57. What are the signs of the times?
The signs of the times are gracious and judgmental events in creation and providence, which, by escalation, point towards the second coming of Jesus an d the end of the world.
The phrase “signs of the times” [SOT] is found in Matthew 16:3 and in that passage refers only to present not future events. However, in connection with Matthew 24:3 the phrase became associated with signs pointing to future redemptive events.
Venema says: “The SOT are all those events revealed in the Word of God confirming that history is moving towards the day of the Lord. They are indicators that Christ will come as he promised and reminders that he is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling all things for the sake of his church, and bringing history to its appointed end.[footnote]Venema 52.[/footnote] …are gracious events…
The events associated with grace are the preaching of the Gospel to all nations (Mat. 24:14) and the conversion of Israel (Rom. 11)
…and judgmental events.
These include earthly disasters (Mat. 24:6-7), worldwide apostasy (24:11-12), the final Antichrist (24:23-26), and the great tribulation (24:29).
…in creation and providence…
All these events are under God’s control and reveal God at work in the world, fulfilling His promises as both Savior and Judge.
…which, by escalation…
These SOT reveal the historic battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the devil, a battle that, according to Matthew 24 and Revelation, becomes more and more intense.
There is a “mini-fulfillment with the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. This acts as a type and pattern of future and final signs. So the signs are not all past, nor all future, but the past and present are part of a pattern of ongoing, intensifying, future, and climactic fulfillment.
…point toward the second coming of Jesus…
Dispensational premillennialists say that there are no precursory signs, that Christ can come for His Church at any moment (they say these signs take place in the seven years between Christ’s rapture and Christ’s return).
Postmillennialists say that all (or most) of the precursory signs were already fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and Roman persecution. They concede that there may be a mini-version right at the end in Satan’s little season. However though we accept that Matthew 24 refers partly to Jerusalem in 70 AD, the descriptions far exceed this event (24:14, 29-31).
Amillennialists say that there are precursory signs which, though they do not tell us the exact timing of the second coming of Christ (Matt. 13:32; 24:36), or the events around it, they assure us that these things will happen.
…and the end of the world.
The coming of Christ and the end of the world coincide.
58. What are the practical effects of observing the signs of the times?
Observing the signs of the times will make believers evangelistic, balanced, watchful, active and prayerful.
When we see the signs of the times intensifying and multiplying we should find our evangelism intensifying and multiplying as we desire to warn the wicked to repent and believe the Gospel before it is too late
The believer has to find a balance between living in a state of high anxiety, as if the world could end any moment, and living carelessly and thoughtlessly, as if the world will never end. The Bible teaches us to maintain this balance by a double emphasis. First, the second coming is not imminent.
- Christ and the apostles teach that certain events have to occur before His physical return (Mat.24:5-14, 21, 22, 29-31; 2 Thess.2:2-4).
- The Lord of the talent servants came “after a long time” (Matt.25:19).
- The parable of the pounds was spoken to correct the notion that the “kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Lk.19:11).
- In the parable of the Ten Virgins, the bridegroom is “tarrying” (Mat.25:5; cf 2 Thess.2:2).
- Peter predicted that scoffers would say, “Where is the day of His coming?”
- 2 Thess. 1-3 are about Christ’s coming to end all history. But 2Thess. 2:2 says that the Church should not suppose the coming of Christ is just at hand, as the apostasy and the antichrist still have to come.
The other emphasis is that the second coming is near. The signs are related to it as the thunder and dark skies precede the storm. They are the harbingers or the outriders.
- Verses predicting a sudden and unexpected coming of Christ (Matt.24:42-44, 50; 25:13; Mk.13:32, 34-37; Lk.12:40; 1 Thess.5:2; Heb.10:25, 37; James 5:7-9; 1 Pet.4:7; 2 Pet.3:10; Rev.1:3; 22:7, 12, 20)
- Exhortations to watch and wait (Mat.24:42; 25:13; Rev.16:15)
- Scripture condemns the person who says “My Lord tarries” or “delays his coming” (Mat.24:48) So the biblical balance is to see the second coming as near but not necessarily imminent. Berkhof catches the balance by proposing the adjective “impending.”[footnote]He prefers to speak of the coming of Christ as “impending.”L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 696.[/footnote] However, we have to remember that the Old Testament Church was not ready for Christ’s first coming, due to misunderstanding of the Old Testament prophecies. The New Testament Church may also be unprepared for His second coming due to misinterpretation and misunderstanding as well. Peter further reminds us that the Lord’s perspective on time is very different to ours (2 Peter. 3:8-9).
