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Eschatology in the Bible 4: Wars and Famines in Mat. 24

Wars and rumor of wars
This time there will be some longer reading for you, because I’ve included some excerpts from other historical records. Please have patience with me and take the time to read through these historical writings, you can find them interesting.

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. (Matheus 24:6-7) 

— “There are so many terrible wars, not to talk about disasters around the world today that the end is soon here” — many says. They say this because they have learned that the end is fast approaching. There are several other natural reasons as well for this, I discuss this in an article. But is wars and disasters in itself an indication or sign of the end? It has actually been wars in the world almost continuously, even disasters.

Let me see, we have … 100 Years War between France and England (1337-1453), Venetian-Turkish War (1416-1573) Napoleonic War (1803-1814), establishment of the Ottoman Empire, which grew with many wars (1290 – 1923), etc., not to mention all wars before, between and after these mention events. Read the list of wars throughout history her.

What about natural disasters? It is difficult to rate the “worst” disasters when they are measured so differently, either with force or the number of dead. Disaster is it anyway. These are just handpicked by me.

  • 1138, Syria – An earthquake kills 230,000 people.
  • 1228, Netherlands – 100,000 lost their lives in a flood when a dike collapsed.
  • 1347 – 1350, World – The Black Death kills about 20 million in Europe (between 25-33% of the population). Millions in Asia and Africa.
  • 1556, China – Earthquake in Shansi kills around 830,000 people.
  • 1649, Spain – Pest kills 80,000
  • 1783, Iceland – a volcanic eruption (which included the largest basalt flow in recorded history) poisoned the island’s pastures and caused starvation of about 25% of the population – 30 000 + die.
Illustration of Mt. Tambura eruption.

There is one I would like to include as was noticed in many parts of the world / earth. Tambora volcano on the island of Sumbawa in the south, Indonesia, erupted april 6 1815 and lasted until april 11, 1815, but it was at the end, from april 10 to 11 it was the strongest. The force is ranked 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, making the outbreak the most powerful in recorded history, four times more powerful than the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, which in itself was very powerful and had almost the same effect.

All vegetation on Sumbawa island were burned or uprooted, 92,000 people were killed, most from hunger, the largest loss of life resulting from a volcanic eruption in historic times.

The fine ash remained in the atmosphere for 3 years and covered the entire planet and the sun was covered as it causes great sunsets and the famous “year without summer” in both North America and Europe. The ash disturbed weather and causing global temperatures were lowered as much as from 0.4 to 0.7 °C on average, a huge decline. (Matthew 24:29; Rev. 6: 12; Rev. 9:2).

It almost seems that this event alone fulfills all the requirements for signs alone (read the scriptures I have added) and the Napoleonic War was just ending.

As we see, neither wars, rumors of wars or natural disasters, are warning of “the end of time” itself, then it would have been a lot of Christ’s return already. But wars, rumors of wars and natural disasters is powerful and significant holders of characters to the end – of the Temple.

We must not forget, but keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to his disciples (Mat.24 :2-3 and to “this generation” (Mat.24: 34), and that he speaks of “the temple” (Mat.24: 2). He had already spoken to the Pharisees and the scribes that they were the children of the murderers of the prophets (Mat.23 :29-31) and the judgment should come upon “this generation” (i.e their family) (Mat.23: 36 ).

Of course, it is useless to warn about wars in the middle of a war, so it must be a time here that was full of peace. The Roman Epire was at that time an empire of peace and was well known for it, called pax Romana (the Roman Peace) It began with Augustus in 27 BC and lasted to 180 AD. The peace period is also mentioned in several historical records such as in Origen, “abundance of peace that began with the birth of Jesus” (loosely translated by me).

Break the pax romana

It is also interesting to see what the scholars notes, “In the Roman Empire proper, this period of peace remained comparatively undisturbed until the time of Nero,”… which is the one who started the Jewish war which again ended with the destruction of the temple. By Nero’s death was the pax Romana divided into several branches, and it followed a turbulent time with the “year of the four emperors” (June 68 AD – June 69 AD). It was so turbulent that it almost led to collapse of the Rome Empire.

