Because of all the current events negatively affecting our world, a friend recently posted on Facebook that everyone should be aware of these “signs” and change their lives soon, obeying the gospel before it’s eternally too late. I appreciate and agree with the overall point that this friend was making. Indeed we, as members of the Lord’s church, need to be reminding people of the reality of the coming judgment and encouraging them to respond accordingly (as well as ensuring, by our continued obedience, that we are ready; cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11). But we also need to be aware that there are no signs of Christ’s return, the end of the physical world, and the final judgment of God.
No passages were presented in the Facebook post, but one can easily guess which ones were most likely in the mind of the author. Probably the most common passage cited in order to point to current events as being signs of the end of the world would be Matthew 24:1-35. In verse two of this passage, Jesus declared regarding the temple that “there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” The disciples afterward asked Jesus “when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” They assumed that Jesus was talking about one event (i.e., they thought that the destruction of the temple would certainly mean the end of the world and Christ’s return, a logical thought at that time). But Jesus makes it clear that these were two different events as He answered them separately.
In verses 1-35 He answered their first question, “when shall these things be?” (i.e., the destruction of the temple). Today we know (or at least we should know) that this did not refer to the end of the world, but to the Roman attack on, and destruction of, Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish nation which occurred in A.D. 70. We should also know then that the signs Jesus gave pointed to this event’s coming, not the end of the world. He even said that it would be fulfilled within one generation (v. 34). Sadly, this context is continually missed by well-meaning folks like my Facebook friend (and outright ignored by false teachers and preachers) who misapply these signs to the second coming, comparing them with current events and concluding “the end is near!”
From verse 36 through the end of chapter 25 He addressed their second question, “what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?” There are two main lessons we need to learn from His answer. First, there are no signs, so we do not know when it will happen. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (25:36). Mark’s account adds “neither the Son” (Mark 13:32), making it clear that while He was on earth even Jesus didn’t know. How could Jesus have given signs for the second coming if He didn’t know when it was? It’s amazing that since that time a multitude of false teachers has claimed to know what Jesus didn’t, making prediction after prediction of the date of His return. Every one of these predictions has failed, showing every one of these prognosticators to be false prophets (cf. Deut. 18:22).
The second point to Jesus’ answer is that He could return at any time; and since there are no signs to warn us of that time, we must be prepared for it to be at any time.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matt. 24:42).
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:44).
“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 25:13).
How do we “watch”? Obviously not by staring at the sky. Jesus answered this in 24:45-46: “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” When He returns we need to be found “so doing” (i.e., doing His will – cf. Matt. 7:21-23).
We need to stop seeing current events as signs of the end of the world. Not only have all these alleged signs happened a multitude of times throughout history and will continue to happen (“there is no new thing under the sun”–Eccl. 1:9), but Jesus gave no signs to mark His second coming. Consider also that both Paul and Peter taught that when Jesus returned it would be “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1-3; 2 Peter 3:10), i.e., with no warning! Focusing on signs can result in the incorrect conclusion that His coming, while possibly near, is not today, causing us to believe we have more time to repent than we may actually have.
The time is now! His return could be today or a thousand years from today, but no current event has anything to do with this. Are you prepared now?