SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
JANUARY 24, 2016
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! ’ or ‘There he is! ’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
— Matthew 24:15-28, ESV
Do you remember the two questions asked by the disciples that occasioned the “Olivet Discourse” (ref. Matthew 24:3)? The disciples wanted to know when the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and they wanted to know what the world would be like when Jesus comes the second time. Jesus’ answer to them is a double entendre which accurately predicts both the end of the Temple, a day which occurred in AD 70, and the end of the world, a day which will occur, although no one knows the exact date.
A key event is introduced in this paragraph that foreshadowed the ends of both the Old Covenant and New Covenant. It occurred about 2,200 years ago, 200 years before the Lord preached this particular sermon on this particular mount. It kicks off a series of four signs of the times that point us to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Abomination of Desolation
The first clear sign that Jesus Christ is about to return is “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (ref. vs. 15). To get the background, see Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11. Then, create an abstract building with an elevator that will stop on all three floors of specific fulfillment.
Daniel spoke of an event that would signify an era of extreme blasphemy and hostility against the God of Israel. I believe his prophecy has been fulfilled and will be fulfilled. History has shown us two fulfillments, and prophecy predicts yet one more, which shoots a flare into the sky signaling the soon second coming of Jesus Christ.
In 168 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanies, one of the rulers over Palestine who bridged the Greek and Roman empires, committed “the abomination of desolation.” He ordered his troops into the Jerusalem Temple, proclaimed himself as god, and sacrificed swine on the altar of the God of Israel. It was abominable, it desolated Jewish worship, and it blasphemed the word of God.
In AD 70, General Titus of the Roman army marched into Jerusalem and committed “the abomination of desolation.” His soldiers carried banners depicting Zeus, their chief god. In the midsts of a wholesale slaughter of Jewish people, they raised their banners in the Jerusalem Temple, looted its contents, and then destroyed it with fire. It was abominable, it desolated Jewish worship, and it blasphemed the word of God, even though the word of God was already being mediated by a new and better covenant, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Prophetically, “the abomination of desolation” must be committed again before Christ comes again (ref. 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4; Revelation 13:14). One way this could be fulfilled would be by a modern-day destruction of the nation of Israel, which is horrifically plausible if you take note of current events in the Middle East. I am not a Dispensationalist, but I can see the historic parallels and prophetic relevancy of this interpretation. The Old Covenant has lost its relevancy, but it could be that the Jewish people are still somewhat relevant when it comes to signs of the times of the end of the world.
Another interpretation, broader in scope and directly pertaining to the New Covenant expression of God’s people, the church, would be an age of extreme blasphemy and mockery of God, God’s word, and God’s people. Our generation is the first in Christian history to witness such abominations as an art exhibit depicting a crucifix in a bottle of urine (Andres Serrano), a major motion picture depicting Jesus as sex-starved pervert (Martin Scorsese), a renowned recording artist calling Jesus an enlightened gay man (Elton John), and a leading talk show host mock the Lord’s Supper by proposing a “snackrifice” of potato chips (Stephen Colbert). Serious Christians today are considered dangerous and extremist by this present world. Sexual liberty now triumphs over religious liberty, biblical boundaries for sex and marriage are being erased, and more men and women in pulpits and professorships deny the cardinal doctrines of the faith than affirm them. This, to me, seems to be “the abomination of desolation.”
Such godlessness and attacks upon God’s people have a chilling effect. Jesus calls it “great tribulation” (ref. vs. 21). It has happened and is happening to the Jewish people. It has happened and is happening to the church. It will not stop, until Christ comes again.
The Olivet Discourse concurs with Jesus’ later Revelation to the Apostle John. The world apart from God concocts a beastly system of governments, economies, and religions that cause great trouble, great tribulation, for the people of God. Anti-semitism and the anti-Christ walk hand in hand, or perhaps are two hands of the same beast.
