Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Coming on the Clouds of Heaven:

A Reply to Shabir Ally’s
Execrable Blasphemies and Calumnies
Against the Son of Man

Part IIId

By Anthony Rogers

[Continued from Part IIIc]

Wars and Rumors of Wars
(Matthew 24:6-7a)

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, … (Matthew 24:6-7a)

After warning the apostles that false messiahs would come before the end of the age (24:3), and before saying that all these things would happen before the present generation passed away (Matthew 24:34), Jesus proceeded to tell the apostles that they would hear of wars and rumors of wars, and that such things were not to frighten them. These were premonitory signs of the end, but they were not to be mistaken as the immediate harbingers of the end or the end itself, as the phrase “that is not yet the end” makes clear.

Such a prediction might be thought otherwise unremarkable, for as some are fond of pointing out wars and rumors of wars have taken place throughout history. However, the significance of Jesus’ prediction must be seen in the context of the time, which was the famed Pax Augusta, better known as the Pax Romana or Peace of Rome, which is typically said to have lasted from the time of Caesar Augustus, who came to power before the birth of Jesus, to the death of Marcus Aurelius, which took place a century and a half after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Speaking of this period, Epictetus said: “For you see that Caesar appears to furnish us with great peace, that there are no longer enemies nor battles nor great associations of robbers nor of pirates, but we can travel at every hour and sail from east to west” (The Discourses, 3:13). This was generally true of the time period as a whole, but Jesus said it would be punctuated by wars and rumors of wars between the time of His crucifixion and the end of the age, and indeed it was. Against this backdrop, Christ’s prediction is not trivial as is sometimes suggested.

As Gary DeMar explains:

There were to be “wars and rumors of wars” before the generation to whom Jesus spoke would pass away. But how could there be wars and rumors of wars during the era of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), which began with the reign of Augustus and his establishment of the “Age of Peace” in 17 B.C.? “Wars and rumors of wars” can only be a sign during times of supposed peace! As we will see, the Roman Peace was fragile, to say the least.

The Jews resisted the erection of the statue of Caligula in the temple; and such was the dread of Roman resentment, that the fields remained uncultivated. At Caesarea, the Jews and Syrians contended for the mastery of the city. Twenty thousand of the former were put to death, and the rest were expelled. Every city in Syria was then divided into two armies, and multitudes were slaughtered. Alexandria and Damascus presented a similar scene of bloodshed. About fifty thousand of the Jews fell in the former, and ten thousand in the latter. The Jewish nation rebelled against the Romans; Italy was convulsed with contentions for the empire; and, as a proof of the troublous and warlike character of the period, within the brief space of two years, four emperors, Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, suffered death.30

The Annals of Tacitus, covering the period from A.D. 14 to the death of Nero in A.D. 68, describes the tumult of the period with phrases such as “disturbances in Germany,” “commotions in Africa,” “commotions in Thrace,” “insurrections in Gaul,” “intrigues among the Parthians,” “the war in Britain,” and “the war in Armenia.” Wars were fought from one end of the empire to the other. ... Josephus writes that Roman civil wars were so common in the empire that there was no need to write about them in any great detail: “I have omitted to give an exact account of them, because they are well known by all, and they are described by a great number of Greek and Roman authors; yet for the sake of the connection of matters, and that my history may not be incoherent, I have just touched upon everything briefly.”31 The Jews were often the target of these wars. At Seleucia “more than 50,000 Jews were killed.”32 Caligula’s death stopped the slaughter of the Jews. (Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta, Georgia: American Vision, Inc., 1997), p. 52-53)

30 Keith, [The] Evidence [of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy Particularly as Illustrated by the History of the Jews (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.)], 59-60

31 Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 4:9:2, 688.

32 Alford, The New Testament for English Readers [Chicago, Il: Moody Press, [1886] n.d.], 162.

And things only got worse in that generation the closer the time came for Jerusalem’s destruction, when not only the wider empire but the empire proper was caught up in the upheavals being experienced elsewhere. Dr. Gentry writes:

The Pax Romana begins with Augustus’s establishment of the “Age of Peace” in 17 B.C. The prominent church father Origen (A.D. 185-254) speaks of the “abundance of peace that began at the birth of Christ.”40 It is, indeed, a time of an “abundance of peace” that gives stability to the Mediterranean basin and, by the providence of God, allows for the rapid dissemination of the Christian faith.

Interestingly, scholars observe that “in the Roman Empire proper, this period of peace remained comparatively undisturbed until the time of Nero.”41 And Nero engages the Jewish War that results in the destruction of the Temple stone by stone. This is also the time of the Roman Civil Wars, including the infamous “Year of Four Emperors” (A.D. 68-90). In fact, the turmoil of this period is so severe that it almost leads to the collapse of the Roman Empire.42 ... Thus, the “wars and rumors of wars” are truly signs for that “generation.” The outbreak of wars in such an era would serve as impressive signs in an era of such remarkable peace.

The engagement of the Jewish War (A.D. 67-70) with the Roman Imperial army includes contributions of troops and horsemen from Rome’s client kings and allies.43 Significantly, Josephus entitles his most famous work of the era “the Wars of the Jews.” During the Roman Civil Wars (A.D. 68-69) several nations revolt in an attempt to leave the Empire.44 It literally is a time of “nation against nation.”