With such an empire, and with such a well known peace for a long period it was now unthinkable and unexpected by most that it should break out wars, and the Christians should now remember what they were warned about and what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24: 6-9. Rome’s war with the Jews also involves many other armies of horsemen from Rome’s “co”-Kings. Josephus mention soldiers from Caesarea, Syria and other nations (War 3:1:3). But that is not enough, during the Roman civil war (68 – 69, many other countries break the partnership with the Rome Empire.

Tacitus, a Roman historian, writes:

“I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Four emperors perished by the sword. There were three civil wars; there were more with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characters at once. There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul (Frankrike, Luxemburg, Belgium and Switzerland) wavered in its allegiance; Britain was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi (Portugal) and the Sarmatae (area around black sea) rose in concert against us; the Dacians (Romania and area around) had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia (north-east Iran) were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero.” (Hist., 1:2) 

We note that there are literally peoples against peoples, kingdom against kingdom (Mat.24: 7).

What about disasters, famine and earthquakes.

In Acts. 11:28 is being mentioned famine over the whole “world” (the “world” as mentioned in Bible is not meant the whole earth, but the current world The Roman Empire ruled over), but there is also recorded a well-known famine in Jerusalem as well, Josephus writes:

“But the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it is destructive to nothing so much as to modesty; for what was otherwise worthy of reverence was in this case despised; insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives”. 

Let me also bring along a special story about a woman in this tribulation, one who grabs my heart.

“There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezob, which signifies the house of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon, such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. This put the poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she east at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her; but none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of commiseration of her case, would take away her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow, when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself; nor did she consult with any thing but with her passion and the necessity she was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.” As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, “This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also.” After which those men went out trembling, being never so much aftrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries”. (War. 6:3:4)

Notice what is really happening. If you read Deut. 28:55 you will see that this is the curse of those who are not obeyed the Lord. Jeremiah prophesies of the same Lam.. 2:20. Israel has long been disobedient and now shows the curse and the judgment is waiting just around the corner. This also strongly remind us on Matthew 24:19. “And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!”  

We bring along couple of other records also, who dealing with earthquakes in the area at that time, and bring us in to the reality in that time.

“an earthquake shook the whole of Crete at once, and a roar of thunder was heard to issue not from the clouds but from the earth, and the sea receded about seven stadia. And most of them were afraid that the sea by receding in this way would drag the temple after it, so that they would be carried away… some travelers arrived from Cydoniatis and announced that on the very day on which this portent occurred and just at the same hour of midday, an island rose out of the sea in the firth between Thera and Crete”. (Life, 4:11) 

“Apamea, too, which had been shaken by an earthquake, had its tribute remitted for five years”.
(Hist., 12:58 – 48-54  

“During the same consulship a gymnasium was wholly consumed by a stroke of lightning, and a statue of Nero within it was melted down to a shapeless mass of bronze. An earthquake too demolished a large part of Pompeii, a populous town in Campania”. (Hist.,, 15:22 – 62-65 

“One of the famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was that same year overthrown by an earthquake, and, without any relief from us, recovered itself by its own resources”. (Hist., 14:27 – 59-62 

“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”. (War, 4:4:5 – 70 

I’m not try to downgrade the seriousness of other disasters we experience in our own time, for they are terrible and shocking, but they do not talk about that the “end” is near. I’m trying to illustrate for you what the Bible tells us about these things and the things that Jesus told the disciples on the Mount of Olives on that very night were on their own time, not our time, 2000 + years into the future.

You may sit with more questions than you started with, like me, but I really hope I can give you good answers in Scripture to your questions. Another thing is that it safeguard the Bible, the answer it gives. It’s not always provide the answer we want.

Scripture text is from KJV (King James Verson)
Ant. = Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus. 
War. = War of the Jews, Flavius Josephus. 
Hist. = History of Rome, Tacitus
Life = Philostratus, Life of Apollion  

2 thoughts on “Eschatology in the Bible 4: Wars and Famines in Mat. 24

  1. […] has experienced such things before, how can you say that these are the signs of doom? (read”Eschatology in the Bible 4“, and the rest of the series in the previous posts). Is not the Lord stronger than he that is […]

  2. […] is very helpful with his information about this time and I refer the same from Tacitus as I did in Eschatology in the Bible 4: War and disasters.  “I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by […]

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