The admonitions to watch (Matt. 24:4, 23, 25, 32-33, 42, 44-51, etc) do not mean that we should be scanning the heavens for the Lord’s appearance. Rather we are being admonished to be alert and prepared lest we be taken by surprise.
The SOT should stimulate spiritual diligence and faithfulness rather than days-of-Noah like apathy and indifference. Instead of sleeping like the five foolish virgins, we should be up and active.
The signs come to pass through the unceasing prayers of the church (Rev. 6:9-11; Lk. 18:7,8).
59. What signs of the times are signs of grace?
The signs of grace are the preaching of the Gospel to all nations and the conversion of Israel.
There are no further notes for this question.
60. What does the preaching of the Gospel to all nations mean?
As prophesied, from the first coming of Christ onward the Gospel of the Kingdom will increasingly penetrate the nations of the world as a witness to and against them.
Prior to the first coming of Christ, the Gospel was confined largely to the Jews. But from the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) onwards, the Gospel has spread out through all the world.
…the Gospel of the Kingdom…
It is the Gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 24:14) because it has the kingdom as its message and the kingdom comes about through the preaching of the Gospel. As Christ’s kingdom comes (Dan. 2:35, 44), Satan’s kingdom is being demolished (Matt. 12:25f; 2 Cor. 10:3-5).
…will increasingly penetrate the nations of the world…
The Gentiles will enter the kingdom in large numbers (Mat.8:11; 13:31,32; Lk.2:32; Acts 15:14; Rom.9:24-26). Premillennialists do not believe this will happen much until after the second coming of Christ.
…as a witness to and against them.
Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:9 use the same Greek word for witness/testimony. The witness or testimony is both evangelistic (a testimony to them calling for their response) and also renders them excuseless (the Gospel will be a testimony against them on the day of judgment). This does not mean that there will come a time when every single person in the world will hear the Gospel – if so, the end will never come. But it probably means more than we presently see in terms of Gospel penetration. Seventy years ago the Bible had been translated into 300 languages but today about 1400. However, there are many more languages and people groups who still need to hear the Gospel.
61. What does the conversion of Israel mean?
Despite the judgments on the Jews for their rejection of Christ, and the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile, both the Old and New Testaments indicate that, towards the end, large numbers of Jews will repent and believe resulting in blessing for the worldwide Church.
God has placed a heavy sentence of judgment upon the Jews for their rejection of Christ (Matt. 8:11-12; 21:28-46, esp. Matt. 21:31, Matt. 21:43; 22:1-14; Luke 13:6-9, esp. Luke 13:7).
…and the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile…
Regarding the privileges of the Gospel, there is now no Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). All have equal access and entitlement.
…both the Old Testament…
The Old Testament did not predict Israel being substituted with the Church but that through Israel the whole world would be blessed. It also holds out hope that though Israel would reject the Messiah and be judged for that, the day would come when Israel as a people would turn back to the Lord in unprecedented numbers (Ezek. 36:33; Zech. 12:10; 13:1).
…and the New Testament indicate that…
Luke 21:24 and 2 Cor. 3:15-16 hint at a day when Israel will turn back to the Messiah they rejected. But it’s Romans 11 that really focuses on this. And we will look at this in more detail next.
…towards the end, large numbers of Jews will repent and believe…
Premillennialists maintain that there will be a national restoration and conversion of Israel. They say that the Jewish nation will be re-established in the Holy Land immediately before or during the millennial reign. The argument for this follows the following steps:
Step 1: Ethnic Israel is in view
I and many other commentators who believe in a turning of the Jews to Christ do not necessarily tie it to a national restoration of Israel as a political or national entity. We prefer to speak of ethnic Israel rather than national Israel. The key verses for this view are Romans 11:12, 15, 25-32. Paul introduces the section dealing with the role of the Jews by speaking of his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). In Romans 11:11-12, he contrasts Israel with the Gentiles.
Step 2: Israel’s casting away is paralleled with its restoration
The casting away of Israel is the rejection of Israel as a people collectively. The rhetorical questions of Rom 11:12&15 imply that there is to be a reception of them again. The same collective aspect must apply to the restoration to make the contrast meaningful. The parallelism of Rom 11:12&15 guide us to the meaning of Israel’s “fullness” in verse 12.
Step 3: One tree and three types of branches (Rom. 11:17-24)
Natural branches are the Israelites living at the time of Christ who had been saved by grace in the old dispensation. They passed into the new dispensation as true members of the church. The cut off branches were the Israelites who rejected the Messiah. The wild olive branches are the Gentiles that had been called into the fellowship of Christ and His church. There is only one tree, representing the one family of God in all generations. The cut off branches could be grafted back into the tree if they believed, and their grafting would feel more “natural” (Rom 11:24) in contrast to the Gentiles who were grafted “contrary to nature.”
