Before reading this brief study, please read the previous articles in this series,
- The Meaning of Eschatology
- Flashback to the Prophecy of Jesus Christ
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 1
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 2
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 3
- The Wedding Feast
- The Temple – Old and New
- The Questions
- The Beginning of Signs
- Misleading Signs 1 – False Messiahs
- Misleading Signs 2 – Wars and Rumours of Wars
- Misleading Signs 3 – Nation against Nation & Kingdom against Kingdom
Matthew 24:7 — For nation will rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in place after place.
Mark 13:8 — For nation will rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Luke 21:11 — There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
Modern doomsday prophets often warn us of the most terrible famines coming in the future however, we must note that there were famines before Jesus came and after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
This being said, we must again ask if Jesus was warning His disciples about twenty-first-century famines or the first-century famines, the ones that they would see. Luke adds, “pestilences” to this prophecy.
There was a great famine that occurred throughout the Roman Empire during the reign of Claudius, AD. 41-54. Luke writing by inspiration, records that:
Acts 11:27 – 28 — And during these days prophets (inspired teachers and interpreters of the divine will and purpose) came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and prophesied through the [Holy] Spirit that a great and severe famine would come upon the whole world. And this did occur during the reign of Claudius.
“Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus,” usually referred to as Claudius, was the emperor of Rome from AD. 41 to AD. 54.
Arnold writes a summary on the famine and food shortages during the time of Claudius:
“There is abundant ancient evidence attesting food shortages and greatly inflated food prices during the reign of Claudius. The word translated ‘famine’ in this verse (limos) can also mean ‘death’ or ‘severe shortage.’ Obviously Antioch is not affected as badly as Jerusalem and Judea; otherwise they would not have been able to provide substantial help. Rome began to experience a scarcity of food in the winter of AD. 40–41, the beginning of Claudius’s reign.
This general disruption in the food supply is attributed to declines in the production of grain in Egypt, the principal grain supplier for Rome and much of the Mediterranean region. Crop failures in Egypt grew particularly severe in the period of AD. 45–47. One writer indicates that the crisis was felt in all of Syria in AD. 44. But Jerusalem and Judea were the hardest hit of all during this time. This was exacerbated by still other factors.
When the emperor Gaius Caligula ordered his statue to be erected in the Jerusalem temple in late AD. 39, the Jews refused to plant their crops. Indeed, they were ready to die rather than allow their temple to be profaned. The next year was a sabbatical year, which kept their ground out of production and intensified the food shortage. Just three years later, in AD. 44–45, Judea strongly felt the adverse effects of the more general food shortage and the resultant exorbitant prices for grain that was in short supply and in high demand.” [Arnold, “Acts,” 218-504]
HISTORIANS RECORD FAMINES
The Jewish and Roman historians: Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus all agree to this historical fact. There were four seasons of great scarcity during the reign of Claudius (AD. 41–54) in Rome, Palestine and Greece.
Spence and Excell mention that all of these historians wrote of a single autumn in which thirty thousand died of famine and pestilence in Rome. [Spence and Excell, p. 432.]
“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.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.2.5]
In the endnotes of the “Antiquities,” the following additional supportive information is given by Dr. Hudson,
“…but of this terrible famine itself in Judea…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…” [Josephus, Antiquities, End Notes# 5]
Josephus comments in the “Wars of the Jews,”
“It was now a miserable case, and a sight that would justly bring tears into our eyes, how men stood as to their food, while the more powerful had more than enough, and the weaker were lamenting [for want of it.] But the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it is destructive to nothing so much as to modesty; for what was otherwise worthy of reverence was in this case despised; insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives: and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious everywhere came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor. But still they were more barbarously cruel to those that had prevented their coming in, and had actually swallowed down what they were going to seize upon, as if they had been unjustly defrauded of their right.
They also invented terrible methods of torments to discover where any food was, and they were these to stop up the passages of the privy parts of the miserable wretches, and to drive sharp stakes up their fundaments; and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear, in order to make him confess that he had but one loaf of bread, or that he might discover a handful of barleymeal that was concealed; and this was done when these tormentors were not themselves hungry; for the thing had been less barbarous had necessity forced them to it; but this was done to keep their madness in exercise, and as making preparation of provisions for themselves for the following days.
These men went also to meet those that had crept out of the city by night, as far as the Roman guards, to gather some plants and herbs that grew wild; and when those people thought they had got clear of the enemy, they snatched from them what they had brought with them, even while they had frequently entreated them, and that by calling upon the tremendous name of God, to give them back some part of what they had brought; though these would not give them the least crumb, and they were to be well contented that they were only spoiled, and not slain at the same time.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.10.3]
And again, in the “Wars of the Jews,”
“So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them.
As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves; for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come. Nor was there any lamentations made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die looked upon those that were gone to rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths.
A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were themselves; for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords in their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what metal they were made of they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground; but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand and their sword to despatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left them to be consumed by the famine.
Now every one of these died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the seditious alive behind them. Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.12.3]
Tacitus wrote about the conditions in Rome in AD. 51:
“This year witnessed many prodigies. Omened birds settled on the Capitol. Houses were flattened by repeated earthquakes, and as terror spread the weak were trampled to death by the panic-stricken crowd. Further portents were seen in a shortage of corn, resulting in famine. The consequent alarm found open expression when Claudius, administering justice, was surrounded by a frenzied mob; driven to the far corner of the Forum, he was hard pressed until a detachment of troops forced a way for him through the hostile crowd. It was established that there was no more than fifteen days’ supply of food in the city. Only heaven’s special favor and a mild winter prevented catastrophe.”[Tacitus, Annals, 271]
“There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezob, which signifies the house of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon, such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city.
What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. This put the poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she east at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her; but none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of commiseration of her case, would take away her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow , when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself; nor did she consult with anything but with her passion and the necessity she was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, ―O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition?
As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.
As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, ―This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also.
After which those men went out trembling, being never so much affrighted at anything as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while everybody laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves.
So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.3.4]
Richard Abanes of “End Times Visions” writes: “… the worst famines the world has ever known are history. Of the five worst famines in History, only one, the manmade famine in the USSR, occurred within the last century.”
He gives a survey listing of these famines are,
- China, (1849), Fourteen million killed
- China, (1333-1337), Four million killed
- Ireland, (1846), One million killed
- Russia, (1920’s), One Million killed
- Russia, (1600), Five hundred thousand killed
The churches throughout the Roman empire gave special offerings to apostle Paul to help relieve the suffering of the believers in Judea due to famine. Jesus had prophesied these things and the church was seeing these prophecies accurately come to pass right before their eyes. They beheld great starvation, cannibalism, and deaths due to famines.
Many places of acute famines have been revived and famines eliminated by modern farming methods. The scriptures point to the period before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD. 70.
JESUS RULES NOW
Acts 2:33-36 — Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Ephesians 1:20-23 — that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Hebrews 1:3-4 — He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Revelation 1:5 — and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.
Isaiah 9:7 — “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”