Signs of the End or Signs of the Times?

Lambert Dolphin

It seems that every unusual hurricane, flood or earthquake elicits a flurry of speculation about the approaching end of the age. This is true in our time but it has also been characteristic of the entire 2000 year history of the church. In the first century the Apostle Paul found it necessary to quiet the concerns of the Thessalonian congregation,

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come..." (2 Thess 2:1-2)

It is helpful to note that momentous events, great miracles in the Bible, did not cause people to flock to God. The resurrection of Jesus--the most momentous event in all of history--could hardly escape great notoriety in the First Century Jerusalem Post, but no new conversions are recorded.

In Jesus' day the religious leaders asked Jesus to please tell them the signs of the times in which they lived,

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, "When evening comes, you say, `It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and in the morning, `Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)

The rebuke of Jesus clearly suggests that any aware person who simply watched the weather, read the news, and was aware of what God has already told us in the Bible, should easily be able to figure out that nature of the times in which they live. The only sign Jesus said would be a clear public indicator of the momentous times in which the Son of God came to earth--would be His resurrection. As we have noted, this sign came and went and was ignored by the multitudes!

Many have thought that Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) gives a list of signs of the end of the age. This is actually not the case. Jesus gave instead signs of the age! Wishing to strengthen His disciples and knowing He would be away from them for 2000 years, in broad brush strokes He told them that the entire time period between His two advents would be marked by

"...wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains (arche odinon). Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt 24:6-14).

These, he said, were not even the actual birth pangs that marked the end of the age, but the beginning of the birth pangs!

The Olivet discourse begins with three questions from his disciples. Jesus answers all three.

"Do you see all these things [the temple]?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Mt 24:2-3).

The destruction of the temple he told them (Luke 21:20) would come at a future date when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies. This came to pass in AD 70. The disciples wished also know the sign of his coming and the sign of the end of the age.

Jesus answers these questions in reverse order: The sign of the end of the age will be the desecration of the Third Temple by the coming man of sin, (Mt. 24:15) and the sign of His coming (epiphaneia) would be His visible appearing in glory on the clouds of heaven from the Mount of Olives. (Mt. 24:30)

What this means is that the age we live in, with all its violence and unrest, will continue past the rapture to the mid-point of the tribulation. It is then that the actual birth pangs of the coming new world order will begin!

Every year I read articles by Christian writers who raise alarm signals about rising ocean temperatures, greater-than-ever hurricanes--and what is most common, authoritative claims that the number of earthquakes is increasing--a sure sign of the end.

Being a trained and experienced scientist I thought the increasing-earthquake claim would be something I could easily check on the basis of readily available data. Sure enough, there is no evidence that earthquakes are on the increase. (See Earthquakes and the Bible)

It is quite true the Bible has a lot to say about big earthquakes. The end of the age when Jesus stands upon the Mount of Olives is marked by will surely be the greatest earthquake experienced on earth. Even now stress is evidently building up world-wide in anticipation of this great event. I believe we have descriptions of this one mammoth world-wide earthquake in Zechariah 14:4ff, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Joel 3:18 and in Revelation 6:12, 8:5, 11:19 and 16:18-21. In fact, the Revelation passages help us to anchor the sequence of cascading judgments God calls down upon the earth during this period--because they all culminate in this one great earthquake as a clear marker that Christ has now commenced His reign on earth.

World population is soaring out of control in our time (See World Population Since Creation). This means that famine, wars, border disputes, social problems, and man's effect on the environment will all increase. These are natural social consequences one would expect from merely the fact that more people than ever now live on our small planet.

I do not believe, therefore, that God has given us special signs that help us identify where we are with respect to His return--the Second Advent. But we can observe the weather! Merely reading up on the events in the Middle East in the last 100 years and being familiar with our Bibles can not help but show us that "He is at the very gates." There is no reason for us to be caught off guard by the sudden return of our Lord Jesus Christ--at any time.

The next event of prophetic significance to occur on earth--completely unannounced, will be the silent, secret removal of the true church (the rapture), by Jesus Christ. A period of at least three and a half years of what appears to be world peace and prosperity will ease into place under the skillful deceit of the two beasts of Revelation 13--Europe's political/military leader, and Israel's false Messiah. The Third Temple will be build in Jerusalem, it will be dedicated and placed into service with animal sacrifices and a fully functioning Levitical priesthood. For most people on the earth, it will be life as usual, perhaps with even a little more hope for a rosy future than exists now.

Then the end of the age will suddenly come--when the false messiah steps into the Holy of Holies of the Third Temple and announces that He is God. This, Jesus' said, would the one and only sign of the end of the age given from God to alert the world. Only one sign in two thousand years! The time between the two Advents of Jesus has been marked by wars, violence, disasters, plagues, famines and disasters. These are signs of the age--not signs of the end!

Jesus continued, after describing the desecration of the temple and warning His followers in Jerusalem and Judea to flee for their lives,

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no-one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!' or, `There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, `There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, `Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days `the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:21-30)

The world around us is violent and uncertain now, as it has been for 2000 years. The evening news seems to get worse and worse. The purpose of Jesus' words to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse was not to alert them that the end was near, but to stabilize them--the entire 2000 years between His two advents would be filled with wars, rumors of war, natural disasters, with great deceivers on both the religious and the secular scene. We are to watch--and to be ready at all times!

 The Norwegian Academy of Sciences has determined that since 3600 B.C. there have been 14,531 wars and only 292 years of peace. This is approximately 2.6 wars per year, and one year of "peace" out of every two decades, or a little over 36 hours of peace per month, or about one minute of peace every four hours.

 Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid..."

"I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you have tribulation;
but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world."
(John 14:27, 16:33)


Further study: Stedman, Ray C., "What's This World Coming to?" (The Olivet Discourse)


Lambert Dolphin
February 13, 1998