One of the most discussed concepts in prophetic teaching and literature is that of signs that tell us something about the timing or sequence or other information related to end time events. I don’t really want to be judgmental or unkind, but I must say that I believe there is as much misinformation related to this signs issue as any other in the study and teaching of end times prophecy. In writing my book, there is a reason that I gave it the title: “The Sign of the End of the Age” Subtitle: “What Jesus Taught about the Future in Matthew 24”. I had previously read many books on Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse, the rapture, Revelation, and prophecy in general. It was my observation that there is almost no consensus on what are the meaningful signs, what they actually mean, how many of them there are, and really what is their purpose. In fact I believe there is more disinformation than real light being shed as people talk and write about signs.
Partly, I used this title to specifically respond to some who have taught the wrong things with regard to signs at the end of the age. There is one author, who by the way I have a great deal of respect for and much of whose teaching (not all) I would agree with. He (Robert Van Kampen) wrote a book called, “The Sign”. I respectfully disagree with his conclusion that the “sign of the end of the age” and the “sign of His coming” are one and the same sign or for the same event, His coming. As I understand, it was Robert Van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal whose study and discussions originally came up with the teaching and name of the Pre-Wrath rapture view of end of the age eschatology. I am a firm believer in the Pre-Wrath view of the rapture as they outlined it and as my whole book supports. I think they should be honored for their courage, insight and proper interpretation of Scriptures regarding this important subject. Never-the-less, with regard to the signs I believe Robert Van Kampen got it wrong. This is one of the issues I will take up in this series.
How many times have you heard people say after some disaster or threat of war or great earthquake or major conflict in the Middle East, “these are the signs of the times”, or make some bold statement that the end must be near because of this event or that? I am pretty old and have heard this all my life. In fact if you Google “end times disasters” right now you get 1,730,000 results in less than one second. It is natural for many people who are tuned into Bible prophecy related to the end of the age to be constantly looking and asking, “is this something the Bible gives as a clue that the end is near”. After all, the Lord taught in one of His final discourses, just before He went to the cross, about the things that would occur at the end time including: wars and rumors of wars, and nation rising against nation, and famines, and earthquakes, and false prophets and false Christs. When you look at all the prophetic teaching about the end you could add many more events that people will consider to be “signs” that the end could be near.
Let me give you a proposition: “If everything is a sign – nothing is a sign!” When you think about this it is a truism. With regard to the timing of something beginning, how can you tell it is about to begin when the “signs” are many events of varying intensity spread over great amounts of time that are repetitive and have occurred for centuries or even millennia? The answer is: these are not signs.
In my book I have a small chapter, Chapter 2, on “What is a sign” and I will not repeat that discussion here. Even that is not a comprehensive study on Biblical signs. That would take a larger effort than what was needed for the subject related to end times, but let me bottom line the conclusions I came to.
- A God given sign was meant to be understood, not to be obscured and hard to read or determine. Illustrations were given of Old Testament signs that were very easy to read, and most often very specific.
- With respect to the purpose of signs, there are a number of issues that signs address: (1) covenant signs such as a rainbow or circumcision that relate to God’s promises; (2) signs to authenticate God’s messengers or Scripture writers such as Moses’ staff turning to a snake, or Elijah’s or the Apostle’s miracles that attested to them being God’s chosen messengers; and (3) the kind we are interested in here, signs that a predicted event is about to take place.
- It was the 3rd kind of sign (or signs) that the disciples asked about in Matthew 24 that began the whole Olivet Discourse. These were questions that asked when something very specific would happen, and what signs would immediately precede the events they asked about.
This 3rd category of sign is the kind we will be writing about in this series, and has several characteristics in order to be fully understood:
(1) It must be specific so that it gives a real starting point when the question was, “when will this happen?” To be specific and to give us any real understanding of the time when an event will happen it can’t be things that are always occurring like wars and earthquakes. We can never know how many there may be, and we can not tell the magnitude of these “birth pains” or if this is “the big one” till long after the fact and usually looking back.
(2) This 3rd kind of sign must also be unique, that is a one-of-a-kind sign that is not confused with other events, otherwise it would be ineffective.
(3) Finally this event sign must be clear to all who are anticipating this. It can’t be obscure or hidden to be of any value. This has to do with God’s intent for us to see and understand these signs.
By the time we are done with this series on signs, I hope you will see that God’s signs are for seeing and understanding for those who are “in the light”. He never intends to mislead us, and in fact in the beginning of His discourse He specifically warns not to be mislead by certain things, and that there will be those who specifically try to mislead. We will discuss this misleading aspect of signs in the next blog.