Signs Of The Times
Many people believe there is nothing that can be known about the timing of the Lordís return because Jesus said He would return like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:42-44). But Paul makes it clear in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 that Jesusí statement does not apply to believers: "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief..." He then proceeds to explain why: "for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober." Paul is referring, of course, to the light of the Holy Spirit who indwells all true believers and who can enlighten us through our study of Scripture to know the season of the Lordís return (1 John 2:27).
As a matter of fact, God is obligated by His character to warn the world of the imminent return of His Son. The reason is that Jesus is returning in great wrath to "judge and wage war" (Revelation 19:11), and God never pours out His wrath without warning.
God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should be brought to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, God always warns before He executes His wrath. He warned the world through Noah for 120 years. He warned Sodom and Gomorrah through Abraham. He sent Jonah to warn the pagan city of Nineveh, and He sent Nahum to the same city 150 years later.
Likewise, God is warning the world today that His Son is about to return. He is calling the world to repentance. The message of the hour to unbelievers can be summed up in these words: "Flee from the wrath that is to come by fleeing into the loving arms of Jesus now." Jesus came the first time as an expression of Godís love; He came to die for the sins of mankind. But when He returns, He will come in vengeance to pour out the wrath of God on those who have rejected Godís love and grace.
The soon return of Jesus also carries with it a message for believers. Lukewarm Christians and carnal Christians are being called to commit their lives to holiness: "The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:12-14).
Godís Method of Warning
God is alerting believers of the soon return of His Son through what are called "signs of the times." These are prophecies concerning world events that we are told to watch for, prophecies that will identify the season of the Lordís return.
The Bible is full of these signs. There are about 500 prophecies in the Old Testament that relate to the Second Coming of the Messiah. In the New Testament, one out of every 25 verses is concerned with the return of Jesus.
In fact, there are so many signs that it is difficult to grasp all of them. The best way I have found to do this is to put them in categories. [Editorís Note: Though the author describes several categories of signs, we are at this time including only the first three.]
1) THE SIGNS OF SOCIETY
Jesus said that society will become increasingly lawless and immoral as the time approaches for His return. In fact, He said it would become as evil as it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:12,37-39).
Paul paints a chilling picture of end time society in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. He says it will be characterized by three loves Ė the love of self (humanism), the love of money (materialism), and the love of pleasure (hedonism). He then points out that the payoff of this carnal lifestyle will be what the philosophers call nihilism, that is, a society wallowing in despair. Menís minds will become depraved (Romans 1:28), and people will call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).
We are seeing these prophecies fulfilled before our eyes today as we watch our society reject its Christian heritage and descend into a hellish pit of lawlessness, immorality, and despair. Even worse, we are exporting our nihilism around the world through our immoral and violent movies and television programs.
2) THE SPIRITUAL SIGNS
There are both positive and negative spiritual signs that we are to watch for. The negative ones include the appearance of false christs and their cults (Matthew 24:5,11,24), the apostasy of the professing church (2 Thessalonians 2:3), an outbreak of Satanism (1 Timothy 4:1), and the persecution of faithful Christians (Matthew 24:9).
These negative spiritual signs began to appear in the mid-19th Century when Christian cults started forming, and then a great variety of spiritualist groups. The apostasy of the mainline Christian denominations began in the 1920ís when the German school of higher criticism invaded American seminaries and undermined the authority of the Scriptures, teaching that the Bible is manís search for God rather than Godís revelation to man.
During the 1960ís Satanism exploded on the American scene and has since been exported worldwide through American movies, books, and television programs. Dabbling in the occult has become commonplace in the form of astrology, numerology, crystal gazing, transcendental meditation, channeling, and the appearance of the New Age Movement with its teaching that man is God.
As society has secularized, true Christianity has come under increasing attack. Judeo-Christian values, once the foundation of Western Civilization, are now openly mocked, and those who still adhere to them are castigated as "intolerant fundamentalists" by the media.
The positive spiritual signs include the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24:14), a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32), and spiritual illumination to understand prophecies that have been "sealed up" until the end times (Daniel 12:4,9).
As with the negative signs, we are seeing these positive signs fulfilled in our day and time. Through the use of modern technology, the Gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world, and the Bible has been translated into all major languages.
The great end time pouring out of the Holy Spirit that was prophesied by the prophet Joel has also begun. Joel called it "the latter rain" (Joel 2:23), and he said it would occur after the Jews had returned to their land. The state of Israel was re-established in 1948. Since that time, God has anointed ministries and movements which have prompted renewal in worship and given emphasis to the continuing validity of the gifts of the Spirit.
The acceleration in the understanding of Bible prophecy has also occurred since that time as teachers and authors have opened up to popular understanding many prophecies that had been "sealed up" until the end times (Daniel 12:4, 9).
3) THE SIGNS OF NATURE
We are told to watch for earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and signs in the heavens (see Matthew 24:7 and Luke 21:11). The category of signs of nature is perhaps the least respected category of signs. There are two reasons for this, one that is conceptual, and another that is philosophical. The conceptual problem resides in the fact that there have always been signs of nature. So, when confronted with the prophesied signs of nature, many people shrug their shoulders and ask, "What else is new? There have always been tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes."
