375. SIGNS THAT HERALD CHRIST'S RETURN
"Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments"
The Kingdom of God is near at hand. Christ's return is on the verge of becoming a reality. There are many events in the world that remind us of these things. The aim of this lesson will be to consider some of these signs so that we might be steadfast as society collapses about us.
2 Tim. 3; Rev. 16
CULMINATION OF THE SIGNS.
We have before us many wonderful signs that herald the appearance of Israel's Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, to re-establish the Kingdom of God (1 Chron. 29:23; Acts 1:6, 7; 3:20, 21). The Lord said that such signs would be numerous (Lk. 21:25). Because these signs are all happening at the same time we know that we are living at the very epoch of Christ's return. Some may have been evident in degree during the "times of the Gentiles" (e.g. moral decline, violence), but they have never all come to pass at the one time, nor to the extent that we now behold. We do not know "the day nor the hour" of his appearing, but we do know that his coming is nigh (Matt. 24:32-41).
THE DECLINE OF TURKISH POWER (Rev. 16:12-16).
The River "Euphrates" is mentioned twice in the book of Revelation (9:14; 16:12), and in both cases it refers to the Turkish Empire, through which that mighty river ran. The first reference prophesied the rise of Turkey, and the second its "drying up" or fall (cp. Jer. 50:38), so that "the way of the kings of the east (lit. 'the kings who are out of a sun's ris ing') might be prepared". These "kings" are the glorified saints, who will emerge from obscurity with Christ, the "Sun of Righteousness" (Mal. 4:2).
It is a strange and wonderful sign, for Turkey (as the Ottoman power) once occupied a vast empire in Europe, Asia and Africa; it was almost as if the Euphrates had flooded and spilled over the world. Then commenc ing in the year 1820, little by little the empire receded as country after country rebelled and regained independence. It was just like a flood receding. As the water dried up, "frogs" were heard "croaking"; "three unclean spirits like frogs" went forth to prepare the nations for Ar mageddon (Rev. 16:13-14, 16). "Three frogs" were part of the ancient heraldry of French kings (see "Elpis Israel", pp. 375-382). They truly represent the voice of the earth, from which came the three-fold cry of the French Revolution, "Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!" This cry signal led the birth of modern socialism and communism. The spirit of socialism has created political chaos and has profoundly affected the policies of Rome, of the East and of the West, and it will yet gather the nations to Armageddon. This prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes, as the fore-runner to Christ's return (v. 15).
THE RETURN OF THE JEWS.
Many prophecies foretell Israel's return to their own land (e.g. Jer. 30:10-11, 18; 31:10-11, 15-17, 31-34; 32:37-40; 33:15-16, etc.). But most of these prophecies concern events to happen after Christ's ad vent, not before. Thus, care is needed to distinguish the relatively few prophecies which concern the partial and primary restoration of pre-adventual days, from those which have a post-adventual application. Bro. Thomas' accurate forecast of Jewry's "pre-adventual colonisa tion of Palestine" (Elpis Israel pp. 441-442) was based upon Ezek. 38:11-13, which clearly states that the land would be inhabited by Jews, prior to the invasion by Russia and the accompanying Divine in tervention (see also vv.8, 16 and in ch. 39 note the pre-adventual situa tion of Jewry in vv.7, 9 and the post-adventual situation in vv. 25-29). Other prophecies requiring the Jews to be back in Israel prior to Christ's return are Zech. 12:9-10; 14:1-4; Joel 3:1-3, 14-16; Matt. 23:39 and Rom. 11:25-26.
RETURN OF JERUSALEM TO JEWISH CONTROL.
On June 8, 1967, in the "Six Day War" between Israel and her neighbours, Israel regained Jerusalem. The Lord had said, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Lk. 21:24). The fact that Jerusalem is no longer trodden underfoot of the nations and is free after nineteen cen turies shows us that we live in the last days.