Step 4: “All Israel” means a vast number of Israelites
“And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). “And so” means “and then” or “after that.” After the fullness of the Gentiles (most of the Gentiles) have been saved, there will be a widespread acceptance of Christ by the Jews. Just as most but not all of the Jews rejected Christ, so most though not all Jews will accept Christ.
Some say that “all Israel” means “spiritual Israel” a body made up of the remnant of believing Jews plus the believing Gentiles in all ages. They take “And so” to mean “in this manner.” However, throughout this chapter when Paul speaks of Israel he has been speaking of Jews as opposed to Gentiles. See the immediate context of Rom. 11:25 and Rom. 11:27 and following for Israel being used of the ethnic body rather than a spiritual body.
Some say that “all Israel” means the elect remnant of ethnic Israel in all ages. Again “And so” is taken as an adverb of manner rather than of time. “And so in this way…” However this seems to be anticlimactic and irrelevant to Paul’s concern in Romans 9-11. The fullness of Israel will come to salvation (Rom. 11:12) – this is the same as the acceptance of Israel (Rom. 11:15), the grafting in of Israel (Rom. 11:23-24), all Israel (Rom. 11:26).
“And so” does refer primarily to the manner in which all Israel will be saved – as Israel is provoked to jealousy by the conversion of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11,14). However the temporal aspect cannot be ignored as in Rom. 9-11 Paul is describing a sequence of events in redemptive history which concludes with “and so…” The main point of Rom. 11:25 is that the hardening of Israel will come to an end and Israel will be restored.
…resulting in blessing for the worldwide church.
The Jews will be brought into the church producing one worldwide Church of Christ. This will result in life from the dead for the church (Romans 11:15). This does not necessarily mean numerical blessing.
62. What signs of the times are signs of judgment?
The signs of judgment, some of them typified in the Jerusalem judgment, are increasing earthly disasters, worldwide apostasy, the final antichrist, the great tribulation, and cosmic upheaval.
No further notes for this question.
63. What are the earthly disasters that will signify that the end is near?
The earthly disasters are increasing wars, famines, diseases, earthquakes, and other fearful events.
War destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, and war will characterize all ages. But these are just the beginning of “birth-pangs” (Mat. 24:6-8). An intensification of these things will mark the beginning of the last days. The number of wars and the intensity of war have been increasing:
- There have been 300 wars in 300 years in Europe.
- Prior to 1914, war had never been universal, but in World War I and II, global war was waged.
- In WWII, 93 million served in the armed forces, 25 million of whom died.
- The death toll in armed conflicts since the end of World War II is well over 23 million people.
- Associated Press reported that during the 20th century alone, murders perpetrated by nations against their own people (ethnic cleansing) exceeded the deaths caused by wars with rivals outside their borders. According to one estimate, such killings in the 20th century have extinguished 170 million lives
…famines, diseases, and earthquakes…
- These are often called “natural” disasters, but the Bible tells us to look on them as “supernatural” disasters.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 1/3 of the world is well-fed, 1/3 is underfed, and 1/3 is starving.
- The World Bank reported Sept 1996 that more than 800 million people go hungry every day.
- Some 40,000 hunger-related deaths occur every day, mostly in rural regions.
- The cases of infectious diseases have sky-rocketed in the 90’s with new infections arriving and old ones reviving.
- From 1900-1950 there were 33 major quakes (almost as many as the preceding 850 years).
- From 1950-1991 there were 93 major earthquakes which claimed the lives of 1.3 million people.
Other “supernatural” disasters include cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc.
64. What is meant by the worldwide apostasy?
The worldwide apostasy will result in an increasing de parture from the faith by Christian churches, teachers, and people.
Apostasy is where someone departs from the faith they confessed. It has existed from Cain onwards. The apostasy around the time of Jerusalem’s destruction (Matt. 24:4-5, 11-12, 23-24), was a type of future ongoing apostasy (Heb. 6:6; 2 Pet. 2:20; 1 John 2:19) and will climax in the final great apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 4:3, 4).
…will result in an increasing departure from the faith by Christian churches, teachers, and people.
Theological apostasy includes a denial of the person and work of Christ (1 Jn. 4:1ff), or an assault on or undermining of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners (2 Thess. 2:4). In emotional apostasy, the love of many will wax cold. Practical apostasy results in licentiousness (2 Pet. 2 link between error in doctrine and life)
- Christian Churches that were once faithful to Christ and the Gospel can depart from Him and it.