What they overlook is that Jesus said these signs would be like "birth pangs" (Matthew 24:8). That means they will increase in frequency and intensity the closer we get to the Lordís return. And that is exactly what appears to be happening today.
The philosophical problem many people have with the signs of nature is due to the fact we have been influenced by Western scientific rationalism into believing that for something to exist, we must be able to see it, measure it, weigh it, and dissect it. In contrast, the Bible teaches there is a whole realm of the supernatural that cannot normally be perceived by the senses. This realm includes angels, demons, and the operation of the Holy Spirit. It also includes Godís intervention from time to time through natural disasters. Though many people find it difficult to believe that God speaks to the world through signs of nature, the Bible teaches this principle from start to finish.
God and Signs of Nature
Sometimes God uses signs of nature to underline the importance of major events. Thus, at the birth of Jesus, God placed a special light in the heavens. When Jesus was crucified, the earth experienced three hours of darkness and a major earthquake. And the Bible says in association with Jesusí return that the world will experience the greatest earthquake in its history (Revelation 16:17-21).
More often, God uses signs of nature as remedial judgments to call nations to repentance. Both the Bible and history attest to the fact that God has a pattern of dealing with nations. To begin with, He is the one who establishes nations, and He is the one who takes them down (Daniel 2:20-21). When a nation rebels against God, He responds first by raising up prophetic voices to call the nation to repentance. These are not people with supernatural knowledge of the future. They simply have the gift of discernment to see where a nation is missing Godís mark. To put it another way, they know how to apply the Scriptures to contemporary events.
If a nation refuses to listen to the prophetic voices, God will then send remedial judgments. These can take many forms. Deuteronomy 28 mentions economic failure, rebellion of youth, an epidemic of divorce, confusion in government, foreign domination, and military defeat. The chapter also mentions natural disasters like drought, crop failure, and pestilence.
Finally, if a nation digs in against God and sets its jaw against His calls to repentance, a point of no return will be reached Ė often referred to as "when the wound becomes incurable" (Nahum 3:19, Jeremiah 30:12, and Micah 1:9). At this point, the Lord will deliver the nation from judgment to destruction. That destruction may occur quickly Ė as with Babylon and the Soviet Union Ė or it may occur gradually over a period of time, as with the Roman Empire.
Examples of Remedial Judgments
There are many examples of remedial judgments in the Bible that involve natural disasters. Take for example the plagues with which God afflicted Egypt in order to convince Pharaoh that he should release the children of Israel from captivity. The Lord sent plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. In addition, He contaminated the nationís water, afflicted the livestock with pestilence, struck the people with sores and boils, engulfed the land in a thick darkness, and finally took the lives of the first born of both men and livestock.
When King Ahab led the Israelites into the worship of a pagan god, the Lord raised up the prophet Elijah to call the king and his people to repentance. When they ignored Elijah, the Lord then put a remedial judgment on the land in the form of a severe three and a half year drought (1 Kings 17 and 18).
The book of Joel tells about a locust invasion that afflicted Judah. This was one of the worst calamities that could befall an agricultural society. It appears that people began bemoaning their "bad luck," when God sent the prophet Joel to inform them that the disaster had nothing to do with luck. Joel boldly proclaimed that the locusts had been sent by God to call the people to repentance. He warned that if they did not repent, the Lord would send something even worse Ė an enemy army. The people ignored Joel and the prophets who followed him, and God ultimately sent the army, delivering them from judgment to destruction.
Seventy years later when the Babylonian captivity ended, the Jews who returned to Judah laid the foundation for a new temple and then quickly lost interest in the project. They turned their attention instead to the building of their personal homes. For fourteen years the foundation of the temple stood vacant. Finally, God raised up an elderly, tough-talking prophet named Haggai. He confronted the people by asking them: "Have you noticed that when you plant your crops, they are destroyed by root rot? And when you replant them, they are destroyed again by hail? And when you replant, a wind storm comes? God is speaking to you! He is calling you to repent of your misplaced priorities and give attention to the rebuilding of His temple." For once, the people listened, obeyed, and were blessed.
The Nature of God
God has continued throughout history to use signs of nature to call nations to repentance. Some people say, "Oh no, God doesnít do that anymore because this is the ĎAge of Grace.í" Well, the first problem with that statement is that it implies there was a previous time of no grace. The fact of the matter is that there is only one way of salvation that has ever existed: namely, grace through faith (Joel 2:32). Furthermore, the Bible says God is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). There is no such thing as the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of grace. God does not change (Malachi 3:6).
The Old Testament God of wrath is the one who showed grace toward the wicked city of Nineveh when its people repented in response to the message of Jonah. The New Testament God of grace is the one who warned the church at Thyatira that if it continued to tolerate a false prophetess, He would "cast her upon a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation." Further, He threatened to "kill her children with pestilence" (Revelation 2:22-23).
