Yesterday I wrote that Jesus included pandemics (called pestilences in some translations of the Bible) in His list of troubles that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. He warned His followers at that time not to see these things as signs of His immediate return, as that would occur much later.
However, He went on to say that these troubles would be like “birth pains,” intensifying over many centuries until He came back to get His followers.
Jesus divided his teaching about “signs” and being ready for His coming into three time frames: signs before the destruction of Jerusalem, events during the intervening centuries, and signs pointing directly to His Second Coming. The three chapters that deal with this are divided this way:
Before Jerusalem’s Destruction Intervening Years Signs Before Jesus’ Coming
Matthew 24:1-21 Verses 21-27 Verses 29-35
Mark 13:1-19 Verses 20-23 Verses 24-37
Luke 21:5-23 Verse 24 Verses 25-38
Why did Jesus give His followers this teaching about what would happen in the world in the years ahead?
- Out of love and concern. He wanted them to have a realistic faith. They should not look for immediate deliverance because many things had to happen in this world before He could come back. Primarily, the good news about His love and saving power would need to be taken to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14 NIV)
- To strengthen faith. He wanted to strengthen their faith in His teachings and His power to know all things. “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He” (John 13:19 NIV). It deepens our trust when we see that Jesus was right. What He predicted happened just the way He said it would.
- To strengthen End-Time believers. Looking down through time, Jesus especially wanted to help us who live before His Second Coming. He knew it would be a time of trouble and skepticism and questioning. He said, “When the Son of Man comes to the earth, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV). He wanted to encourage our faith so He told us many things ahead of time. We call this “prophecy” in the Bible.
Signs before Jesus’ Return
Here is a partial list of predictions and signs Jesus and His followers left us.
“Immediately after the distress of those days (the Middle Ages), the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”Matthew 24:29 NIV (Jesus was describing some celestial sign-events that would usher the world into a period known as “the Time of the End” before Jesus returns. See Daniel 12:4, 9). For more info click here.
Natural Disasters, Famines, Pandemics, Wars, False Messiahs and Prophets
“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world. . .”Luke 21:24-26 NIV
“Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . .Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. . . .False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect. See I have told you ahead of time.”Matthew 24:4-7, 24 NIV (Even though these are listed in the prophecies leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D., I include them because Jesus said such things would increase in power and scope until His return, like a pregnant woman’s labor pains grow increasingly strong.
Preoccupation with This Life; Putting Off Attention to Spiritual Things
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”Matthew 24:37-39 NIV
Moral Collapse in Society
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV (New Testament writers saw themselves as living in the “last days,” the days at the end of the age when Messiah would appear. They believed Jesus was that Messiah. However, their words often also apply prophetically to the End Time last days we live in. It is not hard to see how their words apply today.)
Loss of Faith in the Bible as God’s Reliable Word
“The time will come when men will not put up with sound teaching. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”2 Timothy 4:3, 4 NIV
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water. . .”2 Peter 3:3-5 NIV
Large Scale Apostasy in Christianity; the Rise of Antichrist
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. . .The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 9-10 NIV
Many of the things listed above have been fulfilled historically. Only a few remain.
Jesus and the Revelation (Apocalypse)
Some sixty years after Jesus ascended to heaven, He appeared to His disciple John in a vision on the Greek Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. John had been one of the youngest disciples of Jesus, probably in his teens or twenties. Now, he is an old man, banished to a government slave quarry because of his Christian faith. Most of the disciples had been martyred by this time, and the church was living under persecution, wondering how long until Jesus would return, as He had promised.
The Revelation, or Apocalypse, was given by Jesus to reassure His Church that He was still with them, watching over them, and to describe what would happen in the centuries ahead until His Second Coming.
Tomorrow, I will write about this amazing prophecy, which is mysterious to so many, and so often misunderstood by others. Revelation adds to our understanding of the events and signs before Christ’s coming. It strengthens our faith and helps us prepare.