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The Signs of the Times

I. INTRODUCTION

By the phrase “the signs of the times” we mean signs which indicate the coming of our Lord.  These signs occur throughout the history of the New Dispensation.  They occur in nature, in the nations and in the church.  They will occur up until the Lord Jesus returns again to condemn the world and save His church.  These signs are not just things which point to a future coming of Christ.  But the signs are part of His coming, and lead to it.  They are like the thunder that we hear or the change of air pressure—both indicate a coming storm, but both are also part of the storm.  In other words, we see Christ coming throughout history—in the sign.  Christ comes, for example, through the preaching of the Word.  But only in the last day will He come personally, as He said He would, upon the clouds of glory.  All the signs, and all history in which the signs occur, are part of, indeed serve, the coming of the Lord.

It is most important that we understand that there are signs of our Lord’s return which we can clearly see.  And it is crucial that we know also what these signs are, and look for them.

It is important that we understand clearly what are the signs of the Lord’s return in the midst of a world which denies that the Lord is coming again and, therefore, denies that there are signs which point to His coming again.  Can you think of ways in which the world shows its lack of concern for Jesus’ coming?  Besides, we must look for the signs of our Lord’s coming in the midst of many in the church world, who, though they believe that Jesus is coming again, yet they deny that there are signs which clearly show this.  They think He can come any time now.  Can you think of which churches deny this?

To deny that the Lord is coming and that there are signs which clearly show His coming is not only not Biblical, but unsettling and also terribly dangerous.  The disciples asked Jesus what was the sign of His coming and of the end of the world, Matt. 24:3.  And Jesus did not disappoint them.  In the verses following in Matt. 24, and in other places Jesus speaks in great detail about these signs.  Also many other passages tell us what these signs are and will be.  And Scripture tells us what these signs are for very important reasons.  Knowing the signs of our Lord’s return, helps keep us from idleness and every form of disobedience and worldliness.  Much more than a man who sees the approaching storm and prepares himself for it do God’s people who see the signs of Christ’s coming prepare themselves for His coming.  They keep their lamps lit and trimmed (Matt. 25:1-13).  By the grace of God and through faith they keep themselves from indulging in sinful lusts.  And they do this out of joy and gratitude for their salvation and in the hope of the coming full salvation.  Besides, the signs of the Lord’s coming tell us that we need not fear.  Even the signs of apostasy and abounding wickedness are cause for hope—the Lord is coming soon to judge the earth which will have filled its cup of iniquity!  We need not fear, therefore, but as we see the signs, we look up in hope and expectancy, knowing our redemption is drawing near, Luke 21:28.

 

II. THE SIGNS OF THE COMING OF OUR LORD

A. In the church.

1. World-wide preaching.  References: Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10; Rev. 6:1, 2.

a. This sign is fundamental:

1) All other signs wait on this one.  How do the references above show this?

2) Through the preaching God gathers His church (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 54).  Jesus will not come until the last elect is saved (II Peter 3:9).

3) The preaching is also a witness to the ungodly that their condemnation is deserved:  Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:9.

b. How is this sign manifest?

1) Has this world-wide preaching occurred?  If so, does this mean that the Lord’s coming is very near?

2) If this is the most important sign of our Lord’s coming we should redouble our efforts to support the preaching:  in the church and on the mission field!  How do we do this?

2. Apostasy or “falling away” from the truth.  References:  I John 4:1-3; II Thess. 2:3ff; I Tim. 4:1; II Tim. 3:1ff; 4:3, 4; Matt. 24:11, 24.

a. This is two-fold:

1) Any denial of the truth:  of Christ, of the sovereignty of God in salvation.

2) Accompanying denial of the truth, and following from it, is lawless, immoral living.

b. How is this apostasy manifest today?

1) What false doctrines are being taught in churches which doctrines show a falling away from the truth?  How does this show the importance of belonging to a church which maintains the pure doctrine of the Word of God?  (cf. Belgic Confession, art. 29)

2) What kind of immoral living and lifestyles are being supported in churches today?

c. Why is apostasy in the church such a danger?  Is there a danger of our churches apostatizing?  What must we do to guard against this?  Is “having the truth” enough?  Is it possible for the believer to fall away?  Consult in this connection Matt. 24:12, 24; Rev. 2:4, 5.

3. The Great Tribulation.  References: Matt. 24:9, 21, 22; Rev. 13:15ff.

a. This will be occasioned by Antichrist.

1) It will be very severe.

2) The witness of the church will be put out.

b. But we need not fear.

