Part 3: THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS
Matthew 24:4-9; Mark 13:5-9; Luke 21:8-11
The “beginning of sorrows” is the title Jesus gave to the early characteristics listed in the discourse. The Greek word, Apche Odinon, literally mean the beginning of birth-pains. It is a technical term “used by the rabbis to designate the suffering and woes which they thought were to precede the Messiah’s coming.” The image of birth-pains is commonly used in the Old testament when speaking of end time events and actions (Isaiah 13:8, 26:17; Micah 4:9ff; Hosea 13:13; Jeremiah 4:31, 6:24, 13:21, 49:22, 50:43). Therefore, the meaning of the phrase was well-known and the disciples would have known the discourse was about the last days. Nowhere does Jesus redefine the term to mean something other than its common usage. It would be noticed at once that Jesus was speaking as a prophet and the subject was prophetic.
Jesus opens with a note of warning: “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Matthew 24:24 – KJV). It strikes a pragmatic and ethical chord. The aim of the discourse is not just to gratify curiosity; it is to guard against deception and terror. Prophecy is never given simply to gratify our curiosity of what the future holds, although it does that. Rather it is to produce ethical results in the lives of believers. Scripture records at least four ethical effects of prophecy:
- Prophecy produces peace in the heart of a believer (John 14:1-3). The context is the Second Coming. Jesus prefaces his remarks by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled.” When the believer knows prophecy, he is not troubled with doubts and instability of the future. He knows who holds the future. The world may be troubled, but the believer should not be. His future, no matter what it holds, is secure in Christ.
- Prophecy produces functional holiness in the life of the believer (1 John 3:3). He who knows it “purifies” himself. Prophecy motivates us into living a holy life, pleasing to God. The tense of the word “purifies” indicates a continuous purifying of oneself. Hope is the incentive for this action. Likewise, Paul in Colossians 3:4-5 instructs us to mortify our members because of the hope in His coming.
- Prophecy stimulates the believer unto service. Paul says we are to labor to be accepted because of His judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:9-11). Prophecy motivates us to serve, for we know we are accountable for our service.
- Prophecy guards us against deception (Matthew 24:4). This is clearly Jesus’ purpose in the Olivet discourse. The word “deceive” means to be led astray. Knowledge of prophecy will guard us against being seduced and misled by false teaching.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS
Upon giving this warning, Christ lists certain characteristics concerning “the beginning of sorrows.” Many look at these characteristics and say they are being fulfilled today. Walvoord says they are partially fulfilled in this present age. While it is true these characteristics today are evident, that does not necessarily suggest partial fulfillment. One must remember that the present dispensation was still a mystery when Christ spoke these words (cf. Ephesians 3:1-10). He is warning about the end of the Jewish age, not the age of grace. To place fulfillment into the present age of grace is inconsistent with the Jewish atmosphere of the discourse. The main purpose of the discourse is to warn the nation Israel of the approaching time of the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ to set up the promised earthly kingdom. The extent that these characteristic are evident in the present age of grace is twofold: First, the mystery was interjected between Christ speaking of the end of the Jewish age and the realization of that age (cf. Ephesians 3:2-7). Second, the end of the Jewish age is still coming after this present dispensation. The extent that these characteristics are present are limited until the time of their fulfillment when the Messiah comes (cf. Romans 11:25-27).
Continuation of these characteristics in this present dispensation is not their fulfillment, anymore that the spirit of Antichrist being present in this age (1 John 4:3) is a fulfillment of Antichrist. Is the spirit of Antichrist active in the world? Of course it is. Is it a partial fulfillment or a fulfillment of Antichrist? Of course not. While his spirit may be active, his person has not arrived, and will not in the present dispensation. It happens in the Tribulation.
Another indication that the fulfillment has not arrived is the comparison of Revelation 6 and these characteristics in Matthew 24. When we compare Scripture with Scripture it becomes evident that the “beginning of sorrows” find its fulfillment in the events of Revelation 6. Note the following comparison:
Matthew 24 Characteristic Revelation 6
Verses 4-5 False Christ Verses 1-2
Verses 6-7 Wars Verses 3-4
Verse 7 Famines Verses 5-6
Verses 7-8 Pestilences / Death Verses 7-8
Verse 9 Martyrdom Verse 9-11
Verses 10-13 World chaos Verses 12-17
Verse 14 World Evangelism Revelation 7
Revelation 6 refers to the same beginning of the end that Jesus is giving in this discourse. It is clear in the book of Revelation that leads us into the Great Tribulation (last 3 ½ years), therefore they are the characteristics are the first half of the Tribulation. The events of Revelation 6 and the beginning of sorrows are in harmony. They are the same events.
