Jesus Christ came to earth to die and provide a path of salvation for humanity. As He departed and returned to the Father, He promised His disciples a future return, where He would come in full power. It was something He addressed before at various points in His ministry as well – that there would be a return of the heir of David and an end of things as they are.

In the Mount Olivet Discourse, recorded in Gospel of Matthew, He outlines what the world will look like at the end of days – including signs to look for – and advises the church on how to conduct itself. One of the signs and rumblings that Jesus talks about at the beginning of the Mount Olivet Discourse is wars and rumors of wars. Some people interpret this to mean that wars and rumors of wars increasing is a sign that Jesus may return at any moment, while others dismiss that concern.

When examined in context, it is clear that wars and rumors of wars will increase as the return of Jesus approaches, but no one war is necessarily the herald of the end of days, since only the Father knows when that will happen.

What Does "Wars and Rumors of Wars" Mean?

When the Bible refers to wars and rumors of wars, it means large-scale conflicts between people groups and nation states. These are not minor, one-off skirmishes, which would be called battles.

The Bible tends to differentiate between one-time conflicts and small conflicts. In the Old Testament, Israel engages in small and large conflicts, and they are differentiated. For example, the Battle of Jericho was a one-time conflict, but the Israelites had a war against the Babylonians.

When Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars, He meant that people would engage in military conflicts and discuss military conflicts.

What Is the Context of This Verse?

The Book of Matthew contains the most complete copies of some of Jesus’ sermons from His earthly ministry. The two most notable are the Sermon on the Mount and the Mount Olivet Discourse. The latter is where Jesus taught His disciples about the Signs of the End of the Age. Jesus had just finished speaking to a crowd of people where He decried the sins of the Pharisees and the Scribes. He also laments over the rebellion of Jerusalem, and hinted at impending destruction. The disciples tried to engage him about the Temple, and He began to discuss the end times.

Jesus knew not long after His ascension back to the Father, Rome would sack Jerusalem and destroy the Second Temple – known as Herod’s Temple. When Jesus died, His blood covered the sins of all people, making a path for a relationship with God without needing to go through a priest, make sacrifices to atone for sins, or travel to Jerusalem. Because the works of man are insufficient for true sanctification, grace through faith became the way to a relationship with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

While He was getting ready to go to the cross, He wanted to prepare the disciples for His death, Resurrection, and the church. When they brought up the temple, Jesus took this moment as an opportunity to prepare them for the difficult days ahead.

The Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple would be destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans, which Jesus prophesied, “here will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2b). Between the Ascension and the Second Coming, the church would spread the good news, but it would also suffer greatly.

Because the heart of man is wicked and loves evil, and all men are born into sin, Jesus knew that His death and resurrection has the power to transform people, but some would not embrace it. He even tells the disciples,  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 2437-39).

Time continues to march forward, and people live their lives as they please, and many will be unprepared when He comes again, just like people had been warned, but were unprepared, when the flood came during Noah’s lifetime.

Is This Verse Tied to the End Times?

Jesus certainly is speaking of the end of days during this sermon, but He assures His disciples not to panic or be worried about it. In fact, He says, “And Jesus answered them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places’” (Matthew 24:4-7).

False messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters will be a part of the cycle of destruction that will occur while the world awaits the return of the Lord. They will increase, just like birth pains, but are not necessarily the specific harbinger or herald of the return. More specific signs Jesus mentions during this sermon include the Abomination of the Desolation in verse 15, great tribulation in verse 29, the sun and the moon going dark and the stars falling in verse 29, and a loud trumpet call.

While wars are a sign, there are more specific calamities the Bible clarifies will occur before the Second Coming. What these signs and events will actually look like when they happen are a matter of great debate among theologians.

Are Wars Today a Sign of the End Times?

In a technical sense, the end times began when Jesus ascended to Heaven. When the Lord said there would be birth pains, He intentionally used the image of a woman’s labor while giving birth. Labor is an undetermined amount of time. Some births go faster than others, and some are more intense than others, so it is unpredictable about when exactly a baby will arrive. However, contractions get stronger and stronger.

Understanding the signs of the end times like labor, in a technical sense, every war and rumor of war is a sign of the end times. They are a reminder that this earth is groaning for Jesus’ return, that His return is inevitable, and that man’s wickedness will only increase without the Lord and to put hope and faith in Him – not in man. No one person can predict what war, disease, or event may set off the events that will trigger the return of the Lord. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

Anyone who comes forward claiming that he or she can predict the day is a liar and deceiver. The Father has chosen to keep that knowledge secret. Today’s wars are part of the heralding of the end of days, though the Second Coming may be far off in time, or it may be today.

The Bible encourages believers to be ready, and challenges unbelievers to prepare themselves and try to pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ, because He will return. The Second Coming and the Judgment Day, though some theologians may disagree about when they will happen, are going to happen. One day Jesus will return in His full power and glory, and it is the job of the Christian to serve Him and pursue a relationship with Him, and tell the world about the gift of salvation, so that everyone has an opportunity to know God and have faith.

Rather than getting caught up obsessing about the End of Days, arguing about whose interpretation of the end times events is correct, or ignoring it altogether, Christians should remember daily their Savior could return at any moment, rejoice, and evangelize.

“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:43-44).

Sources

Gibbs, Jeffrey. Jerusalem and Parousia Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse in Matthews’ Gospel. St. Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 2000.

Sproul, R.C. The Last Days According to Jesus When DId Jesus Say He Would Return? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Walvoord, John. Matthew Thy Kingdom Come. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.

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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.