Matthew chapter 24 is our passage, and the reason why I'm preaching this tonight is that it's our prayer that you won't pray a prayer of repentance too late. It has been on a lot of people's minds recently, when there's been wars and rumours of wars, that it may be the end of time for this planet. I'm going to enter in tonight in my message to answer that question of whether it is the end of time, whether everything that's going on around us is an arrow, a signal, a sign that is pointing to the fact that Jesus is very near.
I want to take up our reading at verse 3: "And as Jesus sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 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: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows". Then just one verse, verse 36: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only".
The one verse, really, that we're looking at this evening is verse 6, and I suppose verse 7 really runs out of it - let's look at them again. "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: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows".
Up until the year 1914 the world had never been free from war, but on the other hand war had never ever been universal. The phenomena of a 'world war' was unheard of. But from 1914 to 1918 there was a total war waged across the whole Western world at least. Then from 1939 to 1945 there was the second world war, and in that war only 12 small nations were exempt from this universal war waged across the planet. Whether they were actually or technically not involved isn't clear, but at least 12 small nations did not take part. Since the two world wars, wars have occurred in Indochina, Korea, Congo, Cuba, Vietnam, Nigeria, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Nicaragua. There's been the Cold War, the Gulf War, the present war against terrorism, and the noise of the war in Iraq that is believed may happen at the beginning of March, and that this world is getting ready for or protesting against.
Let me just recap for you on a number of the figures concerning some of these great wars within our history of humanity. In World War I it was said that 10 million people were killed, 10 million. To illustrate it: if there was a parade of all these dead men and women marching ten abreast from sunrise to sunset with a new rank passing every two seconds, it would take 46 days - 24 hours a day - for that parade to pass by one given spot. To this add 13 million who went missing in the first world war. Then you go to the second world war, and it is said that 93 million men and women served in the second world war, but by far World War II was the most costly with regard to fatalities. It is said that including civilians, not just soldiers, that 54,800,000 people perished.
At the 21st session of the International Congress of the Red Cross held on September 6th 1969, it was reported that more than 90 million people had been killed in wars since the 20th-century had begun. That's astounding! Ninety million, almost 100 million! Two trillion dollars had been spent on armaments, 130 conflicts had been held on five continents, and all of these figures indicate that in modern history, the history of modern man, wars and rumours of wars have increased and are continuing to increase.
Not only have the wars and the fatalities increased, but man's capability for war has also increased as we have seen a technological revolution. There are weapons available today that there have never been to wage war on one another. In the 1960s military strategists used to speak of 'total kill', that was a description of a weapon which had the capacity to kill every living thing on the face of the earth. But they no longer talk of 'total kill' any more, they talk of 'overkill' - weapons that are able to kill the population of this world, every living thing and creature on it, many many times over and over again and again. In fact, at this moment as we speak the US has atomic submarines in almost every ocean of the planet, and they are carrying atomic warheads - and one submarine in particular can loose, in 16 minutes, more explosive force than all the bombs and ammunition that were exploded by all the nations in the six years of World War II! One weapon!
We hear on our news bulletins, and read it in the newspapers, this common phrase that has been reduced to letters 'WOMD' - weapons of mass destruction - and that's what's on everybody's minds: nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. Whether people admit it or not, fear has gripped our nation, particularly the mainland, as the prospect of one of these massive weapons being unleashed into our civilisation that has been untouched, really, before by war in the last hundred years at least. We have waged war right across this planet, but never apart from the threat of Hitler has war ever been waged on mainland Britain, if you like, and thank God that was staid in the second world war - but this is a war that could come right to our doorsteps because of the weapons that are available now in our world.
I listen to the radio sometimes, and on Radio 5 Live I heard a phone-in of people who were actually terrified to the extent that they couldn't sleep in their bed at night, thinking of the possibility of a terrorist attack. You have seen in your news bulletins this week extraordinary scenes of tanks lining up in Heathrow airport, ready for a potential terrorist attack. Now I don't know what a tank's going to do, that baffles me, if there's a suicide bomber running across the forecourt of the airport, whether the tank's going to aim at him or not and blow the place to smithereens, but yet it's a sign of the fear and the sense of anxiety and trauma that there is about something catastrophic happening. People are genuinely worried. People have said to me quite regularly recently: 'Does it not make you wonder if this could be the end?'. Some have even said: 'I think this is the end! I think that someone could do something so stupid over this next few weeks and months and years, that the whole human race, or at least part of our human race and planet, could be destroyed!'.
