The Beginning of Birth Pains

What better source could there be than the words of Jesus himself to start a study about His return. What did Jesus have to say about His return? The Olivet Discourse is probably one of the best and yet most debated places to start. I’ll concentrate on Matthew’s record in this post. There are mainly three points in Jesus words in Matthew 24:4-41. Let’s handle them one post at a time. First, Christ talks in v. 4-8 about the events and signs that will lead up to His return. Here in this text, Jesus points directly to the prophet Daniel. We take this to be a reference to the 70th week that Daniel talks about in Daniel 9. When you bring Daniel 9 into the mix the interpretation becomes exceedingly difficult. It is not easy to reconcile Daniel 9, which Jesus explicitly references, and Christ’s words about his return. What is, I believe, very clear is that the events and signs that Jesus references very closely parallel the 7 seals of Revelation 6. What, in v. 4-8, does Jesus say is the first sign of His return? He says there will be false christs appearing. The first seal in Revelation 6 is the anti-christ. Then Jesus says the second sign/event will be wars and rumors of wars. The second seal in Revelation 6 is warfare. Then Jesus says that there will be famines and earthquakes. The third seal of Revelation 6 is famine. The fourth and fifth seals are death and martyrdom. Then the sixth seal of Revelation is an earthquake. Then Jesus says that this is just the beginning. You look at the seventh seal of Revelation and it goes on for chapters – judgment being poured out on the inhabitants of the earth. Although Revelation is not clear about this, Daniel 9 is clear that this period of tribulations is to last seven years. In Daniel 9, one week is equal to 7 years. That is the interpretation of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9 – 70 periods of 7 years each. Many believe that Jesus is referring to the 70th week of Daniel 9 and this has come to be known as the “Tribulation.” My understanding is that Revelation doesn’t say that it lasts for 7 years. The period of 7 years comes from Daniel 9.

There are a couple of things that I find very hopeful about Matthew 24:4-8 is that Jesus says that these are the beginning of the birth pains. Now I am no woman, but I am married to a woman and the woman I am married to has given birth 4 times. So I know by now that the reality of birth pains means something. It means the pregnancy is almost over. It means the joy and happiness that comes with the birth of a child is about to arrive. The birth pains, from what I’ve seen, would be the most difficult time of the pregnancy, but it is also the shortest period of the pregnancy. I know I’m reading a lot into this, but I at least can understand from Christ’s words here and his reference to birth pains that the time of his return is closer when the tribulation gets worse. We can at least say that much. When things get the worst, we are then closest to His return. So put your charts away and forget your predictions. What was Jesus’ intent here? His intent was to say to His disciples (and by that, I mean the twelve and us), “Endure!” It’s a sober warning in v. 13. The times will be so difficult that many will grow cold. I’m sorry, but end-times charts give me no hope to endure. I see no hope in baseless predictions – they miss the whole point of Christ’s words about his return. I see no hope in trying to decode the “so-called” ciphers in scripture. We have a word from our Savior here that when things get the worst, don’t lose hope and give up – Endure! If you want to be saved – endure! When things get the worst is when your hope should be the strongest and instead of giving up, you should start looking up. Tribulations should NOT cause us to grow cold, but should make us red hot in our love. God’s will is that tribulations would cause the gospel message to spread through out all the earth. I love that. I want to see that. These times are hard to live in and we should not expect anything different. The question is – do these times in which we live have more of an impact upon us than we do upon them or are we impacting the times with the spread of the gospel message?

This really takes me back to 9/11. Remember what happened? Remember the influx of crowds we saw on Sunday mornings? The church in America failed those crowds. The gospel message was soft if present at all. I think about the messages that were heard in the community that I live in. How I wish there had been a single preacher who would’ve stood up before those crowds and preached the gospel? But it was fluff and it was shallow and the crowds quickly dissipated because of it. I look at men like John Piper, who faithfully preached and whose church was prepared for such times because of his years of faithful preaching. My prayer is that God will bring up such men now in my generation, so that when something similar to 9/11 happens – the churches of America are ready and will not fail the crowds again. My prayer is that God is doing a work in the lives of people who sit under my teaching and preparing them for the tribulations that will come in their lives so that their testimony will be that they were ready to glorify Christ in the midst of their suffering for the sake of the gospel.


1 comment so far

  1. Leslie on

    Amen!! Our church was packed the Sunday after 9/11, too. I remember that our pastor preached from Luke 13:4-5, when the tower of Siloam fell and Jesus told everyone that unless they repent they will all likewise perish. He gave the gospel and t was a very good sermon, but not what everyone came to hear.

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