SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 25, 2012
 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country.  When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.  And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.  He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.  What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
-- Mark 12:1-12, ESV
The signs of the times are everywhere. It’s almost Christmas! The town is painted green and red. Christmas trees are on display. Christmas songs are playing in the public square. Manger scenes are put out to point unmistakably to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as there are many signs that point back to the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Bible indicates that there will be signs that point to His second coming as well. Many suggest that these signs will first be planted in the nation of Israel. As any daily newspaper indicates, there is a lot happening in the Middle East these days, especially in Israel. Are these events signs of the times of the second coming of the Lord?
Today I’ll let Jesus speak for Himself in a pungent parable to the nation of Israel. In it He reveals three signs of the times that foretell the destruction of Israel and the end of the Old Covenant. I think the same three signs point the way to another time of destruction, this time for Israel, the Middle East, and the whole world. Read Jesus’ prophecy, and look for all three signs of the times, in Mark 12:1-12.
A Biblical/Historical Interpretation of the Parable
Elementary Bible students can easily interpret the key characters in this parable our Lord preached during His last week on earth, the first time He came. The “man” is God, the “vineyard” occupied by “tenants” is the nation of Israel, each “servant” represents a prophet or preacher of God’s word, and the “beloved son” is no doubt a reference to the Son of God, the Savior of the word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Likewise, the meaning is clear and prophetic, since Jesus preached this parable in the days just before it was fulfilled by His death on the cross. Ever since God chose Israel to be His special people, they sinned and rebelled against Him. God sent judges, good kings, and a steady parade of prophets to call them to godly repentance and good faith. Sometimes they heeded and were helped. Most times and more often as time went by, they rebelled and moved farther and farther away from God. After so many of His prophets were mistreated and killed, God sent the ultimate prophet, His only begotten Son, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and offer a new and everlasting covenant. And for this, the Israelites conspired with the politicians of Rome to betray, arrest, beat, and kill the beloved son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The end of this story, to which the parable attests and other biblical texts corroborate, is that Israel was utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was burned, Jewish residents were slaughtered wholesale, and the remnant of the race was scattered across the globe. The man the Jewish leaders killed, Jesus of Nazareth, rose again and became “the cornerstone” (ref. Psalm 118:23-23) of Christianity, the only true religion and right path to the true and righteous God. Israel became an irrelevant nation and Judaism an outdated religion.
As usual, this was “the Lord’s doing,” for His glory and the good of His people. As usual, what God says always comes true. And, as usual, there are usually some signs pointing to what will happen before it happens.
What were the signs of the times that pointed to the Lord’s death and the destruction of Israel? Are the same signs in view now? Do they point to another destruction of Israel that may be broader in scope? Do they have anything to say to Americans? Do they foreshadow the second coming of Jesus Christ?
A Personal/Spiritual Interpretation of the Parable
This parable points out three places where the nation of Israel went wrong. We can plant a sign in each place. Israel did not read these signs two thousand years ago and it led to their destruction. And since that time, even though a political coop brought back the geopolitical nation of Israel in 1948, there has been no peace in the Middle East, and there never will be, until the Prince of Peace lands on earth with a rod of iron to bring His ultimate and eternal rule.
Sign number one is a man speaking while other people turn their backs to him. The man could be Isaiah or Jeremiah, John the Baptist or even Jesus, or any number of men and women who for years have preached the gospel and the word of God with clarity and integrity. The people with their backs turned represent the vast majority of the world that will not hear nor head God’s word. The world pays attention to Fox News and CNN, Wall Street and Washington, and to the political and military turmoil in the Middle East. They must be looking for a sign, but they are the sign. They are the ones turning their backs to the word of God. Once again, there will come a day when God says enough is enough. When the Israelites refused to listen to Jesus’ parable and killed Him, destruction was upon them within one generation. What will God do, and when, to a world in which an extremely small minority believes and behaves according to the word of God?
Sign number two is an empty fruit basket. The parable proclaims that God demands fruit, but the tenants would give none. The preaching of John the Baptist demanded “fruit in keeping with repentance” (ref. Matthew 3:8). Jesus expects His followers to “bear much fruit” (ref. John 15:1-16). The old and new covenants are both evangelical in nature, with the recipients required to bring glory, and people, to God (ref. Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 8:23; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). But where are the love, joy, and peace of God pervasive in this world in which we live? Where are large numbers of people truly becoming disciples, and not merely making decisions, for the Lord Jesus Christ? Maybe we are not working hard enough to produce fruit. Maybe they are just not listening anymore (see sign number one). Maybe God will be patient a little while longer. Maybe He will not, and the second coming is knocking at the door.
Sign number three is a crucifix over a closed Bible in a vacant church. As surely as one thing leads to another, so the first two signs lead to the third. In Jesus’ day, they would not head the prophets and they would not give God fruit, but instead persecuted and put to death the Son of God. In our day, the same signs are flashing. People will not listen to God. People will not lead godly lives. Bibles collect dust. Church pews are emptying at an alarming rate. Where are the people to give love, respect, reverence, worship, and obedience to God? They are few and far between in Israel, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, especially the United States of America.
I am not a dispensationalist, so I don’t see anything happening in Israel of spiritual significance that has not already been happening for two thousand years. I am not a pessimist, but rather a student of Scripture and culture, and I can plainly see that one is not affecting the other very much anymore. I am fully devoted, Bible-believing follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and a responsible member of His church. Therefore, I am going to celebrate sincerely the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. And, on the day He returns, I am going to celebrate again, only with more fullness and freedom, because then I will see Him face to face.
I see the signs, all three of them, getting bigger and bolder every day. I see people in my country turning their backs on God in the same way they did in God’s country of Israel two thousand years ago. I see Christianity plagued by nominal belief and hypocrisy instead of bearing the precious fruit that belongs to God. I see the death of cross-centered, Christ-centered preaching that makes nothing of the death of Christ for depraved sinners, and churches becoming either empty entertainment centers or literally empty in the process. With my eyes I can see the signs and with my ears I am listening for that knock on the door. I am going to be ready. Are you?