In the days just prior to the Last Supper, Jesus sat on the slopes of the Mount of Olives and responded to questions his disciples asked concerning the end of the age. In historical terms, this is known as the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), and it grants valuable insight into the events that will immediately precede the Second Coming of Christ.
Many of the key events Jesus described to his disciples are general in nature, that is, they have occurred throughout history – signs such as the appearance of false messiahs, earthquakes, wars, famines, and pestilence. As a result, these events are often referred to as general “signs of the times,” since they aren’t specific events, unique in and of themselves. So one must ask, how can these be true signs or markers of the end times if these are common events that have transpired throughout history? Jesus wasn’t one to give vague prophecies, and a closer examination of His words will reveal the unprecedented method by which these particular signs will appear.
Jesus in His Own Words
“Later, Jesus sat on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and asked, ‘When will all this take place? And will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?’ Jesus told them, ‘Don’t let anyone mislead you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will lead many astray. And wars will break out near and far, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must come, but the end won’t follow immediately. The nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this will be only the beginning of the horrors to come.’” Matthew 24:3-8 (NLT)
The various signs described by Jesus, which have occurred throughout history, will become more commonplace and more pronounced in the latter days, just prior to his return. Jesus makes this clear in verse 8 of Matthew 24, when he notes these signs will be like “birth pangs.” The New Living Translation (cited above) does not translate verse 8 as “birth pangs,” but rather “only the beginning of the horrors to come.” This translation fails to communicate an important revelation from Jesus – that the end times will be analogous to the birthing process. Below are several widely accepted translations, all of which cite this verse as “labor pains” or “birth pangs.”
“All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (New International Version)
“All these are the beginning of the labor pains.” (New American Bible)
“But all these things are merely the beginning of the birth pangs.” (New American Standard)
“But all these miseries are but like the early pains of childbirth.” (Weymouth New Testament)
“But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.” (World English Bible)
A study of these translations reveals that the signs He spoke of will be just like labor pains. What does this mean? It means that, much like birth pangs, the signs that mark the end of the age will appear with greater frequency and intensity as the end draws near. This was a sign of such great importance that Jesus intentionally mentioned it first when answering his disciples’ questions. It is a sign equal in importance to the two monumental signs he mentions in the same conversation: the restoration of Israel and the “abomination of desolation.”
Wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, persecution and death of Christians, and the appearance of false prophets all mark the times in which we live. Since we live in the end times, each of these will occur with greater frequency and with greater intensity as His Coming draws near.
“Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.” Matthew 24:28 (NLT)
Do we see any of these signs occuring in the world today? Yes, we do. Are they increasing in frequency and intensity? I believe they are:
The Gospel Will Be Preached Throughout the World
In the times of Jesus, the Word of God could be spread in only two ways: direct word-of-mouth or parchment. As technology has climbed the exponential curve, the number of methods for transmission of the Gospel has also increased exponentially. Satellite television, cable, websites, podcasts, DVDs, email, mass printed materials, and dozens of other mediums have enabled the Gospel message to explode around the world. As technology proliferates, we will soon approach the point where every individual has readily available access to the Gospel of Christ.
Travel and Knowledge Shall Increase
In addition to the signs mentioned by Jesus, the Bible provides further insight into the last days:
“But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end. Many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” Daniel 12:4 (NLT)
According to the Book of Daniel, two things will markedly increase in the end times:
Not only will these things increase, but they will do so exponentially. The birth pang reference made by Jesus applies to these signs as well, meaning both the availability and power of transportation and knowledge will increase.
The human knowledge base, transportation, and the pace of technological development are all increasing exponentially. Humanity is fast approaching the event horizon known as the Singularity. Jesus foresaw these events, and He clearly stated that these times will herald His Second Coming.
The Love of Many Will Grow Cold
“You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NLT)
Evidence of the truth of this prophecy is all around us. We need only look in the mirror. We are all these things and more. The pursuit of fame and wealth and selfish pleasure have taken precedence over all else. But there is hope for us. Through Jesus, we can be born anew. “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
According to Peter, scoffers will be a sign of the last days:
“First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will be scoffers who will laugh at the truth and do every evil thing they desire. This will be their argument: ‘Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly the same since the world was first created.’” 2 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)
Is this not the exact same argument we hear repeated over and over in our day? People who use this argument have forgotten the glory of God. Have His prophecies not been fulfilled throughout history? Did He not send His Son in all His glory? Has He not brought the Jews from among the nations and back into Israel?
Those Who Recognize the Signs are Blessed
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not recognizing the signs of the times, for the religious leaders of His day had full knowledge of the prophecies of the Messiah, yet they still chose not to believe in Him.
“One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus’ claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, ‘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 16:1-3 (NLT)
Jesus fully expected the people of His day to recognize and await the time of His first coming. As we patiently await His return, he holds our generation to the same standard of accountability. The signs of His return are all around us. Israel is in full bloom. Scoffers are abundant. And the world itself is in the full throes of labor pains in preparation for the Second Coming. The wise will take note.
“See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:12-13 (NLT)
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Come!