Do You Understand the Signs of the Times?

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Do You Understand the Signs of the Times?

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Jesus Christ emphasized how important it is to understand the significance of the times in which we live. The religious leaders of His day asked Him to give them a sign from heaven. Christ used this opportunity to explain a very important principle.

He told them: "You know the saying, 'Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.' You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can't read the obvious signs of the times!" (Matthew 16:2-3 Matthew 16:2-3 [2] He answered and said to them, When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. [3] And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O you hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky; but can you not discern the signs of the times?
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, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).

Christ repeats an important principle

On another occasion Jesus said to the multitudes: "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?" (Luke 12:54-56 Luke 12:54-56 [54] And he said also to the people, When you see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway you say, There comes a shower; and so it is. [55] And when you see the south wind blow, you say, There will be heat; and it comes to pass. [56] You hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that you do not discern this time?
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Some 2,000 years ago the vast majority of the people in the land of Israel simply did not even comprehend that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah. They did not understand His mission in life. "He came to His own [people], and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11 John 1:11He came to his own, and his own received him not.
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And as Christ foretold in advance, they also failed to anticipate the tragedy that would inevitably befall their much-loved Jerusalem. Just thinking about the horrors to be visited on the city caused Jesus to weep.

"Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:42-44 Luke 19:42-44 [42] Saying, If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong to your peace! but now they are hid from your eyes. [43] For the days shall come on you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and keep you in on every side, [44] And shall lay you even with the ground, and your children within you; and they shall not leave in you one stone on another; because you knew not the time of your visitation.
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Christ was speaking in part of the Roman siege of A.D. 70, which ended with the horrifying destruction of Jerusalem and its citizens starved, slaughtered or sold into slavery. The Jewish people of His day simply did not realize the significance of events surrounding Christ's first coming.

As it was then, our world today fails to grasp the significance of certain tragic signs that will increasingly afflict the nations, presaging Christ's second coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
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Much of biblical prophecy is dual, meaning it often has two fulfillments—a preliminary fulfillment, then a greater secondary fulfillment, often centuries later.

Jesus' Olivet Prophecy, a message about the future delivered on the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), is a prime example of the principle of prophetic duality. While some aspects of this prophecy did have a preliminary fulfillment in A.D. 70, many other aspects clearly did not. At the time of the end, the horrendous consequences will affect not just Jerusalem, as in the first century, but the entire world.

End-time conditions, Jesus said, will worsen to the point that human survival will be at stake! "It will be a time of great distress, such as there has never been before since the beginning of the world, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 [21] For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. [22] And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
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; Revised English Bible).

Can we understand prophetic events today?

It is certainly possible to comprehend the meaning and significance of key events and trends in our crisis-prone modern age. Historically, one tribe of Israel possessed a remarkable comprehension of the current affairs of its day. The children of Issachar "had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (1 Chronicles 12:32 1 Chronicles 12:32And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brothers were at their commandment.
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Centuries later Jesus Christ provided the book of Revelation "so that his servants might have knowledge of the things which will quickly take place" (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
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, Bible in Basic English). Amos 3:7 Amos 3:7Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets.
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also tells us, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7 Amos 3:7Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets.
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Which specific trends should deeply concern us today? Let us begin with the traditional moral standards that emerged from the Bible itself. A recent Time magazine article by Belinda Luscombe highlights the sad state of American morality with the somewhat cynical title: "Marriage: What's It Good For?" The troubling results of a recent survey published in the magazine should concern every American citizen: "Fewer U.S. adults are married . . . More are living alone . . . More kids are born to unmarried women" (Nov. 29, 2010).

That last declaration is underpinned by the fact that in the United States, "41% of babies were born to unmarried moms in 2008, an eightfold increase from 50 years ago." Further, "25% of kids lived in a single-parent home, almost triple the number from 1960."

If that weren't bad enough, the national curse of abortion has resulted in the killing of more than a million unborn babies every year. Additionally, reckless promiscuity has brought on a plague of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Clearly the decline and fall of chastity is a sad reality—rendering our rapid decline in biblical morality a genuine sign of the times.

