asked: “when would the end of the world be?”

Others, believe that the LORD Jesus was answering the first part of the disciples’ question about the destruction of Jerusalem from verses 4 to 35, and then in the rest of this chapter he is talking about the Second Coming.

Now, this view is very attractive and has much advantage. However, I agree with Calvin that such a view would be improperly restrictive or artificial,[1] for there are some statements from verses 4-35 that can hardly be naturally interpreted as referring to A.D. 70.

For example, in verse 30-31, we read:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt 24:30-31).

Now, the language of these two verses, e.g. the appearance of Christ in a cloud, his coming with angels, the sound of a trumpet, the gathering of the elect, are all expressions used to describe the Second Coming of Christ in other passages (e.g. Mt 13:41; 16:27; 25:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Th 4:14-17).

So it appears to me that the 4th view that this chapter contains a mixture of references to A.D. 70 and the Second Coming of Christ is probably correct. I believe that in our Lord’s mind, the destruction of A.D. 70 should serve as a symbol of the destruction of the world. While the destruction of Jerusalem did not mean the destruction of the world, unlike what the disciples thought, it is clear that the destruction of Jerusalem should serve as a warning or harbinger of the destruction of the world. The destruction of Jerusalem, in other words, stands like a type of the destruction of the world.

With this in mind, we must not dismiss all that is said in the first 34 verses as having been fulfilled in A.D. 70 and therefore having no direct relevance to us. I believe that some of the general statements of our LORD are as applicable to us in regard to the Second Coming as it was applicable to the saints in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In particular, I would draw your attention to verses 7 & 8—

7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Have we not seen an apparent increase of these things over the last decades?

Have we not seen nations rising against nations—the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon War; the Gulf War, 1990; Kosovo War 1996-1999; September 11 2001; and the invasion of Afghanistan; the invasion of Iraq, 2003; the Darfur Genocide where 200,000-400,000 have died?

Have we not read of natural disasters? It is said that over the last two decades there has been a six-fold increase in floods and fourfold increase of wind-storm related natural disasters. We heard of massive floods in US, Australia, China, India, Indonesia and even in England. We hear of Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone Sidr, and now Cyclone Nargis.

We thought that Katrina in August 2005 was bad when 2,000 people lost their lives. We forget that in April 1991, a cyclone slammed into Bangladesh, killing at least 138,000 and left as many as 10 million homeless. Then Cyclone Sidr came along in November 2007 with about 10,000 deaths; and now we have Cyclone Nargis in which it is estimated that up to 134,000 people might have died.

And what about the earthquakes and tsunami?

In 1985, an earthquake in Mexico killed about 9,500. In 1988 about 25,000 people perished in an earthquake in Armenia. Then in 2003, about 30,000 people perished in an earthquake in Bam, of Iran. Exactly a year later on 24 Dec 2004, about 230,000 people perished in the Asian Tsunami.

And now there is the earthquake at Sichuan, of which it is estimated that at least 70,000 people died.

Then there is pestilence and famine affecting many places in the world.

What should we do with all these information?

Well, brethren, we should not begin to panic and think that the end of the world is just round the corner.

The fact is: If you look at the history of the world, there were worst disasters and there were periods when there were greater concentrations of natural disasters!

The fact is also that many of these disasters might not have been reported and known because the world was not as connected as it is today.

So really, it is not safe for us to look at these natural disasters all over the world and conclude that the end is near.

In fact, when we see these things happening, we must bear in mind the words of the Lord in verse 6: “the end is not yet.”

What then shall we do when we hear about these natural disasters? I believe that they should spur us to think about the coming of Christ as our Lord suggests to us.

Indeed, as we see in the Book of Revelation, especially in the vision of the Seven Trumpets (chap 8), these disasters are to serve as precursors and warnings to the great judgement of Christ. For that day of the Coming of Christ and his judgement would be an unparalleled calamity for all who remain in unbelief.

So what shall we do? What shall we do, but to watch! And this is what the Lord Jesus teaches us to do.

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (v. 42).

He is recorded as saying the same thing in a different way in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 13—

“Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning…And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mk 13:35, 37).

What does it mean to ‘watch’? Well, very briefly, let us highlight 5 things.

1. Repent or Perish

First, to watch we must first repent of our sins. The Lord Jesus was asked about the “Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” whether they suffered the massacre because they were particularly wicked (Lk 13:1). The Lord not only denied that, but exhorted his disciples: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

So the first thing that we must do as we think about the massive loss of lives in the natural disasters before our eye is to consider the fact that we too deserve the same punishment whether individually or as a nation. Such disasters, in other words, should be a wakeup call to all of us as a nation and as individuals.

