When we look at the world today, what do we see? We see a world full of chaos and impending conflict. Fear is coursing through the hearts of many because of random acts of violence. Month to month, the death tolls rise, and more places seem unsafe. Natural disasters are on the rise and are becoming more intense. Fires have destroyed thousands of homes, and some have even lost their lives. Floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes have left destruction in their path. Disease and famine are claiming the lives of thousands. On top of this, the world is in a fragile economic state and is holding on by a thread. So what does this all mean? Does it foretell some great event about to take place?
The Bible has accurately predicted the state of things today and even thousands of years in advance. There are significant events about to take place very soon. Do you want to know what is about to happen? Do you want to know what preparation is necessary to make it through these events? Let’s have a quick look at what the Bible has to say about the state of the earth just before the second coming of Christ and compare that to what we see today.
Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all accounts of the same discourse given by Jesus. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave the disciple’s signs for two events; signs both of the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. Each gospel adds details that provide us with a clearer picture of what Jesus was trying to reveal.
God does not want these events to take us by surprise and has forewarned us. The prophet Amos said, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Amos 3:7. And Paul revealed in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” There is, however, a warning in verse 6. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” If we watch for the signs, we need not be worried about being caught off guard.
So what are the signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ? Here is what Jesus first revealed, “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” Mathew 24:4-6. Keep in mind that these were not only signs for the second coming, but also the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus tells us that these things will happen, but the end is not yet.
These first signs were a warning to the Christians living in Jerusalem during the first century. Although the end of the world had not come yet, there were significant events to take place during this time. There were wars, uprisings, and civil outbreaks. In 66 AD, the first Jewish – Roman war broke out. In 70 AD, Jerusalem was besieged, and the temple destroyed. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote, “Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straitness among them, that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.”1 Due to the increased number present in Jerusalem, 1.1 million died, and another 97,000 were enslaved. Jesus foresaw the fall of this great city and did not want any Christian to have to partake of this terrible suffering.
Were there false Christ’s and prophets during the first century? Josephus tells us of a man named Theudas, who claimed to be a prophet while Fadius was a procurator of Judea. The same author also tells us of an Egyptian false prophet who rose during the time of Felix. There were also false messiahs during this time. Simon bar Giora and Menahem ben Judah are a couple of examples of Jewish messiah claimants. Simon Magus and Dositheos, the Samaritan, are examples of those that claimed to be Christ within the Christian sphere during this time.
There was also another sign given to the early Christians. Jesus said in Luke 21: 20-22, “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. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” As soon as the Christians saw the city surrounded, they knew they needed to flee. But if they were surrounded, how could they escape? This is where the story gets remarkable.
Cestius, a Roman senator and general, had surrounded Jerusalem, and much progress had been made to overtake the city. Josephus wrote on this matter, “And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city.”2 When you keep in mind that a victory had nearly been gained, it makes the next statement incredible. “It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world.”3
God had opened the way for His people to escape the city. Just as God gave them signs, he has done the same for us today. Just as God wanted the early Christians to be ready for the destruction of Jerusalem, He wants us to be prepared for His second coming.
Next, Jesus turns our attention from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of time. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” Matthew 24:7. Have not there always been earthquakes, famines, and pestilences? Yes, but Matthew added another additional detail in the very next verse, which is worthy of notice. “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (ESV)
Birth pains start with lower intensity and time in between contractions. As the birth of the child draws nearer, the birth pains become more intense and closer together. Just before the baby comes, the intensity of the contractions is almost unbearable, and they come one right after another. What Jesus was trying to tell us is that these terrible calamities would continue to get worse until the end. Just before Jesus’ second coming, there will be an extreme intensity in these disasters, and they will become frequent.
So now we must ask the question, is there an increase in frequency and intensity? If we look at the Annual Disaster Statistical Review for 2006, between 1987 -2006, the number of disasters nearly doubled.4 According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “There were three times as many natural disasters from 2000 through 2009 as there were from 1980 through 1989.”5 In the same article, we find this statement, “Natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change.”5 Jesus warned us this would happen, and we should take note that we are seeing the signs that time is running out.
The next point I would like to touch on is the time of great tribulation. The definition of tribulation is sorrow or suffering as a result of persecution. In Matthew 24:21, Jesus warned that there would be a time of great tribulation and also added that it would be the worst the world has or ever will see. Was there a time in history that fulfilled this? There was, and it is referred to as the dark ages.
From 538 AD until 1798 AD persecution of protestant Christians reigned. Millions of martyrs died during this period for merely following their conscience. The terrifying methods used to both torture and kill during these many centuries will make anyone turn in horror. This indeed was a great time of tribulation. Both the books of Daniel and Revelation prophesied that this time of persecution would reign for precisely 1260 years. For the sake of time, I will not go into detail on this subject and will touch on this in the future.
As you have already seen, the discourse given by Jesus on the Mount of Olives was both full of instruction and warning. Jesus set many signs and way-marks along the many centuries between His day and ours. He warned us that we might prepare for what was to come. He wants us to see that God’s hand has been with His people all through the centuries and that nothing was a surprise to the mighty God we serve. There are yet many signs to look at which directly precede his second coming. The ones we will look at in the next part will begin to hit closer to home, and we will see that very little time remains on the clock.
Written By Cory Lamming
(1) The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chap. IX, Sec. III
(2) The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chap. XIX, Sec. VI
(3) The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chap. XIX, Sec. VII