Seeing the “Sign” With Understanding
“While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: ‘Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?’”—MATTHEW 24:3.
1. Why have the world-shaking events since 1914 not been accidental, and what did Jesus’ disciples ask him?
THE world-shaking events since World War I of 1914-18 have not been accidental. They were foretold 19 centuries ago by Jesus Christ. He had told his disciples about many startling things to come, and for that reason they asked him: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matthew 24:3.
2. Why did the apostles want to know more than what would happen before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E.?
2 Those apostles wanted to know more than what would occur between that time and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus did not return either visibly or invisibly on that calamitous occasion. Nor did the system of things that had existed since the Deluge conclude at Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. In reality, “the sign of [Jesus’ unseen] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things” was due to appear long after the earthly lifetime of his apostles.
3. (a) What shows that “this good news of the kingdom” was not preached by Christendom’s religions during the post-apostolic apostasy? (b) Will God’s Kingdom fail when the United Nations fails?
3 By means of prophetic parables regarding God’s Kingdom, Jesus had told his apostles about the religious rebellion that was to take place after his return to heaven and their death. During all the time of that apostasy, would there be any worldwide preaching of “this good news of the kingdom”? (Matthew 24:14) Certainly not by Christendom’s religions, when as late as December 1918 the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America hailed the then proposed League of Nations as “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” In spite of that religious endorsement, however, the League failed at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. But with that failure, did the true Kingdom of God fail? No! Nor will it fail when the League’s successor, the United Nations, fails shortly. Rather, that divine Kingdom will destroy the United Nations, no matter how many heavenly angels may be needed to do this!
4. Why was the Kingdom-preaching work to be part of the “sign”?
4 All the foregoing helps to make possible a sharper understanding of this important fact: It was in response to the request for a “sign” that Jesus told his followers: “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) This signifies that such earth-wide preaching of the Kingdom would be part of the composite “sign” that would mark “the conclusion of the system of things.” It would also be visible evidence of Jesus Christ’s invisible “presence.” The manner in which Jesus lined up the succession of events prior to his prophecy about the Kingdom-preaching work is noteworthy. In part he said:
5. What are some features of the “sign” that Jesus mentioned before foretelling worldwide Kingdom preaching?
5 “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. . . . And because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Matthew 24:6-13.
6. Why are the features of the “sign” not just a continuation of a previous pattern of things?
6 True, there had been wars, food shortages, earthquakes, and pestilences down through the centuries of our Common Era until 1914. (Luke 21:11) Nevertheless, there had been nothing to compare with what has taken place since the Gentile Times ended in that momentous year. The international strife that was surprisingly stirred up in the summer of 1914 grew into a military engagement in which 28 nations eventually took part. Along with that human upheaval came natural earthquakes. There were food shortages, or famines, and in the final year of that world war there came the thieflike pestilence called the Spanish influenza that took the lives of more than 20,000,000 humans. All of this was not just a continuation of the previously occurring pattern of things. It was the start of a series of events making up a “sign” that this system of things is in its foretold “time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4) The Bible’s last book—The Apocalypse, or Revelation—makes this certain.
7. Why was the book of Revelation recorded, and what would many things therein “presented . . . in signs” signify?
7 The apostle John, who received the Revelation, was commanded to write it down for a special purpose. What purpose? This: “To show [God’s] slaves the things that must shortly take place.” And at the close of the Revelation the Lord Jesus Christ says: “Yes; I am coming quickly.” At that, John responds: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” Many things thus “presented . . . in signs” would, at their appearing in history, signify that we are living in “the time of the end” of this system of things. (Revelation 1:1; 22:20) Yes, they would be helpful to us in seeing the composite “sign” with understanding.
8. Who is the rider on the “white horse,” and when did God authorize him to go forth against his foes?
8 In Revelation chapter 6 appears the account of what has been called the ride of “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Appearing first is the rider of “a white horse,” the glorified Jesus Christ, going forth to make war against his foes. This he was authorized by God to do at the end of the Gentile Times, when Jesus’ foes in heaven and on earth should have submitted to his rule.—Psalm 2:1-12.
