Why We Should Know the Signs of the Times

Jesus commanded one generation of believers to know that His return was near. It was the generation that would be alive to see all these things or the signs that He prophesied in Matt. 24:33,

“So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors! Assuredly I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

As a believer who loves Jesus, we are eager to know what is on His heart, and thus what He meant by “all these things” that will lead to His glorious return to the earth. The Man we love has given us much insight into what He considers to be the important things to know about the generation in which He returns. He wants us to know them because we will live differently.

If we are living in the last generation, then we need to know it. There are three questions that many ask. First, can we know if we are living in the last generation? Second, how will we know if we are living in the last generation? What are the signs? The good news is that there is much biblical information on this because Jesus wants us to be prepared for His End-Time purposes. Jesus would not tell us of the circumstances around His coming then say no one could know it.

I believe that we are in the early days of the generation in which Jesus will return. In other words, I believe that there are people alive today who will see the return of Jesus. It may be the 20 year olds or the 2 year olds who see it. I do not know with certainty. No one knows this with absolute certainty. For this is by God’s design because He wants us to move forward by faith as we search the Word and live in deep connection and relationship with Him through the Spirit.

By observing the biblical signs of the times, it is possible to know the generation of Jesus’ return yet without knowing the day or hour (Matthew 24:33 – 36). My opinions on this generation are based on observation of the biblical signs, not on personal revelation such as prophetic visions. We must insist that our faith be based on what the Bible says, not on personal revelations about the timing of His return.

“So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors! Assuredly I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. …But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matt. 24:33 – 36)

The Signs of the Time

The signs of the times can be classified into three categories. Sign events are the most convincing and we need to focus our attention on the first two because they are biblical events and trends.

  1. Sign events: actual events predicted in Scripture that alert us to the timing of His return. These include the rebirth of the state of Israel, the revealing of the Antichrist, etc.

  2. Sign trends: escalating negative trends in society (e.g. civil disorder), the earth (e.g. earthquakes) and heavens (e.g. sky) and positive trends in the Church such as the harvest in the nations (Matt. 24:14) that signal the generation of Jesus’ return. Some of the negative trends are part of what Jesus called the beginning of sorrows or beginning of birth pangs (Matt. 24:8).

  3. Prophetic experiences: subjective personal experiences that alert us to the end times. Do not put undue importance or focus on these because they are subjective and fallible.

Jesus’ Teaching at Mount Olives

The most complete teaching of Jesus on the End-Times is called the Olivet Discourse because Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives when He gave this great prophecy. The most complete record of it is in Matthew 24 – 25. Mark and Luke gave a much shorter account of this prophecy, yet included a few more details (i.e. Mark 13; Luke 21). Jesus also taught on the End-Times in Luke 17.

“His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matt. 24:1 – 3)

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus prophesied of the great crisis of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the End-of-the-Age together in one great prophecy. Some emphasize one of these two time frames at the exclusion of the other. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD parallels what will occur in the generation in which the Lord returns.

In Matthew 24:4 – 8, Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:11 – 25, Jesus gave twelve negative sign trends that indicate the generation the Lord returns. Matthew described seven trends (i.e. false christs, war, ethnic conflict, economic warfare, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes), Luke described four (i.e. fearful sights, great signs in the heaven, distress in the nations and the sea) and Mark added one (i.e. trouble).

Then Jesus gave a very positive trend that indicates the generation in which He will return (Matt. 24:14). The leading missionary organizations project from statistical data that the Gospel will be presented to all 6,000 people groups (ethnic) for the first time by 2020.

“This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations (ethnos or ethnic groups) and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)

Jesus also gave several sign events that indicate the generation of His return in Matthew 24:15 – 20. The abomination of desolation refers to the Antichrist putting an image associated with himself in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and then commanding the nations to worship him as God. The Church will “see it” standing in the holy place of the temple and will understand that it signals the beginning of the Great Tribulation (2 Thes. 2:3 – 9).

“When you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Matt. 24:15 – 16)

In Scripture, Jerusalem is always the reference point or the primary indicator in God’s prophetic timetable for the End-Times. The state of Israel had to be re-established to fulfill many End-Time prophecies (Dan. 9:24, 27; Joel 3:2, 12; Zech. 12:3; 14:2). Israel was scattered to the nations from her land in AD 70. On May 15, 1948, Israel became a nation in one day. The return of Jews to their homeland to establish the state of Israel is the most striking event in biblical prophecy.