- Christian Teachers (Matt. 24:5, 24) can also apostatize.
- There will be false Christs and prophets who will lead many astray. Christians who once held to the truth will reject it (Matt. 24:11-12)
“When in European countries today, countries which have known the Gospel for centuries, people stay away from church in droves – surely this is apostasy. When many so-called Christian leaders, both in Europe and America, deny cardinal teachings of the Bible like the bodily resurrection of Christ and still claim to be Christian theologians – surely this is apostasy. When preachers proclaim myths instead of facts, existentialist philosophy instead of Christian theology, humanism instead of the truth of the Gospel – surely this is apostasy.”
But even apostasy serves God’s purpose (1 Cor. 11:9; 2 Thess. 2:11). There would have been no Augustinian soteriology without Pelagius, no “Bondage of the will” without Erasmus, no Synod or Dordt without Arminius.
In the light of this, preachers must guard flocks against apostasy by opposing false doctrine and redoubling efforts to teach sound doctrine.
65. Who is the antichrist?
The last false Christ will be the deceiver, the man of sin, the son of perdition, the usurper and enemy of Christ, who will rise on the wave of apostasy and lead a great international persecution against the Church of Christ, which will finally end with his defeat.
There is a progressive revelation of the antichrist in the Bible. The representations differ, but increase in definiteness as revelation progresses.
The Old Testament prophets saw the principle of unrighteousness at work in the ungodly nations. Daniel supplies language that Christ and Paul will also use (Dan. 7:8, 23-26; 11:35ff; 12:11). Daniel predicted the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes, the heathen king who sacked the Jerusalem temple a couple of hundred years before Christ.
Christ peaks of pseudo-prophets and pseudo-christs who oppose his kingdom (Mat. 7:15; 24:5, 15-16, 23-24; Mk.13:21,22; Lk.17:23). He looks back to Daniel’s prophecy and its fulfillment in Antiochus Epiphanes, and says that the same prophecy may apply to more than one historical situation (Matt. 24:15-16). In 70AD, the Roman Emperor Titus and his legions desecrated the holy city and temple again.
Thus, the spirit of antichrist was active in Christ’s day, Paul’s day (2 Thess. 2:7), and John’s day (1 Jn. 2:18, 2 John 7). These were ongoing precursors and anticipations of the final antichrist. THE antichrist is the last in a succession of antichrists – THE man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3). It’s possible that this is an institution with one last final head. That was the argument of many of the Reformers, who saw the Papacy as the Antichrist who arose when the Roman Empire was taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:7).
Daniel’s antichrist is personal (the little horn is a king Dan. 7:24-26; 8:9ff, 23ff; 11:15f). Paul speaks of antichrist as “man” and “son” who does human things. John speaks of many antichrists but also of Antichrist in singular. 666 we’re told is “the number of a man.” Though Revelation is symbolic yet antichrist seems personal in Rev.19&20. Since Christ is a person it is natural to think of the antichrist as a person.
That person will be a deceiver. False Christs deceive (Matt. 24) and so will the last false Christ (2 Thess. 2:3). Part of the deception will be the ability to perform miracles and lying wonders. He will look like the world’s idea of a holy man. 1&2 John teach that many antichrists arise from within the church
…the man of sin (lawlessness)…
He is a man entirely in the power of Satan (2 Thess. 2:3). He will be characterized by doctrinal and ethical lawlessness. In John’s day the living embodiments of spirit of Antichrist denied the incarnation and attacked the person of Christ (1 Jn. 2:22; 4:3). They did not deny everything about him, but sufficient to make them opposed to him. They used Christ’s name but with a spirit and design entirely opposed to Christ’s cause. It was a covert and virtual opposition rather than an avowed opposition. In view of the Reformers’ view of the Papacy, it is interesting to note how successive popes have opposed, changed, added to, and taken from the Word of God, creating unprecedented lawlessness/apostasy. Augustine of Hippo said: “Antichrist is the more deceitful in that he professes Jesus Christ with the mouth but denies him by his actions.” Satan gives him special power, signs and lying wonders (false miracles) to deceive those who love not truth but have delight in unrighteousness. And all this will be accomplished under the guise of Christianity and thus aptly called ‘the mystery of iniquity’ (2 Thess. 2:7).
…the son of perdition…
Paul also calls in the son of perdition/destruction (2 Thess. 2:3). He will cause the death of numberless multitudes; of his opposers by persecution, of his followers by deception.