Well it's true, there are wars and there are rumours of wars, but what I want to answer tonight is that question: is this the end? If it is the end, what does it mean? If it's not the end, when will the end be? What does all this that's going on around us tell us? Well if you look, if you have your Bible open, at verse 3 - because when Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came privately and asked Him three questions: 'Tell us when these things shall be', He didn't answer that question, 'and what shall be the sign of thy coming', He did answer that question, 'and of the end of the world' - the signs of the end of the world, and He answered that question also. So there are two answers that He gives to these last two questions, but He reverses the answers as He gives them.
The first answer is found in verses 4 through to 35, where Jesus talks about the signs of His second coming. The second answer about the timing of the signs of the end is found in verse 36 and following through the rest of the chapter. So Jesus answers these questions, and we're going to look at one of these signs in particular. Let me just say first of all that Matthew chapter 24 speaks to the Jews about a day that is coming on the world which is called 'the great tribulation period'. I don't want confuse you, but it's important that you understand this, that the next event that this world awaits prophetically speaking is what is described by Christians and Bible scholars as 'the rapture of the church'. That means that God's people who are saved at this present time will be taken up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air, and will go theoretically to be with Him - but the rest of unbelievers, and that's you if you're without Christ tonight, will be left on the earth and there will be a great tribulation or testing period and trial period that will begin on the earth and will last seven years. The Bible says that this world has never seen anything like it, nor will it ever be repeated: the wrath of God will be poured out for seven years upon the earth.
The Lord Jesus didn't mention how the church would be taken away to these Jews on Mount Olivet, because this didn't involve them in a sense. For those who continue to reject the Lord Jesus, and for those Jews who do not know Jesus as their Saviour, the next event that they are awaiting is what you're awaiting without Christ: this period of great judgement. As Jesus speaks to the Jews here, He's specifically saying things to do with them, and in fact this tribulation period is particularly Jewish in a sense - it's even called, at times in the Old Testament, 'Jacob's trouble'. You remember that Jacob was the man whose name was changed to 'Israel', and he had 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel that make up the nation of Israel this very evening. So this is particularly Jewish, this passage, but there are lessons that we can learn from it as well.
So if you understand that what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24 is specifically these seven years of great trouble and wrath that's going to come upon this whole world. The signs for the first half of that seven-year period are found in verses 4 to 14. If you want proof for that, in Revelation 6 and verses 1 to 8 you have all the detail and all the judgement outlined for the first three and a half years of this seven-year period. The second half of this chapter, verses 15 to 35, describe the second half of the tribulation, the three and a half years. What I want you to see this evening is that in verses 4 to 14, those specific signs for the first three and a half years of God's wrath upon this earth, they can also be seen in a general way. In other words, some of these signs are specific to that first part of the seven years, but they are also general to us in our everyday experience today. Jesus was also talking about how, in the present age, as He would go back to heaven and before He would come again, we would see these signs in small ways - but they would start to increase more and more and more as His second coming approached.
If you think about it, He talks about false prophets - we have false prophets with us today. We have wars with us today, we have rumours of wars that characterise humanity and have always done so. But the point that the Lord is making is: these will escalate toward the end - now how do I know that? Verse 8: 'All these things are the beginning of sorrows' - and that word 'sorrows' means 'birth pangs', you know when a woman starts to go into labour. He's using an illustration that is often used of this great time of wrath that's going to come upon the world, it's like a woman coming into labour - but these signs are like the beginning of that, it's not the end yet, but it's a sign that the end is near. These famines and earthquakes and conflicts, they've always characterised fallen humanity, but as we get nearer and nearer the end they become notably and remarkably increased and worse.
I hope you can see that. We read of that in 2 Timothy 3 with regards to these false prophets: 'But evil men and false prophets shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived'. We talk about wars and rumours of wars, and go to Revelation 6, the first half of the tribulation, we read of a horseman of the apocalypse - you've heard perhaps about the horsemen of the apocalypse, but there is one of them that sits on a fiery red horse, it's a sort of blood-red horse. It speaks of a human holocaust that will come across the whole world by war, and after that there will be famine, and then pestilence. But near the end of time, the first half of this seven-year period, God will unleash this horse and rider and give them power to create worldwide war in such a sense as has never been seen before.
The remarkable thing about all of this is: that is only the beginning. So we're wanting to answer the question tonight: is this the beginning of Armageddon? Is this the end of the world? My answer, categorically on the word of God, is: no, it's not. It is not the end of the world, it is not the beginning of Armageddon because Armageddon doesn't happen until the end of those seven years. So what is it? This is what it is: 'Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars...but the end is not yet...these are the beginning of sorrows'. It is not the end my friend, but this is what it surely is: it is the beginning of the end.
