SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Part 1
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to put Jesus to the test. They asked him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, “In the evening you look at the sky. You say, ‘It will be good weather. The sky is red.’ And in the morning you say, ‘Today it will be stormy. The sky is red and cloudy.’ You know the meaning of what you see in the sky. But you can’t understand the signs of what is happening right now. An evil and unfaithful people look for a miraculous sign. But none will be given to them except the sign of Jonah.”
(Matthew 16:1-4, New International Readers Version – NIRV)
“No one knows about that day or hour. Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows. Remember how it was in the days of Noah. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking. They were getting married. They were giving their daughters to be married. They did all those things right up to the day Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes.”
(Matthew 24:36-39, NIRV)
MANY EXPECT THAT THE APOCALYPSE DRAWS NEAR
One of my favorite movies of all time is James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The movie introduced some of the greatest special effects ever seen at the cinema. Most readers remember the story: Sarah Connor strives to save her son John who represents the one chance humanity has AFTER the world as we know it is destroyed by Sky Net and the Terminator machines. The movie portrays a vivid nightmare scenario of a nuclear holocaust producing doomsday. When we think about ‘the end of the world,’ we cannot help but think about horrible images such as we see in Cameron’s vision of what may be our fate if the machines ever take over.
We know the climax of history by many names, some biblical and some not: Judgment Day, the Day of the Lord, the Time of Jacob’s trouble, Doomsday, the End of Days, the End of Time, the Apocalypse, and of course, Armageddon. Humanity seems to have a deeply rooted sense that the outcome of our story is not a happy ending. Surveys today tells us a majority of Americans believe the world is coming to an end. Something terrible will happen. We learn this in a recent poll conducted by the Barna Group:
PITTSBURGH, PA, Sept 11 — According to its summer 2013 OmniPollSM, a well-respected faith and culture research company in Ventura, CA, found that 41% of all U.S. adults, 54% of Protestants and 77% of Evangelicals believe the world is now living in the biblical end times. When asked: “do you, personally, believe that the world is currently living in the ‘end times’ as described by prophecies in the Bible, or not?”, a startling 41% of all participants said yes. The number was even higher for Protestants with a figure representing just over one in two protestant adults. The highest number registered was by Evangelicals with three out of four evangelical Christians in America believing the world is living in the end times. Catholics were at the other end of the spectrum, however, with 73% saying no; though practicing Catholics registered quite a bit higher at nearly 45% saying yes to now living in the end times.
To reach their surprising findings, the Barna Group conducted 1,000 online surveys among a representative sample of adults, ages 18 and older in the United States from July 29, 2013 through August 1, 2013. The margin of error was +/-3.2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. The unusual OmniPoll question was commissioned by James F. Fitzgerald, producer of The WatchWORD Bible® New Testament, in concert with the release of his new book, The 9/11 Prophecy—Startling Evidence the Endtimes have Begun (WND Books), for the 12th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Fitzgerald said to his knowledge there had not been a poll like it before on the question of the end times. [i]
Whether we turn to the Bible or to science, it seems that disaster and cataclysm awaits. Today, many books speculate that both natural and mad-made disasters loom. The authors of these books awaken some to disasters that we can avert. But others lay out catastrophes we cannot avoid. All reinforce an existential sense of foreboding.[ii] Ray Kurzweil’s singularity predicts a dizzying future in which ‘change goes exponential’ likely making humanity unable to cope with an increasing rate of radical transformation in our world. Drinkable water will soon be in short supply. Hunger will reach new highs—even in the United States. True artificial intelligence will finally be achieved within the next decade producing computers that not only ‘out-compute’ us (which they have done for years), but outthink us in decision making. The machine will be smarter than us. The only cataclysm which seems avoidable now: running out of energy. A slew of new ideas promise cheaper fuel. The ongoing ‘oil crisis’ that plagued the world since the 1970s and made the politics of the Middle East front page news worldwide will soon give way to an energy surplus that—like the price of telephone service and ‘internet connect’—will go down instead of up in the years just ahead.