The calamities of the world are the result of the Fall, and a display of the wrath of God against sin. Were it not for the longsuffering of God, we too should have perished long ago for our rebellion against God.

2. Persevere to the End

Secondly, to watch, let us persevere on faithfully in the Lord. The Lord says in verse 12—

12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.…

It is easy to backslide. If we are struck by a disaster, we could be tempted to give up when we see our loved ones perish. If we are not struck by disasters, we get complacent and our love for the Lord can grow cold because we begin to depend on ourselves and imagine that nothing untoward will happen to us.

Let us watch. Let us be diligent at the means of grace. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together with the saints as many would be tempted to. Let us press on to walk in the way of the Lord.

And let us not neglect to pray. The Lord says in Mark 13:33—“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” We cannot watch without praying.

Whenever we are faced with natural disasters, we must pray. We must pray for those who are affected. We must pray for ourselves that we be prepared if the Lord brings us through the same disaster. We must pray that we be prepared to meet with the Lord. We must pray: “Maranatha, come quickly O’ Lord.”

3. Be Prepared

Thirdly, to watch is to be prepared like the five wise virgins. Do you realise that the Parable of the Ten Virgins is part of the Olivet Discourse and given by our Lord to teach us what it means to watch?

What is the difference between the wise virgins and the foolish virgins? The wise virgins had oil in their lamps, whereas the foolish virgins did not. What does that mean? Well, amongst other things, I believe the wise virgins are those who are truly converted whereas the foolish virgins are hypocrites or deluded, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. To watch, we must be sure that we are born again. We must in other words, not be complacent about our spiritual state.

When calamity strikes, let us see to it that we have oil in our lamps because the calamity is designed to remind us that the Bridegroom is coming.

4. Labour Diligently

Fourthly, to watch is to labour diligently for the Lord. This is what the second Parable in the Olivet Discourse teaches us. What is the second Parable in the Olivet Discourse? It is the Parable of the Talent.

You are familiar with the Parable I am sure. The master is going away on a journey and gave his three servants, five, two and one talent each. A talent is a large sum of money. Both the five and two talent servants traded with the money they received and were able to return them to the Lord with what they gained through trading. The one talent man buried the money in the ground and so gained nothing. The master commended the five and two talent servants, but condemned the one talent servant.

Now, the talent in the Parable represents all gifts and opportunities that the Lord has given us to use to serve him. If we would watch, we would be like the five and two talent servants. We would seek to serve the Lord diligently with the time, energy, gifts and opportunity that the Lord has given us.

When we see natural disasters struck, let us renew our resolve to do so, for we are reminded that the master who is on a long journey is coming back soon.

5. Extend Kindness

Finally, to watch, we must seek to do good especially to the saints. This is hinted in the third Parable of the Olivet Discourse, which is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

What is this Parable about? It is about the day of judgement. It is about how the Lord Jesus will separate between the sheep and the goats. The sheep refers to all true believers.

How are the true believers distinguished in this Parable? They are distinguished by the benevolent deeds that they do in the name of Christ which they do without fanfare or even expectation of reward.

So we read of the king saying to the sheep on his right hand:

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 40Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:34-36, 40)

Therefore to watch, we must seek to do good in the name of the LORD.

So when we hear of disasters, let us sympathise with those who suffer. Let us open up our bowels of compassion to them, not only to pray for them, but also to supply their needs when we are able to. This is especially in the case of believers whom we know.


This, then, is what it is to watch. (1) It is to repent of our sin. (2) It is to persevere on in our Christian walk faithfully and prayerfully. (3) It is to be wise to seek assurance of salvation. (4) It is to labour faithfully for the Lord like the five and two talent servants. (5) It is to do good in the name of the Lord.

May the Lord help us that the lessons that come through the disasters unfolding before our eyes do not fall by the wayside or on stony or thorny ground. May the lessons bear fruit some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some hundred-fold, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    —JJ Lim



[1] Calvin on Mt 24:14b, “And then will the end come”: “This is improperly restricted by some to the destruction of the temple, and the abolition of the service of the Law; for it ought to be understood as referring to the end and renovation of the world. Those two things having been blended by the disciples, as if the temple could not be overthrown without the destruction of the whole world, Christ, in replying to the whole question which had been put to him, reminded them that a long and melancholy succession of calamities was at hand, and that they must not hasten to seize the prize, before they had passed through many contests and dangers. In this manner, therefore, we ought to explain this latter clause: “The end of the world will not come before I have tried nay Church, for a long period, by severe and painful temptations,” for it is contrasted with the false imagination which the 99 apostles had formed in their minds.”