Thus, Jesus’s day is a time of great peace, known as the Pax Romana. He warns that wars and rumors of wars will disrupt it. The disruptions occur in Nero Caesar’s latter days and lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.M, Th.D., Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (Texarkan, Arkansas: Covenant Media Press (1999), p. 48-49) (Emphasis original)

40 Origen, Romans 1:3.

41 Bo Reicke, The New Testament Era: The World of the Bible from 500 B.C. to A.D. 100 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 110.

42 Josephus notes of the Roman Civil Wars of this era: “I have omitted to give an exact account of them, because they are well known by all, and they are described by a great number of Greek and Roman authors” (Wars 4:9:2). For more information see my Before Jerusalem Fell, 311-314.

43 Josephus mentions soldiers from Caesera, Syria, Arabia, and other cities and nations. Josephus, Wars 3:1:3; 3:4:4.

44 Tacitus, Histories 1:2-3. He mentions the Gallic provinces, Britain, Sarmatae, and Suebi.

This part of the Lord’s prophecy then is neither trivial nor did it fail to come to pass. All took place just as Jesus said it would in that terminal generation.

Famines and Earthquakes
(Matthew 24:7b-8)

… and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matthew 24:7b-8)

In addition to the wars and uprisings of that period Jesus said there would be famines and earthquakes, once again noting that the end would not be yet for “these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”

Evidence that there were famines and earthquakes in that period abounds.


With respect to the first, we read of one such famine that affected Jerusalem in the book of Acts:

Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. (Acts 11:27-30)

It was for the purpose of helping the Christians in Judea during the famine that Paul gathered collections from the saints in other parts of the empire in order to bring them to Jerusalem to help the saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-5; Romans 15:25-28).

Speaking of this famine, Josephus reports:

But as to Helena [queen of Adiabene – AR], the king's mother, when she saw that the affairs of Izates's kingdom were in peace, and that her son was a happy man, and admired among all men, and even among foreigners, by the means of God's providence over him, she had a mind to go to the city of Jerusalem, in order to worship at that temple of God which was so very famous among all men, and to offer her thank-offerings there. So she desired her son to give her leave to go thither; upon which he gave his consent to what she desired very willingly, and made great preparations for her dismission, and gave her a great deal of money, and she went down to the city Jerusalem, her son conducting her on her journey a great way. Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal, queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs. And as soon as they were come back, and had brought those provisions, which was done very quickly, she distributed food to those that were in want of it, and left a most excellent memorial behind her of this benefaction, which she bestowed on our whole nation. And when her son Izates was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal men in Jerusalem. However, what favors this queen and king conferred upon our city Jerusalem shall be further related hereafter. (Antiquities, 20.2.5)

In his commentary on Josephus, Paul L. Maier says:

This further account of the benefactions of Izates and Helena to the Jerusalem Jews which Josephus here promises is, I think, nowhere performed by him in his present works. But of this terrible famine itself in Judea, take Dr. Hudson’s note here: ‘This (says he) is THAT famine foretold by Agabus, Acts 11:28, which happened when Claudius was consul the fourth time; and not that OTHER which happened when Claudius was consul the second time, and Cesina was his colleague, as Scaliger says upon Eusebius, p. 174.’ Now when Josephus had said a little afterward, ch. 5 sect. 2, that ‘Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspius Fauds as procurator,’ he immediately adds, that ‘under these procurators there happened a great famine in Judea.’ Thus it is plain that this famine continued for many years, on account of its duration under these two procurators. Now Fadus was not sent into Judea until after the death of King Agrippa, i.e. towards the latter end of the 4th year of Claudius; so that this famine foretold by Agabus happened upon the 5th, 6th, and 7th years of Claudius, as says Valesius on Euseb. II. 12. Of this famine also, and Queen Helena’s supplies, and her monument, see Moses Churenensis, pp. 144, 145, where it is observed in the notes that Pausanias mentions her monument also. (The New Complete Works of Josephus, Revised and Expanded, translated by William Whiston, Commentary by Paul L. Maier (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1999), fn4, p. 645) (Upper case mine)

Suetonius provides some confirmation for this as well and how it even affected Rome:

Once, after a series of droughts had caused a scarcity of grain, a mob stopped Claudius in the Forum and pelted him so hard with curses and stale crusts that he had difficulty in regaining the Palace by a side-door; as a result he took all possible steps to import grain, even during the winter months – insuring merchants against the loss of their ships in stormy weather (which guaranteed them a good return on their ventures), and offering a large bounty for every new grain transport built, proportionate to its tonnage. (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, “Claudius,” The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Brent Graves, Revised with an Introduction by Michael Grant (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), [18.2], p. 197)

Other ancient historians also tell us about this famine, how long it lasted, the various places it affected, etc. Summarizing the evidence, F. F. Bruce relates the following in his commentary on Acts 11:28:

ἐφ' ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην] Here, as in Lk 2:1, the οἰκουμένην, is to be understood of the Roman world, the orbis terrarum. The principate of Claudius was marked by assiduae sterilitates [i.e. ‘frequent crop failures’ – AR] (Suet. Claud. 18.2); under him FAMINES occurred not only in Judea but in Rome, at the beginning of his rule (Dio Cassius, Hist. 60.11); in Egypt, in his fifth year (P.Mich. 123, 127); in Greece, in his eighth or ninth year (Esuebius, Chron., anno Abr. 2065); and again in Rome, between his ninth and eleventh years (Tac. Ann. 12.43; Orosius, Hist. 7.6.17). Taken together, these amount to something like an “ecumenical catastrophe” (G. Stählin, Apostelgeschichte, p. 164). C. C. Torrey’s attempt to make “all the οἰκουμένην” here (and in Lk. 2:1) mean “all the land” of Judaea (CDA, pp. 20f.) is to be rejected (see the critique by M. Wilcox, The Semitisms of Acts [Oxford, 1965], pp. 147f.). Josephus tells of a famine in Judaea about this time under the procurators Cuspius Fadus and Tiberius Julius Alexander, i.e., between A.D. 44 and 48… He relates further how Helena, queen mother of Adiabene, a Jewish proselyte, bought grain in Egypt and figs in Cyprus, and had them taken to Jerusalem for distribution in this famine, while her son King Izates sent a large sum of money to the leading men in Jerusalem to be used for public relief (Ant. 20.51-53). K. S. Gapp (“Universal Famine Under Claudius,” HTR 28 [1935], pp. 258-65), identifying this famine with that mentioned in Jos. Ant. 3.320f., concludes that the famine extended to the spring of A.D. 46 or 47. J. Jeremias (“Sabbathjahr und neutestamentliche Chronologie,” ZNW 27 [1928], pp. 98-103 = Abba [Göttingen, 1966], pp. 233-238) points out that, if the harvest failed in A.D. 46-47, the incidence of the sabbatical year A.D. 47-48 would have intensified the scarcity of food; famine conditions would have prevailed until the spring of A.D. 49…. (F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd Revised and Enlarged Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 276) (Bold and uppercase emphasis mine)


Besides famines in various places there were also earthquakes during that generation just as Jesus said there would be.

There was of course the earthquake at the time of Christ’s death:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-4)

Another earthquake occurred at the resurrection:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. (Matthew 28:2)

Still another earthquake is recorded later in the book of Acts

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26)

Besides these earthquakes many others are known to have occurred throughout the empire during the interim period between Christ’s ascension and His coming in judgment in A.D. 70, as pointed out by Alford:

The principal earthquakes occurring between this prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem were, (1) a great earthquake in Crete, A.D. 46 or 47; (2) one at Rome on the day when Nero assumed the manly toga, A.D. 51; (3) one at Apamaea in Phrygia, mentioned by Tacitus, A.D. 53; (4) one at Laodicea in Phrygia, A.D. 60; (5) one in Campania. Seneca, in the year, A.D. 58, writes:—“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.” (Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, n.d.), p. 163.

The words of Marcellus Kik form a fitting summary and conclusion to the verses of the Olivet discourse surveyed above:

The beginning of sorrows for the Jewish nation would consist of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. All these things would occur sometime previous to the destruction of Jerusalem. At the time Jesus revealed this state of affairs, the Roman Empire was experiencing peace within its borders. However, it was not long after the Olivet Discourse that strife, insurrections, and wars were filling both Palestine and other parts of the Roman Empire. In Rome itself, four emperors came to a violent death in the short space of eighteen months. Were one to give account of all the disturbances that actually occurred within the Empire after Jesus’ death, he would be constrained to write a separate book.

To the Jews it was a highly turbulent time. There was an uprising against them in Alexandria. In Seleucia 50,000 were slain. In Caesaria a battle between Syrians and Jews brought death to about 20,000 Jews. The fight between Syrians and Jews divided many villages and towns into armed camps. Constant rumors of wars kept the Jewish people in an unsettled state. Josephus mentions how Caligula, the Roman Emperor, made orders that his statue be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem. Because the Jews refused to allow this, they lived in constant fear that the Emperor might send an army into Palestine. Some Jews lived in such fear that they dared not even plow and sow the ground.

Acts 11:28 makes mention of a famine which occurred in the day of Claudius Caesar. It was a famine that spread not only in Judea but other parts of the world, and like all famines, it was followed by pestilences that caused the death of thousands. And as to earthquakes, many are mentioned by ancient writers during a period just previous to 70 A.D. There were earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome, and Judea. It is interesting to note that the city of Pompeii was much damaged by an earthquake occurring on February 5, 63, A.D.

From the above evidence one may conclude that the prophecy of Jesus was literally fulfilled as to wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. Christ told his disciples that they were not to be troubled by these things because these calamities did not indicate the end. Throughout history there have been those who have taken these signs as indicating the approaching end of the world. Even today, national and international calamities are said to be decisive proofs that the world is coming to an end. The Lord, however, teaches that these signs did not even mean the end of Jerusalem. He says, “But the end is not yet.” Hence the disciples were not to be troubled when they beheld these events. (Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971), p. 92-93)

To be continued…