The prospect of the return of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven arouses more than a passing interest in the hearts of the children of God. Joy fills our hearts as we contemplate the promise of Christ Jesus: "Let not your heart be troubled:... In my Father's house are many mansions... I go to prepare a place for you.... I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also." John 14:1-3.
The glorious return of Christ may not be spiritualized as the modernist would have us do. You realize that many deny the historicity and infallibility of Scripture. To such the resurrection and return of Christ are myths that have to be interpreted in a "spiritual" way. They scoff at the bodily resurrection of Christ and likewise contend that the return of Christ is not going to be a process of development in which the whole human race will become more "Christlike." Even as the resurrection of Christ is spiritualized as a revival of interest in brotherly kindness, so they spiritualize the return of Christ as a universal acceptance of this kindness and peace.
This we deny emphatically on the basis of the Word of God. We look forward to the day when Christ shall return personally upon the clouds of heaven. In this return He will immediately raise the dead and translate the bodies of the living to ones fit for an eternal abode. John 5:28, 29 and Daniel 12:2. There will be no rapture in which the church will be taken out of this world and spared the great tribulation. There will be no interlude of seven years after which the kingdom will be established in Jerusalem of which Christ will be King and reign a millennium. These conceptions are the empty dreams of a fertile imagination. When Christ returns at the end of the ages He will come once and will bring all creatures into judgment, thus opening the way for the casting out of the wicked into the everlasting misery of hell and the formation of the new heavens and earth for the children of God.
In His return, Christ will receive us unto Himself in Father's house of many mansions. This is our joyful hope.
Jesus' disciples came to Him and asked, "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3). In answering this question, Jesus reminded His disciples that He would establish His kingdom in the way of judgment. He was going to leave them in order that He might go to the cross and earn the right to establish His kingdom by atoning for the sins of His elect and satisfying God's righteous judgment. Nevertheless, He was going to come again unto them and realize His promised kingdom. The establishment of this kingdom would involve the gathering of the church of all ages for whom He was about to die and the casting out of the wicked world in judgment. To make this clear to His disciples, Jesus directed them to an actual historical event that would prefigure the end of the world. This was the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred In A.D. 70 when Rome plundered Jerusalem. This explains the reference Christ makes to "them that are with child and give suck in those days! But pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Matt 24:16-21.
Ultimately however, the signs of the times referred to in this section, point us to the end of the world when Christ will come again to establish His heavenly kingdom that will continue forever.
With this in mind we must be careful to understand what is meant by the "signs of the times."
First, these signs are real events that occur in history. They are not some extra-sensory perceptions that one may receive in a dream or mysterious apparition and thus learn certain secrets that are not common to mankind. There are those that claim that God has given them a special revelation by which they and they alone know the secret of His coming, when and how it will take place. Beware of all such claims! The signs are actual events in history for all to see and observe. Take for example, the sign of wars and rumor of wars, (Matt. 24: 6) this is a sign for all who have eyes and spiritual knowledge to discern.
Secondly, it follows from this that these signs themselves produce the Christ. Throughout all history, Christ is coming. He came to the disciples in a special way at Pentecost; He comes to the church through the preaching of the gospel; He comes to each of us at death; He shall come personally when all things are accomplished. Christ is busy gathering His church unto Himself. At the same time, the world is becoming increasingly wicked and their measure of iniquity is being filled. They are soon ripe for judgment. Thus, the unfolding of the signs accomplishes God's purpose with all things. This is clearly seen in the sign of the preaching of the gospel to all nations, Matt 24:14 and Rev. 6:2.
Finally, the signs of His coming are definitely designated for us in the Scriptures. We may not go around inventing signs, we must study the Word of God in which God in Christ specifies what things indicate to us the nearness of the end. In answering the question of the disciples, Christ gave them certain guide lines by which they would be able to discern the times and seasons. We have these presented in the Old Testament as for example Daniel, by Christ Himself in the New Testament, and also in the epistles e.g. II Thess. and especially the Book of Revelation. By comparing Scripture with what things must happen before Christ shall return and that when these occur, we may know that our Lord cometh. "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21:28.
By studying the Bible we learn that there are three specific areas within which these signs are unfolded. These are in nature, among the nations, and within the church. We will look at each of these briefly.
