The war to end all wars?
When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains. (Mark 13:7-8, NIV)
In 1914 H G Wells wrote a book called The War That Will End War, arguing that the Allied forces had to win what we now call the First World War. Since the end of that war the adapted form of the war to end all wars has sometimes been used to refer to it. More often than not, it expresses our sense that such a suggestion was naively optimistic.
As we mark the centenary of the Armistice this Sunday, what can we expect the future of our war-torn world to hold? Jesus’ remarkable teaching, in Mark 13, has proved astoundingly prescient.
First, we should expect war. We will not be able to find a permanent solution to war - whether by military or diplomatic means. That does not mean we should not try to make peace - of course we should - but the facts of human nature mean that our default setting is more war than peace. Indeed, it takes an enormous effort of diplomacy and military expenditure to stop us fighting each other more often. We kid ourselves when we suggest that with more democracy, education and a spread of liberal values, all will be well.
Secondly, wars should not alarm us. “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed”, Jesus said. “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Within 40 years of his speaking these words, Jerusalem had been sacked by the Roman general Titus, its people massacred and the precious Temple destroyed. It must have seemed like the end of the world - as catastrophes generally do. But it wasn’t, said Jesus. Wars, horrific though they are, are not the same as the end of the world. That end will really come only when Christ himself returns, and it will be obvious.
Third, wars are birth-pains of the End. “These are the beginning of birth-pains”, says Jesus. Although wars aren’t themselves the end of the world, they point ahead to that end. They show us that all is not well between humanity and God; they show us that we are a world under God’s judgement, and therefore facing God’s judgement. They teach us of our urgent need to repent.
For Christ will return in glory (Mark 13:26-27). Does that sound far-fetched? Take a look at Jesus’ astonishing predictions in Mark 13:2 (the Temple will be destroyed, which it was) and Mark 13:10 (the gospel will be preached to all nations, which it has). These should make us take his prediction of his return seriously.
What hope is there in the face of this? Jesus gives us two wonderful gifts. One is his gospel: “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (10) Here is real hope: news of how men and women can be reconciled to God, forgiven, changed from within by His Spirit and awaiting a new heaven and earth, where there will be no more war.
The other gift is Jesus’ words. In the midst of the turmoil of the world, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (31)
This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. We will be marking the centenary by hearing God’s word to us in Psalm 46. At our 5pm service we will also be concluding our mini-series on Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13.
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