There can be no mistake about it. The birth pains mentioned in Matthew and Luke are one and the same.
But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. (Matt. 24:8-9)
Notice that, in Matthew, Jesus says that there will be birth pains and then they will be delivered up to tribulation, death, and hatred. But what does Luke say?
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. (Luke 21:12).
…will put some of you to death and you will be hated by all. (v. 16-17)
What “things” are Jesus talking about when He says, “But before all these things?” They could be nothing other than the birth pains He mentioned in the previous verse (including the “terrors and great signs form heaven,” which we will get to later).
In Matthew, Jesus clearly taught that the birth pains would take place first and “then” they would be delivered up to tribulation, hated, and killed. But, in Luke, Jesus tells them that “before all these things” (the same birth pangs mentioned in Matthew 24), they would be persecuted, hated, and killed.
Matthew 24 = Birth pains and then tribulation/hated/killed
Luke 21 = Persecution/hated/killed and then birth pains
There is no possible way that a particular event could take place before and after the birth pains, and therefore it’s impossible that these two accounts are speaking of the same event. There’s only one answer that smoothly harmonizes this dilemma.
In Luke, Jesus speaks to His disciples at the temple during the day and answers their question about when the temple will be destroyed. In verses 12-23, He informs them of the details of the upcoming event that were to take place before the birth pains. We now know this event happened in 70 AD when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and dispersed the Jews among the nations.
Matthew 24 verses 3 through the end of the chapter records what Jesus spoke to the disciples later that evening on the Mount of Olives, answering their question that pertained to His coming and the end of the age. He taught them about what would take place after the birth pains—the final persecution of the elect initiated by the “abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet.”
It fits together quite nicely. The disciples and other listeners had heard earlier that day about the destruction of the temple and about some of the events of the end (Luke). The disciples had thought about it the rest of the day, piquing their curiosity, and later that evening they came to Him privately and asked, “When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age (Matthew)?”
It appears, in Matthew, as though the disciples assumed the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were linked to His coming and the end of the age, but there should be no doubt—Jesus implied no such thing. He simply answered the portion of their question pertaining to the end. He gave them what they really wanted to know at that time.
In the next column, I’ll deal with some of the objections to this view.