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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > Birth Pains    


All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Matt. 24:8

As Jesus was leaving the Temple, the disciples spoke of the buildings of the Temple, the Temple complex, and how the structures were “adorned with beautiful stones” (Lu. 21:5). The rabbis said: “He who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.”

In response to the observation of the disciples regarding the Temple, Jesus states: “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2; see: Hag. 2:15). Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple, a prediction that was both definite and comprehensive.

Shortly after this exchange while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives four disciples privately asked Him two specific questions: one, when will these things be; and two, what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Matt. 24:3). They desired to know about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world. A question must surely be raised in the mind of any reader: were the two events related in the minds of the disciples?

In the response of Jesus, He seems to give more attention to the second question. Luke, however, does contain specific statements (21:20-24) that appear to relate uniquely to the first question. So Jesus responds to both questions, and in His response he has statements related to the Temple, statements related to the flow of history, and statements related to the conclusion of all things.

It is in the general statements of Jesus that is found the reference to “the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:8). This reference is neither unique nor inconsistent with Hebrew thinking. Often in the Old Testament, especially in the prophets, similar references are made. The imagery of birth pains is found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, both in the sense of general trouble and in the sense of end-time trouble:

Sharp pains and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth (Isa. 13:8);

My loins are filled with pain; pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor (Isa. 21:3);

Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of You, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. Your dead shall live . . . and the earth will give birth to the dead (Isa. 26:17-18);

I will cry out like a woman in childbirth (Isa. 42:14);

“Before when was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God (Isa. 66:7-9);

For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor, anguish as of one giving birth to her first child, the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath (Jer. 4:31);

Anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labor (Jer. 6:24);

Will not pangs take hold of you like those of a woman in labor (Jer. 13:21);

O inhabitant of Lebanon, nestled among the cedars, how you will be pitied when pangs come upon you, pain as of a woman in labor (Jer. 22:23);

Can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with hands on his stomach like a woman in labor (Jer. 30:6);

The heart of the warriors of Edom shall be in that day like the heart of a woman in her birth pains (Jer. 49:22);

The king of Babylon heard the report of them . . . anguish seized him, pain as of a woman in labor (Jer. 50:43);

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up . . . the pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right he does not present himself at the opening of the womb (Hosea 13:13);

Now do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon (Micah 4:9-10).

So the reference by Jesus to birth pains is not puzzling to the disciples. What is not as clear is which statements of Jesus relate to which of the two questions asked by the disciples. Whatever the precise exegesis may be, the attack on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple serve as a harbinger and an example of the upheaval and calamity that will characterize the end-time.

It appears that the dominating intent of Jesus in Matthew 24:5-14 is to describe the general flow of events from His time to the time of the Great Tribulation. And in the middle of these verses He makes reference to “the beginning of the birth pains”; so it would appear proper to ascribe the entire passage to the birth pains. Therefore, the events spoken of by Christ transpire throughout “the last days” (see: The Last Days); but, from other Scriptures, we know that also moral and natural evil will intensify as the final day of the Lord approaches. Following is a list of the events predicted by Jesus before His reference to “birth pains”:

Jesus spoke of religious deception (vs. 4-5). False prophets will claim some sort of Messianic identity and mission, by which many will be deceived. The truth is that there is only one Christ.

Jesus spoke of political conflict (vs. 6-7). Wars and rumors of wars are not to alarm the believer, for these must take place. International conflict among nations does not indicate the end is imminent, but indicates that history is moving toward an end. War is inevitable and cannot be assuaged—peace in the present age is not a possibility.

Jesus spoke of environmental upheaval (v. 7). Specifically the text speaks of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. “The world of nature is affected by sin in the same way as the world of men” (Lenski, Matthew, 931).

The above three predictions are listed before the statement about the beginning of “birth pains” (NKJV has “sorrows” in Matt. and Mk.). The lesson is that none of the above points are definitive indications that the end of the age is near; the believer is not to be alarmed and is to be careful so that he is not led astray by religious, political, and environmental events.

Following are the events that Christ spoke of after the reference to “birth pains”; these will take place before the Great Tribulation and describe events closer to the end while the former describe more preliminary events:

There will be persecution of believers and betrayal (vs. 9-10). Hatred of those devoted to Christ by the nations of the world will bring on affliction and even death to the Christian.

There will be many false prophets (v. 11), and their teaching will lead many astray.

There will be an increase of lawlessness and a diminishing of genuine love (v. 12).

There will be believers who endure and remain faithful (v. 13). The perseverance of the saints is vital; by such commitment true discipleship is manifested and the faithful endurance culminates in full salvation for the believer. It is not that the endurance produces salvation, but rather that the endurance reveals the genuineness of the profession. True believers will endure.

There will be the universal proclamation of the gospel (v. 14). Even in the midst of personal persecution and general distress, the believer still has a mission—the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all people. It is the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the reign and rule of Christ both in individual hearts and in eternity.

As all of these events transpire the believer is assured that he is living in the last days and that the end is approaching. The most definitive event is the universal proclamation of the gospel; Jesus says that when that comes to pass “then the end will come” (v. 14).

Note: According to the chronology of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew there is the following:

the beginning of birth pains (v. 8)

then the end will come (v. 14)

when you see the abomination of desolation (v. 15)

then there will be great tribulation (v. 21)

immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (vs. 29-30; see: The Sequence of End-Time Events)

Return to: The End of the Age; Next Article: The Great Tribulation

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