“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Shall a nation be born at once? …Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.” (Isa. 66:8)

Jerusalem being under the control of the Jewish people is necessary for the fulfillment of many prophecies (Dan. 9:24, 27; Joel 3:2, 12; Zech. 12:3; 14:2). In June 1967, as a result of the Six Day War, and for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jewish people gained control of Jerusalem.

I believe that the beginning of birth pangs started either in 1948 when Israel became a nation or in 1967 when Jerusalem came under Israel’s authority.

The Parable of the Fig Tree: Know the Generation of His return

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus is answering the Apostle’s question concerning what signs would indicate His return (Matt. 24:3).

“Learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. …Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Matt. 24:32 – 42)

In Matthew 24:32 – 42, Jesus gave us three commands. First, He commanded us to learn the parable of the fig tree (v. 32), then to know that His coming was near (v. 33) and therefore, to watch (v. 42). We “see” more clearly (v. 33) as we watch more consistently (v. 42). Have you learned this parable? Do you have a biblically informed opinion about the significance of this generation?

The lesson of the parable of the fig tree is easy to understand. The fig tree loses its leaves in wintertime and does not sprout till late in the spring. Thus, when the leaves of a fig tree begin to sprout, we know that summer is near. In the same way, when the prophetic sign events and trends take place together making global headlines, then we know that the End –of-this-Age is near. They must occur in a way that makes headline news worldwide. This is to constitute a prophetic sign that has a message from God in it that could be discerned by the Body of Christ.

As the fig leaves signaling the summer can be seen by anyone who is paying attention, in the same way, the events signaling the Second Coming will be obvious to anyone looking for them.

How long is a biblical generation? A generation in Scripture ranges from 40 to 100 years (Gen. 15:13 – 16; Num. 32:13; Ps. 90:10; Matt. 1:17; Acts 7:6). Moses spoke of Israel’s captivity in Egypt as lasting 400 years or 4 generations (Gen. 15:13). Thus, a generation could refer to 100 years. There were 14 generations from Abraham to David (Matt. 1:17) each averaging about 70 years.

“All these things” in (v. 33 and v. 34) include the prophetic signs spoken of in Matthew 24:4 – 28. There is only one generation in which God’s people will see all the trends and events of Matthew 24 occurring at the same time at an alarming measure or making headline news on a global basis. Jesus commanded His people in that generation to know that His coming was near.

My opinion is that the beginning of birth pang began in either 1948 (when Israel became a nation) or 1967 (when Jerusalem came under Jewish control) because Israel is always the reference point for understanding God’s redemptive history (both past and present). Israel gives us the prophetic timetable for the unfolding of God’s End-Time plans. The three most significant prophetic dates before the Great Tribulation are 1948 (i.e. rebirth of the nation of Israel), 1967 (i.e. re-capturing of the city of Jerusalem) and the Anti-Christ’s peace treaty with Israel and other nations in Daniel 9:27.

Trends and Signs in the World

For the first time in history, most of these trends and some of the necessary developments that will lead to the events are happening in an alarming measure at the same time on a global basis. For example, Israel had to become a nation before the abomination of desolation could occur.

It seemed incredible to the Apostles that all these sign events and trends would occur in a global way in one generation (v. 34). This was the unspoken issue that Jesus addressed by comparing the passing of the heavens and earth to the truthfulness of His words or prophecies (v. 35).

The emphasis on Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:35 is not on His general teachings, but on the reliability of His prophetic words concerning the future given in Matthew 24. As impossible as it seems that all these events would occur together in one generation, the prophetic words of Jesus guarantee it. Jesus compared His prophetic words in Matthew 24 to the reliability and durability of heaven and earth.

We are called to know or recognize the generation in which the Lord returns. One will only look up and lift up their heads if they know it is drawing near. That is the point.

“There will be signs in the sun, in the moon…and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear… Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree…’” (Luke 21:25 – 29)

Like the Days of Noah

In Matthew 24:32 – 39, Jesus emphasized that the people alive in the generation in which He returns are to know with confidence that it is the generation of His return. He gives a significant qualifier to this command, namely that we not take it a step further and seek to know the day and the hour.

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be… Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Mt. 24:36 – 42)

Jesus emphasized that we would not know the hour of His return (Matt. 24:39, 42, 44, 50; 25:13). The Father has strategically hidden that from His people so that we live free from fear and filled with understanding, only as we search the Word and stay deeply connected to Him. It is ironic that this qualifier to the command to know the generation is used as an argument against knowing the generation. We must seek relationship with the Father because only He knows.

