Though the disciples were asking for signs of the end of the age, Jesus began his response by sharing a cluster of “non-signs;” that is, He spoke of events that the disciples believed might accompany the end of the world, but in fact were not signs specific to the end. Jesus is concerned that His disciples are not misled; when they would see false messiahs, wars, famines, and earthquakes – signs traditionally associated with the latter days – Jesus said, “the end is not yet,” and He warned them that these things marked only “the beginning of the birth pangs” (24:4-8). For Christians, as we see these things happening in the world around us, they ought to be no cause for alarm, for we have been told beforehand that they would happen.
Then beginning in verse 9, with the same heart of preparing and warning His disciples, Jesus foretells of the suffering, persecution, and apostasy that will come upon God’s people. As persecution increases, some will abandon the faith to save their skin. Spiritual life will deteriorate in the church as apostasy, betrayal, and hatred run rampant. Yet at the same time there is this one hopeful sign in verse 14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” What we see prior to Christ’s return is a growing polarization between good and evil as God’s people increase in power and witness even as persecution intensifies.