The Signs of the Times—What Do They Mean to You?
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations. . . . But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:25, 28.
1. How did Jesus answer the Jews’ request for “a sign from heaven”?
TOWARD the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Jewish religious leaders challenged him to display “a sign from heaven.” In rebuking them, Jesus said: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” This indicates that they could not read the signs of the times, or else were ignoring them.—Matthew 16:1, 4.
2. Why are the signs of the times important to us today?
2 Do the signs of the times have meaning for us today? Yes, they do! And if we act on the meaning of these signs, we can be saved from a disaster greater than any caused by the wildest manifestations of bad weather. Let us, then, examine these signs.
3. In what way are events of Bible times still meaningful to us?
3 The prophetic forecasts set out in the Holy Bible provide us with much information on the signs of the times. We are told, for example, how events that occurred in the lives of the people in ancient Israel were not merely of historic value but that “these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (1 Corinthians 10:11) So we today have advance warning of coming events. By taking note of significant modern-day happenings, we will be able to act in a way so as to avoid the calamity confronting the “wicked and adulterous generation” now on earth. Thus we will not be like those Jewish leaders of the first century whom Jesus indicated did not interpret the signs of the times.—Matthew 16:4; Acts 2:40.
4. What composite “sign” did Jesus give, and what did it include?
4 The Great Prophet, Jesus Christ, gave a composite “sign” of things that would occur to mark not only the conclusion of the Jewish system of things in the first century but the end of the worldwide system of things today. In addition to warning of “wars and reports of wars,” he foretold global conflagrations that would blaze up in which ‘nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.’ Also, there would be “food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another.”—Matthew 24:3-8.
5. How would false prophets regard this “sign”?
5 Jesus also foretold the advent of many false prophets, who would appear on the basis of his name and would mislead multitudes by ignoring the importance of the “sign” that would mark his presence in Kingdom power. They would not see any meaning in the composite “sign” given by Jesus, as recorded in Matthew, chapters 24 and 25, nor in the other signs that would mark our momentous time, such as the general corrupting of society and the ruining of the earth. But have we not witnessed such events in this 20th century?
6. (a) Despite the surge of troubles since 1914, what have religious leaders contended? (b) But how are world conditions developing?
6 The great surge of troubles that suddenly broke upon mankind commencing in the year 1914 C.E., with its World War I and continuing through World War II, has not let up to the present time. This is so in spite of the fact that religious leaders have backed such schemes as the defunct League of Nations and the present United Nations, and contend that what we need now is the right men in political office to ensure a return to God for his blessing. Yet all around us there is evidence that the quality of life on earth is deteriorating, that conditions are going from bad to worse, that fear, suspicion, crime and violence have become the order of the day in these closing years of the 20th century.
What World Leaders Say
7. How are world leaders expressing themselves?
7 Does this sound rather pessimistic? Well, political men are candidly recognizing the crisis that exists. For example, Thomas J. Watson, former American ambassador to the Soviet Union, declared in a recent interview: “I perceive the world to be more dangerous than it has ever been in its history.” Also, from a long-time optimist, Swedish sociologist and economist Gunnar Myrdal, comes this statement: “Everything is horrible. . . . We believed in reform, in education. Now we are facing a world where it is difficult to be optimistic.”
8. (a) What cause for alarm is now observable? (b) What matters foretold in Revelation chapter 6 are part of the signs of the times?
8 Are there not substantial grounds for such lack of optimism among prominent world leaders? The tremendous stockpiling of war implements now going on among the nations of the earth is unparalleled in history. This alone is cause for alarm. Costs for such an arms race have added to the inflationary spiral that threatens national economies and pushes up prices for all kinds of goods and services. In describing the ride of the apocalyptic horsemen that represent war, famine and disease, the Bible’s Revelation account forewarns that food costs would soar to such a point that a quart of wheat would sell for a denarius, or a day’s wage. How true this is in many parts of the world today! Such ominous developments, affecting our way of life, are all part of the signs of the times.—Revelation 6:3-8.
What Jesus Christ Foretold
9. (a) What wisdom appears to have perished? (b) What prophecy of Jesus now has pointed application?
9 It appears that the wisdom of the wise men of politics and industry has perished. (Isaiah 29:14) There is no brilliant statesman with a persuasive solution to the world’s troubles or even to one nation’s problems. Instead, there is fear for the future, just as Jesus foretold: “There will be . . . on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
10. (a) How has the sea become ‘agitated’? (b) How have ‘the powers of the heavens been shaken’?
10 With the stockpiling of armaments racing beyond the control of the nations, the literal sea itself is filled with war equipment in the form of ships and submarines capable of carrying deadly nuclear warheads that can wipe out millions of people with a single missile. Indeed, the sea is roaring and ‘agitated.’ And what about the sky and space above us? True to Jesus’ words, ‘the powers of the heavens have been shaken’ in that war planes, rockets, ballistic missiles and the like, can streak through space, across oceans and continents to strike enemy targets.
11. How do the news media testify that the nations ‘do not know the way out’?
11 The news media testify powerfully to the fulfillment of the prophecy that the nations ‘do not know the way out’ of their problems. For example, note the following comments in a 300-page report to the United Nations by a commission headed by a former West German chancellor, Willy Brandt, as reported in the Toronto Star of May 31, 1980: “In essence, it [the report] says the world economy is breaking down and a continuation of current trends will lead to global chaos. . . . Double locks, armed guards and the fear of kidnapping and assassination are the new rewards for achievement almost everywhere.” And, in a personal introduction to the report, Brandt says: “War is often thought of in terms of military conflict or even annihilation. But there is a growing awareness that an equal danger might be chaos—as a result of mass hunger, economic disaster, environmental catastrophies and terrorism.”
