As we have shown in the last chapter, the apostles and their converts looked for Christ to return in their own lifetime. They did not affirm that He would but they believed that He might. But eighteen centuries have passed since then and yet He has not come. The question therefore arises, What evidence is there that the second advent of our Lord is now nigh at hand - that is, nigh as judged even by human measurement of time? May there not be another eighteen centuries which must yet run their weary course before the Sun of righteousness arises with healing in His wings? Have we any means for ascertaining the approximate period when our Lord may be expected to appear? Have we any good ground for believing that another long interval will not yet elapse before the Saviour comes back again?
In connection with other great events which God has brought about in human affairs, fair warning has been given to announce their approach. The Flood-judgment, the length of sojourn and the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt, and the time of our Lord's first advent, may be cited as illustrations. Thus, before each of the marked interpositions of God in the past, plain intimation of their approach was given. Has then the time - the approximate time - of the great consummating event of all events been left shrouded in such secrecy that it is impossible for us to know anything about it until it arrives? Nay verily. The inspired language of Holy Writ declares - "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess. 5:1-6). Words could scarcely be plainer.
God does not desire His people to remain in ignorance concerning the period when His Son shall return. Just as of old, He said concerning the impending destruction of Sodom "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" so has God graciously taken the Church into His counsels and revealed to us a "part of His ways" at least. We do not know the day or the hour, we are unable to determine the precise year when the Redeemer shall return, but we do know that His coming is now near at hand. We know it from the testimony of God's living oracles. He has not left us in darkness, but has placed in our hands the more sure Word of Prophecy "whereunto we do well that we take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in our hearts." The prophets of Old Testament times are commended because that they "searched what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet. 1:11); surely, then, a similar "searching" is commendable in us.
As we study the Old Testament Scriptures we discover that a number of "Signs" were given to herald the first advent of Christ. There were conditions to be realized and certain events which would come to pass, and as these conditions were met and as these events occurred those who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38) saw in these things so many intimations of the approach of Messiah's advent and His public manifestation. The Scriptures of Israel revealed the fact that the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2); they foretold that He should be a lineal descendant of David and therefore of the Tribe of Judah (Ps. 132:11); they announced that a forerunner should go before Him make straight His way (Isaiah 40:3); they went so far as to set forth the approximate date of His appearing, namely, before the scepter had departed from Judah (Gen. 49:10), while the Temple was yet standing (Mal. 3:1), and sometime before the sixty-ninth week of Daniel had run its course (Dan. 9:24-27). In like manner, the New Testament Scriptures also record certain "Signs" in connection with our Lord's second coming to the earth. We say "to the earth," for let it be distinctly understood that Scripture interposes nothing whatever between the present hour and the coming of Christ for His saints, when He descends into the air and catches them up to Himself. All the "Signs" recorded in the Word of God have to do with His return to the earth. But as there will be only a comparatively short interval between the two stages in the second coming of Christ, the Signs which proclaim the one announce the other. If the fulfillment of certain inspired predictions declare that the return of Christ to the earth is near at hand, then His descent to the air is so much nearer still. If we know that the end of the Age itself is now almost reached, then it is doubly certain that the rapture of the saints may occur at any hour. Yet, we repeat, the various Signs to which we shall call our readers' attention have to do with our Lord's return to the earth. We repeat this for the sake of warning, for as another has said, the business of the Christian is not to be looking for signs but listening for a Shout (Haldeman). Yet, while we ought not to be looking for signs we may look at them (W. Scott).
As we have said, the Old testament Scriptures foretold certain things concerning the Lord when He should appear: fore-announced Signs were to characterize the times of His advent. But the Jews failed to discern these Signs and the Saviour reproached them for their failure. Said He, "When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the Signs of the Times?" (Matt. 16:2,3). The reason why the Pharisees and Sadducees were blind to the significance of the things which were then transpiring before their eyes, was that they were ignorant of the contents of that Book in which these Signs were recorded. This is clear from the words of our Lord on many occasions - "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures" (Matt. 22:29). The reason why they were ignorant of the contents and real meaning of the Scriptures was because they had substituted their own "tradition" for the Word of God (Mark 7:13). And history has repeated itself! We are living in a day when the vast majority of people are unable to "discern the Signs of the Times," when our religious leaders "err, not knowing the Scriptures" because they are following their own "tradition" rather than the Word of God. The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees because they could "discern the face of the sky" but would not take the necessary pains to "discern the Signs of the Times." Then let us beware lest we fall through the same example of unbelief. Let us approach the Scriptures reverently and prayerfully, seeking to discover our position on the calendar of prophecy and thus be prepared for the solemn yet blessed events now so near at hand.
While it is true that the great majority of the Jews who lived during the days of our Lord's first advent failed to discern the Signs of the Times and in consequence did not profit by the announcements of their prophets, nevertheless, there were a few who were "waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25), And so it is now. By the grace of God, there is a remnant today who are reading the Signs of the Times in the light cast by the prophetic Word. At some of these Signs we shall now look. And