We have seen the day when Antiochus, Titus, and Adolf Hitler considered Jews to be non-human, stripped them of their basic human rights, confiscated their property, destroyed their religious meeting places, and put them to death. We would like to think this horror has ended with the aid of enlightened European and American democracies which provide safe havens for Jewish people, not to mention the recreation of the state of Israel in 1948. But could such a horror happen again? It certainly could, if Europe and America continue to turn their backs on Israel and the mullahs in Iran and ISIS have their way.
What about anti-Christian persecution? It is hard to feel “great tribulation” in a country like the USA, but please remember we are only 5% of the world’s population and a relative dot on the big map of human history. Around the world, more people have been martyred for their faith in Christ in the past century than all the previous centuries combined, and incidents seem to be intensifying. Even in our polite society, Christians are being marginalized and mocked in ways we never could have imagined just a generation ago.
Jews in Palestine fled from Antiochus, Israelis escaped Titus and fled to Pella and Masada, but what are modern Jews and Christians supposed to do? Jews should run to Jesus Christ, the end of the Old Covenant and the Savior of the New Covenant people of God. Christians have nowhere to run, but to Christ, and we must stand our ground even in the face of “great tribulation,” like so many of our brave brothers and sisters have done.
False Christs and Christians
As we urge people to turn to Christ, let us urge them to turn to the right Christ, for there is only one Way, one Truth, and one Life that can bring us safely to the true and living God (ref. John 14:6). For “false Christs and false prophets will arise,” especially in the last days, according to Jesus. They will not be ugly, but impressive. They will not be ineffectual, but do great things and build great organizations. They will not be repulsive, but very persuasive. Many will follow them, straight to eternal destruction.
False messiahs are not limited to religion. It has been determined that Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV Epiphanies, General Titus, Caesar, Hitler, Lenin, Mao Zedong, and many others who tried to save the world for themselves were no saviors at all. They built and starred on great stages of the world, but died. There have been no reports of their resurrection and ascension to Heaven.
False prophets have arisen through the ages and abound in this present age, promising miracles and wealth and saying little or nothing about the gospel of Jesus Christ. People follow them in droves. Though they boast of great things and pull rabbits out of their hats on stage, yet there are never any scientific verifications of their so-called miracles. Their populist messages, when tried against the pure word of God, are found rife with false promises and heresies.
Here is a sign of the time that has repeatedly flashed in the highways and byways of the world. Christian are called into these same highways and byways to proclaim the true gospel of the true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For those who flee error and embrace gospel truth, The Lord has promised us a kingdom which He has built by His vicarious death and resurrection from the dead. One day, one great day to which all the signs are pointing, He will come again, like lightning.
The last sign of the time in this section of Jesus’ sermon is “lightning.” The “lightning” is a symbol of the certain and swift second “coming of the Son of Man,” the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This fourth sign also serves to comfort and temper believers, while it should scare the, you know what, out of unbelievers.
Go back to the last verse of the previous paragraph. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (ref. Matthew 24:14).
The light of the gospel began in the eastern hemisphere and spread to the western, and now it is going around again. Christ will not come again until the light of the gospel has totally covered the entire earth. Christ will not come again until the last of “the elect” has freely and willingly repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the midst of abominations, tribulations, and heresies, there is still time to reach that unreached people group, that lost loved one, that last soul for Christ.
But when that last soul is won, life in Christ will be available no more. Life on this planet, as we now know it, will be over. Nuclear armament will not end it. Global warming will not end it. The second coming of Jesus Christ, fulfilling all prophecies including the outpouring of the wrath of God upon evil and unbelief, will bring out the “vultures” of eternal death. If I were an unbeliever, a nominal Christian, or just a run-of-the-mill pagan, this would instill in me a healthy and serious fear of God, and a concern that the time to be saved by Him could be gone in a flash of “lightning.”
We still have time. Let us not take our time for granted. Let us look around and see that the signs of the times are indeed everywhere. Let us pray with the Apostle John, “Amen, come Lord Jesus” (ref. Revelation 22:12), while we earnestly obey the voice of the Lord to “make disciples of all nations” (ref. Matthew 28:19). We never know when the “lightning” will strike.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org