When we read Matthew 24:6-8, we must not allow ourselves to be afraid. The wars and rumors of wars that Jesus mentioned were all a part of the downfall of Jerusalem (not a modern event) because of Judah’s covenant crimes against her God.
Like a Woman in Labor
As Jesus and His disciples left the temple mount Tuesday afternoon, memories of what just occurred were still ricocheting in their minds. Early that morning, Jesus had cursed a fig tree as a dramatic parabolic display of what would soon happen to Jerusalem. Then, after a brief encounter with the Pharisees where they challenged His authority in the temple, Jesus delivered three scathing parables describing, with increasing clarity, the covenantal catastrophe that will soon befall Old Testament Judah.
The Jews, while listening to their national epitaph, received His parables with about as much grace as a decapitated rattlesnake, still opening and closing its mouth, able and willing at a moment to strike. It was at this point Jesus challenged their authority, humiliating them in front of all of Jerusalem. First, by answering their trap-like questions. Second, by posing questions they could not answer. And third, by declaring 7 Deuteronomic woes upon the city, that would soon feel the full weight of God’s awesome wrath for their crimes against the covenant.
As the disciples were walking away from the city and the temple they adored, they must have been hoping they misunderstood Jesus’ words about the temple. But after pointing to the temple complex looming over them, they were struck with the piercing finality of His linguistic precision and clarity. The temple before them would be destroyed. Brick by brick would be torn apart. The city would be burned. And God’s redemption of sinful humanity would transition away from priests, temples, sacrifices, and feasts of Israel to a new and final era centered on Jesus Christ, our only hope for salvation.
With such seismic shifts about to break upon the landscape of redemption, is it any wonder the disciples wanted to know three specific things from their master and Lord? They wanted to know, 1) When the temple would be destroyed? 2) What signs would occur showing them its destruction was drawing near? And 3) Would its destruction signal the end of the Jewish age?
Last week, we saw Jesus tackling their second question first, giving them a few signs that the end of Jerusalem was coming. Jesus told them it would be like a woman whose labor pains increase with intensity as the delivery draws near (Matthew 24:8). So, in the same way, the signs Jesus gave them would increase in intensity until the city was destroyed. Last week, we saw the first sign Jesus gave, which was the rise of increasingly volatile false messiahs who would lead the nation into greater and greater ruin and disaster climaxing in their delivery over to Rome. Today, we will see the second sign, which is the dawn of iterative wars and rumors of future wars. But first, let us briefly remind ourselves about signs.
Reminder About Signs
The disciples are asking Jesus a question and expecting a meaningful response. They are looking for things that they will be able to see with their own two eyes and understand with the minds God has given them. They want to know things that they can be on the lookout for and not information about the end of the world.
I mention this as a cautionary reminder. Because as we read the text, our orientation must not be that Jesus is speaking directly to us, although, I do grant that the text speaks to us and teaches us by the Holy Spirit. But in this case, we must remember that this is a conversation among first-century disciples and their Lord. Jesus is speaking directly to the disciples, answering their specific questions about the temple and Jerusalem, and giving them real answers that would be meaningful to them in their lifetime. He simply is not looking past them and using this opportunity, to opine about twenty-first-century wars, tribulations, and late great planet earth style raptures. If you can make the text say that, you can twist it and manipulate it to say anything.
Here is the text we are going to be looking at today:
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places, there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
The Pax Romana
When Jesus says: “you will be hearing” He does not mean twenty-first century Christians who are eavesdropping on His conversation will hear about rumors of upcoming wars. He means “you”, as in the disciples who are looking Him in the eyes as He is speaking will hear these things. The disciples were going to be hearing of wars and rumors of war, which is more important than you may realize. Why?