Dear radio friends,
Matthew 24 records for us the instruction Jesus gave His disciples on Wednesday of the Passion Week. This instruction was given, then, shortly before Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. And in it, Jesus outlines very clearly for His disciples the signs that would indicate His return at the end of time. Notice the question of the disciples in verse 3: “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? The disciples were not only interested in when Jerusalem would be destroyed. They were also genuinely interested in what they had learned as children: the coming of Christ in the end of time.
Jesus addressed both questions of the disciples, foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and helping them understand that this destruction was only a picture or type of His second coming in the end of time. Jesus lists, therefore, many signs of His second coming. We are going to consider in this broadcast the first of these signs, a sign that takes place in the creation itself. It is found for us in Matthew 24:7, 8: “there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
In Matthew 24:3 Christ’s disciples ask Him: “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” In response to this question, Jesus relates the various signs of this chapter. To understand this question, we must be clear on what is meant by the signs of Christ’s return.
Just after Christ ascended into heaven, two angels appeared to His disciples and spoke these words of Acts 1:11: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” These angels thus remind us that just as Christ ascended into heaven, so also He was going to return from heaven. At the time of His return, Christ will destroy this present world of sin and usher in His heavenly kingdom, where righteousness will dwell.
But, prior to that second coming of Christ and the end of this present world, there would be certain events in this world that would indicate that return. These events would bring to a close this age in which we live by actually bringing about the return of Christ. To the believer who is watching for Christ’s return, these signs would be harbingers. A harbinger is something that foreshadows and therefore heralds the coming of a future event. Before the return of Christ, there will be certain signs that take place in this world that will herald, call our attention to, Christ’s second coming. They will indicate to us, they will be harbingers, that Christ is coming. This is why the disciples asked for these signs in verse 3. They were interested in a forewarning of Christ’s return.
But there is something more about these signs that is all-important for us to know. These signs are not just a series of loose, unrelated events that take place helter-skelter in this world. It is not as if these signs are all arbitrary and unrelated to each other. Many people view the signs as such They say, “Well, there’s a sign of the times.” But they do not, consciously, put the signs together in an attempt to understand the relationship. These signs in creation, in the nations, and in the church, however, are intimately and inseparably connected with each other. They are interrelated with each other. This is true because these signs actually bring about the coming of Christ. They do not simply indicate that Christ is coming, but they bring about the coming of Christ. They actually serve the return of Jesus on the clouds of heaven.
This claim is not some unfounded theory that finds no basis in the Bible itself. On the contrary, Jesus says this of the signs in the verses we consider in Matthew 24. He speaks of this in verse 8: “All these,” He says, “are the beginning of sorrows.” Notice. Pestilences and wars for that matter too, are said to be the beginning of sorrows. The signs of Christ’s coming are sorrows.
Now, perhaps that does not seem all that significant to us at first glance because the word “sorrows” here seems only to speak of something that brings sadness. But to those who read and understood the King James Version in the day it was written, the term “sorrow” had another meaning. It meant birth pains. That term “sorrows,” therefore, literally refers to the labor pains a woman experiences in bringing forth a child. The signs of Christ’s coming are compared to labor pains that result in the actual appearance of Christ at the end of time.
This needs some explaining. Most mothers understand from experience that labor is not an easy thing. The contractions, for most women, are painful. They hurt. This is why they are called sorrows. But when labor first begins, again as a general rule, the labor pains are not quite as severe as when the baby is closer to being delivered. As labor continues, the contractions become more intense, they are longer and harder, and they are more frequent. Yet, as every mother who is about to be delivered knows, those labor pains are necessary to bring about the birth of the baby. As a result of the birth pains, the baby is born.
There is a difference between those labor pains and, say, the pain that one receives because of a cut or a broken bone. A wound or a broken bone is a result of an accident, so to speak. You do not deliberately go out and place yourselves in harm’s way in order that you might hurt yourself. The same is not true when it comes to the labor pains of a mother. An expectant mother, as her pregnancy draws to a close, watches and waits for the first labor pain that will begin the bringing forth of her baby. Not that she likes labor itself. Labor is dreaded. Labor hurts. But those labor pains are what serve to push out that baby. She knows, therefore, that labor is indicative that all is going well, that everything is going the way it should go. If those pains do not come about when they should, then something is wrong and other remedies will have to be applied. But labor is an indication that the baby is coming according to expectation. All is well.
Jesus speaks of His second coming and the signs that precede it using this figure: the birth of a child is to be compared to the second coming of Christ. Christ’s return is the end of all things. It is the purpose, it is the goal, of everything. The labor pains are to be compared to the signs that Christ returns. The first signs are not hard. They are not so frequent. They are not as intense. One can even ignore them somewhat without being disturbed. It almost seems like normal or natural occurrences. But as time goes on, these occurrences increase and become more intense. They cannot be ignored. They hurt more. They affect more people. They become more and more frequent. So the signs of natural disasters, desolations in the earth, are the beginning of sorrows. But as time goes on, they will occur more and more and become the more furious and claim the lives of more people.
But what really comes to mind in the signs of Christ’s coming is this: What we see as signs are actual events that serve to bring about the second coming of Christ. They are as labor pains directed by our exalted Lord in heaven that will contribute to His coming. When we see these natural disasters around us, we must know that this creation, in all its fury, brings about Christ’s return. We will consider how in a few moments.
But there is one more fact that needs to be considered. Who enjoys the pain of labor? Tell me, mothers, who likes labor? No one, obviously. Well, many of the signs of Christ’s coming bring sorrow and hurt for us, too. Many of the signs are painful. But we do not stand in bewilderment when we view what goes on about us in this creation or in the nations or in the church as if we do not understand what is going on. Instead we understand that all is well, according to God’s eternal plan. Everything is going as expected that it should go. All the signs in creation, in the nations, in the church are taking place exactly as God has planned them.
