Who Can Read the “Sign” Aright?
“Hypocrites, you know how to examine the outward appearance of earth and sky, but how is it you do not know how to examine this particular time?”—LUKE 12:56.
1, 2. What could Jesus’ enemies determine from the sky’s appearance, but what could they not understand?
WISE mariners know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, and they heed its indications. As a well-known rhyme puts matters: “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight,/Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”
2 The Lord Jesus Christ made a similar point even more dramatically when confronted by his enemies. Concerning that encounter the Gospel writer Luke reported: “Then he went on to say also to the crowds: ‘When you see a cloud rising in western parts, at once you say, “A storm is coming,” and it turns out so. And when you see that a south wind is blowing, you say, “There will be a heat wave,” and it occurs. Hypocrites, you know how to examine the outward appearance of earth and sky, but how is it you do not know how to examine this particular time?’”—Luke 12:54-56.
3. What “sign” proving that Jesus was the Messiah were his foes unable to obscure?
3 Those proud foes could forecast the weather, but they were too hypocritical and spiritually ignorant to understand matters of much greater significance. Jesus performed various signs that helped honest-hearted ones to believe in him. (John 2:23) However, especially was his death on Passover Day of 33 C.E. and his resurrection on the third day a “sign” proving that he was the Messiah, or Christ. (Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:30) Naturally, Jesus’ enemies tried to obscure that “sign.” (Matthew 27:62–28:20; Acts 4:1-4) But before he ascended to heaven upwards of 500 Jews became witnesses of his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) Similarly, today there is a “sign” that cannot be obscured. Reading it aright is a matter of life and death. But what is that “sign”? And who can accurately read it?
The “Sign” for Our Day
4. Today, what “sign” is in evidence, and what are some of its features? (Matthew 24:3)
4 Jesus’ disciples had asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” In response, Christ foretold unparalleled wars, food shortages, earthquakes, and other features of the “sign” of his invisible “presence” in Kingdom power. A principal feature is the globe-encircling work of Kingdom preaching now being done in 203 lands by over 2,840,000 witnesses of Jehovah. Watch Tower publications have often pointed to this and other evidence now fulfilling the “sign” of Jesus’ “presence.”—Matthew, chapters 24, 25; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21.
5. Why was Jesus not overstating the case when he called the first-century Jews “a wicked and adulterous generation”?
5 There is no denying the fact that since the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the evidence in fulfillment of the “sign” has been multiplying. What significance should this have for us? Well, we do not want to be like the Jews of 19 centuries ago who were good weather-forecasters, but who ignored the plain evidence before their eyes and did not want to draw the conclusion to which it logically led. Long before that, God had empowered Moses to perform three signs to prove his divine authorization to the suffering Israelites. (Exodus 4:1-31) But in the face of many more than three signs, the Jews of that first-century generation were unwilling to accept as the Messiah the One greater than Moses. (John 4:54; Hebrews 2:2-4) So Jesus was not overstating the case when he called them “a wicked and adulterous generation.”—Matthew 12:39.
6. Informed people are now saying what about world conditions?
6 People of this 20th-century generation who do not desire or believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ do not read aright the “sign” of this system’s end. But present conditions are by no means heartening, as shown by the following samples:
“United Nations Secretary General Javier-Perez de Cuellar has observed that the world has come to a most critical stage in the evolution of international affairs and the drive towards a just, peaceful and stable international order seems to have been weakened. . . . ‘The . . . decline of mutual trust among nations provides a fertile breeding ground for tension and conflict,’ the UN Secretary General said.”—Indian Express, October 22, 1983.
“Many of us have been saying for years that nuclear war would kill many millions of innocent people and would make large portions of the world uninhabitable . . . A group of respected scientists has reached an even more dismal conclusion—that a nuclear war, or even one general nuclear exchange by the superpowers, could touch off a worldwide climatic disaster that in turn could kill billions rather than millions and possibly could end human life on earth. The two-year study was made for the Conference on the Long-term Worldwide Biological Consequences of Nuclear War. Its conclusions were endorsed by more than 100 scientists . . . Carl Sagan . . . put the consequences of nuclear war in stark terms: ‘The extinction of the human species would be a real possibility.’”—The Express (Easton, Pa.), November 3, 1983.
