Do You Recognize the Sign?
WHEN Jesus’ disciples asked him for a “sign” of his “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things” they used the Greek word semeíon. The same word was also used by Greeks to designate the symptoms of a disease. Since Jesus’ sign would reveal when the last, or dying, days of Satan’s world system had arrived, in this respect the terminology is quite appropriate. Recognizing the symptoms of the world’s terminal illness would be crucial for people to avoid dying with it.—Matthew 24:3; 1 John 2:16, 17.
Of What Is the Sign Composed?
The more symptoms a patient has, the easier it is for a well-trained doctor to diagnose the disease with accuracy. Likewise, to help us to recognize unmistakably the world’s terminal illness, Jesus gave us a composite sign, one composed of many “symptoms.”
To determine all the sign’s features, you would have to read Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. We encourage you to do so. But for the moment, let us refer to just a few of the many symptoms that Jesus mentioned.
GLOBAL WAR: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”—Luke 21:10.
FAMINE: “There will be food shortages.”—Matthew 24:7.
EARTHQUAKES: “There will be earthquakes in one place after another.”—Mark 13:8.
FEAR: “On the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
DISEASE: “In one place after another pestilences.”—Luke 21:11.
CRIME: “Because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.”—Matthew 24:12.
In What Way Different?
None of these things are unique to our century. So if they were to identify “the conclusion of the system of things” they would, in some way, have to differ from like conditions in previous times. In what ways?
First, every feature of the sign would have to be observed by one generation. Jesus said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all things occur.”—Luke 21:32.
Third, the combined conditions or symptoms would have to grow progressively worse during this period. “All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress,” Jesus said.—Matthew 24:8.
Fourth, the occurrence of all these things would be accompanied by a change in people’s attitudes and actions. Jesus warned: “The love of the greater number will cool off.” The apostle Paul also foretold this worsening of attitudes.—Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
How Serious Are the Symptoms?
Do not play down the seriousness of today’s conditions, saying, “Oh, but it could be so much worse!” Does the person with the symptoms of a disease—let us say a rather high fever—simply ignore it because, after all, “it could be much worse”? Rather, ask yourself: If today’s symptoms do not indicate that we are living in “the last days . . . hard to deal with,” just how much worse must they get before they will?
GLOBAL WAR: A European historian said of August 1914: “During the first days of this fateful month one of the most peaceful periods our continent had ever experienced came to an end.” Even the second world war did not ensure peace. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims: “Not for a single day since 1945 has there been any real peace in the world . . . Peace experts have counted 130 wars, civil wars, uprisings, genocidal conflicts and terrorist campaigns since the end of World War II. Almost one hundred countries have been involved and some 35 million people have lost their lives, far more than in the First World War.”
FOOD SHORTAGES: World War I was followed by serious food shortages. But the problem of hunger at the end of World War II was so serious that the first permanent specialized agency formed by the United Nations was the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), designed to alleviate the problem.
What about today? As to the findings of a 20-member Commission on World Hunger, it was reported: “The hunger problem today is vastly different from that of the past. . . . Now there is so little food in so many parts of the world, year after year, that fully 25% of the globe’s population is hungry or undernourished, and one person in eight suffers from debilitating malnutrition.”
EARTHQUAKES: Earthquakes occur so regularly “in one place after another” that many pay them little attention. Yet in 1973 the publication Earthquakes warned: “One may have the very uncomfortable feeling that we are again heading for a period of increased earthquake activity. This feeling, very unfortunately, is correct.” Three years later, T’ang-shan, China, was struck by what an American specialist called “the greatest earthquake disaster in the history of mankind.” And how many of the major quakes since then do you remember? Perhaps the ones in Algeria, Italy, North Yemen, Colombia and Iran?
FEAR: In the summer of 1983, German journalist Wolfgang Wagner wrote: “Confidence in the future seems to have withered like trees beset by acid rain . . . We have reason enough for the fear that has befallen so many. Killing and murdering has gone on throughout history, but never before was man capable, as he is now, of annihilating himself. Destruction of animal and plant species has always taken place, but never before have so many species been wiped out so quickly.”
Speaking of this century as “the Century of Fear,” Hamburg’s newspaper Die Welt says: “Never before has there been so much reading material about fear as at present.”
DISEASE: World War I was followed by a terrible flu epidemic that took the lives of at least 20 million people, double the number of those who died on the battlefields. Now, Dr. William Foege, director of Atlanta’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control), says: “I fully anticipate that possibly in our lifetime we will see another flu strain that is as deadly as 1918.” He adds: “Once you get rid of one disease, a new one becomes visible.”
In recent years a number of mysterious “new” ailments have cropped up, Legionnaires’ disease, toxic shock syndrome and the much-feared AIDS, to mention only three.
CRIME: Most people do not need to hear statistics to be convinced that crime is on the increase—even in unexpected places. A 1979 news report says: “For years China has cultivated an image of itself as a peace-loving society that had eradicated much of the violent crime plaguing the decadent capitalist West. No longer . . . [Today] the country appears to be in the midst of a nationwide crime wave.”
Today’s crime is truly crime with a difference. According to one report, ‘the curse of violent crime is rampant not just in the ghettos of depressed cities but everywhere. More significant, the crimes are becoming more brutal, more irrational, more random—and therefore all the more frightening.’
Good News in the Midst of Bad
But another significant part of Jesus’ sign was this: “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) The good news is that since 1914 God’s Kingdom has been ruling from the heavens! Soon it will destroy Satan’s system and then start solving the problems resulting from the global wars, food shortages, earthquakes, fear, disease and crime. Think of it! These and all other disagreeable symptoms of a dying society will soon be gone. Could there be any better news than that?—Compare Psalm 46:9; 72:16; Isaiah 33:24; Daniel 2:44; Micah 4:3, 4; Revelation 21:3-5.
For this reason, Jesus, after calling attention in his sign to the various symptoms of Satan’s dying society, said: “But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.
These things did indeed begin occurring in 1914. The fulfillment of Jesus’ sign since 1914 points back to that date as being the correct one to which Bible chronology had pointed forward. Yes, 1914 is indeed a focal point of Bible prophecy!