Scripture speaks to us as strangers and sojourners by means of signs and wonders that foretell and bring the coming of Christ. On our pilgrim journey toward our heavenly destination we will encounter these signs and wonders. We note several of them that will take place in the world of men and in creation.
The signs that take place in the world of men include wars and rumors of wars. Even a cursory reading of any period in history will reveal that it is marked by threatened or actual wars. Wars are by no means a new or unusual phenomenon. Old Testament Israel was at war with its surrounding nations throughout much of its history. It you open the Bible at random, you will likely find the account of some sort of conflict. In the history of the world after Christ’s first coming, warfare marked the history of the world. The wars were so numerous that it is almost impossible to list them all. In the history of the United States there have been many wars, notably the Civil War, two world wars, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and most recently Gulf War, which is still having repercussions today. Currently the United States is the object of unrelenting terrorist attacks; we only need to think of the Taliban and of ISIS, the most virulent terrorist organization in the world today.
It is interesting to note that many of the wars in the history of the world have centered on the Middle East. This began already with the Crusades mounted by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages; from approximately AD 1100 to AD 1300 there were roughly fifteen crusades, depending on which historian is doing the counting. All of them focused on conquering the Muslims and retaining possessions of the Middle East, especially the Holy Land.
Since the formation of Israel in 1949, the Middle East has been the scene of almost constant conflict between Israel and the Arab states. There are several aspects to this. Disputed is Israel’s right to exist as a nation; the Arabs are intent on wiping Israel off the map. There is conflict between Judaism and the Muslim religion, with Western nations inserting Christianity into the mix. And then there is oil, the factor the drives the constant tension with which we are all familiar.
What does scripture’s teaching about wars and rumors of wars portend regarding the end time? Surely the history of war is universal and not limited to the Middle East. Besides, we cannot know the future, since none of us is a prophet, and scripture does not reveal the details of this future sign. Yet if we follow the pattern of history, as we should, is it not reasonable to think that future wars in the end time will continue to center on this region of the world that has played such a large role in history?
As strangers and sojourners we look for the heavenly kingdom. For this reason we must be attuned to events in the world around us, through which we must travel toward that kingdom. We must therefore recognize this sign as bringing the kingdom of Christ.
Wars and rumors of wars have their purpose in preventing the premature coming of antichrist. Antichrist requires world-wide unity of the nations. As long as there is constant war on earth, he cannot come. But when wars diminish, come he will.
Other notable signs that we as strangers and sojourners must know are upheavals in creation, the physical world in which we live. These include earthquakes, famines, and pestilence, or as Mark 13:8 calls them, “troubles,” as well as signs in the celestial bodies.
Earthquakes are terrifying because they affect the basis of our lives. What is firm and immoveable, except the ground on which we stand? That is, until an earthquakes comes. When the ground itself quakes and shakes, causing terrific damage, how can we not be afraid?
Earthquakes in scripture are associated with the upheaval that will occur at the very end of time and that will bring Christ’s final coming (Heb. 12:26): “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also the heaven.” When we experience earthquakes, we recognize them as Christ’s footsteps shaking the solid ground, and we know that he is coming soon.
Famines and pestilence are also signs of his coming. We all know what famine is: the lack of ability to grow crops, which results in a lack of food. We are all familiar with the chronic famines in Africa: too many people, not enough food. Famines, often associated with wars, also serve to prevent the premature coming of antichrist because as long as famines continue, he is unable to realize his kingdom of prosperity.
Another sign is pestilence. The word means an epidemic, a highly infectious and deadly disease, such as the Ebola virus that recently wreaked havoc in West Aftrica. Also pestilence serves to prevent the premature coming of antichrist, because as long as there are diseases that cannot be eradicated, his goal of heaven on earth cannot happen.
How do we connect these signs in creation with the coming of Christ? How are they causative? Why is the physical creation damaged and ultimately destroyed?
The answer is that creation, with man at its head, is an organic unity. Herman Hoeksema (Behold, He Cometh, 245) explains this eloquently and clearly in describing the destruction of the kingdom of antichrist:
The stability of the material universe was the presupposition of the kingdom of the world which they [the wicked] intended to establish. They were to build up an imitation kingdom, a kingdom of bliss and righteousness and justice and peace and of material blessedness. That was their purpose, and that was their striving. And they attempted to accomplish all this without Christ Jesus. They never believed that Christ was King. They never knew that He had the principle of His spiritual kingdom already realized in the world and in the hearts of His people. They laughed at the idea that this world was principally wicked and that heaven and earth would pass away. And therefore the supposed eternal stability of the material universe was the basis of their hope. This hope was now frustrated completely and in a moment. The whole universe seems to pass away. The heavens and the earth are shaking. They cannot account for it. Human wisdom is too small, and human science cannot explain the shake-up of the physical universe. It is beyond their comprehension. Human strength now avails nothing. They have been able to do great things. They ruled over the elements, and they were in power over the sea and the land and the air. But all these things are beyond them now. Nothing can avail. They are overcome. And therefore two facts are now powerfully impressed upon their unbelieving minds, namely: that the very basis of their imitation kingdom is going to destruction, and second, that the kingdom of Christ shall prevail. They realize that their bitterest enemy, the King of heaven and earth, he whom they have pierced, is about to have the complete victory.