As the return of Christ draws nearer there will be an increase in natural disturbances. Christ in Matt 24:7 tells us, "There shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." If we add to this the knowledge we receive from the Book of Revelation we may conclude that what is true of all ages becomes greater toward the end of the world. In Revelation, chapter 4-6, we have a description of the seven seals. There is a book in the hands of the Almighty. This book represents the counsel of God which must be unfolded in history. This book has seven seals which must be broken if its contents are to be revealed. The 7th seal becomes seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet becomes yet seven vials. Some of these seals speak of natural disturbances e.g. the fourth which is pale (6:7,8) its rider has power, "to kill with the sword with hunger and death and with the beasts of the earth." Likewise for the trumpets, (chapters 8, 9) a curse is cast upon the earth, sea, and air. The same is true of the vials, (chapter 16) in which destruction is brought upon the earth. The point is that with the seals, only one fourth of the earth's population is affected, with the trumpets one third is killed, and with the vials there is total destruction. It is obvious to conclude from this that as the end comes closer, we may expect an increase of destruction and death caused by natural calamities. This will end in the final cataclysm and total destruction when Christ returns. Then the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light (Matt. 24:29), and the heavens shall depart as a scroll when it is rolled together and every mountain and island shall be moved out of their places. Rev. 6:14. Anyone engaged in agriculture is well aware of the increased difficulty in raising crops. The extremes of late and early frost combined with drought in some areas and floods in others contribute to food shortages throughout the world. Diseases in plants and an abundance of insects that destroy the fruit of the earth are evident on every hand. A casual observance of the daily news can't help but impress upon us the extent of natural upheavals in our day. Earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, landslides pervade the headlines daily. He that hath ears to hear discerns in these signs the call of our Lord, "Behold I come quickly."
The second area lies within the sphere of the nations. According to Scripture, just prior to the return of Christ the nations of the world will be joined together in one world government called the Kingdom of antichrist. The kingdom is presented to us in the Old Testament in the image of Nebuchadnessar, Daniel 2. Paul speaks of the antichrist as the man of sin or son of perdition in II Thess. 2:3. This kingdom is also pictured for us in the Book of Revelation chapter 13. Upon the evidence of these portions of Scripture and elsewhere, we may conclude that the nominally Christian nations of the world will succeed in bringing world peace for a brief duration. These nations, such as the countries of Asia Minor, Europe, and America have been the leaders throughout the history of the world. They have been plagued by wars for generations even as the Sovereign God works out his purpose in having confused the language at Babel, enabling the church to be gathered in the midst of the nations. This wound will be healed (Rev. 13:3), indicating that war will be no more, instead there will be a period of ungodly prosperity. In the midst of this prosperity the true church will bear the brunt of the enmity of the antichrist against the church. There will be tribulation for the children of God (Matt. 24:9,10) even the institute church will be destroyed. Rev. 11:7, 8.
Is there not an abundance of evidence that points to world unity today? Surely the wars and rumors of wars are the birth pangs to bring forth the world government of antichrist. Today the world is more united than ever before. The space program has contributed immensely to this end. How small the earth really is. One would be inclined to take the perspective of Miss Barbara Ward in her book, "Spaceship Earth," the whole earth is but a giant spaceship hurling through space and the human race is its crew. A divided crew is bound for trouble, we need to cooperate and live in peace together. How futile to imagine war when it is possible to encircle the earth with the "big bomb" which can be triggered momentarily and directed to any part of the earth. With the vast system of communications we have learned the need for one world language, one metrical system and the like. We must recognize that nationalism is a thing of the past. The nations that have great wealth must give to those that have not; racial distinctions must be eradicated; we must all learn to see each other not as white, or black, or yellow, but as the human race. Besides this, capitalism, communism, and socialism are but systems of economics. Capitalism is one extreme and Communism is another. Socialism seems to be a common denominator which may well fill the worlds needs in this great antichristian government. America today is not governed by a free enterprise system, it is controlled by government. Government spending determines prosperity or recession. Even in communistic countries more incentives are being given for individual initiative, the farmers that produce much are given more in return. It is obvious today that American capitalism is going more in the direction of a controlled economy (communism) and communism is going in the direction of more free enterprise (capitalism). The United Nations is a powerful force working in this direction of world government. All this indicates that the establishment of the world kingdom is very near.
