The people of our nation stood in horror on September 11, 2001. We watched in disbelief while the Twin Towers of the Trade Center collapsed due to terrorist attacks. We felt so safe and secure up until that time, since war and the threats of war had always been on foreign soil. The believer was given a stark reminder of a reality he knows but sometimes forgets. Christ is coming. On 9/11 we received a “wake-up call.” At times we can grow weary of watching for the coming of Christ. When we do, God sends us another sign, and we again take up our vigil to watch for Christ’s return.
We have found that God does this at times when He sends the great desolations in creation that claim the lives of thousands. God does this, too, when we are given to see the devastation of war and when we hear daily of the threats of wars. This is the sign of Christ’s return that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:6, 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.” Jesus points out in the verse before us that one of the beginning signs of His return is that of wars and rumors of wars. This is the sign also referred to in Revelation 6 where John sees the vision of the four horsemen. As we consider, in this and in future broadcasts, the various signs that take place, we will be relating them to these four horsemen.
The horse that speaks of wars in this world is the red horse, of which we read in Revelation 6:4: “And there went out another horse that was red: and power was give unto him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.” The running of the red horse reveals that God actually controls the wars of this world. God has a purpose in war. Just as God uses the creation to bring about Christ’s return, so also He uses war and the threat of war. All these are labor pains that work toward the second coming of Christ.
That nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom is a common phenomenon, which has occurred throughout the history of this world. Nations have always vied for power and control over other nations. As soon as the world seems as if it has overcome its lust for power, somewhere in the world we hear of a nation bullying another nation into submission. There is this lust in sinful men in high places of power to create for themselves a power strong enough to rule the world. This was the attempt of Mussolini, of Napoleon, of Hitler. This was the motivating factor behind the imperialism of the fifteen and sixteen hundreds. There is this constant unrest in the nations, an uneasiness that always seems to exist. The United States works hard at establishing itself as the most powerful nation in the world. It is, too. So powerful, our leaders feel they can simply step into another country and attempt to solve its problems. As a result of our ‘good’ intentions, the nations of this world hate the United States. They eye us with suspicion. Their citizens riot, shouting anti-US slogans and burning our flag.
But this is not the only example of the hatred and strife between nations. There is the tension between South Korea and North Korea. During the Vietnam War there was similar rivalry between North and South Vietnam. Iran and Iraq hate each other. The Israelis and the Arabs today vie for power in the Mideast. Nations talk about peaceful resolutions to strife between nations. World leaders get together in “peace-talks.” Economic sanctions are leveled against those nations who are the aggressors against another weaker nation. But for all these attempts at ‘civilized’ resolutions, there is still war and threats of war.
There is a reason for this. Sin. Unbelieving man is filled with pride, contempt, hatred, desire of revenge, desire for power, selfishness, and the list can go on. This is not true only of the everyday citizen who lives with these things in his heart on a smaller scale, but this is especially true of the more ambitious of this world. The unbelieving world and its leaders are enslaved to sin and Satan as much as any other unbelieving man. And as long as there is sin in this world, as long as unbelief continues to characterize world leaders, there will be war and threat of war. This is why, in I Timothy 2:1, 2, the child of God is exhorted to pray for our political leaders. We pray that our leaders will not be governed by unbelief but by faith. We ask that God, who wills the salvation of men out of every class, including the ruling class, bring to repentance those who lead our country, in order that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life, and in order that the church might be protected.
Yet, for all this, nations rise up against nations, and there are wars and threats of wars. These do not diminish as time goes on but they only increase. The wars of today involve the world and all its leaders. More people and nations are affected by them as global interaction increases.
There is a specific cause for the tension and strife between nations. God Himself has created this strife between the nations. Isaiah speaks of this in chapter 45:6 and 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 in the Hebrew here is, literally, war]: I the LORD do all these things.” God makes peace, but also creates war.
When did God do this? At the time of the Tower of Babel. The history of this is recorded in Genesis 11. At that time, the people of the world all lived together in the Plain of Shinar. This plain is now found in modern-day Iraq. Everyone in the world, then, was of one nation and one language and one race of people. They had not heeded God’s command to multiply and replenish the earth. The root of all sin, since the beginning of time, is the desire of man to be god, to determine for himself matters of right and wrong, and to rule over himself.
Well, this sin manifested itself among the people in the Plain of Shinar. They decided to form a kingdom of man. As a symbol of this kingdom, they began to build a huge tower—one they wanted to reach heaven itself. God beheld this attempt of sinful man to establish a name for himself in the earth, a kingdom where man would reign supreme. And in order to thwart the formation of this kingdom, God did something very simple. He confused the languages of the people. There were, then, certain families and households that found other families and households that spoke the same language as they did. And these, no doubt, grouped together. Soon the people that at one time were of one language had divided into several large groups of people, each with their own distinct language. These groups of people became suspicious of one another and so moved to various places in this world. Over time these peoples established their own governments and territories, developed into the various nations of this world. Through this same event, probably, the various races of this world developed.
The result was division. Since that time, there has been strife and suspicion between the peoples and the nations of this earth. There has been war waged by one nation to take away from another nation its land and its power. There has been an attempt on the part of various nations to establish the one-world empire by force. The red horse has run its course to and fro through the earth and through history—one nation rising up against another nation; one kingdom and realm of the earth waging war against another realm to become head over that nation. This has gone on throughout history—ever since God divided the peoples of the earth into nations.