Wars have increased, and all you need to do is remember those various illustrations that I've given you at the beginning of this message. This is a sign that the birth pangs are at hand, and Jesus' return is near! For the Christian this is great news - do you know why? Because we are waiting, just any moment, for Jesus to catch us up to be with Himself for all eternity! My friend, for you, if you're unconverted and without Him, it's bad news: because things are going to get worse and worse, and even of this war doesn't come off there will be more rumours of more wars, and there will surely be more and more wars, military activity right across the face of the world.
Let me give you an outline of what is going to happen. The Bible says that during this day of the Lord, this tribulation period, God will pour out seven seal judgements - that's like seven scrolls, books, with all the judgments written on them that will come upon the world - seven of them! We don't have time to go into them. He will also allow the devil to reign on the earth for a short period. He will also pour out seven vial judgements, and a vial is just like a bowl, it's as if God is pouring out seven bowls of wrath upon the earth. He will destroy the world's religious systems, those which are false. He will destroy the world's political and economic systems. He will defeat sinners who reject Him, and Satan at the battle of Armageddon. He will condemn Antichrist and the false prophets to hell. He will pour out seven seal judgements - the white horse of the apocalypse, a false peace that will be ended when the red horse of hot war will come on the scene. There will be the black horse of famine right across the face of the earth, the pale horse of widespread death by war, starvation, and wild beasts. People who trust in Christ will be martyred. There will be the greatest earthquake that this world has ever seen that will devastate the cities of this world. There will be cosmic disturbances in the stellar system that man has never seen before. Then the Bible says there will be seven trumpets blown, seven signs of judgement, and a third of earth's vegetation will be destroyed, a third of the world's ocean life and ships will be destroyed, a third of freshwater will be poisoned, a third of the sun the moon and the stars will be darkened - all hell, literally, demonically will break loose, and there will be an invasion of demons upon the earth. That will happen, again, the Bible says, and then the King will come.
Let me assure you, my friend, if you're without Christ, that you don't want to be on the earth when all of this is unleashed. Are you afraid? Maybe you're afraid of everything you've been hearing in the news, and I've just made it worse tonight - but you ought to be afraid. You ought to be concerned, you ought to be anxious about the uncertainty that you have about tomorrow, you ought to be aware that there is a judgement coming for men's sins - not just upon the earth, but in eternity where the Bible says that all without Christ will be lowered into the lake of fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. If it really bothers you this evening, it ought to! Maybe you are a person who has been thinking about this, and wondering about these things already. You're not like your mates, you don't joke about these things and poke fun at them, you know that the Bible is true and has been proved to be true!
You're asking: 'What if this is it? What if this is the beginning of the end?' - and you're terrified. Do you know that that's another sign? The Bible says that men's hearts will fail them for fear. It's better that you're frightened now rather than too late, and as our sister was singing and Revelation 6 says that the kings of the earth, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, will cry on the rocks and the mountains to fall on them to shield them from the wrath of the Lamb who's coming to judge the world! And all the armament and atomic bombs won't do any good when Jesus comes to judge! You might say: 'Oh, that's very bad news for me tonight, for I'm without Christ, and this is what I've been worrying about, and you're just confirming my fears'. Well, let me tell you something: I'm not here to tell you bad news, I'm here to impart to you the good news of the Gospel. 'What is it?', you say. It is the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven to die on a cross so that the Jewish people and anyone in the world who believes on Him should be saved from all of this!
That's why Jesus came, to preserve you from this fate, and the Jews to a large extent rejected Him then, and they still reject Him now. But there's a day coming, Zechariah 14 says, when all the nations of the world will surround Jerusalem - and you notice, I hope, that all the trouble in the Middle East and even in the world is because of this little principality of Israel that is no bigger than Wales! Yet the whole world is surrounded around it, and concerned about it, and there's coming a day in the last times when all the nations of the earth will surround her and she'll be at the end of her tether militarily, economically, and physically, and she will lift her eyes to Christ and ask for help, and He will come and deliver her! He will come and wipe out all the enemies He has upon the earth - and my friend, if you're found without Christ, He will send you to a lost eternity too because you have counted yourself one of His enemies by not trusting Him.
The Bible says the Jewish people will look on Him whom they have pierced, they'll realise that they crucified their Messiah! Many of them will trust Him, because He is their salvation, and He is yours - for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved - He alone.
President George Bush, the first now, not this present one, was asked by a journalist, David Brinkley, doing a TV interview: 'Will you apologise to the Japanese for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?'. Bush replied: 'Not this president', he then proceeded to show how the bombing had saved millions of American lives, possibly including his own because he was drafted to go to Japan and invade. He was among those who would be sent, and it was conservatively predicted that the invasion would cost at least one million US lives - and these lives, he said, were saved along with many other Japanese lives. Now I'm not entering into the morality of dropping an atomic bomb, but whether you agree with that or not, many men have laid down their lives and taken great feats to save lives in war. But we're not talking here about someone taking their own life in the sense that these men laid down their lives, we're talking about Jesus Christ who went to Calvary and laid His life down for humanity, He took the wrath of God upon Himself, He took your hell, He took all of your sin in His own body on the tree.
