Sign of the Times and the Last Days by Andrew Longman. http://www.bible-uk.com/days1.htm
The first thing to understand about the Last Days is that Jesus Christ will return to Earth to establish his Father’s Kingdom. The Bible says so quite plainly.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
“The Last Days” is the term used to describe the period of time immediately before the actual re-appearance of Jesus. This is why the subject is of such great interest to Christians today.
The “Signs of the Times” are those events, which suggest to us that the return of Christ is imminent. This is a great source of encouragement for Christians and a warning sign to those who have not committed themselves to Christ that their window of opportunity is closing.
The Signs of the Times are detailed particularly in Matthew chapter 24 and the parallel account in Luke. Jesus is talking to his disciples about the destruction of the Temple and they asked him when this would happen. Jesus replied:
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).
Jesus then proceeded to list a series of signs. Before we look at the signs, it is necessary to understand that in prophecy, there are often minor as well as major fulfilments. The minor fulfilment, which normally happens soon after the prophecy is given, provides proof that the greater fulfilment will also come to pass. So we need to consider what the minor and major fulfilments are. But first, let’s detail what the signs are, as listed in Luke 21.
- False Christs (Verse 8)
- Wars and Revolutions (Verse 9 & 10)
- Earthquakes (Verse 11)
- Famines (Verse 11)
- Plagues or Pestilences (Verse 11)
- Fearful Events (Verse 11)
- Signs from heaven (Verse 11)
- Persecution of Believers by Authorities(Verse 12)
- Betrayal of Believers by those close to them (Verse 16)
- Believers hated because of Christ (Verse 17)
- Jerusalem surrounded (Verse 20)
- Jews will fall by the sword, be taken prisoner and be dispersed (Verse 24)
- Jerusalem trampled by the Gentiles (non-Jews) until the end of the Gentile times (Verse 24)
- Signs in the sun, moon and stars (Verse 25)
- Nations will be in anguish and perplexity (Verse 25)
- Men will faint from terror (Verse 26)
The minor fulfilment of Christ’s words concerned the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman army. This followed a rebellion by the Jews, which is mentioned in our second sign. The relevance of the signs we have numbered 11, 12, and 13 is immediately obvious, but it also introduces something called the Gentile times, which we need to deal with.
The seventeenth sign, as we have numbered it, is the parable of the fig tree. This tree is a symbol of Israel and appeared on many coins etc. Therefore the renewal of the fig tree symbolises the renewal of Israel. This happened in 1948, when the Jews returned to the land to establish an independent state.
The Times of the Gentiles were ended when Jerusalem ceased to be trampled by non-Jews. This happened in the “Six Day” War of 1967, when Israel expelled Jordan and gained total control of the city.
These two events that have taken place in direct fulfilment of Bible prophecy, strongly suggest that we re in the Last Days, but what about the other signs?
It is worth noting that critics of Bible prophecy often argue that these “signs” have always happened; for instance, there have always been wars, there have always been famine, earthquakes, plagues etc. This is true, But Jesus himself says in verse 32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” So the major fulfilment will occur when ALL these events happen within a certain timescale. The most likely timescale is 40 years, which is the Bible “definition” of a generation. So when all these things have come to pass, there is a definite time-limit. If, for instance the last sign to be fulfilled was the re-capture of Jerusalem from Gentile hands in 1967, then the latest time Jesus could return in order to fulfil prophecy would be 2007.
This also highlights the problem or trying to guess too accurately the return of Jesus. He himself said that he return will not come with “careful observation” but rather it will come suddenly and unexpectedly as a “thief in the night”.
Lastly, Jesus stated that co-one knew when he would return. Jesus did not know himself. Only God knows.
Again, the minor fulfilment gives us encouragement, because Jesus said the words in approximately AD 33 and the destruction of Jerusalem took place in AD 70, just within the 40 year “limit”.
There have been numerous False Messiahs over the centuries. One very recent and prominent one was David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian sect who perished in the flames of the Waco siege in Texas, USA, 1993. It seems important to false messiahs that they die, rather than admit the failure of their prophecies. They also prefer to take as many as possible of their followers with them. In March 1997 in San Diego, 39 Heaven’s Gate followers poison themselves believing UFO would pick them up. In October 1994 in Switzerland, 48 Solar Temple members found burned in chalets. In November 1978 in Guyana, 914 drink cyanide, led by the Rev. Jim Jones.
We don’t need to think hard about the issue of wars. In the last 40 years, there has been the Korean War, the Falklands War, the Vietnam war and the Gulf War, to name but a very few. At this precise moment, there are 14 United Nations-recognised wars in progress, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
The study of earthquakes is an interesting one. Obviously, communications are much better than they were 500 years ago and the world is more densely populated, so we hear a lot more about earthquakes than we used to. However, if we just look at the last 30 years, in 1970, there were 4,139 recorded earthquakes, in 1980 there were 7,348 earthquakes, an increase of 77% on ten years before. In 1990 there were 16,612 recorded earthquakes, an increase of 126% over the 1980 figure. In 2000, there were 22,256, an increase of 34% over the 1990 figure. So obviously, something is going on!
Again, there have always been famines. The Bible speaks of them often. But they were always either preceded or followed by prosperous years and in this way, the people could put by a little grain each good year to help them through the bad years. The Genesis story of Joseph and the seven fat and seven thin cows bears this out.
The difference now however is that countries are not recovering. Climate changes and Man’s inhumanity to Man are causing countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan to be permanently short of food, despite all the best efforts of the Western Aid agencies.
There have always been plagues and pestilences, but once more, we see a “cluster” of AIDS, BSE, CJD, Foot and Mouth and ME all been prominent in the last few years.
Signs in the heavens, or in the Sun, Moon and Stars can be taken two ways. The first way is the literal way and there have been numerous astronomical “signs” in recent years, such as comets, meteorites etc. The other possible meaning is the symbolic one, where the “heavens” (often translated the “high places”) represent government and the Sun Moon and Stars represent rulers. Taking this route, there are many situations that could have this prophecy applied to them.
We then have three prophecies concerning the persecution of Christ’s followers, namely Christians. This is one prophecy where the past really does seem to have more examples than the present, although persecution does exist, for instance in China and Islamic nations. Perhaps this is one prophecy where we will see greater fulfilment in the near future.
The persecution of the Jews has been a common pastime in western Europe for over 1,000 years. They were persecuted in England in the Middle Ages and In 1858 Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jewish MP who was permitted to take his seat without taking the oath that involved the words “by the true faith of a Christian” and in 1890 the last of the government posts became open to members of the Jewish faith. Russian pogroms, particularly between 1903 and 1906 saw many Jews killed. And of course, we can never forget the 6 million Jews killed in the Second World War.
I hope it is clear that these prophecies apply to the times we are living in now. This means that the return of Christ is imminent. As Jesus says in Luke 21:27 “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” And again, “36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”