The Time article even addressed the idea that marriage may be becoming obsolete. A USA Today article reported that "marriage is increasingly optional and could be on its way to obsolescence, according to a [Pew Research Center] survey of more than 2,600 Americans that examines changing attitudes about relationships today . . . Cohabitation has nearly doubled since 1990" (Sharon Jayson, "We're Just Not That Into Marriage," Nov. 19-21, 2010).

It should go without saying that these modern trends fly directly in the face of clear biblical teaching. (To learn more, request or download our free booklets Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension and The Ten Commandments.)

Trouble grasping the nature of God

Another sign of our troubled age is the shallow way in which many people, especially members of the intelligentsia and media who shape the views of society, conceive of God. In one British Sunday newspaper, the following question was actually asked in the title of a three-page feature article: "Is Religion a Force for Good . . . or Would We Be Happier Without God?"

Some of the opinions expressed by specially chosen panel members are typical of our secular thinking today. Consider just two. The first: "Religion is often a leap of faith for many people, but so is atheism . . . because we're talking about the unknowable." The second: "What we think of as distinctive of western morality has its roots in the non-religious secular tradition" (The Observer, Nov. 21, 2010).

Are these people really saying that we cannot know God and that unaided human thought is the true source of traditional Western morality? It certainly appears so. A personal, caring, loving God has pretty much been left out of the picture.

Another feature article in USA Today asked the following question in the title: "In God-Fearing USA, Where Is the Decency?" (Tom Krattenmaker, Oct. 26, 2010). The drophead continued: "You'd think that in our highly religious American experiment, our collection of Good Books and legions of prayerful people would cultivate a political world that reflected high-minded values. And you'd be wrong."

Does the root of the problem possibly lie in many Americans' misunderstanding of God? Contrary to popular conception, Duke University Divinity School Professor Stanley Hauerwas observed, "The US is more secular than Britain—Americans have only a general belief in belief."

Hauerwas continued in the text: "In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation" ("How Real Is America's Faith?" The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2010).

He has a point. Religious writer and minister John Stott once wrote, "In the United States there is an astonishing religious boom, which nevertheless perplexes friendly observers who cannot easily reconcile it with that nation's alarming statistics of crime, violence, abortion and divorce" (Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, 1982, p. 115).

And of course, this doesn't even begin to address the interconnected trends of the growth of atheism, the broad acceptance of Darwinian evolution and widespread attacks on the authenticity of the Bible. (Interested readers should request or download our free booklets Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?, Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? and Is the Bible True?)

Another troubling sign: Today's disturbing international picture

When the Berlin Wall collapsed some 20 years ago, effectively ending the Cold War between America and the former Soviet Union, many expected a new dawn in international relations. But it was not to be. Relations between nations are worsening, and the current recession has accelerated this process.

Tensions between established countries and rising nations are definitely on the increase. The United States, racked by near double-digit unemployment and a huge budget deficit, as well as being mired in two foreign wars, watches anxiously as Brazil and India project their booming economies onto the world scene. America has already been experiencing trading and currency conflicts with China, not to mention long-standing disagreement over Taiwan, to which China lays claim.

Iran remains a constant worry for the West and the state of Israel in particular. Iran seeks to fulfill its dictatorial ambitions in the Middle East, including the acquisition of nuclear weaponry.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher foresaw in 1993 the devastation a single currency for the European Union would inflict on the poorer member nations like Greece, Ireland and Portugal—the euro being unable to effectively accommodate these much weaker economies in the same monetary house with financial powerhouses like Germany and France. The financial crises growing in these countries are leading more to question the viability and even the survival of the euro.

The number of failed or failing states like Pakistan has increased with a vengeance, especially in these times of severe economic stress. Some of these impoverished, poorly led countries, such as North Korea, devote enormous resources to pursuing nuclear weaponry, which makes the world a much more dangerous place than it already is.

Another troubling sign of the times involves the growing weakness of the United States. The more America declines, the less able it will be to effectively continue as world policeman and provide needed aid to the large number of afflicted nations of Africa and elsewhere. Longtime readers of The Good News understand that this decline is a direct consequence of the failure of modern America to adhere to the teachings of the Bible. (To understand more fully, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)

The late Alistair Cooke, a popular American-based British broadcaster and journalist, wrote 18 years ago of his fear of "a darker upheaval in America if it continues to follow the Roman road to decline" ("The Fate of the Union," Financial Times, Oct. 5, 1992). And continue to follow it we have.

