Understanding the Signs of the Times
Topic: Last Days Passage: Matthew 24:1–24:31, 1 John 2:18
Are We Living in the Last Days?
Grace Community Church
March 13, 2022
Understanding the Signs of the Times
On April 27th, 2014 Mark Wade and his family heard the warning tornado sirens. They were about to take shelter in their closet when the neighbor yelled for them to come and join them in their storm cellar.
Wade, his wife, and their 3 year old son joined 10 other people in the storm cellar as the tornado hit their neighborhood. When they came out, Wade’s house was gone, leaving nothing but the foundation. Wade told NPR, “if we hadn’t gone into that cellar, I don’t know that we’d be alive today.”
Last week we started a series called Are We Living in the Last Days? And the ongoing brutal invasion of the Ukraine has given this series a sober backdrop especially as we are hearing talk of nuclear and chemical weapons, and the possibility of a third world war.
When the Pharisees and Sadducee’s asked Jesus for a sign, he rebuked them saying they knew how to read the signs of the sky (when tornadoes were coming) but not the signs of the times.
In Matt 24 the disciples ask Jesus what the sign of his coming and the end of the age will be?
24 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matt 24:1-3
Let’s pause for a minute. Without knowing it, the disciples ask two questions: when will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of Jesus’ second coming and the end of the age.Jesus answers both however as is often the case with prophecies there is an interweaving of near and far prophecies, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to focus us on the signs of Jesus’ second coming and the end of the age.
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matt 24:4-14
Sign #1 – an increase of wars, natural calamities, deception, persecution, lawlessness, and gospel advance
The challenge with the signs Jesus gives here is there is nothing unique or unusual about them. Wars and earthquakes and famines and false teachers and lawlessness have been a constant in history.
How then can they help us as signs? Jesus gives us the answer in verse 8: all these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Birth pains or contractions can begin as early as 16 weeks, and the nature of those contractions don’t change over the course of the pregnancy. What changes is the intensity of the contractions. They start to come faster and faster with increasing intensity. But they are purposely signs that don’t pinpoint exactly where we are in relation to the end, because they aren’t meant to pinpoint, they’re meant to motivate us to be alert and ready.
Sign #2 - The last days will be terrible days of tribulation
21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Matt 24:21-22
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 Tim 3:1
The Bible speaks of this time of tribulation. Tribulation means a time of great trouble and suffering. Many of the Ukrainians are experiencing incredible tribulation right now.
Again, it’s a sign that can be hard to pinpoint.
But there are signs of tribulation getting faster and worse. There have always been wars and genocides and brutal killings, but in the last century mankind has achieved the dark ability to kill in numbers that could not have been imagined two thousand years ago.
- An estimated 21 million non-battle deaths were caused by the Nazi’s between 1933 and 1945 (includes the 6 million Jews).
- It is estimated that 66 million Soviets were killed under Lenin, Stalin, and Kruschev’s leadership.
- Between 32 and 61 million Chinese killed under the communist regime since 1949
Add those numbers up and you have almost half the entire population of the United States today.
Look at what Jesus says, if the days had not been cut short (interrupted by his return) no human being would be saved. When Jesus said those words it would have been impossible for them to conceive of a way that humanity could wipe itself out. World-wide extinction by sword is pretty difficult to imagine.
But today that idea isn’t so difficult to conceive or in any way laughable to us. In the past 100 years the birth pains have gotten exponentially faster and worse than any other time in human history.
Sign #3 – the antichrist appears to be the savior of the world
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Matt. 15-16
This is a prophecy with more than one fulfilment, in fact, more than two fulfillments. Without getting too deep into the weeds on this, the abomination of desolation is written about in Dan. 9 and refers to the desecrating of the Jewish temple. Antiochus Epiphanes sometime around BC 167 took the holy items out of the temple, set up an altar to Zeus, and slaughtered a swine using the temple items.
In AD70, the second fulfilment occurred when the Romans overran Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. But the ultimate fulfillment, I believe, will be the act of the antichrist. Paul refers to this in 2 Thess. 2
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thess. 2:1-4
The Bible predicts a world figure sometimes called the antichrist, the beast, the man of lawlessness. Once again, we have a sign that is hard to pinpoint. The Apostle John writes:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18
If John was in the last hour, we’re in the last minute. But there have been many antichrists. Nero was an antichrist. Hitler was an antichrist. Putin is an antichrist. The spirit of antichrist – the spirit of Satan – indwells these men. But there is coming a final and ultimate antichrist just before the return of Jesus Christ.
In Rev. 13, John writes about “the beast’ arising out of the political chaos of a world in upheaval. The beast is empowered by Satan (the dragon) and people worship the beast and admire his military power (who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
The scriptures talk about people saying “peace, peace” and sudden destruction coming upon them. I am going to speculate a bit but my guess is that the antichrist will be an incredibly charismatic and unifying figure who will promise a war-weary, disaster weary world peace. And there will be a collective sigh of relief as they think finally peace is here. Kind of like Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” comment.
The antichrist is Satan’s dream come true: to be the god of this world, to be worshipped, to have his “son” rule as a savior, to unify the world under his reign, and to impose his will on the earth. To be God.
The evil in all this isn’t in the goals, it’s in the god. Only God is God. Only God is worthy of worship. Only His Son Jesus is the Savior of the world. Only Jesus is the Prince of Peace who can bring lasting peace to the earth. Only through King Jesus can and will the earth be unified as one, every tongue, tribe, and nation. The goals can only be as good as the God who makes them come to pass.
That’s why Daniel says those who know their God will firmly resist the antichrist and his phony peace treaty and why Rev. 13 says those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will not worship the beast. The Holy Spirit in us will not let us worship the demonic antichrist.
Sign #4 – crazy and cataclysmic things in the sky and on earth
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Matt. 24:29
Jesus gives the short version but in Revelation this seems to be the sixth seal as God brings judgment upon the world. Massive cataclysmic disasters will hit the earth one after the other and men’s hearts will fail them from fear as they know they are coming face to face with the wrath of God and the wrath of the Lamb.
Sign #5 – the return of Jesus Christ
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt 24:30-31
Jesus says the world will see Jesus and mourn. At this point the world will have reached a fever pitched hatred of Christians and Christianity and will be worshipping the antichrist, so when they see Jesus pierce the sky they will realize they backed the wrong horse.
Jesus gives us these signs so that we aren’t sleeping and caught by surprise at his return. He ends these signs with parable after parable urging believer to watch and be ready.
As your pastor, I don’t want to sensationalize or sentimentalize the return of Christ and the teachings about the last days. I do feel a fresh weight on my soul to see this church prepared, a weight that I hope stays with me even if things in the world calm down and peace is restored (as I hope they do!). A weight to see every believer here grow as a disciple and a follower of Jesus. To see our affections (starting with mine) grow hotter with love for Jesus and for one another, and our grip on this world and its treasures to loosen. To see us grow with a burning desire to lead the lost to Christ.
Being ready and watching to me isn’t an intangible, sentimental, thing. It’s discipleship. Recommitting ourselves to rooting our souls deeply in the word of God. Jesus said abide in me – that’s being rooted and established in Christ. It’s letting God’s word feed and nourish our hearts, minds, and souls. Being ready is asking the Holy Spirit for transforming grace. To break sin’s hold, break worldliness, repent of hard-heartedness, and ask God for a soft heart.
And taking the good news out into a world that needs it more than ever.