A question is raised concerning the phrase, “wars and rumors of wars,” and being ready for the judgment day. This is a fairly common question for there are many who, whenever they begin discussing the end of the world and judgment day, throw out the phrase as if it were significant, and there are quite a few who believe that this is one of the signs, given in the Bible, concerning the return of Christ.
In connection to this, one is reminded of Mark Twain’s famous observation, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little; it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Certainly, when it comes to what the Bible teaches, we should make sure that what we are being taught is actually what the Bible says, and, concerning, “wars and rumors of wars,” what a lot of people know to be so, it just isn’t.
Jesus did use the phrase (cf. Matthew 24:6), but as we look at the text, we should notice a couple of significant things.
The first thing to notice is that the context of the quote is not concerning the end of the world, but rather Jesus is discussing the coming destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 24:1-2). What Jesus was addressing was the politics of a particular region. Hence, the admonition from Jesus, in the same setting, advising His followers in Judea to flee the country when the signs He gave came to pass (cf. Matthew 24:16).
Relatedly, a point to make about the usefulness of “wars and rumors of wars,” as a sign of anything, is that it will only have value in a specific region or locale. World-wide, as a sign, it is about as useful as noting that the sun came up in the morning. Every year there is fighting and war going on somewhere in the world. This has been going on for a long, long time; nor should we imagine that the wars of today are somehow more significant than the wars of yesteryear.
This brings us to the second thing we should note about the phrase, as Jesus uses it: namely, Jesus actually told His apostles that wars and rumors of wars was not a sign of much significance. Specifically, He said, “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 (Matthew 24:6; ESV).” Again, the “end” in question was the end of Jerusalem and the Temple in Jerusalem, but even in that limited regard, Jesus said that such a sign was no cause for panic. If it was not cause for alarm in the first century, it remains no cause for alarm yet today, at least when it comes to trying to interpret the significance of unfolding historical events.
Jesus said, regarding His ultimate judgment upon the world, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, (Matthew 24:36a)” and then, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:42).”
Some few years later, writing to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul echoed the words of Christ, as recorded in Matthew. He said, concerning the return of Christ, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2; ESV)”
Paul goes on to say, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; ESV)
Paul likens the Christian life to that of guard duty. The guard cannot be found asleep, he cannot be drunk, or engaged in other such behaviors. He needs to be alert at all times, serious and focused, and engaged in the duties of his commission. So too with the saints of God. We must eschew those things that would distract us, remaining alert and spiritually ready at all times to carry out our duties. We must be dressed for action, as Paul states, with salvation that comes through Christ, and with faith, love and hope.
That was almost 2000 years ago, and Paul wanted the Christians of that day and age to be alert, always prepared for Christ’s return. Men who today search for signs of His return are missing the point. Christians in every place and at all times are to live always ready, unconcerned about signs, knowing that whether it be today or tomorrow – it makes no difference regarding what is expected of us.
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions or comments of your own, feel free to share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.