…the usurper of Christ…
He is not an enemy from outside the visible Church but from inside (2 Thess. 2:4). He will not deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend. He will show himself that he is God. He will substitute himself for Christ, so that there will be striking resemblances between himself and Christ. He will exalt himself above God by taking to himself titles, worship, and roles which belong to God alone. “Anti” can mean “instead of” as well as “against.” He opposes by taking the place of. Again consider how closely the Papacy fits this description. The Pope claims infallibility, which belongs to God alone. He claims headship over the church, which belongs to Christ alone. He take divine titles such as: Holy Father, Supreme Pontiff (bridge-builder between this life and the next) and Vicar of Christ, Redemptor Hominis (the Redeemer of men). Pope Leo XII, in his encyclical The Reunion of Christendom, wrote, “But since We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty…”
…the opponent of Christ…
By taking Christ’s place he “opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God.”
…who will rise on the wave of apostasy…
There is a relationship between the apostasy and the antichrist.
- Apostasy precedes the Man of Sin (2 Thess 2:3)
- Apostasy softens up nominal Christianity for the man of sin (2 Thess 2:4)
- Apostasy is the means by which the anti-christian kingdom will come about
- Antichrist will complete the work of apostasy by the grandeur of his kingdom, miracles, etc
…and lead a great international persecution against the Church of Christ…
The Holy Spirit is the only force restraining this outbreak, but the Lord will withdraw His Spirit (2 Thess. 2:7,8), the apostasy will increase and be embodied in a single individual, the embodiment of all evil, who will then lead a terrible persecution of Christ’s church.
…which will finally end with his defeat.
This will be an awful time, but will end in the ultimate defeat of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 20:9). The 1646 edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith states that the Pope is Antichrist:
CHAPTER XXV – Of the Church
VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.
The PCUSA revised this in 1903 to read:
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of the Church, and the claim of any man to be the vicar of Christ and the head of the Church, is unscriptural, without warrant in fact, and is a usurpation dishonoring to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lutheran Church in the Schmalkaldic Articles stated emphatically that the pope of Rome is the Anti-Christ:
This teaching shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 2:4. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this, but they allow whoever wishes to believe in Christ, and take bodily tribute and obedience from Christians.[footnote]Part II, Article IV: Of the Papacy[/footnote]
The French by a Synodical decree in 1603 added an article to their Gallic confession of 1559 stating the same thought.[footnote]”The National Synod of Gap, 1603, inserted an article (31) declaring the pope to be ‘the Antichrist and man of sin,’ but the Synod of La Rochelle (1607) struck it out on account of the protest of the king. Heppe, p. 537.” Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878) 497.[/footnote]
There is no identification of the antichrist in the Three Forms of Unity, but the Preface to the Canons of Dordt, speaks of “the tyranny of the Romish Anti-Christ.”
66. What is the great tribulation?
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The great tribulation is the persecution that remaining Christians will pass through in the antichrist’s final and greatest attack against the Church of Christ.
There has always been persecution of believers from Cain and Abel onwards. Further persecution was prophesied in the Old Testament (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1) and the New Testament (Jn. 15:20; 16:33). There was persecution in the Jerusalem judgment (Matt. 24:9-10). This was a type of a further fulfillment far surpassing anything seen so far (Mat. 24:21-22; Mk. 13:19). Christ paints future worldwide tribulation with palette of his own time and familiar geography.
…remaining Christians will pass through…
Throughout Matthew 24 Christ is speaking of his coming (parousia) which will end the world, in answer to the question in Matthew 24:3 (Matt. 24:37, 39). It is only reasonable to assume that he is speaking of the same coming in Matt. 24:30, which according to Matt. 24:29 will follow after the tribulation. The tribulation will affect the elect. They will be in danger of being led astray (Matt. 24:24). For their sake the days of agony will be shortened (Matt. 24:22). They will be gathered out of the four corners at the coming of the Son of Man (Matt. 24:31). They are encouraged to look up when they see these things come to pass since their redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28). In Rev. 7:13, 14 saints in heaven are said to have come out of great tribulation. In Rev. 6:9 such saints pray for their brethren who are being persecuted. Tribulation results from believers commitment to Christ (Col. 1:24) and results in greater commitment to Christ (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).
…in the antichrist’s greatest and final attack against the Church of Christ.
The final attack will appear to be on the brink of success when the Lord will appear (Rev. 20:9, 10).
67. What is the cosmic upheaval?
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There will be unusual and fearful signs in the heavens just before the second coming of Christ.
Nonetheless, they could occur very quickly – within the space of a few minutes or at most an hour or two – to be followed immediately by Christ’s return. They will differ from previous cosmic changes in intensity and extent. These are more concurrent or accompanying signs rather than precursory signs. John Murray describes them as part of the entourage of the coming. When these appear, He appears.