Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
In response to the questions of the disciples about His second coming, Jesus taught that there will be a great apostasy against which the church must fight; the Antichrist will arise as the pinnacle of this false teaching; and the saints will be persecuted in a way no one has ever seen before. Before this persecution comes, the church is called to be active in preaching the gospel to all nations (Matt. 24:14), for when the persecution comes, the gospel will be silenced: “the two witnesses” will be killed and their dead bodies will lie in the streets for three and a half days.
There are other signs of the coming of Christ besides the apostasy that will exist in the church. One group of these, “world calamities,” is mentioned in Matthew 24:6-8.
Even young people in America who do not know very much by experience about war and famine shake at the thought of them as much as they tremble when they consider earthquakes and diseases, about which they know a little. Our natural reaction to all of these is fear, even terror. Our natural reaction is also that we hope and we pray that they will all be taken away from us because we question how they will actually be “good” for us.
Are they necessary? Should we entertain the hope that they will be removed? In Matthew 24:6-8, Jesus puts a different perspective on it. “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors 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: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
Signs of Christ’s Coming
Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and the rest are signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. They are signs that Jesus is near and coming soon. Maybe you object and say that these signs have been in the world since Jesus’ ascension. And you would be right. But all that that means is that Jesus’ coming has been near for 2,000 years already. It has been “the last hour” for that whole time. What has changed is the intensity and frequency of these signs—wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and diseases are on the rise.
Many of these are the result of the wickedness of our human race. Famines may result from man’s carelessness and greed, war and revolution, rape of the land and spoiling of the air. Wars spring from pride and lust for power, to say nothing of greed. Diseases, some of them at least, come in large part through man’s own wicked behavior. Sexually transmitted diseases are at epidemic levels in many areas of the world, in large part because of the vile behavior of the people. And since the wickedness of man develops as Scripture says it will, it is understandable that the tempo of these devastating signs picks up as we come closer to the end.
But these signs are also sent as the judgment of God on this wicked world. That this is true is seen not only from the fact that man can do nothing to prevent earthquakes, and that most diseases are not the direct result of specific sins today, but also from the plain teaching of the Bible in Revelation.
Revelation 6 teaches that Christ sends out four horses into the earth, each bringing something different with him. The first horse is the white horse of the victorious gospel preaching. The second is the red horse of sword and war; the third, the black horse of great lack and unreal riches; the fourth, the pale horse of death—pestilence and earthquakes and other “‘natural” disasters. Who opens the seals to release these horses is theLamb. He sends forth not only the gospel, but also these calamities!
These signs must come. “All these things must come to pass.” Jesus says that plainly in Matthew 24:6.
Why are these things necessary? What do they have to do with the coming of Jesus?
World Calamities Hinder the Premature Rise of Antichrist
When Revelation says that Satan is bound for a thousand years and will be released at the very end for a short period of time, it refers to something that hinders him from deceiving the nations (see Revelation 20, especially verses 3, 7, 8). Satan is not able to gather the nations together under one head against Jesus Christ. Satan is active presently, working furiously to accomplish his purpose. He is not banished from the earth. But he cannot bring about his Antichristian kingdom fully because he is “bound” from doing it.
Binding him axe the world calamities! How? The Lord Jesus frustrates the purposes of Satan to bring the world into one military power by sending wars and rumors of wars. By doing so, he throws a wrench into the peace talks. As long as Jesus sends the black horse to bring social strife—extreme division between rich and poor, different philosophies of government and economics—there will not be one world power. When pestilence and plague and famine prevail through the riding forth of the pale horse, the world puts its shoulder to the wheel to solvethese problems, and there is little time or energy to bring the world into one great power. Even though the world leaders may love to hold hands and even speak of “marrying” some day, the Lord will prevent this worldwide union by the world calamities. Why does He do this? The gospel must go forth and God’s chosen children brought in! If God has chosen your children, not yet born, He will hinder the Antichristian kingdom from developing fully by these catastrophes until they are born or brought to faith. Until the gospel has been preached to all nations, God will not allow the Antichrist to come, since the Antichrist will silence the witness of the church.
“All these things must come to pass.” “But the end is not yet.”
World Calamities Prepare the Way for the Coming of the Antichrist
This may seem to contradict what was just said. But the very means that God uses to prevent the Antichrist from rising prepare the way for him when the time is ripe.