9. What is pictured by the rider on (a) the “fiery-colored” horse? (b) the “black horse”? (c) the “pale horse”?
9 The rider on the “fiery-colored” second horse pictured international war, for a military weapon, “a great sword,” was given to him. On the third mount, “a black horse,” was a rider picturing food shortage. How do we know this? Because he carried a pair of scales with which to measure out basic food supplies at inflated prices. The fourth rider, on a sickly-looking “pale horse,” pictured pestilence, for the account says: “The one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades [the grave] was closely following him.” True, this fourth rider was given authority “to kill with a long sword” of war “and with food shortage . . . and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Notably, though, he was also authorized to make victims for the grave (Hades) by means of “deadly plague.”—Revelation 6:1-8.
10. What was to occur after the fifth and sixth seals were opened, and what would earth’s inhabitants have to admit?
10 After the apostle John saw those visions of features that were to mark “the conclusion of the system of things,” he saw the opening of the prophetic scroll’s fifth and sixth seals. At that point, he saw a vision of terrifying natural phenomena, starting with “a great earthquake.” Finally, earth’s inhabitants were obliged to admit: “The great day of their wrath [that of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ] has come.” The closing of that symbolic day of wrath would signify that the end had at last come for supporters of this world.—Revelation 6:9-17.
Gathering Those Approved for Salvation
11. What illustration did Jesus use to show the certainty of what he foretold regarding his “presence” and “the conclusion of the system of things”?
11 In giving the “sign” of his “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus said: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”—Matthew 24:32-35.
12, 13. (a) What did the Jewish national calamity of 70 C.E. not signify? (b) Of what was that catastrophe a prophetic type? (c) So, what did Jesus go on to prophesy concerning his coming?
12 When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. just as Jesus had predicted, this terrible tribulation upon the Jews did not signify that he had come the second time and that his invisible presence had begun. (Matthew 24:15-21) Since the Bible uses ancient Jerusalem as a type, that shocking catastrophe of 70 C.E. was really a prophetic type. It portrayed in miniature what was to occur on a world scale after the Gentile Times ended in 1914 and therefore after Jesus Christ actually had begun his invisible presence. That is why Jesus had also said:
13 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.”—Matthew 24:29-31.
14. What covenant and sacrifice are referred to at Psalm 50:5?
14 The foretold gathering of those “chosen ones” during the conclusion of this system of things is in fulfillment of God’s command: “Gather to me my loyal ones, those concluding my covenant over sacrifice.” (Psalm 50:5) Since Jehovah calls it “my covenant,” it could not be a dedication that an individual makes to God upon becoming a Christian and that he could make binding by sacrificing himself. No, this covenant concluded between Jehovah and the “loyal ones” is God’s promised “new covenant” with the house of spiritual Israel. The sacrifice upon which that new covenant is based is the ransom sacrifice of “the Son of man,” Jesus Christ.—Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 24:30.
15. Who are the “loyal ones,” and they now serve as what to the world?
15 The “loyal ones” taken into the new covenant are made spiritual Israelites. (Luke 22:19, 20) God calls for the gathering to take place so that he can examine those gathered, approve the loyal and reject those not living up to their claims about being in his covenant, the new covenant. (Psalm 50:16) Since World War I, the evidence is that Christendom, which claims to be in the new covenant, has not proved acceptable to Jehovah God. In sharp contrast stands a small remnant of truly dedicated, baptized disciples of the new covenant’s Mediator, Jesus Christ. They have proved to be spiritual Israelites. These loyal adherents to the new covenant are the “chosen ones” whom the Son of man gathers to himself by means of his angels. They carry out the obligations of the new covenant, “my covenant,” as God calls it. Because of their activity in support of God’s Kingdom by Jesus Christ, they have become a ‘sign’ to the whole world.—Isaiah 8:18; Hebrews 2:13, 14.
16. (a) When was there a spiritual awakening for the remnant of the “loyal ones”? (b) In the parable of the ten virgins, who is the Bridegroom, and who make up his symbolic bride?
