Wars and Rumors of War
March 6, 2016 / No. 3818
Dear radio friends,
Jesus is coming again. As Christians we know this, not only because He has promised to return, but also because He has given to us signs of His coming. We read about these in Matthew 24. The disciples asked Jesus a question: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
In this chapter Jesus gives them signs of His coming. One of those is war. We read about it in verses 6 and 7: “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. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Every one of us, though we may not be personally involved in war, is aware of the reality of war. Libya, Syria, Sudan, Kosovo, Iraq, Egypt, Serbia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Russia, the Ukraine, Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Great Britain, France—as I list those countries, you may not be able to show on a map where they are, but there is one thing you know they all have in common: war. War is constant, a constant part of man’s history in this world. If we have not lived in a war zone, we have lived through periods of time when our own country has been at war. We have witnessed on the news and read about it in the papers—attacks on our own land. We have read or we have seen documentaries about the history of war in the last century. We have known people deployed to war—maybe some who have never come home. We know something of the technology of war—the guns, the planes, the tanks, and the bombs. We are aware of the results of war—the famine, the wasted land, the burned cities, the refugees, the widows, the orphans, the massive cemeteries.
Mistakenly we sometimes think of war as something glamorous and glorious. We read about it and we catch the excitement of the heroism and the tactical maneuvers of the military. We learn about the weapons and the technology and we are amazed at it. A recruiter comes with his pitch and we think of it as glamorous and glorious—all without experiencing war firsthand.
War is horrible and devastating. It brings grief and destruction. Just ask anyone who has been involved in war. This is true for the soldiers on the battlefield who have to watch as their comrades around them are eaten up with the weapons of the enemy. This is horrible for those who are taken prisoner and put into concentration camps and tortured and burned. This is horrible for the citizens of a country at war in which all that is normal comes to a halt—there is no food, education, or recreation, and all the resources are poured into the war effort. This is horrible for those attached and occupied. There is death, there is rape, there is burning, there is bombing, there is destruction, and there are the ever-present enemy forces.
Then there is the horrible aftermath. Immediate results—displaced refugees by the thousands fleeing through the mountains with bare feet and with no food—to where? They do not know. Orphans and widows returning after war—to what? Then the long-term effects—the post-traumatic stress disorder. Men have to live with this for years. It affects their whole life and all their relationships. These are some of the horrors of war.
It is this horrible reality that Jesus has in mind when He says in the text, Matthew 24:6, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars.” Jesus speaks of this as a reality. He does this by repeating ideas. He speaks of wars. Then He speaks of rumors of wars. Wars are actual conflicts; rumors of wars are the conflicts that are brewing in political affairs. There is a cycle of war—nation rising against nation. And it goes on and on. One conflict will finish; another will take its place. An army will pull out of one theater and then engage in a war elsewhere. One war will end with a treaty that is supposed to end all wars and a few decades later there will be another great war. Jesus says, not “you might hear of war,” but “ye shall, ye shall hear. All these things,” He says, “must come to pass.” This is because God has decreed it to be so.
Jesus has in mind here also that war is horrible. He indicates that when He says, “Be not troubled.” We are tempted to be troubled. What does war do? It creates fear. It troubles us. The very thought is horrifying. Imagine sending off your husband or your teenage boys not knowing if you will ever see them again. You hear the planes going overhead, the bombs and bullets whizzing by, the tanks rattling down the streets. You cannot go outside after dark. Soldiers come. What will they do with your children, with your daughters? Fear. Of course war makes us fearful. Jesus speaks here of the horror of war.
But now, as we think of the horror of war, we must understand that it is more than just these experiences that are the result of warfare. There is a deeper, darker horror involved in war. In James, chapter 4, James asks this question: “From whence come wars among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your heart?” This is the cause of war—man’s lust, man’s greed, man’s desire for revenge. There is in the heart of man and in the body of believers (James 4) a microcosm of what goes on in the world. The same sinful nature that motivates any war is in our heart. We have to be reminded of that today, to be rebuked of our greed, our hatred, that motivates us, maybe not to kill with weapons, but certainly with words.
War reveals the dark hatred also in the heart of man for God. In Psalm 2: “Wherefore do the nations rage? The kings and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed saying, Let us cast his authority from us.” Every war is motivated by a rebellion and a lust for power, not only to throw off authority but to throw off God’s authority. So the horror of war reveals to us the horrible reality of the depravity of the heart of man. This began immediately after the fall into sin. Cain rose up in hatred against his own brother, Abel. So long as there is sin in the world, there will be war.