But other forms of disaster threaten. The history channel in February of 2009 spent an entire week chronicling the many ways catastrophes could destroy humankind. Throughout the last three months of 2008 and all of 2009 the collapse of the world economy seemed more probable than not. In many ways, the economy did collapse and a number of nations did not recover, essentially going bankrupt (Iceland, Greece, to name but two). From 2010 to 2013, it was two steps forward and one step back. Economic recovery was never judged immune to a full retreat into a ‘double dip recession.’ In 2014, not a day goes by without some expert (and many without any credentials) laying claim to a sure sign of our undoing. We are told why economic collapse remains inevitable. Few fiscal prophets see improvement ahead. References to economic collapse are legion. I cite a typical comment below:
Despite the US stock markets doing relatively well at the moment, some financial experts have made economic predictions for 2014 that claim a stock market crash in January is possible. Further, the out of control US debt will cause the US dollar to be removed as the reserve currency and trigger an economic collapse:
“The central issue is confidence in America, and the world is losing confidence quickly. At a certain point, soon, the United States will reach a level of deficit spending and debt at which the countries of the world will lose faith in America and begin to withdraw their investments. Many leading economists and bankers think another trillion dollars or so may do it. A run on the bank will start suddenly, build quickly and snowball.”[iii]
Whether we are talking economics or politics, if someone predicts an awful event lies just around the corner, we no longer call such a person an alarmist; they are a realist.
FOR UNBELIVERS, NO SIGN OF DISASTER MAY BE COMING
Jesus chided the religious leaders of his day—the intelligentsia of his time—for their failure to understand what was happening to them and their nation. He also warned the common person to be cautious about the future—do not assume life will continue in a state of ‘normalcy’ (as we might label it today, the ‘status quo’). Changes happen, whether desired or not. There is no one, no life-force, not even God Himself who guarantees life as we know it will continue ‘as is.’ To paraphrase Jesus’ words: “It is just like in the days of Noah… everyone was drinking and eating, marrying and giving in marriage (life as usual), and then BAM!—the flood came and destroyed everyone and stopped everything they were doing.” In this instance, Jesus’ point was almost a contradiction to His earlier rebuke to the Jewish leaders for their failure to read the signs of the times when he pointed out they could interpret the meaning of red skies but not the political implications of what was happening in their nation. However, in contrast to His earlier rebuff, in the reference to the days of Noah, Jesus predicted that most will not be able to discern what was about to happen. “Don’t expect any sign of disaster before disaster strikes. It will be like the people in Noah’s day who never saw it coming! The everyday events of life just kept right on taking place until the end came. And then, it was too late.”
Recently, there have been a surfeit of books on the amazing story of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” The phrase “as in the days of Noah” has led to the speculation that what took place during Noah’s time, the corruption of humanity by the interbreeding (apparently) of angels with ‘the daughters of men’, will occur again.
In several of my other books, I have also written about this possibility and cited examples where what is happening today concerning the strange goings on of alien abduction, may be nothing less than exactly that, an unbelievable as it would be.
However, we should not fail to consider the explicit point Jesus was making in this passage. If we look carefully at the context, Jesus was speaking specifically about whether or not there would be a sign of the apocalypse that would wake the world up and cause them to realize that judgment was coming. His primary point about the lack of warning—the absence of a sign—was the characteristic of Noah’s day. It will be exactly the same at the time of His return. Everyone will assume ‘life goes on’ just as it has since the beginning of time. Certainly, this is the very same point which Peter makes in the controversial book we know as 2 Peter:
2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.
For almost everyone, as Paul teaches, will not be looking for the signs of Jesus’ coming. They will be blind to the warnings because they are children of the night, and not of the day. In stark contrast, all those who are watching will detect the signs of His coming. Those who are not watching will be caught unawares.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
THERE ARE ALSO SIGNS THAT GO UNDETECTED
Sometimes change is so significant it can be labeled epochal.[iv] Jesus saw the political conditions of his day and could see the inevitable clash between Jewish nationalism and Roman authority. He understood that the status quo was about to change forever for the Jewish people. He warned the politicians and the people to wake up and realize disaster was pending. His prophecies were very specific: The heart and soul of the Jewish identity, their temple, would soon be destroyed. He told His disciples “Not one stone will be left upon another” (Matthew 24: 2). His retort struck down their cherished belief that the nation of Judea and the Hebrew religion was as solid as the stones of the Temple. Looking at them, how could anyone think differently? The stones were massive. The Temple complex was bigger than three football stadiums. It seemed immovable. Like these stones, the disciples assumed that nothing could shake the religion of Yahweh.
