During a radio interview two days after the earthquake and tsunamis wreaked so much devastation, the host asked if this could be a sign of the Second Coming of Christ. It is a relevant question in light of what Jesus said in Matthew 24. When the disciples asked, "What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (v. 3), Jesus offered six "signs" of the Second Coming (vv. 4-14). We can call the third one Natural Disasters (vv. 7b-8): "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."

Famines and have been with us since the beginning of time. They are with us today and will be with us tomorrow. These things, bad as they are, do not in themselves point to the Last Days. They are like "birth pangs" or labor pains as one world dies and another one takes its place. That image is particularly useful to help us get the right perspective on contemporary events. When a woman is pregnant, she knows from the calendar the general time when the baby is due. Her body begins to send specific signals as the day approaches. Those signals are called labor pains. They begin with low intensity and low frequency. Sometimes they can go on for several days and then suddenly stop. They may start and stop several times (so-called "false labor"). But eventually the labor pains start in earnest. Even then the tempo is slow and steady. As time passes, the pains come more frequently and with greater intensity. In the end the pains come rapidly and finally in one great burst the baby is born. Something like that will happen at the end of this age. The coming kingdom of Christ will be preceded by an unprecedented period of seven years of suffering and worldwide travail. The clearest picture of that seven-year period is found in Revelation 6-19.

The crucial question involves how close we may or may not be to those end-time sufferings and ultimately to the return of Christ to the earth. Verse 8 warns us about the dangers of too much speculation. As bad as the current situation may be, things may get much worse in the days to come. Or there may not be another natural disaster on this scale for many years. No one can say with certainty. The "signs" we see around us remind us that there is much evil in the world. And the picture of the "birth pangs" teaches us that there is a flow or tempo to world events that is controlled by our Heavenly Father. We simply cannot be certain how the current tragedy fits into the larger prophetic picture. To say "I don't know" may not satisfy our curiosity, but it is far better than pretending to know something that God alone knows.


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