But as we witness continual decline in the United States, an ancient nation in Central Europe may be beginning to fulfill its prophetic destiny.

Germany takes center stage in Europe

While much of the world is in economic turmoil, Germany finds itself in the enviable position of staging a strong comeback. It is once again emerging as an economic powerhouse, with the best growth statistics since German reunification along with receding unemployment. It's even been said that the fallout from Germany's economic recovery will begin to help other eurozone countries to emerge from the current recession, in spite of the serious financial problems Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are now experiencing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been called Germany's Iron Lady, insisting on changes in the Lisbon Treaty (the renamed European Constitution) to protect the euro from future instability. She was a prime factor in persuading Ireland to accept a huge bailout package with stringent strings attached. Some characterize her as being in Europe's driver's seat, as the French are still beset by serious societal problems.

Hand in hand with this, the Fatherland's military pacifism may be gradually drawing to a close. The German armyhas even been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan—after well over 50 years in a noncombatant role.

What are the long-term consequences of these recent trends and developments in Germany? Few really understand that the Bible warns of the emergence in Central Europe of a new political superpower called "the beast," headed by a charismatic dictator also referred to as the Beast, having great authority over other nations (see Revelation 13:1-9 Revelation 13:1-9 [1] And I stood on the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads the name of blasphemy. [2] And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. [3] And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. [4] And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him? [5] And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given to him to continue forty and two months. [6] And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. [7] And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. [8] And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. [9] If any man have an ear, let him hear.
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Bible prophecy foretells that the rulers of 10 nations or groups of nations will cede their power to this new "beast" power, albeit for a relatively short time (Revelation 17:12-13 Revelation 17:12-13 [12] And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. [13] These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast.
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). The only European nation that truly fits this prophetic role in Central Europe is Germany. (For a more detailed account, request or download our free booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled.)

Surely recent trends revolving around Berlin constitute yet another vital sign of our troubled times. But our account would be far from complete without addressing the seriously important religious factor.

How Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork for Benedict XVI

The previous pontiff had a monumental impact on the last quarter of the 20th century. He said, wrote and traveled more than any previous pope in Catholic Church history.

He presented "a vision of a wider Europe, culturally and spiritually united" (The Pope From Poland, 1980, p. 250). Some readers may remember John Paul II calling for a revived Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains in Russia. European unity was a continuous theme throughout the early years of his pontificate.

Early in his papal reign, it was stated under his auspices: "The Pope has come to speak to the whole church, to Europe and the world, to speak about the nations and peoples often forgotten . . . He has come to gather all these nations and peoples together with his own" (ibid., p. 143).

John Paul II's reign was a hard act to follow, but after a rather halting start, Benedict XVI has surprised many observers. This German-born pontiff's visit to Britain in the autumn of 2010 exceeded even the Vatican's expectations. I watched the reception on TV while sailing from North Wales on a passenger ferry destined for Dublin. Queen Elizabeth was seated on one side of Pope Benedict and Prince Philip on the other, a very friendly royal welcome.

Jeremy Davis reported for The Tablet: "The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets. He conveyed a warmth and friendliness that surprised many" ("Confident Again," Oct. 9, 2010). But he had a serious message for the United Kingdom. The Daily Telegraph reported: "The Pope has warned Britain not to lose sight of its Christian heritage in its 'multicultural' and 'aggressively secular' modern culture" (Martin Beckford, "Pope Visit: Benedict Urges Multicultural UK to Keep Sight of Christian Heritage," Sept. 17, 2010).

It seems quite likely that Benedict XVI will at some point articulate the very same message to other secularly oriented nations on the European continent. It is interesting to note that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has seriously questioned the appropriateness of multiculturalism in Germany.

Continuing with The Daily Telegraph account: "At the start of his historic state visit to the country, Benedict XVI delivered an uncompromising message that excluding religion from public life could lead to the 'atheist extremism' of the Nazis and Soviet Russia."

