The Olivet Discourse - The Beginning of Birth Pangs

Reprinted from eParousia #10, November, 2003

The disciples had just been told of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, as prophesied by Christ in Matthew 24:2. Of course, they turned their thoughts to the end of the age, and the promised return and reign of the Messiah. A little while later, while sitting with Christ on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John and Andrew approached Jesus and asked Him, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

Jesus' answer gives us the most detailed and specific account in the Word of God concerning the events that will lead up to the return of Christ. When we compare this account with passages from Daniel, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter and the book of Revelation, we can assemble a clear picture of what we are to expect as we await the Coming of our Lord.

Many scholars have noticed a parallel between Jesus' teaching on the Mount of Olives and the sequence of events as the seals of the scroll in Revelation 6 are broken (see Schulyer English, Studies in the Gospel According to Matthew, Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel According to Matthew II, and Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come). It makes sense that since Jesus is the author of both the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation (see Rev. 1:1), and that since both accounts deal with the coming of Christ, the two accounts should parallel, define and clarify one other.

Christ begins his reply to the disciples with a solemn warning: "See to it that no one misleads you." Indeed, Scripture is full of such warnings that we not be deceived concerning the return of Christ. Paul warned the Thessalonian believers not to be misled about the time of Christ's coming. He wrote, "Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed…" (2 Thess 2:1-3). The Book of Revelation speaks of the deceiving power of the second Beast, also called the False Prophet, when it says, "He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast" (Rev. 13:13-14). And later in the Olivet Discourse Jesus states, "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matt 24:23-24). As time runs out, Satan will pull out all the stops in his attempts to deceive and mislead people so that they will believe the lie, and not turn to the Truth. We can thank God that His elect will not be misled.

Following this warning Jesus gives several definite signs in verses 5-7 that will point to His soon return: false Christs, wars, famines and earthquakes. As we compare these signs with the opening of the first few seals of Revelation 6, we see a noticeable parallel:

Matthew 24
Revelation 6
Parallel
(5) For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.

(1) Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, "Come."

(2) I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

1st Seal - False Christs/Antichrist
(6) 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.

(3) When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come."

(4) And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

2nd Seal - War
(7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.

(5) When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.

(6) And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine."

3rd Seal - Famine

Summing up these events, Jesus declares in verse 8, "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs."

Being a man, I have never experienced birth pangs (thank God!). However, my wife sure has! And from our experience birth pangs increase in intensity and frequency as delivery draws near. The beginning birth pangs are relatively mild, but soon they intensify leading to the time of hard labor. In the same way, these birth pangs of the end times will build to the hard labor of the Great Tribulation.

Do we understand exactly what these signs refer to? Not exactly, but we can draw some conclusions by looking at other Scriptures that deal with the same time period.

We know that at the beginning of Daniel‚s 70th Week the Antichrist will make a covenant with "the many" (Dan. 9:27) for seven years. This, we believe, represents the appearance of the Antichrist as a world ruler at the first seal.

Daniel tells us that the Antichrist will consolidate his power in the world by overpowering 3 future leaders from a 10-nation coalition (Dan. 7:24-25):

As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

These verses tell of the "little horn" subduing three kings prior to the beginning of the Great Tribulation. This "subduing" speaks of military conflict and will most likely take place during the first half of the 70th Week of Daniel and corresponds to the second seal of Revelation 6.

The famine of the third seal could either be the natural famine that often follows war, or could be a famine that is brought on by the economic control of the Antichrist. We know from Revelation 13 that no one without the mark of the beast will be able to buy or sell. This economic control may well be underway during the first half of Daniel‚s 70th Week, and would be useful for waging war. During the second half of the Week, these economic controls will be used to enforce beast worship.

All of these "beginning birth pangs" are events that will lead up to the "hard labor" of the Great Tribulation and bring us ever closer to the Coming of Christ. Next month we will continue in our study of Matthew 24, looking at the events that will occur at the midpoint of Daniel's 70th Week.

 

This article was originally published through eParousia, Sola Scriptura's monthly end-times e-newsletter.

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