Jesus Christ pointed out the importance of discerning the signs of the times. Why did He say this, and what are the warning signs of the end times?
As terrible as tornadoes are, this article addresses even worse troubles on the horizon of end-time prophecy.
On April 27, 2014, Mark Wade and his family heard the ominous sound of tornado sirens in their town of Vilonia, Arkansas, along with urgent warnings on their television. They were getting ready to ride out the storm in their closet when a neighbor across the street yelled: “Come over! We’re going in the storm cellar!”
So Wade, his wife and 3-year-old son joined 10 other people and seven dogs in the crowded underground shelter. When they came out, their homes were gone. Nothing was left but the foundations.
“If we hadn’t gone to that cellar I don’t know if we would be here,” Wade said (NPR).
Early warning systems: discerning the signs
This is just one example of how recognizing and heeding warnings can protect us from the perilous power of the air. From biblical times, humans have stood in awe of the atmospheric forces that have unleashed deadly storms. The wisdom of the ancients included some understanding of the signs that preceded wild weather.
In modern times, the devastation caused by tornadoes, hurricanes and other storms has motivated meteorologists to constantly improve their knowledge and tools to better predict storms. In 1986, the U.S. National Weather Service issued warnings before 25 percent of tornadoes, with an average lead time of about five minutes. Now the lead time has increased to around 13 minutes and 75 percent of tornadoes are predicted (USAToday.com).
To set up an effective early warning system to save lives from natural disasters, you must know the key signs of impending danger and have continuous surveillance.
The same is true for monitoring man-made dangers in today’s world.
What are the key signs we should constantly be watching so we can be aware of the times in which we live—and be prepared for what’s coming?
Biblical indicators for discerning the signs of the times
Jesus chided the religious leaders of His day for not recognizing the biblical signs of the momentous times they were living in.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were testing Jesus, asking Him to show them a sign or miracle from heaven. In reply, Jesus contrasted their knowledge of the weather with their understanding of prophecy:
“When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2-3).
You can read more about the context of Jesus’ statement about the signs of the times of His day in the Life, Hope & Truth article “Signs of the Times.”
But what about now? Can we discern the biblical signs of our times?
Cause and effect and Bible prophecy
A key biblical principle is cause and effect—that we reap what we sow. Many passages highlight this overarching truth that obeying God brings blessings, but disobeying His beneficial laws automatically brings curses.
A key biblical principle is cause and effect—that we reap what we sow.
For example, Deuteronomy 28 introduces a list of blessings with their cause: “If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments, … all these blessings shall come upon you” (verses 1-2).
But verse 15 begins a list of the negative effects of disobedience: “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”
Reading through this list of curses is a crash course in understanding the signs of the times. Increasing disobedience to God’s commandments is a sign of trouble to come.
As in the days of Noah
One powerful example of cause and effect occurred in the time of Noah. The book of Genesis makes clear that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The world then was “filled with violence,” as humans corrupted themselves and God’s creation (verse 11).
This disobedience to God’s beneficial laws caused automatic pain and suffering to the point that God was “grieved in His heart” and decided to start all over again through Noah and his family (verses 6, 18).
Even though, from God’s perspective, the storm clouds of the impending Flood were obvious, the people of Noah’s day ignored Noah’s warnings and lived as if nothing were wrong.
Jesus Christ made this point in His warning to people about the signs of the end time.
“For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:38-39).
Like the proverbial frog in the pot that didn’t notice the increasing temperature, we can easily become inured to the increasing sin beginning to boil around us.
Year after year, human opinions about sin have changed. Actions recognized as wrong in the past are increasingly accepted, whether premarital sex, cheating, lying, swearing, lusting or homosexual sex. Jesus warned that we must not fall prey to the apathy of Noah’s day.
Signs of the end times
Jesus defined the end times as the period when human survival would again be on the line (Matthew 24:21-22). (Read more about what the Bible says about the end times in our article “End-Time Prophecy.”)
In this same prophecy, Jesus also listed many other signs to watch:
- Religious deception (verses 4-5).
- Wars and rumors of war (verses 6-7).
- Famines (verse 7).
- Pestilences (disease epidemics and pandemics, verse 7).
- Earthquakes (verse 7).
- Persecution of followers of Christ, including attacks from within the Church (verses 9-10).
- Lawlessness (verse 12). This means “the rejection of the law, or will, of God and the substitution of the will of self” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)—an apt description of our age.
- The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached (verse 14).
- Jerusalem will be surrounded with armies and the “abomination of desolation” will be set up (verse 15; Luke 21:20; see the article “Abomination of Desolation” for more details).
Understanding the signs of the end times is not just an intellectual exercise. Jesus gave these signs as warnings that are intended to motivate us to change.
Watch and pray
At the end of this Olivet Prophecy, Jesus said, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. … Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34, 36).
So we are to watch not only the signs of the times in world events, but the signs of our own spiritual state. We must not be blinded by our daily cares. We need the vision to see ourselves as God sees us—to see the urgent need to repent, change and prepare for Jesus Christ’s return.
The important first steps that God wants us to take are discussed in the free booklet Change Your Life! If you are discerning the urgency of our times, be sure to download and study this booklet today.
For additional study, we recommend the other articles in the section “End Times.”