Signs of the times

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HISTORY BEFORE IT HAPPENS The Bible describes how God's plan for a personal relationship with man had a definite beginning (with Adam almost 6000 years ago) and will have a definite end, climaxing in the return of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 46:9-10 we read: "Remember the former thing of old, for I am God, and there is none else; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure". God does indeed declare "the end from the beginning". The Bible contains many prophetic scriptures concerning world events, the nation of Israel, and Jesus Christ. Many have been already confirmed by history, whilst others relate to what the Bible terms "the last days". SIGNS OF THE TIMES Prophecies of the Old Testament, the early apostles and Christ himself all speak openly of "signs" that will herald the close of this age. So clear are these descriptions that we, today, can have no doubt that we are living in those "last days". Perhaps the best known passage of scripture is in Matthew 24:3-31. These "signs" will be manifest in all aspects of life -- the nations, their alignment and conflicts; nature; religious confusion and hypocrisy; society and the family; technology and knowledge; and Christian revival. SIGNS IN NATURE ". . . and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:7-8). This century has witnessed a marked increase in earthquake activity with millions being killed. It has been estimated that the incidence of earthquakes has doubled every ten years since 1950. Similarly we have seen hundreds of thousands die of disease and starvation, while the rich countries continue to prosper. "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring" (Luke 21:25). Today, man lives in fear of catastrophic changes that are occurring in the world's weather patterns (cyclones, floods, droughts), including the "green-house effect". As well, there is concern over the irreparable harm that is being done to the earth through pollution and depletion of natural resources. SOCIETY AND THE FAMILY The Bible also foretells a breakdown in society and morals: '"this know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4). What better words could describe our time and generation? Crime rates continue to soar around the world, as does the incidence of domestic violence and marital breakdown This generation's desire to please "self' first has severe repercussions on social behavior and people's expectation for the future. Drugs, alcohol and other pleasures so heavily pursued by many provide only temporary escape from man's deep unhappiness and discontent. Depression is driving many to suicide (particularly amongst our youth); while mental disorders and nervous breakdowns are more prevalent today than ever before.

INCREASED KNOWLEDGE In Daniel 12:14 we read: "But thou, 0 Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: but many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased". Our generation has seen a breathtaking increase in knowledge and technology, unimaginable to those of even a hundred years ago. Advances in communication, transport medicine, materials science, electronics, and nuclear physics, to name a few, are products of this age of increased knowledge and opportunity which the Bible refers to as the "times of the end". Despite man's preoccupation with knowledge and academic pursuits, Paul warns that many are "Ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). Their desire for knowledge is misdirected. And: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:34). POWERLESS RELIGION In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul describes the religious leaders of the last days as: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, from such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5). The "Christianity" most think of today is a far cry from the excitement that existed in the early Christian church. The Acts of the Apostles and the epistles (letters) of the New Testament clearly demonstrate that miracles, signs and wonders were commonplace (and to be expected) in the Church. Yet today, even those holding office in many of the mainline Christian churches deny that such things are for today. Some have even gone on record as denying that God exists! "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats [certain foods] .. ." (1 Timothy 4:1-3). The early Christian leaders, reiterating Jesus' warnings, knew that the truth of the gospel would be distorted by men and that superstitious (they called them "devilish") practices would be introduced in place of the simple message of salvation. Jesus also warned of many that would try to deceive the innocent: " ... take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:4-5). We are assured that there will be no mistaking the return of Christ, for all will be witnesses: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27). WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS One of the most obvious, and indeed topical, Bible descriptions of the last days relates to international conflict. Matthew 24:6-7 reads: "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom". Having experienced two world wars and with the potential for the next to destroy the entire population of the earth, world leaders are all the time mindful of the need for peace. So great has been this concern that 1986 was declared the "International Year of Peace". "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"(l Thessalonians 5:3). Since 1945 we have experienced well over 50 major wars or conflicts throughout the world, with a number bringing the major nations again to the brink of world war.

PERILOUS TIMES The apostle Paul described these days as "Perilous" (2 Timothy 3:1). Professor Albert Einstein, one of the pioneers of modern physics and whose work contributed to the production of the atomic bomb, said after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: "Annihilation of all life on earth has been brought within the range of technical possibilities. The ghost-like character of this development lies in its apparently compulsory trend... in the end there beckons more and more clearly general annihilation". Now, some five decades later, the destructive power of the atomic bomb has been long superseded, and Einstein's concerns are all too real. The effect of nuclear weapons is clearly foretold in scripture: "And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire, and pillars [literally 'palm trees" in the original Hebrew] of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come (Joel 2:30-31). "For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven . .. " (Malachi 4:1). "... Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth" (Zechariah 14:12). "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10). "Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Luke 21:26). WORLD ARMS RACE There is a sign of the armaments race: "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles: prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: Let the weak say, I am strong" (Joel 3:9-10). How better could the prophet have described our day? And this, we read, will be on the eve of the great day of Christ's return and the armageddon. Today, the world's combined nuclear arsenal is sufficient to destroy its inhabitants many times over. "Let the weak say, I am strong" - today even the small and the poor third world nations are committing massive amounts of money toward arming themselves with nuclear weapons, at the expense and welfare of their people. The race is indeed on. ALIGNMENT OF THE NATIONS A number of Old Testament scriptures collectively provide a comprehensive prophetic message concerning God's promises to the nation of Israel (not synonymous with modern Israel) and the alignment of the nations in the last days. In summary, they tell how the southern (Islamic) nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (previously the U.S.S.R.), in association with Libya and Ethiopia (Ezekiel 35-38), will be in direct conflict with the United States of America, nations of the British Commonwealth and their western European allies. At the centre of the conflict will be modern Israel and Jerusalem, which the Bible describes as "a burdensome stone" (Zechariah 12:3).

GREAT BUT USELESS RICHES The Bible says "Go now ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries which shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted . . . Your silver and gold are cankered; and the rust of them shall be as a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as if it were fire. Ye have heaped together treasure for the last days" (James 5:1-3) Pertaining to the temporary nature of wealth, and the effect of monetary inflation the Bible says: " ... and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes" (Haggai 1:6). CHRISTIAN REVIVAL Amongst the many signs we are given to confirm the Bible significance of the age in which we live, by far the most exciting concerns Christian Revival. "And it shall come a pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit" (Joel 2:28-29). Other passages speak similarly of a latter outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. This "latter rain" promise is being fulfilled today, with tens of thousands of people world-wide rejoicing in the Holy Spirit experience. Whilst traditional churches are on the decline "Spirit-filled" churches are growing rapidly. Referring to the miraculous experience of receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, the apostle Peter said on the day of Pentecost "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). Just as these signs of the last days were given that none should be deceived, Jesus promised a SIGN to believers, to confirm their faith: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues ... they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover'' (Mark 16:15-18).

WATCH The many signs heralding Jesus' return were given for our benefit and encouragement, but we must recognise them. Speaking to the "religious" people of His day, Jesus said: "0 ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:3). Jesus said: "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (Mark 13:35-37). We are living in the most remarkable generation in history. But we must realise that our future lies not in knowledge or scientific progress, but in a personal relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus Christ The Bible says: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you . . . and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost'' (Acts 2:38).

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