1) Antichrist’s time is shortened and he will be destroyed:  Matt. 24:22; Rev. 13:5, 17:10; Dan. 7:25; II Thess. 2.

2) The elect who are on earth shall not be deceived by him.  Their victory is certain.

c. Though this sign is future, yet we have a foretaste of it today.

1) Many are persecuted already.  Do you know of any?

2) What does II Tim. 3:12 mean for us as young people?  How do we experience persecution?

B. Signs in the nations.

1. Wars and rumors of war, Matt. 24:6; Rev. 6:4.

a. The world has seen thousands of wars.

1) The whole history of man is one of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom.

2) And these wars have increased in intensity and frequency.  Think of all the wars just in this century; millions and millions slaughtered – even innocent people.  And what lethal weapons we have!  Missiles can be guided to within feet of their target.  With nuclear bombs the world could easily destroy itself.

b. In light of the fact that the Bible calls war a sign of the Lord’s coming again discuss these questions:

1) In what way was the war with Iraq significant to show that the end is near?

2) If we consider that murder is part of this sign of war, can we know that the Lord’s coming is surely near when we consider that millions of babies are murdered each year by abortion?

3) If war is a sign of our Lord’s coming, should we pray for peace, or for war?

2. Social conflict, economic woes, poverty, lawlessness.  Rev. 6:  the black horse; Matt. 24:12.

a. The world has attempted to explain this sign and offer correction.

1) It explains social conflict and the unequal distribution of goods in light of its theory of evolution:  survival of the fittest.

2) The world tries to solve the conflicts by taxing the rich, welfare systems, etc.

3) Lawlessness, says the world, is a result of all the conflict and social problems:  a corrupt society makes for lawbreakers.

b. We see lawlessness as the cause of all the social conflict.

1) Since the fall man has rebelled against the law of God.

2) The result is that each does what he wants in the world and puts himself above God and the neighbor.  Each does his own thing to satisfy his lust and pride.

3) In what ways is this manifest today?

4) How can we be influenced by the lawlessness and immorality of the world?  Discuss in this instance:  peer pressure, drunkenness, drugs, television.  All of these can entice us to wickedness, cf. Luke 21:34-36.

3. The Antichrist.  This sign is closely connected to apostasy.  The falling away in the church makes the way for Antichrist.  But also Antichrist causes the church to fall away further.  Also this sign is not just reference to one man, but to an antichristian “spirit” in our day.  For these reasons, this is a very important sign!  References:  II Thess. 2:3ff; I-II John; Rev. 13, 17, 19:19-21, 20:10; Matt. 24:23-26; Dan. 2, 7.

a. The Antichrist is a person who will come and stand in opposition to God, Christ and the true church.

1) He will be a political power, and establish a great kingdom on the earth.  His power will be from the devil, Rev. 13:2.  It will be humanistic – man-centered, its number, 666 (Rev. 13:18).

2) Antichrist will be religious:  uniting his kingdom with the false church.  (cf. Rev. 13:11ff—the second beast; II Thess. 2: Antichrist sets himself up in the church).

3) Antichrist will be one human being who comes in the name and power of Satan.  He attempts to imitate Christ (notice all the ways he does this in II Thess. 2!)  He works lying wonders:  Mark 13:22; II Thess. 2.  He is the fulfillment of sin:  II Thess. 2:8; Dan. 7:25.

b. Can we see Antichrist already?

1) Do events in the nations of the world show that the way is being open for Antichrist to come?  What has to happen first?  How does the democratization of Russia figure in?  The United Nations?  How about this “New World Order” of which President Bush speaks?  What about all the environmental movements – Earth Day, Greenpeace?  What about the increasing humanism in government?  Will the Pope be Antichrist?

2) What events in the church world show that the Antichrist will soon appear?  What about ecumenism – the uniting of churches with each other and with those of heathen religions?

C. Signs in nature.

1. Death, famine, pestilence, earthquakes:  Matt. 24:7; Rev. 6:7, 8; Rev. 8:6ff, 16:1-9.

a. Where have these occurred recently?

b. Is there indication that these signs have increased in severity and frequency?  What does the book of Revelation say with respect to this – cp. the seals, trumpets, vials?

2. Signs at the very end of time.

a. Signs in the heavens:  Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12ff.

1) What are these signs?  When do they occur?  Are they to be interpreted literally?

2) If we are living when these signs occur, what will our reaction be?

b. The sign of the Son of Man:  Matt. 24:30; Dan. 7:13, 14.

1) This will occur just before the Lord appears.

2) Somehow Christ will be seen by all the world in the heavens in all His glory.