Puritan Gems

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Signs of the Olivet Discourse Part II

We have faced many disasters on our planet within the last few years. The Tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina waged disaster upon all who stood in their way. When these things happen to a generation of people, there is a natural tendency to view these disasters as significant or special. After all, they happened to us, within our lifetimes. This has to be what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24, right? Surely nothing could have ever been this bad.

Wrong. The fact is that these types of disasters are nothing new or unique in world history. To keep some historical perspective, consider the following quote:

"And I...buried my five children with my own hands, and so did many others likewise...And nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death... People said and believed, 'This is the end of the world.'"

This sounds like some of our modern prophecy gurus talking about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, this was a quote from Agnolo di Tura, during the Black Plague (AD 1348), a disaster unmatched by anything this century has ever seen. While modern disasters are more important to us, namely because they happened to us, in the grand scheme of world history, they are relatively unimportant. 1,000 years from now, few if any will remember Hurricane Katrina. (We’ve already pretty much forgotten Hurricane Camille, and that was only 37 years ago.) Hopefully, such a perspective will help us more accurately understand Jesus’ words as we continue to study the Olivet Prophecy.

Sign #3 - FAMINES (Matt. 24:7).

Matthew 24:7-8
"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."

Jack Van Impe, the leader of our modern doomsday prophets, warns us that “The worst famines the world has ever known are breaking out” (Jack Van Impe – Beyond 2000 - World Without End, Amen - “Perhaps Today, 1995). Kurt Seland list famines as one of the Matthew 24 “Signs of the Times” in his “Post Rapture Survival Guide”. However, we must again ask if Jesus was warning His disciples about 21st Century famines, or 1st Century famines, one that they would see.

Comtrary to the statement by Van Impe above, “the worst famines the world has ever known” are not “breaking out”, but have all but been eliminated by modern farming methods. (Don’t say this too loud. We don’t want to give Christians the idea that the world is getting better with time. Sounds too postmillennial). According to Richard Abanes “End Times Visions”, the worst famines the world has ever known are history. Of the five worst famines in History, only one, the manmade famine in the USSR, occurred within the last century.

Worst Famines in History

Location and Time

Number Killed

China (1849)14 million
China (1333-1337)4 Million
Ireland (1846)1 million
Russia (1920’s)1 Million ???
Russia (1600)500,000

When we read Jesus’ Words in Matthew 24:6-9, it is clear that the famines and other pestilences that He was speaking of were things that the Apostles themselves would experience. Therefore, we would expect to find the fulfillment of the Matthew 24:7 famines in the first Century.

Josephus writes that during Claudius' reign (A.D. 41-54) there were four seasons of great scarcity. In the fourth year of his reign, the famine in Judea was so severe that the price of food became enormous and great numbers died. (See Acts 11:28). He also describes starvation and cannibalism during the final five-month siege of Jerusalem.

First Century Fulfillment:

“So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves; for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come. Nor was there any lamentations made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die looked upon those that were gone to rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were themselves; for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords in their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what metal they were made of they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground; but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand and their sword to despatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left them to be consumed by the famine. Now every one of these died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the seditious alive behind them. Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. “(Josephus - Wars 5.12.3)

“… And besides, many of those that were worn away by the famine, and their mouths almost closed, when they saw the fire of the holy house, they exerted their utmost strength, and brake out into groans and outcries again….” (
Josephus - Wars 6.5.1)

Sign #4 - EARTHQUAKES (Matt. 24:7).

Hal Lindsey, in his 1980 “Countdown to Armageddon”, states that “…the 1970s…experiences the largest increase in the number of quakes known to history.” Jack Van Impe agrees, "Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of Christ." (Van Impe Intelligence Briefing, May 1997). The Rapture Ready Website tells us that “Clearly the most watched sign of the times has to be earthquakes. For years there has been a heated debate over the short term frequency of quakes. The long term trend has undeniably seen a significant increase in the number of large earthquakes.” (
Aside from the fact that none of the Apostles are around to see these earthquakes (Matthew 24:6), Richard Abanes shows that seismologists disagree with our prophecy pundits.

Wilbur Rinehart – World Data Center of Boulder Colorado: “There have been no significant increase in the numbers of earthquakes during this or any other century.”

Keiiti Aki – University of Southern California Dept. of Geological Sciences: “…seismicity has been stationary for thousands of years.”

Waverly Person – US Department of Interior: “Our records do not show any significant increase in great earthquakes.”

Again, the earthquakes in question are bound to first Century fulfillment (Matthew 24:34). They occurred most notably in Caligula's (A.D. 37-41) and Claudius' (A.D. 41-54) reigns. (Acts 16:26) Josephus reports many earthquakes in A.D. 68 in the midst of the Jewish War. Tacitus reports them throughout Rome, also interpreting them as portents of impending divine judgment (Histories, 1.2-3)

First Century Fulfillment:

“And now did the Idumeans make an acclamation to what Simon had said; but Jesus went away sorrowful, as seeing that the Idumeans were against all moderate counsels, and that the city was besieged on both sides. Nor indeed were the minds of the Idumeans at rest; for they were in a rage at the injury that had been offered them by their exclusion out of the city; and when they thought the zealots had been strong, but saw nothing of theirs to support them, they were in doubt about the matter, and many of them repented that they had come thither. But the shame that would attend them in case they returned without doing any thing at all, so far overcame that their repentance, that they lay all night before the wall, though in a very bad encampment; for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.” (
Josephus - Wars 4.4.5).

As I said in an earlier blog, many Christians view the fact our generation will not have to suffer these things as bad news. They will fight tooth and claw to push Matthew 24 into their own lifetimes. We will continue with our Matthew 24 Study, showing that, indeed, all these things were fulfilled within the Apostle’s generation (Matthew 24:34).

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