UNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Quite often when we witness surges of violence and chaos in the world, we as Christians almost immediately jump to the conclusion that we are in the last days — the world is about to be destroyed. We feel that because the Bible said “all these things” would be happening during the last days, and they are happening, we are just about there — these are the “signs of the times”.
Nearly every generation believed the end would come during their lifetime. Because of this, some people made life-changing decisions based on these signs of the times”. Evidence of this can be seen as far back as the days of the early church when it was believed that this was the reason for the idleness that existed among the Thessalonians that the Apostle Paul addressed in his second letter to them. It seemed that people did not see the need to work anymore — they sponged off others (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). And some religious groups, even today do not see the need to invest in higher education because they believe the world will be destroyed any day and that would be a waste of time and money. While in both of these examples, the decisions were based on biblical Scripture, the truth of the matter is, that generations have come and gone, and the world is still here. So, what is going on here? Is there a problem in the way we understand the Scripture?
A Better Understanding:
Well, it turns out that it is very likely that the answer to the last question is “yes”. An exploration of this subject shows that trying to understand this subject (“signs of the times”, the “end times” or “the second coming”), has been a challenge for scholars throughout the years and there are at least a couple of reasons for this. One has to do with the passage of scripture that informs us of the second coming and the signs of the times, and the other has to do with the interpretation of two “critical verses”. In this writing, I would like to share some information I gained from my examination of the subject in an attempt to shed some light on the reason for the difficulty in understanding the subject; however, in the interest of time, I will be very brief, but I will include some sources that you can examine at a later time in the event you wish greater detail.
Let us begin by looking at the passage of Scripture that informs us on the subject — Matthew 24 through 25. There are two interpretations of this passage that we will discuss here. They are presented in the form of one “either or question”. It asks: “Does the Scripture picture the second coming of our Lord Jesus as  a series of events (multiple comings, judgments, resurrections, the great tribulation, the rise and fall of the great Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon, and the millennium) covering a period of seven plus 1,000 years, or  does Scripture picture the second coming of our Lord Jesus as a single multi-faceted event—His coming in glory for judgment? (The Second Coming–The Gospels ). In this discussion, we will refer to the two options as “view- 1” and “view 2”. These two views may not be very clear now, but hopefully, greater clarity will come as we progress through the discussion.
Many scholars believe that the key to understanding Matt. 24:1-25:46 is in recognizing that this passage of Scripture is Jesus’ response to two questions His disciples asked. But before we look at those questions, let us get some background information that will help us understand what prompted these questions. The Chapter opened with Jesus and His disciples leaving the temple at Jerusalem. After His disciples shared with Him their fascination over the temple buildings, He told them that the buildings would soon be destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). Then the disciples asked Jesus: “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?” Therefore, it is important to remember that this discourse is an answer to these two questions.
Let us now look a little more closely at the passage. Scholars point out that the first question, “When will these things be?” was answered in Matthew 24:4-35 and they believe that Jesus was definitely speaking of the signs leading to the destruction of Jerusalem. Then in Matthew 24:36, Jesus shifted His attention to the second question: “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?”, when He said “But of that day and hour no one knows…” In the verses following that (Matt. 24:36-25:46), Jesus proceeded to give several examples of what the kingdom of heaven (His second coming) would be like, which all came down to the fact that the Son of Man will come back unexpectedly. The majority of that portion of Scripture focused on examples that showed what that unexpected coming might look like. His advice to them was simply “…be ready [watchful] for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:44).
With that in mind, let us see if we can make a distinction between the two views of Matthew 24-25. View 1 recognizes that the signs mentioned in Matt 24:4-35 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, but they believe those signs recur throughout time until the second coming (the final judgment). In other words, view 1 believes that these disasters and turmoil will continuously be repeated until the final Day of Judgment, which could explain why every generation expects the end of the world to come during its lifetime. In order to support this view, however, it is necessary for supporters to stretch and shape the definitions of words in certain “critical passages”, particularly, Matthew 16:28 which says, “…there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”, and Matthew 24:34 which says”… this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place”.
View 2 recognizes that the verses in Matthew 24:4-35 refer only to the first question Jesus’ disciple asked (the fall of Jerusalem); and that the passage (Matthew 24:36 through Matthew 25:46) refers to the second question the disciples asked, which was solely about His second coming. This view believes that all the signs mentioned in Matthew 24:4-35 that we refer to as the “signs of the times”, were fulfilled by 70 AD before the fall of Jerusalem (“A Study of Matthew 24”, ); and they have nothing to do with His second coming. This view believes that Matthew 24:36 is a transitional statement that leads to answering the second question His disciples asked. The passage of Scripture following Matthew 24:36 does not mention any signs that lead to the final judgment. It simply says that Jesus will return at a time “when He is least expected (Matthew 24:44) (NLT)”.
Despite the differences in the two views, all believing scholars recognize that Jesus advised us to “be ready”, meaning to be watchful — to be in the expected state of mind. Rather than focusing on making accurate predictions about when the end will come, I believe it would be more profitable for believers to focus on doing everything they can do to grow into acquiring the mind of Christ — the righteousness that comes with unconditional love for God, not for our own sake, but for God’s sake (to bring glory to His name, not to our name); as well as that unconditional love for our neighbors. If we can be steadfast in such a state of mind, on that day, Jesus will say to those who endure to the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:23) and “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: …” (Matthew 25:34).
Points for Consideration and Meditation:
- Consideration this: One writer stated, “The point of eschatology [the last days] throughout the Bible is to provide encouragement to believers in the witness for Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:14; 1 Cor. 15:58). It is not mentioned to encourage idle speculation or controversy. The reason God grants us a view of the future is to encourage us to witness for Christ and serve Him in the present.” (Nelson’s Dictionary of the Bible, p.352)
- Meditate on this: With this in mind, if the Lord Jesus Christ returns today, could you say, “I am ready”?
Another interpretation is that Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 has a “double fulfillment.”