16 For that remnant of “loyal ones,” there had to be a spiritual awakening during the early part of “the conclusion of the system of things.” This was an outstanding feature of the “sign” that Jesus foretold in his great prophecy. For the remnant, the time of that awakening was one of great joy, a joy like that of the five discreet, or wise, virgins awakened by the midnight cry: “Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.” (Matthew 25:1-6) That joyous awakening occurred in the spring of 1919, when the anointed remnant began to recover from the effects of the worldwide persecution and interference they had experienced during the dark period of World War I. The Bridegroom of the parable of the ten virgins is, of course, Jesus Christ, and his symbolic bride is his loyal congregation of 144,000 members who are to be associated with him in the heavenly Kingdom. (Revelation 14:1-4) Bible chronology and modern correspondencies indicate that the Bridegroom King came to the spiritual temple in the spring of 1918. Then he began to resurrect from the dead the faithful members of the spiritual bride and to unite them to himself in the heavenly Kingdom. As the expression of the remnant of the bride, pictured by the discreet virgins, Revelation 19:7 states: “Let us rejoice and be overjoyed, and let us give him the glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has arrived and his wife has prepared herself.”
17. (a) Why could the ‘discreet virgin’ class rejoice? (b) The discreet virgins brought what along, and therefore could do what?
17 Yes, the time of the spiritual awakening of the ‘discreet virgin’ class and their coming to understand the meaning of the “sign” that began to appear in 1914 was the occasion for great rejoicing. Then applicable to them were the words: “Happy are those invited to the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.” (Revelation 19:9) In Jesus’ parable, the five discreet virgins brought along a reserve supply of illuminating oil so as to be able to relight their lamps and thus join the happy marriage procession with lighted lamps. When the Bridegroom arrived, “the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.”—Matthew 25:1-10.
18. (a) After World War I, the anointed remnant still had enough of God’s enlightening Word and his holy spirit within themselves to do what? (b) What was announced at their first postwar convention?
18 True to the picture of the five discreet virgins, the anointed remnant proceeded to give a bright and gladsome welcome to the heavenly Bridegroom, the time for whose marriage to his bridal congregation had arrived. After their spiritually disconcerting experiences during World War I, they still had enough of God’s enlightening Word and his holy spirit within themselves as “earthen vessels” to rekindle their work of enlightening mankind concerning God’s Kingdom by means of his Bridegroom-King. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Accordingly, on September 1-8, 1919, the ‘discreet virgin’ class held their first international convention at Cedar Point, Ohio. There the proposed publishing of a new magazine in addition to The Watch Tower was announced. This new journal was to be called The Golden Age, a name descriptive of the kind of age restored mankind will enjoy during the Thousand Year Reign of the Bridegroom-King Jesus Christ. That magazine is still being published, now under the name Awake!
19. (a) How did the ‘discreet virgin’ class become an outstanding feature of the “sign” of Jesus’ “presence”? (b) Who are now the happy ones on earth?
19 Shortly after that convention, the first issue of The Golden Age—that of October 1, 1919—was published. With that journal and other publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the loyal ‘virgin class’ went forth on their mission of world illumination. They launched out on the postwar work of ‘preaching this good news of the kingdom for a witness to all the nations’ before the end of this system of things would come. (Matthew 24:14) In this way the anointed remnant, the ‘discreet virgin’ class, became an outstanding feature of the composite “sign” marking Jesus’ invisible “presence” as empowered King and “the conclusion of the system of things.” That enlightening work is further weighty proof that “the time of the end” began at the close of the Gentile Times in 1914. Happy are all those who with understanding see this foretold feature of the “sign” in all its significance!
How Would You Reply?
□ Of what is the Kingdom-preaching work a feature?
□ Who or what is pictured by the rider on the white horse; the fiery-colored horse; the black horse; the pale horse?
□ The Jewish national calamity of 70 C.E. was a prophetic type of what?
□ Who constitute the ‘discreet virgin’ class, and why can they rejoice?
[Picture on page 14]
‘Tell us, what will be the sign of your presence?’