In 1588 in England, a pregnant woman stood on the seashore and saw a fearful sight: the Spanish Armada sat off the coast, ready to attack the island. She was so frightened that she went into premature labour and gave birth to a son who became the famous political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
Hobbes said that fear was the midwife that brought him into the world. He also said that all men are afraid of each other and for that reason they form governments, whose sole purpose is to protect them from their neighbours. Otherwise, humans would live in a state of perpetual war of all against all, and there would be only “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man [would be] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Wars and rumours of wars
Hobbes had good reason to be pessimistic. The history of humanity has been one of continual political strife and violence. Despite predictions at the beginning of the twentieth century that the human race was entering into a golden age of peace, political unrest, turmoil, violence, revolution, insurgencies, terrorism and outright war continue to be unfortunate realities.
Moreover, we have been told that these tragedies will continue until the end of time. In fact, they are themselves signs of the end.
Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, Kurdistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Columbia are just a few examples of places facing violence and strife because of political, ideological and economic turmoil.
It’s no wonder, then, that almost 2000 years ago, as Jesus spoke with His disciples about the state of the world before He would return, He gave them the following warning: “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6).*
Jesus said we would hear not just about wars but there would also be “rumours of wars”. In other words, besides the wars that are actually going on, we will live in the perpetual fear of new threats to security. Does this not exactly describe the state of our world today, especially with its mass communication and terrorism?
Not a planet of saints
Of course, the world is like this because we’re all sinners and our natures are corrupt. The apostle Paul, writing about what people would be like in the last days, said: “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–4).
Brutal, unloving and traitors? That’s why there are wars and rumours of wars. The situation would obviously be different if our planet were filled with saints. But our world is the way it is because humans are the way they are. And we’re exactly as the Bible said we would be in the last days before Jesus returns.
Again, Paul, quoting the Old Testament, describes us like this: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practised deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:10–17).
Given this description of our human nature, how could there be anything but war?
Author Philip Caputo, in his memoir about being a Marine officer during the Vietnam conflict, wrote about the idealism of the time—the ideal in wanting to respond to President John F Kennedy’s famous phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He thought he could do something for his country by serving in Vietnam. Soon, however, the idealism soured. For instance, his officers had promised the soldiers extra beer rations for each enemy soldier they killed. “That is the level to which we sunk from the lofty idealism of a year before,” he wrote. “We were going to kill people for a few cans of beer and the time to drink them.”
Be not alarmed
Let’s look again at what Jesus said would be another sign of the last days: “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6).
How could we not be alarmed? Jesus’ point wasn’t, however, that these things are not bad; of course they are. His point was that they are to be expected and that this is what the world will be like before He returns.
And that’s because wars are manifestations of the original war, the one that began in heaven between Christ and Satan, and is now being played out here on earth. “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7–9).
A few verses further on we’re told, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (verse 12). And no doubt part of that fury is revealed in the violence and ravages of war, which are part of life here on earth and will continue to be until Jesus returns and the world as we know it comes to an end.
In fact, in that warning about wars and rumours of wars Jesus said that even with all these things, the end is still to come. In other words, though these trials are signs of the end, they are still not the end, nor do they bring it. Instead, they are part of the many tragedies that lead to the end, part of what it means to live in a fallen world that’s immersed in an epic struggle between good and evil.
Peace and safety?
Social activist and author cleric Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “In this [twentieth] century, so many people have been deliberately killed by other people that the estimates of historians vary by the tens of millions, and they end up by agreeing to split the difference or to round off the victim count at the nearest ten million.”
The number settled on is some 50 million for World War II alone. How terrible and sad that humanity was unable to learn from the experience of World War I, which was christened “the war to end all wars” because of its wholesale slaughter of humankind.
But it shouldn’t really surprise us. Not when we have the word of Jesus, who almost 2000 years ago told His disciples about the state of the world just before He returned. Here we are, in the twenty-first century and at any given time, some nations somewhere are at war with another, or with themselves, exactly as Jesus told us it would be.
This doesn’t mean we should give up striving for peace when and where we can. In His famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus told a large crowd of people, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Nevertheless, because of our fallen nature and because of this universal conflict in which we’re all immersed, our world is and always will be in turmoil, including wars and rumours of war.
Moreover, according to the Bible, the situation is going to worsen. The prophet Daniel, writing centuries before Jesus came to our world, warned that “at that time [the time of the end] Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1). That must be pretty bad, because the history of nations goes back thousands of years, and the world has endured some pretty tough times. And yet it’s going to get worse shortly before Jesus comes back!
Even now, we have to live with the reality of war, revolts, terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. “Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilisation generally,” wrote Albert Einstein, “could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”
An axe? He said this in the year 1917. How about a 20-megaton nuclear device instead?
And a pathological criminal? How about an extremist who’s convinced that it’s his sacred duty to kill himself along with as many innocents as he can?
There’s no question about it, we live in scary times!
And though we’ve been warned about the times and what they will bring, many people won’t heed the warnings and thus they won’t be prepared for what comes.
That’s why Paul said, “Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–3).
Hope amid turmoil
We’ve been told in the Bible about these things, so they don’t have to take us by surprise. We can be ready for what’s coming. God wants us to be prepared. He loves this world, His creation and He loves each of us who inhabit it, a fact that’s proved by Christ’s death on the cross on behalf of sinners of all time.
The good news is that no matter how difficult things become, the trouble will not go on forever. God promises to end this violent world and create a new one that’s radically different from the present one with all its wars, hurt, pain and death. That’s why the apostle Peter could write, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
In the meantime, our world remains a very troubled and unstable place. No matter how horrible things get though, we can draw hope from the fact that not only have we been warned about the terrible things to come, but we can see in them signs of their end. Hence, we can have every reason to anticipate the future with hope and the assurance of something so much better beyond.
* Bible texts taken from the New King James Version©. Copyright © 1992 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.