The Beginning of Birth Pains
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(Reading time: 9 minutes)
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:1-3, NIV).
The disciples expected Jesus to set up his kingdom immediately. They believed he was the Messiah and the Messiah would have a kingdom, so wasn’t it time for Jesus to set it up? They didn’t understand the concept of the “suffering Messiah” and they were looking instead for the “conquering Messiah.” The question they asked Jesus grouped everything together — destruction of the temple, Jesus’ coming (rising to power) and the end of the age — because they expected him to set up his earthly kingdom soon. So their question was basically, “How soon?”
Jesus didn’t correct the disciples’ thinking and separate events into two phases, some events that would happen soon and others that would happen later. Instead, he gave one continuous description without any apparent intervals.
Looking back historically, we know that some of what he described occurred in the first century, but not everything. My opinion is that Jesus’ explanation has a dual fulfillment: a “near fulfillment” that was partial and happened within the lifetimes of the disciples and a complete “distant fulfillment” that would happen in what we call the end times. Although the events in the early part of his explanation happened in the first century, I think there is more than enough evidence in other scriptures to conclude the same events will happen in the end times.
Jesus predicted several things that would happen, then said, “All these are the beginning of birth pains” (v8). Later he said there will be “great distress” (v21), or “great tribulation” as the King James Version translates it. I’ll use the same labels Jesus did for two of the four end-times periods: (1) Beginning of Birth Pains, (2) Great Tribulation, marked by the abomination in the temple and the Final Human Empire, (3) Cosmic Disturbance and (4) Day of the Lord. This sequence represents the climax of human history and the beginning of the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Most of the events and conditions examined in this article have happened at different points in history. But Jesus’ use of the phrase “beginning of birth pains” implies a period when they begin happening with increasing frequency and severity until something is born. These events and conditions will begin happening with greater frequency and intensity during the Beginning of Birth Pains, continue through the Great Tribulation and climax with the birth of the Lord’s kingdom on earth during the Day of the Lord.
I don’t see a starting point identified in scripture for the Beginning of Birth Pains. If there is a starting point, I suspect it would be the rebirth of Israel in 1948. We are probably already in the Beginning of Birth Pains.
Of the several features the Bible gives of this period, let us consider only one in this brief article.
Jesus said the Beginning of Birth Pains would include wars and rumors of wars. I think another Middle East War between Israel and its neighbors is not only inevitable, but necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. According to those passages, the only prerequisite is that the Jews come back from their worldwide dispersion, which began on a large scale in 1948.
There have already been several Middle East wars since 1948, but there are some critical elements of the Old Testament prophecies that are still unfulfilled. Let’s examine what the Old Testament says about one of those wars.
As a result of the Jews coming back to Israel from all over the world, the land becomes crowded, as we see in the following verses.
See, they will come from afar – some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan…. Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away. The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, “This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in.” Then you will say in your heart, “Who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these – where have they come from?” (Isa. 49:12, 19-21).
American news reports in July 1991 stated that Israel was running out of usable land and needed more space because of all the Jews coming to Israel from all over the world.
I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them (Zech. 10:8-10).
Ezekiel 36 is primarily about God gathering the Jews from worldwide dispersion back to Israel. It states very clearly that God will fill the land with people and vegetation. But it also contains some hints of the new nation’s military prowess as God speaks to the land:
Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations. Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn…. No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezek. 36:6-7, 15).
Israel is no longer scorned by its neighbors when it defeats the surrounding nations and expands its borders. God said he’ll “raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth…. They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them” (Isa. 11:12, 14).
The “slopes of Philistia” corresponds to the Gaza Strip. The “people to the east” represents Jordan. “Edom and Moab” are the regions south and east of the Dead Sea; that is, Jordan. “Ammonites” are Jordanians and Amman is the capital of Jordan.
Israel captured the Gaza Strip (“the slopes of Philistia”) in 1967 and used the land for Palestinian refugee camps. These camps have become a source of conflict and home for Palestinian terrorists. When the next war breaks out, terrorist groups in Gaza are likely to join the attack on Israel.
In the 1967 War, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, but these verses state that Israel will “plunder” areas of Jordan south and east of the Dead Sea and even have influence over the capital, Amman.
While speaking about bringing the Jews back to the land, God says, “I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon” (Zech. 10:10). Gilead is the northeastern corner of Jordan and, of course, Lebanon is not currently Israeli territory, either! If Israel occupies and builds settlements in northeastern Jordan, they would influence the leadership in Amman, Jordan’s capital, located in that same corner of the country.
Zechariah Chapters 9-14 are all relevant to the end times. Right in the middle (11:1-3) it describes widespread destruction that includes the cedars of Lebanon, the dense oak forests of Bashan (Golan Heights) and the lush thicket of Jordan (the valley of the Jordan River between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea). The forests and thickets of these areas could be destroyed in a major war.
Zechariah 10:11 says, “Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away,” which hints that something serious happens to Syria and Egypt. Syria is the home of Arab nationalism and the Syrians are fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israel. Syria has repeatedly boycotted peace talks and refused to stop fighting after cease-fires, simply because of its intense Arab pride. God will bring that pride down.
Ezekiel 28 contains a prophecy against Sidon, located on the coast of Lebanon about 30 miles north of Israel. This prophecy is relevant to the end times because verse 25 puts it in the context of God gathering the Jews from the nations. Referring to Sidon, God says, “I will send a plague upon you and make blood flow in your streets. The slain will fall within you, with the sword against you on every side. Then you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 28:23). Sidon will be destroyed in the war, although Ezekiel 28 doesn’t say the Israelis will settle there.
For years the PLO had major bases in southern Lebanon and continued to threaten Israel. Israel launched attacks into the area to drive the PLO away from the border. Operation “Peace for Galilee” in 1981 was one of the largest assaults. Israel occupied South Lebanon as a “security zone” to keep terrorists and paramilitary forces away from northern Israel. The Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad replaced the PLO as the threat from South Lebanon and the Israeli army continued to defend the northern Israel communities. Israel believed it had to stay in South Lebanon because the Lebanese government couldn’t control terrorism directed from there against Israel. It is possible Israel will again invade the area to eliminate the threat and Sidon may be the site of a devastating battle during that invasion.
The “beginning of birth pains” referred to in the Bible will include deception, violence, wars, food shortages, natural disasters and Middle East war.