7. Where must lovers of life in a better world look for reassurance?
7 Such is the gloomy outlook of certain responsible, authoritative commentators. It is especially dark because they cannot point to any way out of the disaster they envision. Surely, lovers of life in a better world want hope-inspiring information. Happily, there is a way out of impending world calamity, for there were survivors of an equally threatening global peril. Why, if there had been no survivors of the Deluge in Noah’s day, the earth would not now teem with over 4,000,000,000 human inhabitants! Only one book—the Holy Bible—gives us an accurate account of how only eight humans, along with specimens of animal life, survived that global catastrophe.
8. In contrast with others, what were Jesus’ disciples to do when the present system of things was about to be removed?
8 Since the same reliable Book gives us Jesus’ description of the conditions that would obtain on the earth when the present collapsing system of things would be removed, should we not try to read that “sign” aright? Thirty-seven years before Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman legions in 70 C.E., Jesus gave that long list of features of the composite “sign” that would precede the global catastrophe prefigured by the Flood. And among other things, he said: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and 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. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 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.
9. From 1895 to 1931, how was this journal’s mission indicated on its front cover?
9 Part of that prophecy appeared on the front cover of the Watch Tower issues of January 1, 1895, through October 1, 1931. Above that Bible quotation was a watchtower sending out rays of light, while a raging sea beat against the rock foundation upon which the tower stood. Thus this journal indicated its mission to a generation, members of which are yet alive and are reading this very issue.
10. How can we avoid suffering the fears experienced by human leaders today?
10 Today, men of affairs, whose hearts are growing faint out of fear, place their own interpretation upon features of the composite “sign.” But our best interpreter is Jesus Christ, and if we attach to the “sign” the significance he gave it, we shall not suffer the fears common to the human leaders who do not know the way out of the present world mess. Rather, we shall rejoice because our deliverance from this wicked system is getting near.
The Marked Time for the “Sign” to Appear
11. How did Jesus indicate that world events betokening the end would occur right on time?
11 World events are happening right on time. How so? Well, before Jesus gave the prophecy recorded at Luke 21:25-28, he foretold the second destruction of Jerusalem. True to his word, it occurred in 70 C.E. As for the surviving Jews, Jesus said: “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” Those nations were non-Jewish, or Gentile. Hence, the period of trampling is often called “the times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24, NW; King James Version) When did they end? Well, more is involved than what happened to earthly Jerusalem. So the date when the Israelis took over control of the old walled city of Jerusalem, or the fact that it is the capital of the modern independent nation of Israel, is not the determining factor. God’s timetable is what matters!
12. When did the Gentile Times start, how long were they, and when did they end?
12 The Gentile Romans began trampling down Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. But before them the Gentile Greeks, Persians, and Babylonians had trodden down that “city of the great King” Jehovah. (Matthew 5:34, 35) The Babylonians destroyed it and its temple in 607 B.C.E. From that time onward, the Gentile trampling upon what represented God’s Kingdom began, and the Gentile Times really started. Those Gentile Times were to be seven in number, each corresponding with a prophetic year of 360 days. On the basis of “a day for a year,” all “seven times” would total 2,520 years. (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6; Daniel, chapter 4) Beginning with Jerusalem’s desolation in 607 B.C.E., they would end in 1914 C.E.
13. Since when have Bible students known the date for the Gentile Times to end?
13 As early as 1880, the Watch Tower magazine said that the Gentile Times would extend to the year 1914. Then with the publication of the book The Time Is at Hand in 1889, Bible students earth wide were further alerted to the fact that the Gentile Times would end in the autumn of 1914.
14. Despite what happened to Jerusalem in 1948, why can we say that the Gentile Times ended in 1914?
14 Well, then, in that year, did old Jerusalem cease to be trampled on by non-Jewish, or Gentile, nations? No, for in 1914 the historic city was still in the hands of the Turkish Empire, the ally of imperial Germany. On December 9, 1917, it was taken from the Turks by British troops under General Allenby. Jerusalem continued under British rule by mandate of the League of Nations until 1948. Then the Jews rose up and captured the western part of modern Jerusalem outside the old walled city. The walled city was taken over by the Muhammadans. How, then, can we say that the Gentile Times ended in 1914? Because in that year the government of the great King Jehovah was born in heaven.