And this, too, is why Jesus here, in Matthew 24, speaks of wars and rumors of wars as the beginning of sorrows or labor pains. Just as natural disasters have occurred in creation since the beginning of time, so also have wars and threats of wars been around for a long, long time. Wars were waged in the ancient world, in the medieval world, and now also in modern times. The only difference is that these wars are no longer fought with spears, swords, and bows. Wars are no longer won by using battering rams and catapults to gain access to fortresses surrounded by high walls. Now wars are fought with guns and missiles, with heavy artillery, and even with the threat of nuclear bombs that could destroy entire cities. Wars, in the past, affected one nation or two. Wars in our modern world affect multiple nations, and even the whole world. In other words, what Jesus points out to us is that wars are like labor pains that increase with intensity and pain the closer that Christ comes.
And we, as God’s children, watch all of this in the knowledge that Christ is coming. We busily prepare ourselves and our families for the second coming of Christ.
At this point we ought to consider what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 24:6. He says, “All these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” There must be wars and rumors of wars. What does Jesus mean by all these things—that they must come to pass? We are interested in this because it speaks to us of God’s purpose in this sign of Christ’s second coming. The purpose of God in creating war is to keep the Antichrist and his worldwide kingdom of man from coming to fruition prematurely. According to God’s eternal plan for all things, God has willed to save a people unto Himself. Throughout the history of this world, God in His providence carries out that plan. He holds the nations of this world in sway. He keeps them from developing into the worldwide kingdom of Antichrist. The Antichrist may not develop until the time when God has gathered all of His church. God’s people must be saved. His church must be preserved. For this reason wars and threats of wars must come to pass. By means of war God has repeatedly, throughout history, thwarted the efforts of Satan to establish the kingdom of man and destroy Christ’s church.
There are a couple of places in the Bible that explain and detail this particular work of God in the nations. You find then in the visions of Daniel and in John’s Revelation. We do not intend to delve into the symbolism of either of these visions, but both of these men were given to see the rise and fall of empires.
There was the kingdom of Babel, to which we have already referred. There is also reference to each of the great empires that figured in world history. There was, first of all, the great Assyrian empire, with its capital city of Nineveh. This empire was, up to that point, the largest and most powerful empire in all the world. This was an all-glorious empire, at the head of which stood King Nebuchadnezzar. But when this kingdom was in its prime, another empire came and, through war, destroyed that kingdom. The Babylonian empire, with its capital now in Babylon, absorbed the Assyrian empire and grew the larger. This unbelieving kingdom of man was not the last. It was destroyed by the great Persian empire, still with its seat in the east. The Persian empire was later destroyed through war by Alexander the Great and the Grecian empire. The center of this empire was now in the west. After the Grecian empire came the mighty Roman empire. This kingdom, too, gained in power over the world by means of war and held sway over the world for many years because of its genius for war. The Romans conquered kings and kingdoms. All of Europe came under its sway.
But it was always by war that such empires also lost their place in the history of the world and were succeeded by another empire. The pattern is clear. Never has God allowed man to establish a worldwide empire. When on the threshold of success, every great empire was destroyed. God used war, therefore, to protect the development of His church in this world and to keep the Antichrist from rising to the final stage of his kingdom.
But the time comes when the wars and threats of wars shall cease. They will do so because the time will come when that man of sin, the Antichrist, according to God’s sovereign purpose, will finally establish his kingdom. The kings of the earth, we are told in Revelation 17:13, will give their power and strength to the Beast. The Antichrist will make great boasts of its power to control everything. All will join him to achieve the earthly utopia of a worldwide empire of peace. For a short time there will be no more wars. For a short time there will be no more threat of war.
But war will still be in the heart of man. The wicked are like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, Isaiah tells us. There is no peace to the wicked. When the time of the Antichrist has run its short course, the kings of the earth will look suspiciously once again on this kingdom. And they will be filled with envy and hatred and jealousy. And out of this hatred the pagan nations of this world will rise to do battle, war, with the Antichrist in order to destroy him and his kingdom.
It is war, therefore, that Christ will use to bring about His final coming. During the waging of this war, Christ will appear on the clouds of heaven. And with the very word of His mouth, He will destroy the nations and the creation with them.
So, wars have been around for a long time. But they have increased in intensity. They will cease for a short time. But, ultimately, God will use war to prove that there can be no kingdom of peace where sin runs free. Wars are definitely a sign of Christ’s return.
This sign of Christ’s second coming can also be disturbing. We do not like war. We do not like sending out sons off to war. War is a horrible thing. But we must not forget the comfort given in these verses: “These things must come to pass.” They are all controlled by God. They are all in His sovereign plan for all things. They must come to pass in order to bring about Christ’s coming. And although they hurt, they indicate that all is going well. All events in this world must spiral upward to the return of Christ.
So Christ says, “Be not troubled.” He is our King, who sits in heaven and reigns over all the affairs of this earth. And our King is victorious. He will not simply be victorious in the future. He is victorious right now. The victory is His. He already won the victory over our enemies when He fought the battle of sin on the cross. He achieved the victory through His resurrection and ascension into heaven. The victory is His. And because it is His, it is ours too. We need not cringe in fear. Our hearts need not be troubled. All these things are a part of the battle strategy. Events are happening perfectly, just as the Captain of our salvation wants them.
And someday our hopes and our desires will be fulfilled in that kingdom of heaven where righteousness and perfection will dwell.
Ah, yes. God’s kingdom comes. Then we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. No fear. Confidence. Christ comes.
Let us pray.
Gracious and eternal Father in heaven, Thou dost direct all the affairs of this world. Even when we see the many wars and hear the rumors of wars that are all about us in our present world, we need not fear. We serve Jesus Christ, who has already attained the victory through His death on the cross and through His ascension into heaven. He rules over all. And He gives us the comfort that we need, too, because we know that even in this sign He returns. And we look forward to that coming of our Savior and the ushering in of His kingdom. Forgive us of all sin and bless us in this day. For Jesus’ sake, we pray, Amen.