With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many are worried about the times we have entered. Has the Cold War returned… and finally gone hot? Is this a sign of the End Times, the “war and rumors of wars” that bring the end?
To answer that question, we need to consider what Jesus said about wars and rumors of wars.
Where Does the Bible Talk about “Wars and Rumors of Wars”?
The phrase “wars and rumors of wars” appears twice in the Bible, both times in the Gospels.
In Matthew 24, Jesus is in Jerusalem, teaching people and challenging religious leaders who question him. After Jesus finishes teaching for the day, he and his disciple walk out of Jerusalem, and some of them point out the beautiful temple and other architecture. Jesus answered, “Do you see all these things?…Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2-3).
Outside Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked Jesus for more details about that day. He replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:5-6).
Jesus then gives further details about this time, including his followers being persecuted, nations fighting nations, the “abomination that causes desolation” appearing in the holy place, and “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:6-51). Jesus ends his explanation using a fig tree to talk about knowing the right season has come (Matthew 24:32), and “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
Mark 13 repeats this story with the same core details, just slightly different wording. Jesus mentions the temple being destroyed, and when the disciples ask, he says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Mark 13:7). Mark’s version includes Jesus’ explanation of what those times will look like, but fewer details. For example, Mark 13 doesn’t include Jesus using Noah and the flood as an example of why to be prepared (Matthew 24:38-39).
Mark does include Jesus’ final words about what to do with this information: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 37).
What is the Context of “Wars and Rumors of Wars”?
The phrase “wars and rumors of wars” is famous, and many Christians have interpreted it in various ways. To fully understand them, we need to consider when Jesus said them and if he references anything important.
Jesus says these words on either his first or second day in Jerusalem. Palm Sunday, where he made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, has happened. It is now either Holy Monday or Holy Tuesday, his first or second day of teaching in Jerusalem. Earlier, entering Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus had cursed a fig tree that had no fruit (Matthew 21:18-22), which may be why he uses fig trees as an example of knowing the seasons (Matthew 24:32) (Mark 13:).
Matthew Henry argues it is important that Jesus only gives these prophecies in the last week of his time with the disciples, after years of teaching them:
“Christ preached this prophetical sermon in the close of his ministry, as the Apocalypse is the last book of the New Testament, and the prophetical books of the Old Testament are placed last, to intimate to us, that we must be well grounded in plain truths and duties, and those must first be well digested, before we dive into those things that are dark and difficult; many run themselves into confusion by beginning their Bible at the wrong end.”
Jesus talks initially about Jerusalem’s temple being destroyed, his followers being persecuted, and false Messiahs arising. He also mentions “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15) (Mark 13:14), a phrase from the Book of Daniel. Daniel talks about a prince destroying Jerusalem’s temple, who “shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate” (Daniel 9:26-27). Later, Daniel talks about what may be the same event in other words, “a contemptible person” (11:21) who will come with armies from the north to Jerusalem:
“His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.” (Daniel 11:31)
What Is the Abomination of Desolation?
Dan Doriani writes that scholars broadly agree Daniel’s prophecy refers to Antiochus Epiphanes IV, whose armies invaded Jerusalem in 167 BC. Antiochus not only ceased sacrifices in Jerusalem’s temple. His men also erected an altar to Zeus in the temple and sacrificed pigs. This action (sacrifices to gods, unclean animals in the temple) profaned the temple on every level.
Antiochus later destroyed the temple, and Herod the Great started a new one in 20 BC (the one Jesus refers to). The Romans destroyed Herod’s temple in 70 AD when they forced the Jews to leave Palestine. Doriani notes that the Romans destroying the temple would qualify as “the abomination that causes desolation.” For one, the Romans destroyed the temple about 40 years (a term often used in the Bible to describe a generation) after Jesus died. Jesus ends his description of persecution and Jerusalem’s destruction by saying, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34).
