A Composite Sign of Many Parts
The World’s End—How Near?
A FABLE from India tells of six blind men from Indostan who went to see an elephant. The first one touched its side and said: “Bless me! but the elephant is very like a wall!” The second one touched its tusk and said: “An elephant is very like a spear!” The third touched its trunk and said: “The elephant is very like a snake!” The fourth reached out and felt its knee and said: “’Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree!” The fifth touched its ear and said: “This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!” The sixth seized its tail and said: “I see the elephant is very like a rope!” The six blind men disputed long and loud about what an elephant was like, but no one gave a correct description. Incomplete information did not give a complete picture.
A similar problem arises when it comes to identifying the sign of Christ’s return. In response to his disciples’ question: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” Jesus answered: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages.” (Matthew 24:3; Luke 21:10, 11) But when only these things are cited as proof that Christ returned in 1914, people object: “Oh, we’ve always had wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes!” And they are right.
These few things—although creating heretofore unequaled distress—are not for many people sufficient to mark Christ’s return; more is needed to make the sign complete, unmistakable. When proclamations that the world’s end is at hand are made on skimpy evidence, on just one or a few of the parts of the sign that are seen, false alarms are the result. What is needed are all the features Jesus gave relative to his return, not just one or a few. What he gave to mark his presence was a composite sign, one made up of enough features to make the sign certain, a combination of several different parts that, taken all together, make it unmistakable.
As an example of a composite sign, consider the one that is given in the Bible to identify Jesus as the Messiah at the time of his first coming. It involved many events relative to the Messiah that were given in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus had told his disciples about some of these texts, but they had not understood their import. The disciples, like the Jews generally, wanted a Messiah who would overthrow Rome and rule the world with them as associates. So when he died, they were confused and devastated. After Jesus was resurrected, he met with them and said: “‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:44, 45.
According to the Kingdom Interlinear translation of verse 45, Jesus did this by “putting together the Scriptures” from the Hebrew portion of the Bible that foretold the events and circumstances of the life of the promised Messiah who was to come, and he placed them alongside the events of Jesus’ life that had fulfilled them. Later on, the apostle Paul used this same method when “explaining and proving by references” that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 17:3) Again, it is the Kingdom Interlinear that clarifies the process by saying that he did so by “opening up thoroughly and putting alongside” the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures the events of Jesus’ life that fulfilled them. The accompanying box gives the substance of many of these Hebrew prophecies that were fulfilled by the events of Jesus’ life and that proved that he was the foretold Messiah. It illustrates what constitutes a composite sign.
The Composite Sign of Christ’s Presence
It is just such a composite sign that marks the time of Jesus’ second coming, or, more accurately, his presence. The Greek word pa·rou·siʹa that many translations render “coming” at Matthew 24:3 does not mean a time when he would come or arrive but means that he has already arrived and is on hand, is present. In Jesus’ case it means that he is invisibly present as Jehovah’s enthroned King and is reigning from heaven. This is in keeping with Jesus’ statement at John 14:19: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more.” Since he would not be physically visible, he gave a sign that would indicate his return and invisible presence as Jehovah’s reigning King.
The sign he gave did not have just one feature or a few features. It had many that were to be taken together as a composite sign, just as was the case with the composite sign at the time of his first coming as Messiah. Thus, with many features or events, he unmistakably signifies his invisible presence at this time as Jehovah’s reigning King enthroned in heaven but extending his power and influence to the affairs of earth. False alarms may result when only one or two of these features are stressed, rather than the many features that make up the composite sign. It is like the six blind men from Indostan, each one of whom jumped to a wrong conclusion because of feeling only one part of the elephant’s anatomy.
The fulfillment of this composite sign given by Jesus, plus some additional conditions given by three of the apostles, began in a remarkable way from 1914 onward. A digest of these various features along with their fulfillments follows.
“Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7) World War I began in 1914 with 28 nations involved, 14 million people killed. World War II followed with 59 nations involved, 50 million people killed.
“In one place after another pestilences.” (Luke 21:11) As World War I ended, some 21 million people were felled by the Spanish flu. Since then, heart disease, cancer, AIDS, and other pestilences have killed hundreds of millions.
“There will be food shortages.” (Matthew 24:7) The greatest famine in all history struck after World War I. Another terrible one followed World War II, and now malnutrition affects one fifth of the world’s population. Annually, some 14 million children die from malnutrition.
“There will be great earthquakes.” (Luke 21:11) Earthquakes after 1914—consider a few major ones. In 1915, in Italy, 32,610 lives lost; 1920, China, 200,000 killed; 1923, Japan, 143,000 killed; 1939, Turkey, 32,700 killed; 1970, Peru, 66,800 killed; 1976, China, 240,000 (some say 800,000) killed; 1988, Armenia, 25,000 killed.
“Increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) Lawlessness has run wild since 1914; today it is exploding. Murders, rapes, robberies, gang wars—they dominate the headlines and fill the newscasts. Politicians rip off the public, teenagers carry guns and kill, schoolchildren prey on one another. In many areas it is not safe to walk the streets even in daytime.
“Anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . Men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:25, 26) Crime, violence, drug addiction, family breakups, economic instability, unemployment—the list is long and growing. One prominent scientist wrote: “We will eat fear, sleep fear, live in fear and die in fear.”
“In the last days critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) The apostle Paul spoke of people “having come to be past all moral sense.” (Ephesians 4:19) He elaborated, however, on the moral breakdown he foretold for “the last days.” It sounds like today’s newscasts: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
“In the last days there will come ridiculers.” (2 Peter 3:3) Newspapers, newscasts, magazines, books, and movies scornfully dismiss the Bible and replace it with their own freethinking propaganda, saying, as Peter foretold: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”—2 Peter 3:4.
“People will lay their hands upon you and persecute you.” (Luke 21:12) Starting in 1914 and through the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been cruelly arrested, falsely convicted, mobbed, and thrown into Hitler’s concentration camps by the thousands, where they were tortured, many killed, some brutally by beheading. In other lands, both in dictatorships and in democracies, their work of witnessing to Jehovah and his Kingdom has been banned and the Witnesses thrown in jail. All of this in fulfillment of Jesus’ words for the last days.—Matthew 5:11, 12; 24:9; Luke 21:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 13.
“This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) What good news? The good news of Christ’s Kingdom ruling from heaven, for that was the question put to Jesus that produced his prophecy of the composite sign of that event. It has been preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1914. Four thousand were doing it in 1919, over four million by 1990, and in 1992 in one month 4,472,787. Bible literature was distributed in some 200 languages in 229 lands. Never before has this feature of the composite sign been fulfilled.
“Bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) Greedy men have always been willing to ruin the earth for selfish gain, but never before this generation have they had the power to do so. Now, since 1914, modern technology has put that power into their hands, and they are misusing it. They are ruining the earth.
Here are a few of the atrocities resulting: acid rain, global warming, holes in the ozone layer, dangerous pesticides, toxic dumps, garbage glut, nuclear waste, oil spills, raw-sewage dumping, dead lakes, destroyed forests, polluted groundwater, species endangered, human health damaged.
Scientist Barry Commoner says: “I believe that continued pollution of the earth, if unchecked, will eventually destroy the fitness of this planet as a place for human life. . . . The difficulty lay not in scientific ignorance, but in willful greed.” State of the World 1987 says: “The scale of human activities has begun to threaten the habitability of the earth itself.” A television series aired in 1990 was significantly entitled “Race to Save the Planet.”
These many events brought together as one sign during one generation can hardly be dismissed as coincidence. Their magnitude also adds weight. And there are some of these events, such as the global preaching of this message of the good news and the ruining of the earth, that have never occurred from creation’s beginning. The composite sign of the presence of Christ Jesus is overwhelming.
“Whoever has ears to listen, let him listen.”—Mark 4:23.
[Box on page 7]
Composite Proof for Jesus’ First Coming as Messiah
BORN into the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10); to be hated, betrayed by one of his apostles; lots cast for his garment; given vinegar and gall; reviled on the stake; no bones broken; didn’t see corruption; resurrected (Psalm 69:4; 41:9; 22:18; 69:21; 22:7, 8; 34:20; 16:10); born of a virgin; family of David; stone of stumbling; rejected; silent before accusers; took on sicknesses; numbered with sinners; sacrificial death; side pierced; buried with the rich (Isaiah 7:14; 11:10; 8:14, 15; 53:3; 53:7; 53:4; 53:12; 53:5; 53:9); called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1); born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); offered as king; riding on an ass; betrayed for 30 pieces of silver; followers scattered.—Zechariah 9:9; 11:12; 13:7.
[Box on page 8]
Composite Sign for Jesus’ Royal Presence at Second Coming
WORLD war; food shortages; pestilences; earthquakes (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:10, 11; Revelation 6:1-8); increased lawlessness; betray and hate one another; disobedient to parents; no natural affection; without self-control; not open to any agreement; lovers of money; love pleasure more than God; form of godly devotion but false to its power; blasphemers; fierce; persecute Christ’s followers; bring followers before courts, and kill Christ’s followers (Matthew 24:9, 10, 12; Luke 21:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5); ridiculers of Jesus’ presence; say all things continuing as from creation’s beginning (2 Peter 3:3, 4); destroyers of the earth’s environment.—Revelation 11:18.