One wonders how governments ever gain such power. After all a world government can be accomplished only through the removal of strict nationalism. The clue to understanding this is given us in Rev. 13 where the second beast comes forth out of the earth, which had power to give life unto the Image of the first beast (the world government) Rev. 13:15. This second beast includes such things as science, education, and religion. The unique point of the antichristian rule is this, the people will gladly give authority to the world government. This will not be forced upon people, they will readily accept it.
This will be accomplished by two means.
The first is that government gives to people what they want. Certainly one has to be blind not to see that government here in America is controlling more and more of our life. It reaches into the sphere of economics by controlling business large and small through antitrust laws, taxation, and the like. Government controls education, the schools, universities, and more and more the public media of communication: radio, press, television, etc. Government subsidizes science foundations, teacher grants, and such like. Government has programs to care for the poor, provide medical care under social security, and many benefits to dependent children.
The average citizen doesn't consider that the money for these programs comes from his pocket; he credits the beneficent "Uncle Sam." With open arms he gladly gives more and more power to government. What a secure feeling to think that all our financial worries are really the government's, all our unforeseen emergencies are to be handled by someone bigger. Today we see with our own eyes how the people gladly give control to the government. With almost unlimited resources the government is busy expanding its scope of power. Taking the perspective of the world, government may soon tell us just how we may spend our money, how many children we may have so that the world won't be over populated. Under the benevolent direction of government, scientists pursue the course of human eugenics to design the "super-race." These things must happen in order to usher in the antichristian world government.
With this the "church" plays an important roll. This is the second factor that brings the antichristian world government to the fore. No state could ever succeed in history without the blessings of the church. The final world government of antichrist cannot succeed without the blessing of the nominally Christian church. This is after all the real thrust of modern ecumenism. A world government cannot be realized without a world church to add its blessing. The World Council is such a media. This false church organization isn't interested in the preaching of the gospel of the Word of God. Rather its forte is social improvement. Rcpeatedly it has to flirt with government, leading its membership to walk openly in agreement with the principles of antichrist. How many decisions of the World Council deal with maintaining the truth of the Word of God in an apostate generation? The list includes instead, the war in Vietnam, civil rights, distribution of wealth, and all the social issues of our day. Surely this false religion gives the biggest thrust to the world government to bring it to realization.
The ecumenical movement isn't going to be satisfied with uniting Protestantism; it must include Roman Catholicism not only, but all the religions of the world. Christianity isn't the only good religion, there are good points in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Islamism as well. We have to recognize this and then we will be able to live at peace as a successful crew upon spaceship earth. The human race must and will succeed. This is the gospel of the false church today. It proves to us that the end is very near.
The final sign of our Lord's return lies in the sphere of the true church. Even as we mentioned before, it will suffer persecutions. Because the faithful church refuses to recognize the antichristian beast and will not receive its mark (Rev. 13:16-18), she suffers persecution; she cannot buy nor sell, for there is no place in such a godless society for her. She will not be allowed to preach from the pulpit; the radio will be out of bounds; and every meeting place will be controlled. The faithful will have difficulty providing Christian education for their children; they will not be able to keep up with the demanded ideals of government. Yea, she will flee to the hills and find refuge in seclusion. Matt. 24:9-28.
That day is not far away. Any who reads with discernment the current events will attest that these things are developing speedily. It is almost breathtaking.
Shall we fear? The faithful would be so inclined. It is not a pleasant prospect to consider that our unbelieving neighbor will have luxurious living, a short work week, fringe benefits, protection of all kinds of insurance, the best medical care and all the rest. But the FAITHFUL will be struggling to stay alive, suffering for Christ's sake.
Yet, what a glorious future. As things become increasingly difficult, the nearness of the end is all the more imminent. We wait not for a kingdom here on earth, that would be disappointing. We seek the kingdom of Heaven where we will be at home with Christ and all the saints to take our places in the glorified creation and praise God perfectly forever.
Let's cry out joyfully, "Even so, come Lord Jesus, come quickly."