A Chronological Scheme Of Events
Analysis of Luke 21:9-11
We have closely studied our Lord's answer to the apostles' questions concerning His coming again and the last days, as revealed in Matt. 24:7,8. Luke also records their question, "Teacher, when therefore shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to come to pass?" (21:7). Luke's record of the specific statements corresponds very closely to that of Matt. 24:6,7:Synthesis of Matt. 24:6-8 and Luke 21:9-11
And when ye shall hear of wars and tumults, be not terrified: for these things must needs come to pass first; but the end is not immediately. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be great earthquakes, and in divers places famines and pestilences; and there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:9-11).
The terms appearing here are the same as in Matthew. He records that our Lord used the expression, "wars and rumors of wars." According to Luke He also used the word "tumults," which carries the idea of rebellions and upheavals in the political world and in other spheres of human activity. The warning against drawing hasty conclusions from these disturbances and wars is similar to that recorded by Matthew. The conditions which produce trouble between nations and groups of people continue to the present. As long as these conditions remain there will be wars and trouble.
Significance of "first": In speaking of wars and tumults occurring during His absence, our Lord said, "These things must needs come to pass first; but the end is not immediately." The word first is very significant. The use of this numeral implies a second thing to be narrated and distinguishes it from the latter. Thus the wars and tumults of vs. 9 are classified together as opposed to something mentioned in vss. 10, 11.
The wars and tumults mentioned here can be understood only as rebellions among peoples and wars between nations, that is, local wars occurring in various places and at different times. This prediction has been fulfilled, literally, throughout the Christian centuries. Hardly a decade or a generation has passed during the entire dispensation when there has not been tumult, upheaval or war somewhere in the world. Thus when saying these things "must needs come to pass first," our Lord was talking about the wars of the Christian dispensation and lumping them together as coming before some other event transpires.
Significance of adverb "then": In vss. 10,11 the Lord foretold the rising of one nation against another and of one kingdom against another, an upheaval in the political world which will be attended by great famines, earthquakes and pestilences. Following this mighty conflict "there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven." These verses do not tell us how much time intervenes between this world war and the heavenly portents. From Luke's record it is clear that the world war is connected with the closing scenes of the age. Since "wars and tumults" are to come to pass first, the world war mentioned in vss. 10,11 is thrown over against the wars and tumults. In this light, the rising of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom cannot be explanatory of "the wars and tumults." The word then introducing vs. 10 separates the prediction of vss. 10,11 from that in vs. 9.
With this analysis of Luke's record, we see that his account supplements that given by Matthew and is in perfect accord with the latter.
Having seen the significance of each of the principal terms in the records of Matthew and Luke concerning this special oracle, we are now in a position to build the information into a single prediction which will give us a chronological scheme of events.The Christian Dispensation
Since Zech. 14 furnishes the background for the Olivet Discourse, it is evident that the wars and rumors of wars foretold by our Lord refer to the various military conflicts which have occurred during His absence. In other words, Matt. 24:6 covers the entire Christian dispensation. As we have seen, this era is set off from the end time in Luke 21:9 by the adverb, first."For": Its Significance
The Old Testament foreview: The psalmist David clearly foresaw the period that intervenes between Messiah's first and second comings, during which the Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the throne of God in Heaven. This is clear from Ps. 110 as well as many other passages. In this illuminating psalm, which is one of the most fundamental to proper understanding of the present era in God's plan of the ages, the entire outline of Messiah's redemptive career appears. When the curtain rises on this psalm Messiah is seen in the midst of Jerusalem, opposed by His enemies. God then speaks to Him from Heaven, inviting Him to leave Jerusalem and sit at His right hand until He makes King Messiah's enemies His footstool. When this task is accomplished (and when Israel pleads for Him to return) Messiah will leave His place in Glory and return to Zion, whereupon the entire nation will enthusiastically accept Him. From this and other prophecies it is clear that a period during which Israel is rejected would separate the two comings of Messiah.