Those in unbelief see no reason for the various goings-on in this creation and in the nations. They, at times, even question why. But the children of the light understand the pains. We may not like them any more than anyone else. We were all shocked when the Twin Towers came down. The whole world stood still for a moment when the Tsunami struck the coasts of the Indian Ocean claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We do not enjoy sorrows. But we do understand them. And we know that, as horrible as these things can be, all is well.
So we are going to take a close look at one of the first labor pains that indicate Christ’s return. Verse 7 speaks of two of them, but we are going to concentrate only on the first one in this broadcast. In verse 7 Jesus tells us, “There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers [that means in various or different sorts of] places.”
The words used here are familiar enough. A famine is when there is a lack of rain, and everything is dry, and the land fails to produce enough vegetation for people and livestock to eat. As a result, there is starvation and malnutrition. The word pestilence is a little broader term. It refers to a shaking up of creation. It refers to such occurrences as an excessive amount of rain that causes flooding. It refers to hurricanes or tornadoes. It would include such things, perhaps, as blizzards or fires and all other natural disasters that upset our world. Then there is the word earthquake, which is exactly what it says, the cataclysmic shaking of the earth.
These three ideas together are meant to point us to all of the natural disasters that take place in the brute creation. The desolations, the disasters of the earth, are the beginning of sorrows. They are the first of the labor that hits. They have been around since the beginning of this world. They are nothing new to us. For generations there have been these natural catastrophes in creation about us.
How can they be signs of Christ’s coming? First of all, as all labor pains, they will increase in intensity and in frequency the closer that we come to Christ’s return. Is that not true? I think most of us who are a little older can say that the natural disasters we hear of taking place in our world today are occurring more frequently than when we were younger. Perhaps it is because of the media. But we hear constantly of the desolations taking place in this world. It seems that these catastrophes are much more intense, too, affecting more and more of the members of the human race as the world becomes more populated.
But that is only one element of these signs in creation. The other is this. They bring about the return of Christ. In order to understand this, we need to understand the creation in its relation to man. There is an inseparable relationship of this creation to man, you realize. Adam was not created until all of creation was first formed. Then God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to care for this creation and to develop it. This was Adam’s mandate: to care for all of this earthly creation in the service of his Creator.
But this life of bliss and pleasure in this earthly creation was not to last. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, then the whole earthly creation was cursed for Adam’s sake. The earthly creation was made subject to vanity, emptiness, and sin on account of what man did. Ever since that day the earthly creation has not cooperated with man. Also, though man is still called by God to use this creation in the service of his Maker, man abuses it. And the creation groans under man’s abuse and under the curse of sin. As a result, the creation reacts at times with a vengeance—unleashing its fury upon man: inclement weather, clashing wind patterns. Or, on the other hand, a sky of clear blue and a scorching sun for days and months and, in some cases, for years.
We are told of this groaning of creation in Romans 8:22: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Paul tells us also that this is true of creation because of man’s sin. In verse 20 of Romans 8 we read: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.” But what is of greatest interest is what Paul writes in verse 21: “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” The creation is waiting to be delivered from this curse.
When will that happen? At the time of Christ’s return and the end of this world! Then this present creation, which is under sin and the curse, will be destroyed and changed into a new earth, which, together with the new heavens, will make up that grand and glorious realm where God’s people will dwell forever.
As time progresses, therefore, this creation grows old, just as you and I do. As it grows old, the laws of nature that hold it in its place begin to let loose. And there will be an increase of famines, storms, and earthquakes along with all sorts of natural disasters. And that will serve to bring about the coming of Christ.
Watch the signs in creation. Watch how they develop. As they grow in intensity, know that the end of time is coming quickly. How will the creation participate in that final day of His coming? Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:29, ‘The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” Christ will use this earthly creation to destroy and punish the wicked and unbelieving. He will use it to usher in His kingdom of glory and righteousness. He will use this creation to bring about the grand and glorious change that must take place for us to enter into the new creation.
So famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are means God uses to bring about the return of Christ. And, therefore, they serve as signs for us to watch.
Troubling? Oh, yes. As we mentioned, to live in the midst of these disturbances in creation is not a pleasant thing. But Jesus gives us words of encouragement, too. In verse 6 here in Matthew 24 Jesus says, “See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass.” What mother actually wants or desires to bear the pains of childbirth? Who wants to go through all of this? But the mother bears these sorrows because she knows that through labor her child will be born. We know that through these events of nature Christ is coming. And even as a mother forgets her pains for the joy of seeing her child, so also will we forget all the sorrows of this present life for the joy of seeing Christ return.
That is why Christ says, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” We need not fear. We need not be confused. Such horrors in creation ought not to fill us with hopelessness and despair. Christ is coming. God is in control. He directs everything to accomplish the salvation of His church.
And in that we find our comfort. Our hope is being realized, people of God. Christ is fulfilling His promise to us. He confirms it over and over again in the signs that we see. What we see about us in creation is the beginning of sorrows. We look forward in hope to the end of this present world, where a new heavens and a new earth await us. There, then, will be no more sin and no more curse of sin. So we, with uplifted heads, wait for the return of Christ.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we know that the signs of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ are not always pleasant. And yet, when we look at them we see His return. And we are given hope because we know that He returns. These are an indication to us that He returns. And we look forward in hope to the ushering in of a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness will dwell. Wilt Thou strengthen us in our faith and wilt Thou lead us in the way that leads to life everlasting. For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen.