John was greatly troubled. Tears flowed from his eyes. Great sobs were wrenched from his chest. And he had reason for this misery. He had seen a scroll sealed with seven seals. That scroll must be opened—but none appeared worthy to take it and loose its seals. Finally, he receives the information from one of the elders that the Lion of Judah’s tribe, the Root of David, had prevailed to open the book. That One was Jesus Christ. The Book He was about to open was the Book of God’s counsel. What was found in that Book must take place, in order that, at its conclusion, Jesus might return on the clouds of glory. Therefore John had been greatly disturbed when none could open that Book (Rev. 5), for an unopened Book would simply mean that our Lord could not return. What John learned was that Jesus Himself will see to it that the things found in that Book will take place in proper order and time. He was the only One Who could so direct all these events in order that He might again return to gather His people to Himself. Jesus is, even now, in the process of opening those seals. What we see taking place about us is the unfolding of those seals. And since all this is under the control of Jesus, we ought not to be afraid—though troublous things are surely transpiring.
The events of those seven seals, as also presented in other Scriptural passages, will be the concern of this article. I want to divide the various signs into five major parts. You are to take note about you how that many of these signs are even now seen. May this encourage you the more to watch for the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ on the clouds of glory.
Signs within creation
One reads repeatedly of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, and the like. These have always taken place. Some have suggested that therefore this can hardly be a sign of Christ’s return. Yet Matt. 24:7 identifies these specifically as signs of Christ’s return: “. . . and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” (Strikingly and literally, verse 8 of this chapter terms these “birth pains”—birth pains which precede the “birth” of the new creation). This is Christ’s answer to His disciples who had asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?” (Vs. 3).
Another sign in creation is that of famine. This, too, is mentioned in Matt. 24:7. This is the prophecy of Rev. 6:5-6 where the black horse (black for famine) is presented running across the earth. The running of this horse reveals that there is a lack for the poor (“measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny”), but plenty for the rich (“see thou hurt not the oil and the wine”). It is difficult for us to imagine this in our land of plenty, yet reports indicate that thousands die daily in the world in fulfillment of this sign.
A third sign in creation is disease and pestilence. The fourth horse (Rev. 6:7-8) portrays this. He is pale green (color of death); Death rides him and the grave follows him. Though man seems to have brought under control many pestilences of the past, there is clear evidence not only of the continued existence of pestilence but also that new and diverse forms of this might be arising today.
Signs within the ungodly world
First, there are signs connected with man’s scientific progress. He performs amazing feats—almost unbelievable ones. Most striking and widely known are his walks on the moon. But other developments are as startling. Man works wonders in the world of electronics and communication. He does wonders in the world of medicine. He makes unbelievable discoveries in the world of the atom and the sub-atom. Today, we, the common people, simply take these things for granted—though we readily admit that we hardly understand it all. Some of this is suggested in Revelation 13 where are presented two beasts—given power by the dragon. The second beast especially performs great wonders and miracles. The climax of their wonders is the image of the beast which is made: an image that appears to live and to speak. This image requires all to worship it. So does man develop in an amazing degree—and uses this development in the service of sin.
Another obvious sign of the end is the lawlessness, the racial conflict, the revolutions, the open godlessness which abounds. This is a sign often mentioned in Scripture. It is also a sign seen throughout the ages. The third beast of Rev. 5suggests the very real divisions between rich and poor (vs. 5-6). Lawlessness was evident in the days of the apostles (II Thess. 2:7). Antichrist is himself called the “lawless one” (“Wicked”— II Thess. 2:8).
A third sign in this class would be wars and rumors of wars. These, too, have been present during much of the history of this world. These are, however, identified as signs of the end of the age. That is done in Matt. 24:6, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” Or there is the second horse of Rev. 6:3-4. This horse is red (blood) and its rider has a great sword. The power is given the rider to take peace from the earth and that man should kill one another.
Signs within the church
First, and most significant, is the sign of the preaching of the Word. This must go forth to all nations. Jesus speaks of it in Matt. 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The white horse of Rev. 6 suggests this same truth. That white horse is first and is doubtlessly served by the three which follow it.
Then there is the awful apostasy seen in the church. Such apostasy is seen within churches formerly orthodox ; but it is also seen within the conservative churches of our day, when some forsake the truth and follow after the lie. Though such causes great grief within the church, it, too, is clearly foretold in Scripture. In I Tim. 4:1 we read, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed. to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” And again in II Tim. 3:1-2, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. . . .” Paul writes again in II Thess. 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first. . . .”
And for the church there shall also be persecutions. Some of this has already fallen upon the church. Severe persecutions occurred in the past. According to some reports, persecutions are taking place in some countries today—persecutions for Jesus’ sake. Matt. 24 also mentions this in verse 9, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” But even this shall be “shortened” for the elect’s sake (vs. 22).
The coming of the Antichrist
The spirit of the antichrist is ever present in this world. We read in I John 4:3, “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.” Jesus stated in Matt. 24:23, 24, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
But there shall also be one antichrist who sets himself up as Christ Himself. II Thess. 2:3, 4 makes that very clear, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come . . . except that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
This antichrist is presented also in Rev. 13 where the two beasts are mentioned. There, too, and in the preceding chapters, it is clearly presented that this will be the time of great adversity for the church. In that day none shall be able to buy or sell without the mark of the beast.
Signs in the heavens
Closely connected with the end are the signs in the heavens. “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” (Matt. 24:29) Those will be shocking times for the people of this world. We, however, shall be able to see these signs with joy—for it marks the fact that the return of Christ is at hand. In Matt. 24:30there is also mentioned the “sign of the Son of man in heaven.” Whatever this sign will be, it will serve as reminder of the impending return of Christ.
And then shall the end be. He who knows and watches can also rejoice. These are not times for sorrow—but for gladness of heart. Just remember. . . . “. . . The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5).