The rise and reign of antichrist is one of the clearest signs of the end time of which we as strangers and sojourners ought to be aware. We all have a general understanding of the antichrist, but let’s remind ourselves regarding his identity and his coming in relation to the kingdom of Christ, for they are inseparable, according to 1 John 2:18: Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Who or what is antichrist?
Scripture gives the answer in various places. The term antichrist is used only four times in scripture (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The “anti” in the word has a double meaning: it can mean “instead of,” or it can mean “against,“ so that the idea is that antichrist is against Christ as well as attempting to replace Christ. Thus his name indicates the character and purpose of antichrist. He means to replace Christ by opposing him and establishing the kingdom of darkness in opposition to the kingdom of light. Both of these meanings are present in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where Paul describes antichrist as one “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.”
There has been difference of opinion regarding the precise identity of antichrist. Some have a somewhat abstract view that antichrist is some sort of principle or philosophy that permeates and determines the actions of mankind. While there is some truth in this, antichrist is more than a determining but abstract philosophy. Some of our church fathers identified antichrist with papal Rome and even with a particularly wicked pope, of which there were many throughout history. But it is preferable to say that there are aspects or elements of antichrist in the papacy, which is why our fathers would call the pope the antichrist. Others think that the antichrist will be a group of people or a committee who will run the world—an oligarchy. Perhaps because in scripture the word is singular, most are of the opinion that antichrist will be an individual who will rule the entire world both politically and religiously.
The rise and rule of antichrist are important elements for us as strangers and sojourners, according to scripture. So important and necessary is he that Christ cannot come until antichrist first comes, as Paul teaches in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where he says that the final day of the Lord will not come until “that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
The spirit and power of antichrist in its ultimate manifestations must become crystal clear. This is the reason that his number is 666, the number of man (Rev. 13:18), and the number for which we as strangers and sojourners must look as we stand for the kingdom of
Christ in opposition to the man of sin.
Antichrist will come in two ways: by means of the great apostasy and by means of the great tribulation.
In his teachings Jesus connects these two (Matt. 24:9–12, 21–24; Mark 13:9–22). These means deserve our attention because they affect us and will increasingly affect us as we walk our sojourner’s pilgrimage as the people of God in a wicked world toward our heavenly destination.
Jesus teaches clearly (Mark 13:10) that the gospel must first be published among all nations. Immediately connected with this universal spread of the gospel are the great apostasy and the great tribulation (Matt. 24:10–12).
The great apostasy will take place in the sphere of the church, which exists through the preaching of the gospel. We know from scripture, however, that what is called the church is not the true church. There is always the true church, the elect, and the false church, which is only formal and outward. The persecution of the church by antichrist will serve to distinguish sharply between the true church and the false church, which will apostatize under the pressure of this persecution. There will be a falling away from the church, as Paul calls it in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. As Jesus said (Matt. 24:12), “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
The question to you as young strangers and sojourners is this: Will you remain faithful to Christ, or will you apostatize? As time goes on and the signs of the end time become increasingly clear, you will have to face this question. What will your answer be?
Closely connected with the great apostasy is the great tribulation. There have been many tribulations in the history of the church, many of them severe, but none like the persecution of the church in the end time. Matthew 24:21–22 describes the intensity of this persecution: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Revelation 13:16–17 describes the extent of this persecution: “and he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” these verses clearly teach that it will be impossible to obtain the basics of life—food and drink, clothing and shelter— without the permission of antichrist by means of his mark in their right hands or in their foreheads.
There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the nature of this mark, but one things is certain: the ability to buy and sell will be determined by a prominent means of easily knowing one’s allegiance or lack of it to antichrist. This is clear from a simple example: if you get a tattoo on your forehead or on your right hand (most people are right-handed), you can easily be identified.
This mark, however, does not necessarily have to be a literal insignia. While we cannot know for certain its exact nature and perhaps do not need to know, I submit that the mark of antichrist already exists—at least in theory and possibility. I am thinking of computers and other electronic devices, which are now world-wide. The infrastructure and technology already exist. All that remains is for a person or a power to gain control of this technology and use it for nefarious purposes.
An illustration of what form the mark of the beast could take is the social engineering of Singapore, which in some ways is far ahead of the situation in the United States (I am indebted to Mr. Aaron Lim for this information). All Singaporeans have and must carry a national identity card similar to a Social Security card in the United States. The information on this card includes name, race, date of birth, country of birth, address, and finger print. Singapore passports are chipped, so that the authorities can quickly pinpoint the location of the owner anywhere in the world by means of GPS technology.
This example should give us pause when we think of the increase of knowledge and abilities that exist already today.
What should you as young strangers and sojourners take away from all of this? Antichrist is coming, and he is not far distant. The signs of the great apostasy and the great tribulation are already beginning to take place. And if you listen carefully, you can hear Christ’s footsteps in these signs.
Listen carefully. Be watchful. Be faithful and strong in the Lord. And life up your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh.