During his last few days in Jerusalem, Yeshua took His disciples up on the Mount of Olives and prophesied of the destruction of the Temple.
They asked him, “When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). He answered:
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matthew 24:6-8)
The rabbis refer to the troubled times preceding the advent of the Messiah as the chevlei Mashiach, “the birth pains of Messiah.” The expression arises from the prophets who employed birthing imagery, often comparing times of distress and the trials of the day of the LORD to the travails suffered by a woman in labor. The Talmud contains several passages warning about the time of suffering that will mark Messiah’s coming. Rabbinic legend predicts seven years of tribulation before the coming of the Messiah amidst signs from heaven:
In the year in which King Messiah will be revealed, all the kings of the nations of the world will provoke each other … and pangs will take hold of them like unto the pangs of a woman in childbirth. And Israel will tremble and fear, and they will say: “Where shall we come and go, where shall we come and go?” (Pesikta Rabbati)
Yeshua warned His disciples that “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11), yet the disciples were not to let wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, false messiahs and persecutions convince them that the end of the age is imminent. “These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). “They must take place, but that is not yet the end” (Matthew 24:6).
Every generation experiences political upheavals, wars, natural disasters, plagues, famines, and earthquakes. In every generation, those looking for prophetic “fulfillments” will interpret current events as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Yeshua warned His disciples not to engage in that type of end-times sensationalism.
Wars and natural disasters might signify the beginning of the end, like the first faint contraction of a mother going into labor, but they are no cause for panic. A woman might experience early labor pains days, even weeks before she actually gives birth. As the hour of birth draws nearer, a woman’s labor pains increase in intensity and frequency until certainty about the impending birth is unmistakable. Such would also be the case with the fall of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man.