A Matter of Signs

Sign — "That by which anything is known, or represented; something that indicates a fact, quality, etc. a mark, token, an indication…" (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged Second Edition,1975, pg 1687.)

Hal Lindsey in his Late Great Planet Earth, Dwight Pentecost, in Things to Come, Robert Shank, in Until the Coming of Messiah and His Kingdom, and other premillenial writers tell us we are seeing today the signs of Jesus’ imminent return. According to them Jesus clearly gave a number of signs in Matthew 24 whereby the wise believer can discern the time of Jesus’ return.

This chapter has been a fertile seedbed for eschatological speculation. Based on fanciful interpretations of this passage groups as diverse as the Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Pentecostal groups and countless individuals such as Edward Whisenant, in 1988, have and do teach the presence of signs of the end of time in our generation.

In direct contrast to the premillenial position, the amillenial school denies that Jesus gave any signs of his "final" return. They insist he gave signs of his return to judge Jerusalem in 70 AD; but he emphatically refused to give signs of his return at the end of time. Typical of the amillenial position are the following quotes.

"Of the second coming and final judgment, Jesus says no one knows when it will be. He had told the disciples, on the contrary, precisely when the destruction would be: during their lifetime and they could read the sign of the approaching army so closely that they could escape it. But of His coming, no one knows when it will be — neither man, nor angels, nor Jesus Himself. Only the Father knows (vs.36)." Stafford North, Armagaddeon When, Oklahoma Christian College, 1982, p.48.

"The preaching of Noah provided no singular signs by which the dire event which he foretold could be discerned as impending. Neither were visions given through others to alleviate the void. The preaching of the gospel is of the same order. The end of the age is clearly predicted, as certainly so as was the flood, but no singular signs are given — nothing that could pinpoint a given generation or event. We repeat, there are no signs predicted, nor should any be expected." Russell Boatman, What the Bible Says About The End Time, College Press, 1980, p. 133.

These quotes could be multiplied many times over but are representative of the Amillenial school of thought about signs. The purpose of this article is to show the error of both of the above positions.

My argument simply stated is this: If it is the case that there would be absolutely no signs of the final coming of Jesus, then any passage which gives signs of a return of Jesus cannot be a reference to his final return. In regard to the millenial position we shall see that the references to signs in the New Testament were always in a context of imminence and thus are not applicable today.

Signs and More Signs
With only a casual study one can see that the normal arguments about signs and the "end" are untenable. Note now some of the passages that list unmistakable signs.

In II Thessalonians 2:1-3 inspiration said that before the epiphany two things had to occur, the apostasy and the coming of the Man of Sin. Since the Man of Sin was to be destroyed at the height of his terrible power, by the apocalypse of Jesus, how could one possibly doubt his appearance would constitute a sign of the imminent return of the Lord? Surely then, here are two signs. And since Paul informed his readers the Man of Sin was already living how can it be questioned the fulfillment of this text had to be in the first century?

People departing from the faith, doctrines of demons, doctrines forbidding believers to marry or eat meat. These, said Paul in I Timothy 4:1, were to be characteristics of the last times. Are these not signs? Upon what basis could it be denied?

He lists specific doctrines and practices which the brethren are to know represent activity of the last days. There can be no doubt these are signs. Further, Paul tells Timothy to instruct his contemporaries of the danger. It was for their time.

The same writer warns his favorite student to beware and prepare because in the last times men would be characterized as selfish, covetous, proud, rebellious, disrespectful, ungrateful, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, undisciplined, unholy, brutal, sensual, hypocritical, traitorous, resisters of truth, and more. It is true these things have always been part of man. But the apostle told Timothy they would be especially present in the last days. And he told Timothy to prepare himself for the onslaught, II Timothy 3 and 4.

Peter told his readers that prior to the day of the Lord scoffers would come, II Peter 3:1-3. Scoffers then, would be a sign of the parousia. Jude tells us the very people foretold by the apostles were already present.

Jude makes it a point to remind his readers these things had been predicted. In other words he reminds them of the signs foretold by the apostles and tells them the signs were then present. Since the very people foretold were alive then; if the day of the Lord has not yet come then those scoffers are still alive or will be resurrected to do their work of skepticism sometime in the future.

John reminds his beloved readers how there had been predictions of certain events for the last times, I John 2:18. He says the very things predicted were happening, therefore they could know they were living in the last hour. Were the predicted events not signs? If not, how could John say they could know it was the last hour? Those predicted events were signposts to be observed. They saw, took note, and knew because of what they saw, the time was near. Signs indeed!

In the Apocalypse we find an entire book, almost, of signs to precede the coming of Jesus, There was the false prophet, the beast, the mark of the beast, (if 666 was not a sign what would be a sign?), the persecutions, the burning of the city, etc. etc. And did not the Lord say, "Behold, I come quickly!"? Yes, there are even other passages which we could note. But these should give one pause and cause to see the fallacy in the quotes given above. It could be argued that even if it be granted that the texts cited here do not allude to the final coming, there are others which do. This is possible, but fails to consider that the other verses speak of the same thing as these which we have cited.

Further, if it be conceded that any passage which gives signs cannot be advert to a final, time ending parousia, then this removes the books of Thessalonians from that discussion and by extrapolation, therefore, I Corinthians 15.

It seems to me the only way to counter the thesis set forth in this article is to:
1. Abandon the argument that there would be no signs of the parousia. This would align one with the millenial camp.

2. Be able to demonstrate that the passages cited above do not in fact give true signs. But the writers patently allude to the predicted events as events to be watched for, to be heeded, to be avoided, to be seen. They are manifestly signs!

3. Demonstrate that while the above cited texts do indeed give signs and are not therefore allusions to a time ending parousia; there are other passages which do not give signs but do speak of a time ending epiphany.

The trouble encountered here is the emphatic statements of imminence to be found in those other passages. See I Corinthians 1:4-8, 7:29,31; 10:11, 15:51-52, 16:22, etc.

I believe the only plausible and correct position to take is that the Lord gave certain signs whereby the apostles could know the time for his coming was drawing near, Matthew 24:32ff. While they could thus discern the general time, the specific day and hour remained a hidden mystery.

In their writings the inspired writers continu
ed to echo their Lord’s warnings about coming signs of his return. But his coming was not for the far off future. It was to be in their lifetime. It was to be when he returned to destroy the last vestiges of the Old World and to usher in the New. The signs of that return were around them as they spoke and wrote so that we hear "The coming of the Lord is at hand!" James 5:8.

It seems to me that honesty demands we realign our thinking about signs and the coming of the Lord. We are going to have to be more honest with scriptures.