Tag Archives: signs

True Signs of the End of Time

In spite of the challenges described in the previous blog, the subject of End-time signs cannot safely be ignored. The same chapter in which Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour (Matt 24:36) also offers indications as to when the coming is near (Matt 24:33). But what is Anear@ in actual time? A day? A year? A decade? A century? The author of Revelation considered Jesus’ coming to be near by 95 A.D (Rev 1:3; 22:10,12). So a Western chronological understanding of “nearness” is clearly false in light of the passage of 2000 years since the New Testament was written. From an Eastern perspective nearness seems to be much more a state of mind than a chronological fact.

But is there any sense that the coming of Jesus is chronologically nearer now than it was in the first century? Note Ellen White=s comment on the evidence in Matt 24:33, 36, “One saying of the Saviour must not be made to destroy another. Though no man knoweth the day nor the hour of His coming, we are instructed and required to know when it is near (GC 371, emphasis hers).” For Ellen White the coming was near because by her day the time prophecies leading to the Time of the End had been fulfilled.

Seventh-day Adventist students of Daniel and Revelation are aware that while the “last days” truly began in NT times, the Time of the End is a much more recent phenomenon. With the passing of the great time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation we are now living in the Time of the End. So these are not just ordinary times. The year 2000 is much closer to the End than the year 1000 was. We know that this world’s history is writing its final chapter. While we cannot know with certainty that this is the final generation, we certainly know that things can wind up very soon.

While current events should not be used to encourage date-setting in any of its forms, hard or soft, we are certainly living in times like those the Bible associates with the End. Knowledge is increasing with breathtaking rapidity (Dan 12:4 does not address that issue in general, but exponential increase of knowledge in all areas accompanies increased knowledge of the Bible). The internet and satellite broadcasting make it possible for the whole world to hear the gospel in a short time (Matt 24:14). Divisions among nations are increasing. Weapons of mass destruction are in increasingly unstable hands. Rebellion, profanity, perversions, and violence are increasing (2 Tim 3:1-5). The Bible says, “When these things begin to happen, get up, lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28, my translation). One could say that we are living in “end-like times.”

How to Interpret the Signs of the End

It has never been easier to stay informed about world events. With the help of the internet one can amass a huge quantity of information about world affairs in a short period of time. But there are several problems when it comes to analyzing the significance of such information for Christian faith. For one thing, within this enormous mass of information one must distinguish between information which is sound and that which is simply someone’s empty speculation forwarded from computer to computer. It is necessary to become familiar with a news source’s track record over time, with its biases, and with its reasons for offering information on the internet. Christians must be slow to accept the latest report or conspiracy theory, especially when relatively reliable filters like major news organizations or church papers are silent on the subject.

But even when information is reasonably solid, it is imperative to look at the evidence from all sides of the question. Those who emphasize the nearness of the End love to talk about rising crime statistics, catastrophic earthquakes and floods, wars and rumors of wars, imminent economic collapse, and declining morality. But credibility is severely damaged when we ignore solid evidence that points in other directions. For example, many sincere Christian speakers and writers regularly predict the imminent arrival of a national Sunday law in the USA. Yet in my lifetime public attention to the idea of Sunday laws in the USA has been in a steady decline.

But what if your information is unquestionably solid, balanced, and carefully verified? You still have to determine whether that solid information is of any spiritual significance or not. It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about the significance of particular world events. Just because events are taking a course that reminds us of a particular prophecy, doesn’t mean that this particular event is what that prophecy was pointing to. COVID-19 is certainly one of the greatest international crises the world has faced in my lifetime. Yet there is no specific biblical prophecy that tells us a contagious disease will be a definitive mark of the End-time. No matter how solid our reading of the “signs” seems to be, we are expected to stay sober as we approach the End (1 Thess 5:1-11)! We damage the credibility of all preaching about the End when we use inaccurate information, are selective in our use of solid evidence, or make exaggerated claims that are inappropriate to our level of expertise.

Signs of the End: Are the Signs Really Signs?

When I was eight years old, I stood with my parents in front of our home and watched Sputnik (the first man-made satellite of earth) move with surprising speed across the night sky. Shortly after that an earnest fellow believer declared, “God will never let man land on the moon, Jesus will come first.” For him, as for many Christians, various events in today’s world provide evidence or signs that the coming of Jesus is truly near. He felt that since it would be inappropriate for human beings to defile another planet (having already messed up this one!), the approach of human exploration of the moon and the planets became a “sign” that the second coming of Jesus was at hand.

A few years later I got up at three in the morning to witness the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Jesus did not come to intervene. Evidently human occupation of the moon was of less concern to God than my fellow believer had assumed. It turned out not to be a “sign of the End.” Incidents like these make people wonder: Will we ever know with absolute certainty that the return of Jesus is at hand? Are the signs really signs?

When we examine the New Testament, we discover that many world events that Christians take as “signs of the End” are really “signs of the age” instead. Rather than pointing to the timing of the second coming, they confirm that His predicted return at the end of the age is secure. They encourage us to believe that if Jesus knew the character of the whole age in advance, He will not be mistaken about the event that brings it to a close.

For example, when the disciples asked Jesus (Matt 24:3) about the “sign”of His coming and the end of the age, He replied, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Matt 24:6 (NIV). Wars and rumors of wars made great signs of the End in the Jewish apocalyptic of Jesus’ day, but in Matt 24 they do not herald the End, they are part of what life is like before the End.

To fully understand what Jesus was doing in Matthew 24, it is helpful understand how the Judaism of Jesus’ day handled the same ideas (an excellent summary of the early Jewish perspective on signs can be found in D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964], 271-276). The Jewish understanding of signs, which the disciples of Jesus would have shared, was based on the Day of the Lord passages in the OT. It was felt that the near approach of the End would be marked by wars, wickedness, earthquakes, famines, and heavenly portents, among other things. So Jesus is not inventing the concept of signs, He is moderating their impact on the disciples. So it is fascinating that Jesus’ “signs” are generally used for the opposite of the purpose He intended.

Jesus goes on: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matt 24:7-8. Wars, famines and earthquakes do not signal the End, they signal the beginning! The disciples asked for a sign of the End, Jesus gave them signs of the age. These “signs” are not intended to stimulate speculation regarding the timing of the end, they are to remind us of Jesus’ words, which encourage us to be watchful for the End at all times (Matt 24:42).

Jesus does seem to give a measurable sign of the nearness of the End in Matt 24:14. The End will come when the gospel has been preached to the whole world. Yes, the gospel must be preached to the world before the Lord comes, but it is not the kind of sign you can base a calculation on. After all, Paul had the impression that this sign had been fulfilled already in his day (Col 1:23). The only sign that meets the disciples’ intention is the “sign of the son of man” in 24:30. But this appears to be the literal glory that surrounds Jesus Himself at His coming. Those who wait for this sign will be too late.

Jesus’ response to His disciples is disappointing to me in a way. It would seem easier for us if He would have given us all the details about the End, and the events leading up to It, then we could line them all up, see exactly where we are, and know when we have to get ready. But apparently that wasn’t Jesus’ purpose. Apparently that wouldn’t have been the best thing for us. What then was His purpose in this chapter? He gives us that in Matt 24:42. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”