SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Part 2
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to put Jesus to the test. They asked him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, “In the evening you look at the sky. You say, ‘It will be good weather. The sky is red.’ And in the morning you say, ‘Today it will be stormy. The sky is red and cloudy.’ You know the meaning of what you see in the sky. But you can’t understand the signs of what is happening right now. An evil and unfaithful people look for a miraculous sign. But none will be given to them except the sign of Jonah.”
(Matthew 16:1-4, New International Readers Version – NIRV)
“No one knows about that day or hour. Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows. Remember how it was in the days of Noah. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking. They were getting married. They were giving their daughters to be married. They did all those things right up to the day Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes.”
(Matthew 24:36-39, NIRV)
JESUS CITES THE BIBLE’S BIGGEST WHOPPERS
It is particularly noteworthy that Jesus uses two stories both involving ‘signs of the times’, that of Jonah and Noah, to point out how history was soon to make a dramatic turn. Generally, theologians want to label Jonah (the prophet swallowed by that big fish) and Noah (who built what appeared an impossibly big boat) as obvious ‘mythical’ figures, supplying such colorful object lessons. It is most interesting since it suggests Jesus made a big mistake in his quarrel with his opposition. Since Jesus emphasized to the Pharisees the ‘stark reality’ of the situation, picking these particular stories to reinforce His point should be laughable. It would be like predicting on the front page of the Wall Street Journal the US economy is set to crash because Charlie Brown carelessly lost his lunch money in that morning’s Peanuts. As the logicians say, it is a non sequitur.
Nevertheless, Jesus uses some of the biggest ‘whoppers’ of all Bible stories to make His point. In so doing, we should make special note of what this implies about His high regard for the Scripture. If Jesus did not believe that Jonah and Noah were real historical characters, if He regarded these accounts as mere ‘Bible Stories’ to tell the kids (but discounted their historicity), it would weaken His most important prediction that a national catastrophe was soon to occur. His polemic speaks volumes. However, beyond Jesus’ testimony that these two colorful figures were real life persons just as the Bible teaches, He confirms an age-old heuristic: Past events teach us what the future holds. We sense through His words (with my modern paraphrase applied) the contempt He felt for the ‘blind guides’ of the Temple religion: “Just like the flood of Noah, another judgment looms and you religious leaders are too caught up in your self-seeking politics to realize what is about to happen. Read the signs of the time. A change is inevitable. The ‘establishment’ will soon come tumbling down. ‘A change is gonna come!’ The world you live in will be turned upside down.”
Of course, this is not to ignore the fact that apocalypses come in various shapes and sizes. When the Spanish came to the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, their disembarking spawned an apocalypse for Native Americans. Within a short span of years, the majority of natives died. Worlds collided. American Indians had no immunity against European diseases. This unfortunate fact does not stand alone. We can uncover many such devastating events throughout human history and draw the same conclusion. Massive change happens. The status quo changes. When these alterations come to pass, when the unthinkable breaks upon us, we are uprooted and we must adjust to living life totally differently. Despite the turmoil we face in making such changes, we find we have little to no choice but to do so.
DENYING THE INEVITABLE APOCALYPSE WE SEE COMING
The apocalypse, in one sense, means much more than a one-time event. Whenever massive change impacts a whole group of people, when their lives are turned upside down, what they experience can be likened to the end of the world—certainly, the end of their world as they have known it.
This type of radical shift in fortunes was the story leading up to World War II. Throughout Europe, the signs were undeniable that Germany would soon launch another war. The vitriol Hitler spewed against the Jews should have been taken seriously by everyone, especially those with any trace of Jewish ancestry. But so many Jews living in Germany, in Poland, in Belarus, indeed throughout all of Europe, were too ‘connected’ into the economy to give up everything and leave their lives behind—even though it meant the difference between life and death. The signs were inevitable. But the coming of the apocalypse was so radical in its implications, the ‘new normal’ could not be believed. Millions chose to stay put and by so doing, sealed their horrific fate.
In the final analysis, what seems to be the lesson in these selected passages drawn from the Gospel of Matthew boils down to this colloquial saying: “They should have seen it coming.” Recognizing the signs of the times was in fact the best means to avoid the impending disaster. Being watchful, being aware of what would soon happen, would have allowed many to escape the impending doom. Since they chose to remain oblivious to reality, however, their world eventually came crashing down. Without preparation, the destruction would be more devastating than anyone could fathom.
LIVING AS IF THE END IS SOON—BECAUSE IT MAY BE
Is not this often the case in our personal lives? We hear tell of accounts where lives that should have been lost, are miraculously spared. Death is averted. Afterwards, the usual sentiment is “I will never live my life the same way again… I will appreciate each day because it could be my last.” Those who have had the so-called ‘near-death experience’ know just how precarious life is. They are the first to point out how we must relish each day as a gift.
Will we experience the ‘end of the world’ in our lifetime? Many evangelical scholars confidently predict we will witness the events associated with the Second Coming of Christ within the new two to three decades if not sooner. What is irrefutable even by those who doubt the validity of the Bible’s teaching concerning the Apocalypse and the foreboding signs of the end: Many groups of our human brothers or sisters (numbering in the tens of thousands or in the tens of millions), will experience a cataclysm that changes their world forever. An apocalypse is inevitable.
Where will we be when that happens? We may hear of such occurrences on the news or we may observe it much more closely. Living in Oklahoma and experiencing the threat of EF5 Tornadoes –witnessing the death and devastation they cause—it is an ever-present reality during the spring and late summer. Therefore, the lessons we must learn are clear: we dare not think, “What happened to them cannot happen to us.” To be sure, our greatest safeguard remains to remember that what happened to them can happen to us. An uncertain destiny awaits all of us.
Christianity is not intended to be a religion characterized by fear. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. It stands as a religion of hope. However, there remains a certain ‘reality check’ we must embrace if we wish to be authentically Christian.
As stated at the outset, we are encouraged to be ‘watchful’ and on our guard. “Keep watch! Be careful that no one fools you.” (Matthew 24:4) Christian truth teaches many things, but its lesson of ‘Judgment Day’ serves as a lasting reminder we must not be lulled into a belief that safety and security stands as an entitlement.
Historians generally agree that if the German church had been on its guard, Hitler would likely never have come to power. Their failure constitutes our warning: We must be constantly vigilant and read the signs of the times lest something similar happen in our land. Tomorrow could be different than today. It could be very different indeed.
We should consider how today begets the offspring we know as tomorrow. What we do or do not do, will have lasting repercussions from this point forward.
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This post was drawn from Doug Woodward’s new book, BLOOD MOON: BIBLICAL SIGNS OF THE COMING APOCALYPSE. Click here for information on the book and to purchase at Amazon.
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