- WARNING: Stirring of fear: Jesus alerted the disciples, “And you [disciples] will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Mt 24:6). The Roman Empire was continually engaged in some war with some nation somewhere throughout the extremities of the borders of the Empire. In order to engage in these wars, Rome was built on the backbone of a strong military. The Caesars of Rome had a thirst for conquest and expansion, and thus, every effort was made to build the military. However, the wars about which Jesus spoke in this context were battles between Jewish loyalists and Rome as the Roman army marched toward Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
When Vespasian marched the Roman army from Rome to Jerusalem, he squashed every Jewish resistance effort alone the way. Word of mouth of the battles spread like wildfire in reference to what was transpiring. This gave the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who believed the prophecy of Jesus, time to get out of town. Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 saved the lives of thousands of Christians who were still living in Jerusalem at the time. Because they believed the prophecy of Jesus, they fled for safety to other regions of the Roman Empire.
A previous exodus from Jerusalem, because of the persecution of Saul, was insignificant in comparison to what would come in A.D. 70 (See At 8:4). However, this initial exodus of Christians from Jerusalem set the ground work for the massive exodus of A.D. 70. There were relatives of the first exodus already settled in other regions who could receive family members who fled during the exodus before A.D. 70.
The distant wars, therefore, were the signal of the coming end. When the Christians in Jerusalem heard of these skirmishes, Jesus said, “See that you are not troubled, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Mt 24:6). The skirmishes between rebellious Jews from Rome to Jerusalem were only signals that doom was in sight for national Israel. These wars, however, were only the sign of the end.
The resident Christians in Jerusalem must not become complacent and assume that Rome’s victories over Jewish zealots in distant lands would appease Rome’s determination to once and for all terminate the insurrection of Judaism in the Empire. They must remember that Rome was determined to cut the heart out of the insurrection by the total destruction of Jerusalem. The Christians’ love for their homes, therefore, must not lead them to believe that Rome would surely not bring down the temple and Jerusalem.
(We must add here that the countless wars in which Rome involved itself in its last century of existence an Empire eventually led to almost bankrupting the Empire. The borders of the Empire had been extended to so many distant lands, that it became increasingly difficult for the central government to support the military establishment. If the military failed, then the Empire would collapse, which very thing happened at the end of the 5th century. Rome could not support a strong enough military to hold back the invading Germanic groups from the north. But all this did not transpire for over four centuries after the events about which Jesus prophesied. At the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the strength of the military of Rome was at its zenith.)
- WARNING: Conflicting society: “For nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Mt 24:7). When a civilization is in its final years of existence, it is tormented by other civilizations that would assume their leading role in world affairs. Civilizations exists because of military strength, for it is the military strength of a nation that builds and sustains the civilization through strength. It is a strong military that intimidates other civilizations to negotiate for terms of peace (Compare Lk 14:31,32).
Though Jesus was not educating the disciples in reference to the fall of civilizations, He was giving them historical information to which they must be sensitive in reference to the civilization of which they were a part. The Roman civilization would continue after the fulfillment of all those things about which He spoke, but the Jewish civilization, with its Roman-controlled nationalism within Palestine, would cease. It would cease because God allowed in the leadership of the Jewish civilization the existence of the false messiahs who would lead the Jews to a accomplish His will, that is the termination of national Israel in Palestine with the fall of Jerusalem.
The end of any civilization is characterized by its clashes with other civilizations. On the world stage of the rise and fall of civilizations, the first indication of the fall of one civilization and the rise of another is revealed when there are clashes of one civilization against another. Throughout history the clashes between civilizations have often been the result of military conflicts. But military conquests do not necessarily demand the passing of the citizenship of a civilization. The fall of civilizations from within is different. These consummations of civilizations come through revolutions. The fall from within is characterized by philosophical or religious “clashes” among the citizenship. Whether from outside forces through military conflicts, or through conflicts from within, what comes out on the other side of social chaos is something new and different. The citizenship is changed until another era of tension arises which starts the cycle of change all over.
We must never forget that dominant civilizations will always have “cold wars” or “trade wars” with one another. This is the relationship between existing kingdoms that are in contact with one another. From the beginning of time, there has always been a “game of thrones” struggle of one civilization against another. But when a civilization falls from within, the call is often not realized by the citizenship.
In the context of Jesus’ prophecy there were certainly continual military conflicts of Rome against other world kingdoms throughout the extent of the Empire. However, Jesus’ reference to clashing kingdoms was probably more in reference to isolated Jewish confrontations with Rome throughout the Roman Empire. Because of the continual clashes of pockets of Jewish resistance throughout the Empire, the Roman government sought a final solution to the problem of Jewish insurrection. Therefore, the final solution was to march on Jerusalem, and thus destroy the center of Jewish loyalism.
[More Matthew 24 warnings in next post.]