Several other passages also indicate that Jerusalem would be in Jewish hands when Christ returns. Zechariah indicated this (14:2), and Joel speaks not only of the return of the Jews ("Judah") to their land, but also of the return of Jerusalem to their possession (3:1). Daniel was given a time period of 2,300 years spanning the time the Greeks would overthrow the Persians, until the sanctuary would be cleansed (Dan. 8:13-14). It is significant that there were exactly 2,300 years from the battles of Granicus and Issus, B.C. 334-333 (when Greece defeated Persia), and the surrender of Jerusalem to Alexander the Great, until the old city of Jerusalem, including the Temple area, was recaptured by the Jews (1967).
THE RISE OF RUSSIA TO WORLD POWER (Ezek. 38).
The rise of Russia, politically, militarily and geographically, is one of the greatest phenomena of history. The seeds of communism, broadcast into the world by the French Revolution, took political root in Russia. The land mass dominated by Russia today is so vast that it covers one-sixth of the earth.
Ezekiel 38 is a very clear prophecy concerning the invasion of the land of Israel by a mighty power which would confederate other na tions together. These nations are smitten upon the mountains of Israel. It is notable that this power invades the land of "Israel", which is peopled with Jews restored to their homeland (v.8). This is not only a fact today, as never before (the name Israel has only been re-used since 1948), but the obvious policy of Russia in this region is to gain power and subjugate it, exactly as the prophet foretold.
But how can we be sure it is Russia that is addressed as "Gog" in verse 2?
- Gog is described as the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. But in the Revised Version margin, Gog is said to be the "prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal". These are the ancient names of Russia, Moscow and Tobolski, respectively.
- This power is said to be north of Israel, as is Russia (vv. 6, 15).
- The time of the invasion is said to be the "latter years", in which we now live (vv.8, 16).
- Gog is described as being a "guard" or sentinel over a vast con federacy of nations (v.7). Today Russia holds in subjection behind the "iron curtain" the "satellite" states of Eastern Europe exactly as foretold. This prophecy also indicates that other nations in Western Europe will yet come under her dominion ("Magog" Germany; "Gomer" France, etc.), as well as "Libya", "Ethiopia" and "Persia" whose ancient territory encompassed Afghanistan as well as
modern Iran. Thus we are witnessing prophecy being fulfilled before our eyes. Bro. John Thomas clearly foretold these developments in 1848 when Russia .was but an insignificant power, and prior to the Jewish return.
THE ARMS RACE AND INTERNATIONAL TENSION.
Joel anticipated the enormous build-up of armaments which would oc cur at the time of the Jew's return to Judah and Jerusalem (3:9-11). The cost of the armaments produced in the world today is astronomical (an estimated $2.3 million every minute) and is increasing.
Christ said there would be "distress of nations, with perplexity" (Lk. 21:25). The word "perplexity" comes from a Greek word meaning "at a loss for a way; no solution, being at one's wits end; without resources; at a loss how to proceed". Tension arising from inability to solve great problems is evident in most nations today. The threat of nuclear war, crime, violence and corruption, pollution, widespread poverty, the population explosion and famine are just a few of the perplexities that face the leaders of the world today. No man or combination of men have the solutions to these complex problems. Not only do these things forewarn us of the return of Christ, but they also convince us of the need for his return.
EAST V. WEST.
The East-West struggle of the "latter days" is depicted in Ezekiel 38 as a struggle of two groups of nations upon Israel's land attackers and defenders. The defenders are called "the Merchants of Tarshish" (v.13), a phrase used in ancient times of maritime powers whose bases were elsewhere, and whose interest in the area was trade. The attackers control the land-mass of Eurasia, with bases in Africa (Ethiopia and Libya), and seek to link Europe and Asia by conquest of Israel and the Middle East. Today, the Russian pincers reach out to Western Europe, the northern pincer by land-based power, the southern pincer by sea-based power through the Mediterranean Sea; Israel, Egypt, Arabia and the Gulf States stand in the way of Soviet ambition in Africa and the Indian Ocean. The nations of the west must resist by force the Soviet invasion, if they themselves are to survive. Events since World War 2 thus confirm the prophetic pattern, and make it evident that we are on the eve of the se cond advent of our Lord.
