One of the things people are most afraid of concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the potential for this to be escalated into a conflict between world powers with NATO sucked in and then the possibility of nuclear weapons being unleashed. Over the weekend, Vladimir Putin escalated the language on this. First, he warned that if other countries interfered with his operation in Ukraine then they would be met by unprecedented consequences, then on Sunday, he put his nuclear deterrent forces on standby. Finally, his ally, the Belarus President warned that if Putin did not get his way or the West were perceived to be interfering then it might lead to World War III and the unleashing of nuclear missiles.
Now, I suspect this is all carefully crafted rhetoric aimed at unsettling the West. A nuclear war would be as costly to Russia as it would be to the West. Even if Putin has become unhinged and deranged (personally I am not convinced that he is mad in that sense), there would be others including his generals who would step in. However, for the first time in a long time we really do live under the shadow of nuclear conflict. So, for many, this kind of rhetoric will be terrifying.
Some of us are old enough to remember the Cold War. I was only around for the tail end of it, growing up in the late 70s and into the 1980s. However, I can remember that sense of continuous tension. We lived in the shadow of the “four-minute warning” (if the sirens went off then you had about 4 minutes before the missiles began to strike). Occasionally the siren would go off, either by accident or because of testing and your heart would stop for a moment.
The Cold War played into the imaginations and narratives of some who were particularly obsessive about the details of the end times with a lot of debate and discussion about whether Russia and America were the Gog and Magog predicted in Scripture.
However, alongside this was a repeated message from preachers who knew their Bibles well and it is worth repeating this today. “This world will not end because leaders chose to enter into a nuclear Armageddon.” Note, that’s not to say that there won’t be such a conflict and that it won’t be horrific and brutal. The point is this. The World won’t end that way because the end of this age will be at God’s choosing not Humanity’s.
This takes us back to Matthew 24. Throughout history, people have attempted to plot the timeline of the end times and work out where they are on the timeline. They’ve looked at particular natural disasters and conflicts then tried to fit those events into their timeline. Yet, Jesus was very clear in his words to the disciples.
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.Matthew 24:4-8
In other words, there was going to be conflict and fear throughout history from the time when Jesus ascended to heaven until the time when he returned. We cannot and should not use these events to try and calculate where we are on the timeline. Jesus’ statement that these things are “but the beginning” remind us of Winston Churchill’s famous words:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.Winston Churchill
Now, it’s important to be clear about what the comfort is here. It’s not comfort that comes with the promise that we are not going to have to face conflict or suffering. I have an opinion on the likelihood of this current conflict escalating beyond Ukraine’s border. I happen to think the probability is low because it isn’t really in Putin’s self-interest but none of us can really make certain predictions. Rather the point is this:
- We will all have to die one day. We cannot prevent or even postpone that day by worrying about it.
- In the same way, the World will end one day. We cannot prevent or even postpone that day by worrying about it.
And most importantly, the point is that the day is appointed by God, not by Putin, Biden, Johnson or Macron, not by the dictator of a rogue state and not by terrorists. Therefore, because the day is in God’s hands we have nothing to fear from it if we are in Christ. The signal of the end will be this:
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.Matthew 24:30
The sign is The Son. We will know that it is the end because Christ will be with us. We will be safe with him. We can look forward to that day with joy and hope.
 The siren system was dismantled from the 90s onwards and any warning today would come through text messages and interruption of broadcasting.