Many men will die for other men, but Christ demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us - not for His own deliverance but for ours. So many people are interested in all this stuff, and fascinated by these things, and it's good in a sense - but they still live in their life of sin. They're so interested in it all: is it the end? It's titillating, tantalising - but you're still in your sin! If Christ was to come tonight you would face all this wrath on the earth, you would be condemned. What I'm really saying to you tonight is: make sure that your battle now isn't against God, because if you're fighting God and rebelling against God, and turning your back on His salvation, there will come a day that God will count you as enemy, and God will pour this penalty upon you. Have you been running from Him? You'll not run from Him then!
The Bible says in Revelation 20 that the heavens and the earth fled from the face of the one that sat on the throne, and the only thing in the universe that didn't flee from Him is the sinner condemned in his sin. There'll be no more victories against God then. When Pyrus was congratulated on his victory over the Romans, he made the memorable reply, his losses being so great: 'Such another victory and we are undone'. Maybe I'm speaking to someone this evening who has had victory over your mother's prayers: she wants you saved, but you fought against it. A victory over your Bible class teacher or your Sunday school teacher, your Pastor, your parents, your loved ones, your best friend, your husband, your wife - I don't know what it is, but you've been fighting all along. Well there's going to be a day when you'll say: 'I've got the victory over it for the last time', and this awful time of history will come upon the world, and you will be forced to bow the need - and Christ will not save you for it, but He'll damn you!
One of the greatest losses of the United States was Pearl Harbour - December 7th 1941. It was a surprise for them, it caught the US completely off guard. It had been launched from 200 miles away north of Pearl Harbour, from the decks of six aircraft carriers belonging to the Japanese Imperial Navy. In less than two hours Japanese airmen destroyed the US battleships, and badly damaged six others. Only six US planes managed to get into the air to defend against their Japanese attackers. The assault took 2,330 American lives and left 1,145 wounded - it was the most humiliating defeat that the American military had ever suffered. The attack had tremendous consequences on the whole world, and indeed the whole war, because it pushed the Americans to fight with Britain and good Europe against the Nazis.
Do you know something? The responsibility for America's unpreparedness has never completely been laid at anyone's feet - and most of America's military and leaders acknowledge and submit that they were so convinced that Japan wouldn't have the brass neck to engage or to bomb them, that they weren't ready for the attack - until the unexpected happened, and then it was too late, for they weren't ready!
You might have listened to everything that I have said from God's word tonight, and think 'That is all pie-in-the-sky' - if that's a fairy tale, it's the best I've ever heard. Bible prophecy has always been fulfilled. Jesus said: 'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away' - and these things that I have told you tonight will be perfectly fulfilled, and are being fulfilled before our very eyes! The question you should be asking yourself tonight is: will you be ready?
Jesus said in this chapter: Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh'. Let's bow our heads: maybe the Lord has spoken to you tonight. These are fears that consciously have been troubling you, and you haven't been telling other people about them, maybe nobody knows. I remember when the first Gulf War took place, I was at school at the time, and I used to collect every newspaper everyday, because I really felt that it was the end. It wasn't, but there are wars and rumours of wars, and these will increase as we come nearer to the Lord's return. Iniquity and evil, and everything around us is pointing towards that things cannot go on like this forever. My friend, will you listen to God's voice tonight speaking to you? Will you reach out and ask Him to save you? Jesus has died for you, will you accept His gift of salvation? All you need to do is say: 'Lord, I am a sinner. I admit that without You I will be judged. I thank You that my sin was judged on Jesus of Calvary, I take Your gift of salvation. Forgive me, cleanse me, save me now' - and He will - but don't leave tonight without trusting the Lord. If you have prayed that prayer, do tell us, so that we can rejoice and pray for you and give you a helping hand.
Father, we thank You that Jesus is coming, and He is coming for those whom He's redeemed by His blood, coming to reign as the glorified Lord. But, oh Father, we fear for those at times that don't even fear for themselves. We pray tonight that the fear of the wrath to come may grip them, but the glory of Christ may catch their gaze - that there wouldn't be so much the fear of hell, but the wonder of the Saviour and what He accomplished for them at Calvary when He bore that wrath and hell. Oh, that they would get a glimpse of that and be drawn savingly to His side. We know that this is on these folks minds - whether they be listening to us on tape, or on the internet, or in this building - we pray that souls may be drawn to Thyself before it's too late. Take us now to our homes with Thy hand upon us, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Rumours Of War" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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