Our God is a God of grace, mercy, and love. But He is also a God of holiness, righteousness, and justice. The balanced view of God is presented by the prophet Nahum. Speaking of Godís grace, he wrote: "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him" (Nahum 1:7). But Nahum warned that the same God is one who is righteous and holy and who will not tolerate sin (Nahum 1:2-3): "A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries and He reserves wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished."
The Role of Satan
Some counter by trying to argue that natural calamities come from Satan and not God. But the Bible teaches that God is sovereign. Satan is not free to do anything he pleases. When he wanted to torment Job, he had to ask Godís permission, and when he was granted permission, God laid down rules about what he could and could not do (Job 1:6-12).
The Bible says God does not tempt us (James 1:13). Yet Jesus taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13). How can these statements be reconciled? The answer is that although Satan is the tempter, he cannot do so unless God allows it.
Again, God is sovereign, and nothing happens that He does not allow, either in His perfect will or His permissive will. That is the reason the Bible attributes natural disasters to God.
Are all natural calamities a product of manís sin? Yes, absolutely. The original creation was perfect. Natural calamities are a result of the curse that God placed on the creation in response to manís sin. When Jesus returns, the curse will be lifted and natural calamities will cease. Do all natural calamities represent remedial judgments of God? No Ė most are products of the natural processes of our weather systems.
How then can we determine when a natural calamity is a remedial judgment? One important factor is the timing of the event as it relates to the sins of the nation. Another factor is the magnitude of the event. Remedial judgments are designed to have great shock value in order to capture peopleís attention and force them to think with an eternal perspective. The most important factor is Godís Spirit witnessing to the spirits of those to whom He has given the gift of prophecy. They will be motivated to speak forth with a united voice.
The Example of the United States
We can see all these principles operating in the history of our own nation. We were founded as a Christian nation, committed to Christian values, and God greatly blessed us. But in the 1960ís we began to reject God as a cultural revolution was launched. Our society quickly descended into a cesspool of sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, abortion on demand, legalized gambling, rampant blasphemy, and a flood of pornography. Our national slogan became, "If it feels good, do it!" We adopted a hedonistic lifestyle, calling evil good and good evil.
God responded by raising up prophetic voices to call the nation to repentance. One of those was Dave Wilkerson, pastor of Times Square Church in New York City. I call him "Godís Jeremiah to America." In the 70ís he began writing a series of books in which he clearly outlined the sins of America and warned of judgments from God if we did not repent. Like Jeremiah, his popularity plummeted because people Ė even church people Ė did not want to hear his "doomsday message."
When the prophetic voices were ignored, God began to allow remedial judgments on our nation Ė things like our defeat in the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, the plague of sexually transmitted diseases, the scourge of homosexuality, and natural disasters in the form of earthquakes and killer tornados and hurricanes. The culmination of the remedial judgments seemed to come with the 9/11 terrorist assault in 2001 when two symbols of American pride were attacked: the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The towers stood as symbols of our wealth; the Pentagon symbolized our military power. As I have stated before, I believe this event was a wake-up call from God for our nation to repent. Instead, like a drowsy man who doesnít want to wake up, we merely rolled over and hit the snooze button on the alarm clock.
God is on His throne and in control. He cannot be mocked, nor will He tolerate gross immorality that mocks everything that is moral and decent. And yet, His Word makes clear that even when He sends discipline, the fundamental purpose is never to punish. Instead, the purpose is to call us to repentance so that we might be saved. Hereís how the prophet Isaiah expressed it: "When the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26:9b).
A Personal Experience
I know the truth of this statement first-hand. In May of 1953 when I was 15 years old, an F5 tornado hit my hometown of Waco, Texas. To this day it is the most deadly tornado in Texas history. It killed 114 people and injured 597. It ripped through the center of the downtown area and leveled five-story buildings with ease. When it was over, the city looked like it had been hit with an atomic bomb.
For three months thereafter, the churches of Waco were packed with standing room only crowds as people sought to cope with the tragedy. People were forced to think about eternity. But gradually the pain subsided, people returned to their old ways, and church attendance fell off.
Our God is truly a God of amazing grace. Even when He allows natural calamities to happen, He does so hoping that they will provoke repentance so that people can be saved.
The Proper Response
No public official in our nation has yet seen the spiritual implications of a disaster as clearly as did Abraham Lincoln when he evaluated the cause of the Civil War. In a proclamation dated March 30, 1863, the President called for "a national day of prayer and humiliation." He began the proclamation by observing: "It is the duty of nations as well as men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon."
The heart of the proclamation read as follows:
"And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
"Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
"It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."
How we need such a proclamation today! The sad thing is that we have become so secular and pagan that if our President were to issue such a statement, there would probably be a call to impeachment proceedings against him for "violation of the separation of church and state."
A Call to Prayer
We as a nation have set our jaw against God. We are tempting Him to move us from judgment to destruction. Our God is so merciful. He is patiently sending us one wake-up call after another because He never pours out His wrath without warning. Pray that our eyes will be opened and our hearts melted. Pray for a great national revival.
Used by permission. David R. Reagan serves as the Senior Evangelist for Lamb & Lion Ministries in McKinney, Texas. You can find out more about this ministry at www.lamblion.com.