The Bible describers times of unrest and instability are described as “birth pangs” or “birth pains.” The Bible often compares spiritual truths to things we understand. The birth pain metaphor seems particularly apropos and relevant to our current times.
The Meaning of Birth Pains
Birth pains in the Bible describes a society experiencing painful times of upheaval that lead to a consequential moment. This consequential moment is the result of decisions made in the past that compound over a period of time. The times of instability begin slowly and are few and far between. As those decisions compound, the times of unrest increase in frequency and intensity. A cascading series of crises rocks a society. But still, the pain builds until human society resorts to violence out of which a whole new world of sorts emerges.
God employs the “birth pains” metaphor in a variety of situations in the Bible. Let’s look at a few examples.
Birth Pains in Jeremiah 4:31
For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor, the anguish as of one giving birth to her first child…
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry embodied the birth pains metaphor. Injustice, deceit, idolatry, violence, and immorality dominated the culture. Aggrieved, the Lord of hosts sent the nation spiraling into chaos. But out of the chaos and pain and suffering emerged something beautiful. God purified the Jewish nation through chastening. Though they would never ascend to the heights of their fathers in terms of building an earthly kingdom, the post-exilic Jews played a vital role in God’s plan for the world. They paved the way for a Child to be born Who would alter the course of human history for all time.
Birth Pains in Matthew 24:8
But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
The twenty-fourth chapter begins with Jesus exiting the temple complex. As He does so He makes a bold prediction: not one stone will be left on another. Forty years later, the rebellion of the Jews against Rome led to the conquering and destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple complex.
The decades between Jesus’s prediction and the destruction of Jerusalem were, at times, chaotic. Periods of uneasy peace were punctuated by wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, betrayal, and false prophets. “But,” as Jesus said, “all these are the beginning of birth pangs.”
The siege and destruction of Jerusalem followed in their wake. The Jewish historian Josephus described these days as the darkest episode in his people’s history. And those days foreshadow the ultimate day when the pains of birth will suddenly strike the whole earth.
Birth Pains in 1 Thessalonians 5:3
…destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
Paul foresees what things will be like in those final days. Though contractions trend closer and closer together, a woman in labor does not know when exactly the next contraction will come. So, too, will be the return of Jesus. It will arrive suddenly like a thief in the night, like a groom returning for his bride, like the final contraction before birth. And like the warnings of Matthew 24, what emerges from these birth pains is the unremitting wrath of God.
Lift up Your Heads!
If you have found yourself overwhelmed lately, I encourage you to take to heart the words of Jesus in Luke 21:28, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Pull your eyes away from the TV, the tablet, and the phone. Don’t allow the fears and anxieties of those who do not know God to knock you off the path.
Live the right way, live like you want to live forever, be the people God has called us to be.
Lift up your heads. Jesus will return with a heavenly retinue. Look for His return, long for His return, set your mind on things above.
Whether or not Jesus returns in this time is irrelevant. What matters is we should always be ready.