The main message in this passage is that the people of God who could have understood the prophetic significance of the generation they lived in, did not. The surprise with which Noah’s flood came on the majority illustrates the ignorance that Jesus wants His people to avoid. Jesus pointed out how the majority were unaware, even in the face of the preaching of Noah.

The surprise of Noah’s flood proves the widespread problem of lacking prophetic understanding and faith in a significant history changing generation. The people in Noah’s day were caught totally by surprise as they went about the ordinary activities of daily life. Noah and his family prepared for an entire generation without knowing the specific day or hour.

“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household…and became heir of the righteousness…” (Heb. 11:7)

One of Jesus’ main points is that many living in that generation will not know it (Matt. 24:37 – 39). Thus, they will make wrong decisions because of their fear, offense towards God or ignorance of what the Scripture says is happening. Though it is possible for them to know it, many believers will not see it because they did not care about the last generation being important to Jesus.

Believers can know the generation just as Noah did, even though it will come suddenly to those without understanding. However, it will not catch the righteous off guard (1 Thes. 5:1 – 6). Many use Matthew 24:36 to justify their unfamiliarity and their lack of study of biblical prophecy. They use this passage in the opposite way from how Jesus intended in its context. Jesus had just laid out main signs necessary to prepare the Body of Christ for that generation. I exhort you to not give way to such shallow arguments. Stand your ground. God has given His word with clarity.

As believers who love Jesus, we are eager to know what is on His heart and thus, what He meant by “all of those things” that will lead to His glorious return to the earth. The Man we love has given us insight into what He considers to be the important things to know about the generation in which He will return. He wants us to know them because we will act differently and make different decisions if we understand what is happening.

It is essential to have understanding in that hour so that we embrace what is right and refuse what is wrong. For example, the greatest counterfeit justice and unity movement will emerge in that hour. It is referred to as the Harlot Babylon worldwide religion (Rev. 17). Many believers, who are not aware of what is happening, will embrace the Harlot Babylon religion, thinking it is good.

Our faith is to be stirred by searching the Bible to gain understanding of what the Word says about the prophetic signs that declare the generation in which the Lord returns.

God could easily settle the issue of timing by telling His prophets in the Church today, but He has chosen to leave the specific day and hour unknown so that we must cultivate a heart of faith with hunger to know what is on His heart about that generation. Jesus taught that most of the people living in the generation of His return would not know it (Matt 24:37 – 39).

Not Discerning the Signs of the Times

Jesus rebuked His generation for not discerning the signs of His first coming. Asking for a sign was legitimate because Joel prophesied that God would send signs just before the Messiah came (Joel 2:30). The Pharisees’ hypocrisy was in asking for signs beyond those Jesus did, to test Him.

“The Pharisees…came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven… Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign…” (Matt. 16:1 – 4)

Jesus rebuked them for not seeing the prophetic signs of the times for that generation. However, the signs of that generation were not recorded in the OT. If they were rebuked for missing signs not in Scripture, how much more responsible are we to know the biblical signs of the times?

Israel’s unresponsiveness to Jesus was related to them not knowing the time of “their visitation”. He wept over Jerusalem because they did not respond rightly. He had warned the cities of Israel.

“He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known…the things that make for your peace… 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 19:41 – 44)

Paul also taught that the Church should know the times and seasons related to Jesus’ second coming.

“Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you… But you, brethren, are not in darkness so that this Day should overtake you as a thief… Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thes. 5:1 – 6)

The Fear of Man

Many draw back from teaching on the End-Times because of the fear of man. Peter warned the saints to first be aware of the dangers of a scoffing or mocking spirit. The first thing we need to know is what we are up against. All who stand for God’s truth in the End-Times will be resisted by scoffers or mockers from both outside and inside the Church.

“Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days…saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3 – 4)

Many will scoff and mock the necessity to understand, proclaim and prepare for the Lord’s return. Scoffers will argue that people have always said that Jesus was coming. It was a top priority to Peter to warn the saints to not become cynical. Rather, we are to be “anointed observers” of the signs of the times. We must not let a mocking spirit steal these truths from our heart. We do not want to impart a mocking spirit to our children and grandchildren.

I do not ask anyone to accept my views; rather I urge you to boldly challenge all the ideas that you hear. Refuse any that you cannot see in Scripture for yourself. I urge you to be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if the things that Paul said were so as in Acts 17:10 – 11.

Common Lies against Knowing the Second Coming of Jesus

There are five common lies that tell us we do not know the signs of Jesus’ return.