That is why we are exhorted in I Timothy 2 to pray for kings and those in authority, so that they will not be governed by hearts of unbelief and hatred and selfish pride, but by faith. We pray that the God who saves from every class of humanity will work repentance and faith in the hearts of rulers so that they may rule with peace.
But now, even though the cause of the horror of war is man’s sin, still God is on the throne. He sends war and He has a purpose with war. Think, for example, of Isaiah 45:6, 7: “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.” The word for evil here is literally war. “I the Lord do all these things.” God makes peace and God creates war.
We might ask, “When did God do this?” We go all the way back to early history in the book of Genesis to the tower of Babel. The nations united together as one to build a tower up to heaven in defiance of the authority of God. They wanted to stay together. They saw power in numbers. They wanted to establish a kingdom of man. And God looked down and He said, “If this happens, nothing will be withheld from men.” So God confused the languages and He scattered man across the earth. Those who were scattered formed nations and governments. They became suspicious of one another. They claimed territory for themselves. The result is, in the history of man, struggle and warfare. “I the Lord do all these things.” When we say that God did this, we mean that Jesus Christ does this. Jesus is the One who tells us here that there will be wars and rumors of wars. In Psalm 2 we read that “He that sits in heaven shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision. Yet have I set my king on my holy hill of Zion.” This is the One who sits on the throne. He is the One who says, “There must be war. I send war.”
Then you think of Revelation 6 and the opening of the seals and the riding of the horses. There is a horse who brings war, who carries a sword. We might ask, “Why? Why does God send war? Why does Jesus send war?” Jesus explains it in the text this way: “The end is not yet.” These things must take place, but the end is not yet. It is with the end in view that there must be war in the history of the world. The end that is in view here is not just the cessation of time as we know it, but the purpose and the goal that Jesus has for all of history. The purpose is the second coming of Jesus Christ, in which He will gather together all things in one. Jesus is answering the question of His disciples, “When shall the end be?” As a king, He is going away, and He will send these things as signs, precursors, of His coming and of the end of the world. He sends war throughout history in preparation for His coming. War is one of the things that brings Jesus Christ and that makes all things ready for His return.
How does this prepare for the return of Jesus Christ? It does this in at least four ways.
First, it keeps the rise of the kingdom of Antichrist and the union of all the nations of the earth together as one, under one government, it keeps this at bay. The Antichrist cannot arise. War creates a distraction. War creates division. The world wants peace between the nations. And peace is what will happen at the very end of time, when Satan is released from his pit and he will go out and deceive the nations and bring them together and gather them from the four corners of the earth to compass about the city of God. That is a reference to the time of great tribulation. God, in the present, throughout New Testament history, will not allow this. War is God’s way of stopping the rise of the kingdom of Antichrist and the great persecution of His church. This is so that the church can be busy in the work of the preaching of the gospel. War distracts the nations from destroying the witness of the church and so God’s people may continue in this great important work.
Not only does it keep the Antichrist at bay, but, in the second place, it prepares the world itself for the rise of Antichrist. Who today does not cry out for peace? War creates a longing in the earth for one kingdom. Because of man’s greed, that peace is impossible. Even when it comes, in the end it will only be for a brief time. But, when the time is ripe for Antichrist, the world will say, “We want peace, and we want it at all costs. Give us food and give us peace. And you can rule over us.” And that will be the promise that Antichrist will give.
Third, at the same time, war prepares the world and makes it ripe for the final judgment of God. War in itself is an expression of the wrath of God against the depravity and the greed of the heart of man. In sending war, God gives man over to his sin. Man brings destruction to himself. By this warring, man makes himself ready for that time in the end when all the powers of the world and all the powers of warfare will be turned against the church, and God will come and say, “It’s enough.” He will come to save His own. Jesus will come to destroy the wicked and the devil and the Antichrist, and to bring His people into eternal salvation and glory.
Then, in the fourth place, wars prepare us, as God’s people, for the coming of Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of the signs as Jesus gives them to us, so that we can know that He is coming, so that we can watch for His coming, and so that we can be ready for the day when He comes.