15, 16. (a) When did old Jerusalem cease to be “the city of the great King” Jehovah, but what more exalted Jerusalem exists? (b) Where, then, would Jehovah have installed Jesus Christ as King?
15 When Jesus was on earth, the temple of God stood in Jerusalem, and Jesus worshiped there. So Jerusalem could then be called “the city of the great King” Jehovah. (Matthew 5:34, 35) But certainly at the miraculous ripping of the inner temple curtain at the death of Jesus on Passover Day of 33 C.E., it ceased to be Jehovah’s royal city. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Gentile Romans in 70 C.E. confirmed that fact. Happily for the Jewish Christians then, and for all Christians since, there is another Jerusalem, a more exalted one, “heavenly Jerusalem.”—Hebrews 12:22.
16 In line with this fact, Jesus’ prophecy recorded at Luke 21:24 began with an application to earthly Jerusalem but must end with reference to “heavenly Jerusalem.” Yes, for “heavenly Jerusalem” has replaced earthly Jerusalem as “the city of the great King” Jehovah God. There, in that celestial “city,” was the place for “the great King” Jehovah to install his glorified Son Jesus Christ at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914.
17. At the end of the Gentile Times, what divine command was given to the enthroned King Jesus Christ, and who offered themselves willingly for his service?
17 That was the divinely appointed time for Jehovah to issue to his enthroned Son Jesus Christ the command embodied in the words of Psalm 110:2, 3: “The rod of your strength Jehovah will send out of Zion, saying: ‘Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.’ Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day of your military force. In the splendors of holiness, from the womb of the dawn, you have your company of young men just like dewdrops.” True to this prophecy, the dedicated “people” who followed in Jesus’ footsteps and recognized the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 offered themselves willingly to serve as announcers of the newly begun rule of Jehovah God in heavenly Zion by means of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the so-called Christian nations did not submit willingly to Jehovah’s newly enthroned King. Actually, they proved to be his “enemies,” for they engaged in the first world war of human history over the issue of world domination. Worldwide they also interfered with the proclamation of God’s Kingdom.
18. In 1918, what proof was there of enmity against God’s Kingdom?
18 Enmity against God’s Kingdom became particularly evident in 1918. On May 8, 1918, the editor of the Watch Tower magazine and a number of his fellow workers were arrested amid war hysteria. Later, on June 21, they were sentenced to many years of imprisonment in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. Only after the war had ended and they had spent nine months in prison were these ministers of God’s Kingdom admitted to bail. In due course, they were exonerated of all the false charges lodged against them.
19. After World War I, what position did the Federal Council of American churches take toward the League of Nations?
19 World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and in the following month the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America publicly declared itself to be in favor of the then-proposed League of Nations. That religious body declared the League to be “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” Ignoring that religious recommendation, for political reasons the United States of America refused to join the League, joining only the World Court. Yet the League went into operation at the start of 1920, and the members of the Federal Council of Churches gave it their blessing and support.
20. What position did Jehovah’s people take toward the League, and what did they start to advertise?
20 On the other hand, the Watch Tower magazine and Jehovah’s people circulating it refused to recognize the League of Nations as the political substitute for God’s Kingdom. They never recognized it as the fulfillment of the model prayer as taught by Jesus Christ: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10) They did not offer themselves for the service of that man-made substitute, that fake! Rather, they gave their allegiance to the real Kingdom of God in the hands of Jesus Christ in “heavenly Jerusalem.” With God’s help, they had read aright the “sign” of Jesus’ “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.” So they set out to advertise the Kingdom worldwide.
What Is Your Answer?
□ What “sign” is in evidence today, and what are some of its features?
□ How can we avoid the fears now experienced by human leaders?
□ When did the Gentile Times begin and end?
□ In what “Jerusalem” has Jehovah installed Jesus Christ as King?
□ How did Jehovah’s people view the League of Nations?
[Chart on page 11]
October, 607 B.C.E. — October, 1 B.C.E. = 606 years
October, 1 B.C.E. — October, 1914 C.E. = 1,914 years
SEVEN GENTILE TIMES = 2,520 years
[Picture on page 10]
Those who read the “sign” aright can survive the end of this system, as eight persons survived the Flood