A DISINTEGRATING WORLD.
Consider these factors which characterise the world today:
- The failure of political and church systems of the Gentiles "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" (Matt. 24:29; cp. Lk. 21:25).
- Widespread violence and anarchy "As it was in the days of Noah . . ." (Lk. 17:26-27). "The wickedness of man was great in the earth . . . the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Gen. 6:5, 11).
- Unprecedented affluence, technology and materialism "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come . . . lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Greed and selfishness are condoned and even admired in a world that knows not God and has no perception of what sin is.
- Widespread decline of morals "Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot . . ." (Lk. 17:28-29). "But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before Yahweh exceedingly" (Gen. 13:13).
- Unbelief brought about by atheistic communism, evolution and materialism have left society bereft of the only influence able to refine it the fear of God.
Paul said that the following characteristics would prevail among men in such a society
TODAY'S SOCIETY (2 Tim. 3:1-4):
"Disobedient to parents": a breakdown of family authority.
"Unthankful": creatures of self-interest and self-will, lacking in gratitude, or appreciation of blessings bestowed from above.
"Unholy": profane and obscene.
"Without natural affection": inhuman, lacking in love for kindred. In practical terms thus amounts to a flagrant breach of the Second Commandment, "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". Its effects can be seen in a breakdown in the standards, morals, and relationships in society, essential to a happy and orderly life.
"Trucebreakers": men who do not honour contracts or pledges, whether in marriage, family responsibilities, or business.
"False accusers": slanderers, people vicious both in what they say and in tend.
"Incontinent": lacking self-control.
"Fierce": untamed, savage, unapproachable.
"Despisers of those that are good": people who repudiate and scorn those who practise righteousness.
"Traitors": betrayers, men lacking in integrity and guilty of basic dishonesty the seed of Judas Iscariot (cp. Lk. 6:16).
SIGNS FOR US.
The Lord Jesus Christ said that there would be "signs" heralding his return. Just as a signpost indicates an approaching landmark, so the signs given in the Word tell us that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
The question remains who will understand and heed these signs? Not the Gentile world. Not apostate Christendom. Not the brethren and sisters of Christ who may have been led away from the Truth. The angel of Yahweh told Daniel, "the wise shall understand". Paul told Timothy, "the holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). May we heed the "signs" and the wise counsel of Paul to Timothy.
LESSONS FOR US:
We know that Christ's advent is near, for all the signs of his coming are evident in the world:
the decline of the Turkish power
the emergence of communism and its impact upon East and West, and upon Rome;
the return of the Jews;
the restoration of Jerusalem to Jewish control;
the rise of Russia;
the arms race and growing international tension;
a world divided into two antagonistic camps, East and West;
a world in disarray because it has rejected the moral principles taught only by the Word and which are essential for order and happiness.
As the second coming of the Lord is near at hand, the wise will understand, do his will, and in patience wait for his coming.
- Give seven reasons which show that the coming of Christ is near at hand.
- The Jewish presence in the Middle East is a remarkable fact of history. Explain why, in this century, they have returned to their land.
- Russia has designs on the Middle East. Show how the Bible predicted this. What will be the outcome of these designs?
- The signs of the times indicate that Christ's coming is near. What does this mean to you personally?
"Elpis Israel" (J. Thomas) Part Third, Chapters 3, 4, 5
"Eureka" (J. Thomas) Vol. 3, Part 2, Pages 532-605
"Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse" (R. Roberts) Rev. 11 and 12
"Ezekiel's Prophecies of the Restoration" (H. P. Mansfield) Pg. 67-82
"The Story of the Bible" (H. P. Mansfield) Vol. 14, Pages 116-139
- Show how the description of society in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 fits the twen tieth century.
- What is meant by the "drying up of the river Euphrates" in Rev. 16:12?
- Explain how the Bible foretold that Jerusalem would be restored to the Jews.
- List seven reasons (on seven lines) why Christ's coming is at hand.