  1. Every generation believed they were the last one.

    It is a common misperception that most generation believed they were in the End-Times. It is true that a very small group (probably less than 1%) of every generation thought they were at the end. Only twice has there been a universal sense that it was the time of the end – in the generation of the early apostles and our generation.

  2. There is not enough information on the signs of the generation that the Lord returns.

    There is more prophetic evidence about Jesus’ coming than any other prophetic event in the Bible. The Scripture requires those in the generation the Lord returns to know it and prepare accordingly. Also, Jesus and Paul emphasized the know-ability of the signs of the End-Times (Matt. 24:32 – 34; Luke 21:25 – 29; 1 Thes. 5:1 – 6; 2 Thes. 2:1 – 11).

  3. No one can understand these prophecies because they are too complicated. Why even try?

    The Scriptures on the End-Times were written to be understood by all, since they were written for all. The majority of people throughout history have been uneducated peasants and Scripture was written in the days when most could not read. It is not true that End-Time Scriptures are too complicated. Any system of theology that takes End-Times out of the hands of the people has not treated the text in the way God designed it. The lie claims that End-Times prophecies are impossible to understand except by scholars because they must be interpreted symbolically. Scriptures on End-Times are literal unless specifically indicated as symbolic by the Scriptures. The truth is that many do not want to take the time and effort to wrestle with the vast amount of biblical information in the face of so much criticism. It is easier to just ignore it.

  4. Understanding the End-Times causes us to minimize our work in the kingdom.

    This is a criticism toward the escapist and defeatist mentality of some who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture. They conclude that they should not work hard to transform the culture since the Antichrist will take over everything anyway and since they may be raptured at any moment.

  5. It will all pan out in the end.

    The question is, will it pan out well with you and your loved ones? It will only go well for those who are prepared.

A Most Common Argument

Many use Matthew 24:36 to justify their unfamiliarity and lack of study of Biblical prophecy. This passage is to be used in the opposite way. Jesus had just laid out main information that was necessary to prepare the Church to know signs of the times of His Second Coming. Then Jesus said, “When you see these things happening, know My coming is near.” We must seek the Father’s word as to when this begins because only the Father knows.

God did not want to make the day and hour known in the early Church. Jesus did not say we could not know the season or the conditions surrounding His coming. Neither did Jesus say that the Church would not know the day an hour in generation the Lord returns. Daniel and the Apostle John made it clear the Messiah would come exactly 1,260 days after the Abomination of Desolation. (Rev. 11:2 – 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5; Dan. 7:25; 12:7)

God’s Nature to Tell and Warn

God’s nature is to tell and warn His people of trouble beforehand (Amos 3:7). The nature of God is always to warn before releasing judgment. It is not consistent with His nature that He would come without warning to surprise the whole earth.

God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 15 to renew the covenant. The Lord told Abraham that his family will be sent to Egypt for 430 years of oppression. The Lord spoke many years before the Assyrian and Babylon exiles warning Israel of its coming and He spoke a generation before Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The Scripture gives us trends in many areas of life including spiritual (positive and negative), social, political, technological, natural (signs in heaven and earth) and the accelerator signs and especially the prophetic developments in Israel. Jesus said only the Father knows, not so the Church would be passive, but so the Church would pursue the Father and seeks out what is in His heart (1 Pet. 1:10 – 11; 2 Pet. 1:19).

The prophets of old searched carefully. We need to search what manner of time the Holy Spirit was indicating when He testified about the glories of Jesus that would follow. The prophetic spirit searches out carefully the application for prophecies. Jesus calls us to, “Watch therefore or search it carefully.”

Watch and Pray

The Scriptures exhort us to watch and pray. There are at least ten Scriptures that are related to preparing for the End-Times – Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:9, 33, 34, 35, 37; Luke 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and Revelation 16:15.

To watch is to cultivate faith and understanding that agrees with what the Word and the Spirit say about Jesus’ return. We prepare by watching what the Spirit is saying in Scripture, in circumstances, and in our life.

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Matt. 24:42)

We must search out what the Bible says (both OT and NT) about the signs of His coming. There are over 150 chapters in the Bible that focus on the End-Times. With a heart of faith, watch the sign events and trends that are predicted in Scripture progressively unfold. Set your heart to be an “anointed observer” of these.

Be alert to the Spirit’s stirring and challenges in your personal life and ministry. Many unique things are happening at a high level at the same time for the first time in history, yet this alone will not move a spiritually dull heart. We are to keep alert to our communion with God so as to always be in a disposition to agree with the Spirit.

May God grant us the spirit of the “sons of Issachar” (1 Chronicles 12:32) so that we may have understanding of the times and know what to do!