Various scholars support this view that the ‘abomination of desolation” was the Romans destroying Jerusalem. John Gill explains in his exposition of Matthew 24:15 why the Romans entering the temple was an abomination:
“The Roman armies were desolating ones to the Jews, and to whom they were an abomination; not only because they consisted of heathen men, and uncircumcised persons, but chiefly because of the images of their gods, which were upon their ensigns: for images and idols were always an abomination…”
Jesus’ warnings to hide when this event comes, of “greater anguish than at any time since the world began” (Matthew 24:21), of people claiming to the Messiah, all seem to describe the terrible destruction when the Romans ravaged Jerusalem and killed all the Jews who didn’t flee. However, his words take on a different tone around Matthew 24:30 and Mark 13:24. He may be talking about another set of events.
Are These “Wars and Rumors of Wars” Signs of the End Times?
Different scholars debate whether Jesus’ description switches from discussing Jerusalem’s pending destruction to talking about the End Times. John Gill viewed the entire description as a prophecy about Romans destroying Jerusalem, with “the sign of the Son of Man in heaven” in Matthew 24:30 as God’s wrath poured on those who didn’t hear Jesus’ message.
Many scholars today side with Matthew Henry, who argues everything up to Matthew 24:28 is about Jerusalem destroyed and the early church dispersed (the gospel spreading like lightning as believers fled to other nations). Henry suggests everything from Matthew 24:30/Mark 13:26 onward refers not to divine wrath poured in Jerusalem but to Jesus’ second coming.
The idea that Jesus switches from talking about one even to another may seem confusing. After all, Matthew 24:29-30 says the Son of Man will appear in the heavens “immediately after the anguish of days.” How can the End Times come immediately after Jerusalem’s destruction, when Jerusalem’s destruction happened almost 2,000 years ago?
Henry points out, “it is usual in the prophetical style to speak of things great and certain as near and just at hand, only to express the greatness and certainty of them.” Earlier references in the Gospels suggest that Jesus didn’t talk about time like we do. He started his ministry by preaching, “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus kept talking about the kingdom of God after he rose from the dead and taught the disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:3). Yet, Jesus ascended to heaven without appearing to all the world, which would be the kingdom’s culmination.
So, Jesus affirms that the kingdom of God had come (because he was on earth), but it hasn’t fully arrived (the end of all things). We live in the “already but not yet” phase of the kingdom of God—it came with Jesus’ arrival, but the arrival’s full effects are pending. Jesus’ timeline won’t always match ours—his perspective on what would “immediately” happen does not match our own.
Therefore, we shouldn’t get too hung up on the exact timeline Jesus gives for the End Times. In fact, Jesus said that he doesn’t know when those times will happen: “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36).
Do We Know What “Wars and Rumors of Wars” Lead to the End Times?
Granting that the “wars and rumors of wars” seem to be ones happening when Jerusalem was destroyed, we still wonder how much we match Jesus’ prophecies to the End Times. The fact is that Jesus stated only God the Father knows exactly when the End Times will occur, and his timeline of when the End Times will happen doesn’t seem to match our ideas about time. Therefore, we waste time pointing to particular wars or world events as proof that the End Times have come.
In fact, God may not want us to understand prophecies too far ahead of time. We may only understand prophecies the moment they are fulfilled or in hindsight. People had Messianic prophecies to study for centuries, but the disciples only realized Jesus was fulfilling Messianic prophecies as he did them (John 2:17) or made the connections afterward (John 2:22).
Instead of trying to match End Times prophecies to current events, our job is to know those times are coming and be prepared. After his prophecy, Jesus explains how we should “keep watch” (Matthew 24:42) and serve God well.
Jesus talks about being a sensible servant who does his job well because he doesn’t know when the mater will return (Matthew 24:45-51). He compares the kingdom of God to bridesmaids who hadn’t prepared for the wedding when it came (Matthew 25:1-13). He talks about three servants given money to invest and the consequences for those who squandered the opportunity (Matthew 25:14-30).
After these illustrations, Jesus talks about what will happen at the final judgment to servants who served God well (Matthew 25:31-40) versus those who didn’t (Matthew 25:41-45). Jesus’ attitude to people who thought they were serving him may seem harsh, but the Bible maintains that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Wars and rumors of wars have happened and will happen. Some of them may be part of God’s plan for the End Times. However, Jesus exhorts us to focus on being good servants who know he is coming soon, not guessing games.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/zabelin
G. Connor is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 900 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
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