“…And there will be famines, pestilences,[b] and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7b,8)
A pestilence a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating leading to death. Famine and pestilence go hand in hand. Pestilence is often caused by famine since many would be malnourished and lack the necessary nutrition to develop a good immune system.
Suetonius a Roman historian wrote of “pestilence” at Rome in the days of Nero which was so severe that “within the space of one autumn there died no less than 30,000 persons.” Josephus records that pestilences raged in Babylonia in A. D. 40. It was so severe that great multitude of Jews fled from there to Selecia for safety. Tacitus also confirms of pestilences in Italy in A. D. 65.
After Titus had Jerusalem surrounded by his army, pestilence took over the city to worsen the miseries and deepen the horrors of the siege since their food supply was cut off. This was also made possible by the fact that great multitudes were crowded together in the city residing close to the rotten smell that arose from the unburied dead.
The Lord also mentions mention “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places.”
So did the disciple experience earthquakes in their life time? Yes, they did.
Tacitus again mentions earthquakes at Rome. He wrote, “Frequent earthquakes occurred, by which many houses were thrown down,” and “twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake.”
Seneca another Roman historian, writing in the year 58 A. D., said, “How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! How many cities have been swallowed up in Syria! How many in Macedonia! How often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity ! How often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once.”
In 60 A.D., Hierapous, Colosse, and Laodicea were overthrown from earthquakes. There were earthquakes in Crete, Apamea, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, and Judea. Earthquakes in diverse places!
In the reign of Nero, there was an earthquake at Laodicea. Tacitus records this also. It is likewise mentioned by Eusebius and Orosius, who add that Hieropolis and Colose, as well as Laodicea, were overthrown by earthquakes. There was also one in Campania during this reign and another at Rome in the reign of Galba, recorded by Suetonius. Both Tacitus and Seneca confirmed these events too.
One of such that remains remarkable is the occurrence of earthquakes that happened on the dreadful night when the Idumeans were excluded from Jerusalem, a short time before the siege commenced. Josephus says, “A heavy storm burst on them during the night; violent winds arose, accompanied with the most excessive rains, with constant lightnings, most tremendous thunderings, and with dreadful roarings of earthquakes. It seemed as if the system of the world had been confounded for the destruction of mankind; and one might well conjecture that these were signs of no common events!”
Commentator Edward Hayes Plumptre writes:
Perhaps no period in the world’s history has ever been so marked by these convulsions as that which intervenes between the Crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jonathan Welton in his book “Raptureless” quotes Bible scholar Henry Alford, on what he wrote about the earthquakes of that period:
The principle earthquakes occurring between this prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem [in 70AD] were, (1) a great earthquake in Crete, A.D. 46 or 47; (2) one at Rome on the day when Nero assumed manly toga, A.D. 51; (3) one at Apamea in Phrygia, mentioned by Tacitus, A.D. 53; (4) one at Laodicea in Phrygia, A.D. 60; (5) one in Capania.
In spite of what Jesus said, “The end is not yet,” many today take this passage out of context and speak ignorantly about “The signs of the times,” trying to show that this battle, serious earthquake, or devastating famine is a sign of Christ’s imminent return.
Jesus said to his disciples that these things are the “beginning of sorrows.”
Matthew 24:8 (NKJV) “All these are the beginning of sorrows.
The phrase “beginning of sorrows” could be translated “birth pains.” This image is sometimes used in the Old Testament simply to express great pain; but it is often used of a woman in pain of child birth.
Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them;
They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth;
They will be amazed at one another;
Their faces will be like flames.
Is in pain and cries out in her pangs,
When she draws near the time of her delivery,
So have we been in Your sight, O LORD.
Be in pain, and labor to bring forth,
Like a woman in birth pangs.
For now you shall go forth from the city,
You shall dwell in the field,
And to Babylon you shall go.
There you shall be delivered;
There the LORD will redeem you
From the hand of your enemies.
It is used almost as a language for “the birth pains of Messiah.” In this great prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 it speaks of the period of distress that preceded the return of Christ in AD70.
What they disciples were to look out for was the labour birth pains of a new world that was about to dawn in humanity. One world was about to end and another was about to come up on the scene that herald the endless of the Messiah.