12. How do Jeremiah’s words have application today?
12 Where, then, is the enlightened thinking and planning that should be forthcoming from political and industrial leaders in these critical times? As God’s prophet indicated about the leaders in the seventh century B.C.E., so it is in our time: “Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9) Very little!
13. What developments in the earth indicate worsening famine conditions, and in fulfillment of what prophecy?
13 They must know that the expanding population and decreasing food supplies spell FAMINE, but we see no positive action or concrete plan on a global scale to meet that already grave situation. The above-mentioned report to the United Nations goes on to tell of the staggering growth in world population—over one million more every five days, with an estimated increase of close to two billion people in the next two decades. Meanwhile, demand for food increases proportionately, even though there are grave doubts about the ability of the grain-producing countries to supply the vast amounts now needed. “There will be food shortages . . . in one place after another,” is what Jesus foretold for these final days of this world system.—Matthew 24:7.
14. In what terms did Jesus foretell other modern-day evils?
14 Consider, too, the escalation of violent crime throughout the industrialized nations. Jesus prophesied also of this “increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) Are we honestly to believe that the solution is to furnish every citizen with a handgun and train him to use it? Yet that is evidently the thinking of many world leaders, as they insist on piling up munitions of war in the hope of attaining peace. Meanwhile, it is estimated that hundreds of millions of our fellow humans are starving and undernourished, while other millions are victims of malaria and river blindness—ills that could be alleviated with but a fraction of the funds spent on armaments. These are all part of the signs of the times that Jesus foretold.—Luke 21:10, 11.
A Time to “Begin Fleeing”
15. According to Jesus’ prophecy, when should those using discernment take action, and how?
15 God’s greatest Prophet, Jesus Christ, pointed to other detailed features of the composite sign that should be heeded by those who would escape destruction. What are they? He said: “Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. For then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.”—Matthew 24:3, 15, 16, 21.
16. What preliminary fulfillment did Matthew 24:15, 16 have?
16 That prophecy had a preliminary fulfillment when Roman armies invaded Judea and Jerusalem in 66 C.E., returning again to desolate the Jewish system in 70 C.E. However, Jesus’ words carry an even more ominous message for all of us living in the 1980’s. How do we know?
17. Why must Matthew 24:21 have a climactic modern-day fulfillment?
17 Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. was not the greatest in history. There have been far worse disasters both before and since then, involving more suffering and loss of life. But this prophecy speaks about a tribulation that has no equal. It is in fact the last, the climactic, tribulation, for such tribulation ‘will not occur again.’ What, then, is the “disgusting thing”? We are told to look for this “standing in a holy place.” Do we see the modern-day fulfillment?
18. (a) Today, what is the “disgusting thing”? (b) How does it now stand in the “holy place”? (c) What will be the final outcome for Christendom’s religions? (d) According to Revelation, how extensive will the destruction of religion become, preliminary to what finale?
18 In modern times a “disgusting thing” opposed to God’s kingdom and far mightier than Imperial Rome stands in a “holy place.” It is the U.N., made up now of 157 nations and including superpowers that possess enough nuclear armaments to blast mankind off the face of the earth many times over. This successor to the League of Nations is “disgusting” to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ and his disciples because it presumes to stand in the place of God’s kingdom in the hands of his installed King Jesus Christ, in the heavens. (Matthew 5:35; Mark 13:14) But Christendom also claims to have a “holy place.” It is her realm of operation that has already been taken over in large sections of the earth by radical members of the U.N. Soon Christendom’s religious systems, and any claims she makes to being a “holy place,” will be desolated just as completely as was the anti-Christian Jewish system in 70 C.E.a As Revelation 17:5, 16, 17 shows, all segments of false religion worldwide—“Babylon the Great”—will be devastated at that same time, preliminary to the war at Armageddon, the finale of the “great tribulation.”—Revelation 16:14, 16; 19:11-21.
19. (a) What activity, foretold by Jesus, has Christendom’s clergy failed to share in, and why? (b) Who have shouldered this responsibility, and with what result?
19 Jesus also foretold that, amid these worsening world conditions, a concentrated and global preaching campaign would be carried on by his faithful followers. Recall his words: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth, for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) No such earth-wide activity is being conducted by Christendom’s clergy, for they are friendly to this world’s system of things. (James 4:4) Who, then, is fulfilling this command? Have not Jesus’ loyal followers on earth, who are not part of the world, been busy preaching that Kingdom news publicly and from house to house for more than 60 years now, introducing themselves since 1931 as Jehovah’s witnesses? (Isaiah 43:10, 12) And have they not blanketed the earth with billions of pieces of literature containing the “good news” that soon now the Kingdom, or government, ruled by Christ from heaven will completely replace all imperfect and selfish human rulerships? Their activity not only has brought good news by pointing out the meaning of the signs of the times but has served also as a divine warning of God’s coming day of vengeance.—Isaiah 61:2.
a See The Watchtower of December 1, 1971, pages 711-728, and December 15, 1975, pages 741-744; also “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” pages 275-283.
Do you recall how each of the following features of the “last days” is described in Bible prophecy?
□ World wars engulfing the nations
□ Global famine, earthquakes, pestilence
□ Upswing in delinquency, crime, disorders
□ Many false religious leaders appear
□ Unparalleled distress among the nations
□ Sea agitated by submarine armaments
□ Heavens disturbed by war weaponry
[Picture on page 13]
When the Jewish religious leaders challenged Jesus to display a sign, what did he do?
[Picture on page 15]
As the Roman army menaced the Jews’ “holy place,” so radical nations threaten Christendom’s claimed realm of operation today. It is high time to flee!