It is vital we understand that these are just the beginning of sorrows. They take place at the beginning of the Tribulation. While many see the beginning of the Tribulation as a period of peace, these signs do not bear them out. They reveal that at that time there will be:
Jesus declares that “many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many (Matthew 24:5). The popular view says this claim has been true in all generations. Have there? This verse is taken out of context by many. It is not a claim of deity, but of Messiahship. The claim must be taken in the context of a Jewish Messiah. The term Christ in this context means Messiah, indicating the relationship between Israel and their Messiah. He is warning that in the end times many claims of false Messiahship will be present. Carl Armerding writes:
“In keeping with this we note that when our Lord answers their question, He begins with that to which they, as Israelites, would be especially exposed. Many would come to them in His name saying ‘I am Christ’ (or, I am Messiah), and deceive many (Matthew 24:4-5). One can hardly conceived of a true Christian being deceived by anyone making such a claim. But we cam readily understand how a Jew, waiting for the Messiah, might be deceived by a false Christ. Comparing this verse with the parallel passages in Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, we see how bold false Christ may become, even to the point of claiming deity by saying ‘I am.’ The word ‘Christ’ is not in the original in either of those passages….”
Likewise, Cranfield concurs that this is a “false claimants to Messiahship.” Such strict claims to the Messianic office in the strictest sense are almost nonexistent in history.
It is noteworthy that the text indicates there will be many false claimants to Messiahship. Many fail to pick up that “many” claimants will appear during this time, and will continue to do so even after the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:5, 15, 24). Because the Antichrist is not likely to be a Jew (cp. Daniel 7, 11, Revelation 13:1); he will not claim Messiahship. Anti means against or in the place of Christ. He will claim deity, but not Messiahship. He will demand worship as God, but not as Messiah. Thus, these false claimants to Messiahship will be contemporaneous with and opponents to Antichrist. During this time Israel will be seeking a deliverer, especially after the Antichrist breaks the covenant. They will be many for them to choose from, but none of them will be the true Messiah.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WAR.
Matthew 24:6 and Revelation 6:3-4 are parallel. The red horse symbolizes war. The purpose of the rider is “to take peace from the earth and that they should kill one another” (Revelation 6:3). The Antichrist will be perceived as a man of peace because of his great deceptive ability. The fact is he comes to power and stays in power because of war (Daniel 7:8, 24). The Tribulation brings many wars. The book of Revelation prophesies of many wars (Revelation 16:12-15; 17:14; 19:1ff; and 20:8). These will not only be wars in the Mideast, but also in the world. They will culminate in the invasion of Palestine (Daniel 9:26-27; 11:40-45; Zechariah 12:2-11; Revelation 12:9-17).
Jesus says this time will be marked with “famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:7). The parallel is the black horse of Revelation 6:5-6. War and environmental disturbances will bring great famines and economic hardships. Earthquakes are increasing, and will be a norm during this time. Both famines and earthquakes are signs of judgment in Scripture (cf. Lamentations 4:8-9; 5:9-10; Ezekiel 38:19-23; Zechariah 14:4-8). During the first part of the tribulation, famine will exist as never before and the cost of food will skyrocket. A ration of wheat will cost a denarius, the equivalent to an average daily wage. One day’s wages for one day’s food to survive on.
For years now, modern-day prophets in the academic, scientific, and political world have been warning of such disturbances. It is amazing how fast famine could be upon us. In 1967 George Borgstorm warned in the event of a serious worldwide crop failure, within one year there would be critical starvation, two years at the most in the United States.
Famine like we have seen in Africa in recent years will become common place during the “beginning of sorrows.” Food will become scarce and very expensive.
PESTILENCE AND DEATH
The pale horse is called death, in the English version (Revelation 6:7-8); however, the construction and use show that death and pestilence are connected. Bullinger notes:
“Though the word in the Greek is thanatos death, it is put by metonymy, as the effect for the cause producing it which is pestilence. In the OT it is the Septuagint [Greek version] rendering of dever, destruction, i.e. plague and pestilence, which cause death.”
Pestilence is another word for disease. War, famine, and poverty carry with them the abundance of disease.
Jesus declares “those things must take place” (Matthew 24:6). This denotes a prophetic certainty. Yet even as bad as these things will be in the beginning of the Tribulation, this is “not yet the end” (24:6). The world will not yet be destroyed by these; they simply mark the beginning of the end. We believers can say with certainty that we are optimistic about the future. The world will not end tomorrow. Atomic warfare, or cosmic meteors, or some environmental disaster will not cause the end of the earth. These things are real and present dangers, however they will not cause the end. Jesus declares it so. He cannot lie nor will His Word fail. These are only the “beginning of sorrows.”
 R.C.H. Lenski, THE INTERPRETATION OF ST. MATTHEW’S GOSPEL, 931.
 Stanley Toussaint, BEHOLD THE KING, 270.
 John F. Walvoord, MATTHEW: THY KINGDOM COME, 183.
 Carl Armerding, THE OLIVET DISCOURSE, 15.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, THE CAMBRIDGE GREEK TESAMENT COMMENTARY: ST MARK, 295.
 Hal Lindsey, THERE’S A NEW WORLD COMING, 108 gives the actual quote.
 E.W. Bullinger, THE APOCALYPSE, 259.