Not an afterthought: In keeping with the Old Testament foreview of this present dispensation, our Lord indicated that it was not His intention to set up His glorious kingdom upon earth at His first coming, as clearly seen in the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27). Jesus was going up to Jerusalem and the throngs of people concluded that this indicated he would now speedily establish the kingdom of God. Expectations of this event were running high; therefore, Jesus spoke the parable of the pounds to illustrate that the kingdom was not to appear immediately.
And as they heard these things, he added and spoke a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called ten servants of his, and gave them ten pounds, and said unto them. Trade ye herewith till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent an ambassage after him, saying, We will not that this man reign over us."
In this parable the nobleman represents Christ; the far country, Heaven; the servants, the disciples of the Lord; the pounds delivered to them, the talents and opportunities for service in His cause; and the citizens who hated him, this unbelieving world. The returning nobleman, after having received the kingdom, pictures the return of our Lord when He will establish His kingdom upon the earth. At His second coming He will reward His servants and will apportion their rewards according to their works.
This parable, together with others and with the plain statement of our Lord on this occasion, shows that the present Christian dispensation was not an afterthought in the plan of God brought about by His being rejected by the Jews. According to the foreview of events as set forth by the prophets, the Christian dispensation was foreseen and clearly mentioned, but the Church which occupies the central position on the stage during this period was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament.
It is true that the prophets foresaw this period of grace, but the turn things would take was withheld from them. At the beginning of our Lord's personal ministry He said little on this point but, as the hostility against Him grew, He gradually unfolded before His disciples' vision the coming era and finally made a definite prediction concerning the establishment of the Church upon the one foundational fact of His being the Messiah, the Son of God. In the Olivet Discourse, however, He was speaking of this period of time and of its being characterized by wars and tumults.
A description of this present age as one of tumults and wars is given in Matt 24:6 and blends with a clear vision of its consummation. Conditions that have existed throughout the dispensation will be intensified and heightened. The various elements which have characterized it are moving along converging lines and will meet in the end time.
An illustration of this might be taken from the special effects one obtains in using a dissolve control between two slide projectors, or from similar but far more sophisticated effects used on television constantly. One picture is thrown upon the screen. As the audience gazes at it, it begins to fade and the dim outlines of another faintly appear. By the time the first one has vanished, the second is in full view. This illustration sets forth the gradual blending of the characteristics of the age with the intensified situation in the end time.
Having seen that Matt. 24:6 is a description of the Christian age, we are now ready to advance another step and ask: What is the relationship between vss. 6 and 7? Two positions are taken; therefore we must make an honest and thorough investigation to ascertain which is correct.
Many commentators see in vs. 7 an elucidation of vs. 6. They reason that our Lord first foretold wars throughout the Christian dispensation and then explained His prediction by saying that nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. In other words, vs. 7 is seen as an explanation of vs. 6. This position is held by many outstanding expositors.
Other expositors with equal ability and knowledge affirm that vs. 7 is not explanatory of vs. 6, but only of the last clause of that verse. Which of these positions is correct?
We have already seen that "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" does not signify a series of wars but a general upheaval which affects the entire territory before the prophet's vision.
Another fact we have also learned is that the expression, "all these things," refers to nation rising against nation, pestilences, earthquakes and great famines.
A third fact we have noted is that all of these things--a world war attended by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes in diverse places--are the first birth pain.
A fourth discovery we have made is that the term "birth-pain" is the technical expression used by the prophets to refer to the Great Tribulation.
In view of these four definite facts it is impossible for us to accept the position that vs. 7 is an unfolding of vs. 6. On the contrary, we are driven to accept the position that vs. 7 is explanatory of the last clause of vs. 6 for, should we understand "nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" as an exposition of the wars and the rumors of wars, the statement "all these things are the beginning of travail" would be a contradiction.