Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). A sign not merely of identification, but a sign of all Jesus’ work “that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (II Cor. 8:9).
What are signs according to Scripture? They are unusual, startling events which call our attention to the work of God in salvation in an amazing way. They are visible, earthly events which point us to invisible, spiritual realities. They are often mentioned in the same sentence as wonders and miracles (Acts 2:22), and are sometimes called tokens (Gen. 17:11). Most often signs are given in the sphere of grace and of the covenant. The purpose of God in giving signs is to establish the truth of prophecy (Ex. 3:12), prove the divinity of Jesus Christ (John 20:30), and confirm the preaching of the Word by the apostles (Mark 16:20).
We may notice that sometimes God is pleased to give signs for the instruction and comfort of His people; at other times people ask for signs, in unbelief, when no sign is required. The scribes and Pharisees were always asking Jesus for a sign of His divinity, a totally unnecessary request. And Jesus’ response was that “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” (Matt. 12:38-41). The sign of Jonah was really a double one: his repose in the belly of the fish pointed to the death and burial of Christ; and the repentance of the Ninevites was the condemnation of the Jews for their refusal to repent at the preaching of the One who is greater than Jonah. For us this means that we are to believe all that Scripture holds before us; Scripture is sufficient!
Circumcision was a sign or token of the covenant of friendship that God established with Abraham and his seed (Gen. 17:7, 11), a beautiful sign in that it spoke of the blood of Christ and the generational aspect of God’s salvation. In establishing the truth that righteousness is not by works of the law, the apostle Paul argues in Romans 4:11 that Abraham was righteous before God by faith, which he had being uncircumcised! And the apostle gives us the Reformed definition of the sacraments when he states that circumcision was a sign and a seal of the righteousness of faith.
The rainbow was a sign or a token of the covenant between God and the earth, that is, a sign of the cosmic aspect of salvation; the covenant is with Noah, his seed, and with every living creature (Gen. 9:9-17). The bow in the clouds signifies that God loves the world and saves the world, and will not again destroy that world with a flood. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that He might multiply His signs and wonders in the land of Egypt (Ex. 7:3). In connection with the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians, the Lord instituted the Passover, the great sign of redemption through the Lamb of God (Ex. 12). The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign between God and His people, “that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify thee” (Ex. 31:12-17).
In answer to the disciples’ question, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3), Jesus responds with a lengthy, full list of the signs of His one, final, second coming which shall be the end of the world. These signs are being fulfilled before our eyes in these last days. “Whoso readeth, let him understand” (Matt. 24:15). All these signs shall culminate with the unmistakable sign of the Son of man in heaven (Matt. 24:30).
The Scriptures present us with the simultaneous, parallel development of two kingdoms throughout history: the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom established in His Son with many signs, miracles, and wonders; and the kingdom of the devil, established by his man the Antichrist, “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (II Thess. 2:9). God sends those who have not received the love of the truth strong delusion that they should believe Antichrist’s lie. Even as Pharaoh’s wisemen were able to imitate the first three plagues, doing lying wonders (Ex. 7 and 8), so the Antichrist shall do great wonders, “so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Rev. 13:13). But he lies, he deceives, because the number of the beast is the number of man. And the beast and the false prophets are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).
So we have our signs. These signs are in the Scriptures. “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:30).