In response to their assumption about the unshakable quality of their Hebrew heritage, to the core beliefs that had been instilled by years of teaching and the inundation of ‘conventional wisdom’ that ignored the signs of the times, Jesus warned them not to be fooled by the seemingly indestructible building within which God have even once chosen to live. Despite all of this sacred history, the Temple could be shaken. In fact, Jerusalem would be razed and the Temple would be utterly destroyed. The generation that He was speaking to would witness all of these events. (Matthew 24:34)
Moses predicted fifteen centuries earlier that one day the Jews would be dispersed throughout the world and no longer enjoy the comfort or familiarity of their homeland or their way of life. As a nation, they would be homeless. The people of Judea must have assumed that the diaspora was already a completed fact, the worst was behind them. No doubt it was considered a fait accompli that with the former destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the removal of all of Judea to Babylon six centuries earlier, that what Moses once predicted had already come to pass. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and its people carted off to destinations unknown. They were dispersed throughout many lands. While it may be true that these ten tribes were not really ‘lost’—nevertheless, these ancient Hebrews would be very hard to find! Was this not the dispersion Moses described?
When the Hebrews of Judea (the Jews) returned to Jerusalem led by Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple, and later when Nehemiah led others to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, no doubt the Jewish leaders taught the people that the Kingdom of the Jews would thenceforth weather any storm. The then current occupation of Rome would not last forever. Soon God would act on their behalf. The Romans would be expelled. The worship of Jehovah would be undaunted once more. The massive stones set beautifully in place was proof enough. Their Temple was the symbol of that inevitability. And yet, Jesus spurned that common notion. The Kingdom of Judea was to crumble within a generation. When this ‘natural’ sign came of the city of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, it would be time to drop everything and flee. Jesus had given them a sign: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.” (Luke 21:20-21) The surrounding armies of Rome were a visible and unmistakable sign to the people of Jerusalem: “Get out while the gettin’ is good!”
In 67 AD, the Roman general Titus and his army surrounded Jerusalem. Titus, the son of Vespasian (and soon to be Caesar himself), gave the inhabitants of Jerusalem a chance to escape the siege. Christian Jews, heeding the warning of Jesus from 35 years previous, left the city and fled to other Christian communities in neighboring lands. However, both the fervent nationalists as well as the piously religious could not conceive of how God would allow His eternal City to be destroyed. So they stayed. And Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem came to pass exactly as he said. Titus burned the temple to the ground. The Roman armies lifted and separated the stones to find the temple gold which had melted during the fire and seeped between the cracks.[v] As Jesus said, not one stone was left upon another. Within a few more years, the nation of Israel was doused and the land desolate. Their world ended. Before this occurred, to the Jews their temple seemed the stoutest of symbols that their religion and existence was indestructible. It had withstood the threats by Alexander the Great in the third century BC, Antiochus Epiphanes IV of the Syrians in the second century BC, and the Roman emperor Pompey 60 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Prior to the act of the Roman Titus, predicting the temple’s doom was like predicting, well, the Second Coming of Christ today. Like the Jews, we assume it inconceivable that our world could come to a screeching halt.
[i] See http://pressreleases.religionnews.com/2013/09/11/shock-poll-startling-numbers-of-americans-believe-world-now-in-the-end-times/[ii] The natural disasters that could wreak havoc upon us include sun storms pummeling the earth and thereby generating monster hurricanes; comets striking us with deadly force; or massive cauldrons (like Yellowstone Park) exploding and sending mountains of volcanic ash into the atmosphere creating a ‘nuclear winter effect’ destroying most animal and plant life on earth. Moreover, these are only a few of the not-so-pleasant possibilities. [iii] See http://www.prepperfortress.com/predictions-for-2014-end-of-the-world-world-war-3-us-economic-collapse/ [iv] An epoch is the beginning of a period in history that authorities consider significant. An epochal event changes the course of history. [v] Recently, it has been authenticated that the gold of the Jewish Temple was actually the financial means by which the Roman Coliseum was built. Outside the Coliseum a placard has been found that declares the Coliseum a gift from Titus, the General of the Army destroying Jerusalem, to his Father, Vespasianus (aka, Vespasian), the Caesar until Titus himself became Caesar in 79 A.D. The placard ties the gold of the Jewish Temple to the completion of the Coliseum.