In the world today there is a dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. Who is happy with wars? Who wants the skirmishes to develop into full scale battles in which we are involved, our husbands or our sons? What person would not want to see the social conflicts resolved, the diseases cured, the famines eliminated, the earthquakes predicted or prevented? Glory to that man that could circumvent their damage or prevent these things altogether!
Exactly in this way, the hearts of the wicked anticipate and long for the coming of a man to give them deliverance from these evils (Antichrist). When that Man of Sin comes to bring nations together in peace, with a world vision that embraces the nations, eliminating wars and their ominous echoes, men will be filled with wonder and say, “Who is like unto the beast, and who can make war with the beast?” (Rev. 13). When he comes with grandiose plans for economic and social prosperity, they will think to themselves, “Why did it take so long for us to bring forth such a marvelous man?”
What a Grand, Comforting, View of History!
This gives the child of God the ability to stand back and understand what is going on in the world today, what has gone on since time began.
Remember that, young people, when there are earthquakes and death, when wars rage and rumors of war echo across the land, when your loved ones die because of diseases for which there is no cure. The Lord Jesus Christ, in His infinite wisdom and love for His people, sovereignly controls every event. His timetable is being kept. His plan is perfected. His gospel will go forth. His elect will be saved!
“Be not troubled,” Jesus says. Or, as He said inLuke 21, “Be not terrified.” Now you know why. Our first reaction to all this is fear. All these calamities seem horrible for us, too. Our friends die, our homes are destroyed, our lives are threatened. But we are not terrified, because we know these calamities serve the coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the world.
These signs mean that the end is not yet. As long as the world is filled with wars and their rumors, the end will not come at once. Do you know that? Much must hap pen before Jesus will return. So the critical behavior for us is not looking to the clouds (although see the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 52), but enduring through all these calamities, faithful to Jesus Christ.
But the end is coming. The signs themselves are certain promises of that. Just as a pregnant woman has pains that tell her that the baby is coming, the world experiences these “labor pains” because it is “pregnant” with the end of the world, the coming of Christ! It is coming!
There is something very practical here that young people need to remember. Do you think that war can be eliminated by President Bush and Soviet Premier Gorbachev negotiating at Camp David? Do you think famines and diseases will be eradicated by the great doctors and scientists of the world? Do you suppose that someday we will no longer suffer the devastating effects of earthquakes because of the scientific genius or the amazing power of man to prevent them? Remember, the world is always insisting that these things will happen. Following close behind is much of the church today. They both answer “yes” to these questions. But if Jesus were to come today, He would be pushed off the pulpits, driven out of the churches (and maybe off a cliff), because He preached that all these calamities must come to pass, and will.
What should you do? Shall we pray for no earthquakes? Pray for diseases all to be cured and famines eliminated? Pray for peace?
But let us not forget how we pray for this and in what way we desire it to come. We do not pray for an earthly peace, nor do we expect an earthly peace. Of course, we desire all these calamities to be taken away – the beating of swords into plowshares, the elimination of diseases and social strifes. But we hope for this only in the way of the elimination of sin. For it is an attack on God’s justice to pray for peace and safety while the nations go on in their sin.
Also, we look for our prayers to be answered by Jesus Christ at His second coming.
Yes, there will be an elimination of war for a short time just before the end, a certain prosperity during the reign of Antichrist, on this earth. But it is not God’s peace and God’s prosperity. Do you pray for peace? Do you pray for prosperity? Pray for it in the way of the removal of sin. And if you pray for peace on earth, understand that in the way of this peace, the Antichrist will arise soon. Or he will himself be the cause of it.
But fear not, for these pains bring Jesus Christ. We endure them as a mother giving birth, for we expect our Lord Jesus and the eternal kingdom of our God.
Questions for discussion:
1. Do you know of any evidence that these natural calamities are increasing?
2. What is the church’s responsibility when some of these terrible events take place? What is yours, personally? (Try to answer this in terms of what we say and in terms of what we do.)
3. Does the above article mean that we should pray for war and disease and famine, since these bring forth the coming of Christ.
4. Discuss some events in history that we can look back on and see that the Lord used them to frustrate attempts to unite the world.