The extent of the fallout from the pope's British visit may surprise us. A Nov. 14, 2010, headline in The Sunday Telegraph stated, "Fifty Clergy to Defect to Rome." This defection is from the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. Hundreds of Anglican members will likely follow their leaders and convert to Catholicism.

Pope Benedict employs his own methods for shaping the future of Roman Catholics in Europe. The Rome correspondent of The Tablet reported that "Benedict XVI is making appointments that will ensure power in the Vatican and the College of Cardinals remains in European hands" (Robert Mickens, "Benedict Shapes the Future," Oct. 30, 2010).

Watch what the Vatican does in Europe as a definite sign of our troubled times!

A Holy European (or Roman) Empire to come

The memory of the Roman Empire was etched in the minds of many for hundreds of years after the so-called barbarians vanquished the empire in the West. From time to time European leaders have attempted to restore unity among the nations of continental Europe. This was manifested in the Holy Roman Empire, an uneasy alliance of church and state that started with the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III in A.D. 800 and existed in various incarnations over more than a thousand years until 1804.

Nearly 20 years ago, an article appeared in The Sunday Telegraph by then-editor Peregrine Worsthorne titled "Now, a Holy European Empire?" He wrote: "Even Napoleon, when he wanted to legitimise his rule in France, could think of nothing better than to call himself Emperor, and be crowned by the Pope . . . If European federalism triumphs, the EC [now EU] will indeed be an empire. It will lack an emperor; but it will have the Pope" (Aug. 25, 1991).

Bible prophecy clearly states that a powerful religious figure referred to as "the false prophet" will rise up shortly before the return of Jesus Christ alongside the previously described charismatic world dictator called "the Beast." This highly acclaimed religious personality will work miracles and "lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9 2 Thessalonians 2:9Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
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), causing many people to proclaim their allegiance to this new geopolitical power based in Europe (see Revelation 13:11-14 Revelation 13:11-14 [11] And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. [12] And he excercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. [13] And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, [14] And deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
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Has the time finally arrived?

Now that nearly 2,000 years have passed since Jesus Christ's first coming, ominous trends in the world today tell some of us that we indeed are presently living in the end time. Our age is replete with many disturbing signs indicating that this age of man is drawing to a close. In this article we have had sufficient space for only a relative few. Our free booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End? addresses many more.

What Bible translator James Moffatt labeled "the crisis at the close" may be already upon us. But if someone asks when in terms of the exact day, month and year, we can only repeat Jesus Christ's reply to His first-century apostles: "It is not for you to know times and seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7 Acts 1:7And he said to them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power.
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Their chief concern, per Christ's instructions, was to be preaching the true gospel (verse 8). When Christ does come to the earth a second time (Hebrews 9:28 Hebrews 9:28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin to salvation.
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), His servants should still be found diligently doing the work of God to the best of their ability (Matthew 24:44-46 Matthew 24:44-46 [44] Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes. [45] Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? [46] Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing.
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All true Christians should enthusiastically anticipate Christ's second coming to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. After all, Christ Himself instructed us to pray to the Father "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10 Matthew 6:10Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
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). And certainly a part of the work of His servants includes warning the nations of this world about the tragic events that must occur before Christ's return to this suffering planet (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
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Clearly a prophetic message remains a vital part of the Church's mission to the world. This is why we publish World News and Prophecy, a newsletter with articles devoted to analyzing world events and trends in the light of Bible prophecy. We also freely offer several booklets covering key aspects of Bible prophecy.

Yet as crucial as prophecy is, our personal spiritual preparation is far more important than just understanding the significance of prophetic events alone (Luke 21:34-36 Luke 21:34-36 [34] And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares. [35] For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. [36] Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
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). When we really understand its purpose, prophecy constitutes a divine call to true repentance. As God tells us in Ezekiel 33:11 Ezekiel 33:11Say to them, As I live, said the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
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, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (New International Version).

As we contemplate the signs of the times we see all around us, let us be diligent to heed Jesus Christ's warning in Luke 21:36 Luke 21:36Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
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(REB): "Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all that is coming and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man."  GN