We need to recognize the reality of war. The world is always saying, “We can overcome war. We can bring peace. Just a few more diplomats, a few more policies, a wiser president, a wiser world-ruler.” The church and Christians can sometimes buy into that mentality as well. This does not mean that as Christians we should be war-mongers, but we have to realize that so long as there is sin, true peace is impossible. Apart from the gospel, there can be no peace. Apart from faith in God and obedience to His way, there will always be war. This war is in the heart of man. It is the cross alone that, first, brings peace between God and man and, then, overcomes the sinful heart of man so that there can be a true peace and love between believers.
The purpose of the gospel, though, is not earthly peace. It is the peace between God and man, the abolishing of sin in the final day when Jesus returns. While we should long for peace on the earth so that we can freely do our work, we should expect that there will be, continually, war in the earth. We have to be aware of this that part of the deception of Antichrist is also his promise of world peace. Do we not see this promise of peace working out today in the cry that there is for tolerance, tolerance of every religious idea and tolerance of every immoral behavior? Is that not part of the deception of Antichrist? So Jesus tells us that there will be war and that this war will continue throughout history till the day He returns.
How do we respond? The natural response of man is to find this troubling. We want to put it out of our mind. We do not want to talk about it. Yes, war is a reality, but let it be far away from us, somewhere else, on the other side of the planet. We respond this way to others of the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ as well. We hear, for example, Jesus saying that there will be a great tribulation, and we say, “There will be persecution, but let it be somewhere else. Let’s live in the now. We have peace, we have freedom.” While it is true that we should certainly take advantage of our freedom, especially in the work of preaching the gospel, in worshiping with God’s people in the church, and in witnessing and bringing the gospel to others, we should not ignore the things that Jesus speaks of here. We have to be prepared and we have to prepare our children. So we need to talk about these things, in the context of God’s great purpose in all things. Then we do not talk about them with fear. Jesus teaches this so that we will not be afraid. He says, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, see that ye be not troubled.”
To not have fear in the face of war we need to have these two central and important truths fixed in our minds. These are truths, promises, that we need to repeat to our children and that we need to talk about with one another as believers. The first is this: that Jesus is always on the throne, that He is the Lord, that He is the sovereign, and that as the One on the throne He rules over all things and, indeed, sends these things into time and history in preparation for His return. We should not think when war comes into our country and into our neighborhood and affects us that something strange has happened to us, as though Satan now has gained the ascendancy and the wicked are at the helm. No, Jesus is on the throne; God is the sovereign; the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it whithersoever He wills. So, “do not be troubled,” Jesus says, “I am on the throne.”
Think of Psalm 46 as talking about war and the nations raging and the earth being moved. God says this: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth.” God is on the throne.
Then the second important truth for us to remember so that we are not fearful in response to wars is this. That Jesus sends wars is a part of His coming; that the sound of war is the sound of the coming of Jesus Christ; that the raging of the nations against one another is the raging that brings Jesus Christ into this world. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, Jesus says, then know that the end is not yet. Yes, there is an end. That end is the glorious coming of Jesus Christ. These wars and rumors of wars are the signs that the end is coming but not yet. They are all a part of it.
Verse 8 speaks of this in a beautiful way. We talked about this in an earlier message. Right after the sign, Jesus says, “All these things are the beginning of sorrows.” Sorrows there are birth-pangs. Wars and rumors of war, the sound of war and the experience of war and war between the nations—these are the early signs of labor and of birth-pangs that will bring, finally, Jesus Christ the Son of God into this world in His glorious second coming. When a woman experiences the pain of labor, that is not a strange pain. There is something right. For every other pain that we have and that we experience, something is wrong, so we try to fix it. We cut ourselves, we have an injury or some kind of internal pain, and we try to take care of it. But this is a pain that is right. A woman says, “I can do this.” She hopes in the end for that child that will be born.
That is how Jesus tells us we should think of the horror and the reality of war. There is something right. Jesus is coming, so do not be afraid.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the wonderful comfort that we have in this that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He rules over all things, that in His wisdom He knows why things are as they are in this world and that He works all things together towards that final day when He will come again. Today there is war in the earth, and we experience it, and we will experience it, but that is because Jesus the King is causing His gospel to go forth victoriously and using all things to serve the final day when His church will be gathered as one in His presence to eternity. Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly. Amen.