The signs of Christ’s coming, also known as the precursory signs, are defined by the late Rev. H. Hoeksema in his Reformed Dogmatics as relating to all the events in the realm of nature as well as in the history of the nations and in the church which more or less clearly indicate that Jesus is coming and that the end of all things is near and approaching quickly.
Scripture distinguishes between a two-fold coming of the Lord, two aspects of His coming, and these two aspects are related as the way to the end. Of course, we must not conceive of these “two” comings of the Lord in the dispensational or premillenarian sense of the word. The dispensationalists speak of two separate comings of the Lord, and these comings are separated approximately by a period of seven years. These two comings are called the Rapture, occurring at the beginning of the seven years, and the second coming of the Lord is called the Revelation, occurring at the end of these seven years. The Rapture occurs at the end of the dispensation of the church. It will be a secret coming of the Lord. At that time the faithful will be translated, as was Enoch, and together with the saints which will be raised from the dead they will be taken up to be with the Lord in the air where the marriage supper of the Lamb is supposed to take place. This event can occur at any moment. The church is then taken out of the world. This also occurs before the great tribulation, so that they who participate in this great blessing escape this great tribulation. During this period of seven years God will again begin to deal with Israel. His Old Testament people, who will be restored to their own land. It is in this period that Antichrist shall be revealed, a tribulation will occur of unprecedented severity, and Israel. is converted and embraces the Christ. This period of seven years is followed by the second coming of the Lord known as the Revelation. In this second coming the Lord is accompanied by His saints, and will execute judgment upon the earth. Antichrist is destroyed; the beast and the false prophet are taken; Gog and Magog and their allies are smitten; Satan is bound; and the millennium and the glorious reign of Christ upon earth for a thousand years is ushered in. This theory we cannot accept because we believe it to be contrary to the teachings of the Word of God.
The so-called first coming of the Lord, known as the Rapture, is based chiefly upon 1 Thess. 4:17, which is supposed to speak of the first resurrection, that is, the resurrection of the saints in distinction from the resurrection of the wicked at the end of the period of the millennium. However, this interpretation of the passage in I Thess. 4 cannot stand. Let us have the entire passage before us. We read in I Thess. 4:14-18: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” It is obvious from this passage that these people of God at Thessalonica had a problem. They undoubtedly believed that Jesus was coming soon, probably in their day. But they were concerned about those believers who fell asleep in Jesus. Would these children of the Lord who died before the Lord’s coming not participate in the Lord’s coming? Would this privilege be denied them? It is now to this problem or concern of these believers that the apostle addresses himself.
Notice, now, the reasoning of the apostle. In the first place, the apostle declares that they who are alive at Christ’s coming will not prevent, that is, go before those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Fact is, writes the apostle, when Christ comes the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. It is obvious that the distinction in this passage is not between the dead in Christ and the dead outside of Christ, but between the dead in Christ and the then living in Christ. Hence, they who shall be living at the time of Christ’s return will not have any advantage above those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Indeed, there shall not be two groups of resurrected people, one at the rapture, the resurrection of the righteous, and one at the end of the millennium, the resurrection of the wicked. The Word of God teaches us that there will be only one resurrection of the dead. This is clearly set forth in John 5:28, 29: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the grave shall hear His voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Besides, the passage in I Thess. 4 does not teach us that these faithful will be with Jesus for only seven years. On the contrary, we read that they will be with the Lord forever. And finally, the dispensationalists speak of this first coming of the Lord, the Rapture, as a secret event. The apostle, however, informs us in this passage that the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. So, this will not be a secret coming of the Lord; it will be very public. We would make one more observation. We consider this view of the dispensationalists to be very dangerous. They consider the Rapture to be such a blessed event because the faithful will escape the great tribulation. This, however, is surely not the teaching of Holy Writ. The Word of God does not promise the people of God that they will escape tribulation. The Scriptures always teach us that in the world we shall have tribulation, and they assure us that we will be saved, not from tribulation but through tribulation. What an eye-opener it will be for the people of God who expected to be delivered from tribulation and sorrow and then find themselves in the fire of affliction, the like of which had never been experienced before by the church of the living God!
We have already remarked that Scripture distinguishes between a two-fold coming of the Lord: the coming of our Lord throughout the ages and His. final appearance upon the clouds of heaven. In addition to this, however, the Word of God also speaks of a coming of the Lord upon the day of Pentecost in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. We read in John 14:18-20: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.” That this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is actually a return of the Lord to His church is evident from, the fact that the apostle Peter explains in his sermon of Acts 2 the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the light of the passage from Joel as the day of the Lord. Besides this, we can also speak of the Lord’s coming as occurring for each child of God at the moment of his death. This is surely implied in the Savior’s words to His disciples as recorded in John 14:1-3.
In this rubric we are, of course, primarily interested in the coming of the Lord as it occurs throughout the ages. The Word of God surely speaks of this coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. To this coming the Savior refers in Matt. 26:64: “Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter (or: henceforth, from now on) ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Notice, please: henceforth, from now on. This, includes the cross, inasmuch as Jesus surely comes in the way of the cross. But this is a coming from now on, throughout the New Dispensation. And we also read in Rev. 22:12: “And, behold, I come (am coming) quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” More passages need not be quoted in support of this coming of the Lord as occurring throughout the ages. This is surely also the chief thought in the Book of Revelation.
We understand, of course, that the coming of the Lord throughout the ages and His final appearance upon the clouds of heaven are really one coming. When Jesus declares to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:64) that from henceforth they would see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, He certainly refers to His coming as culminating in that final day. That this coming throughout the ages and as culminating in the clouds of heaven are one is, first of all, because Jesus is actually coming throughout the ages. Whatever must occur occurs through Him. And, secondly, they are one coming because all these events in the realm of nature and in the history of the world and of the church lead to that final coming; without the former the latter would be impossible.
The Word of God calls our attention to many precursory signs. These signs are as follows: the preaching of the gospel to all nations; Wars and rumors of wars; Social conflict and revolution; Death, famines, pestilences and earthquakes; Apostasy from the faith; The development and final consummation of Antichrist; Great tribulation, also throughout the whole new dispensation, but especially at the end of the ages; Signs in the heavens; The sign of the Son of man.
As far as these signs are concerned, they are primarily signs of judgment. This is also true of the preaching of the gospel which, although the means whereby the Lord gathers His church, is surely a sign of judgment as far as the world is concerned. That these precursory signs are principally signs of judgment need not surprise us. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be anything else than catastrophe and judgment for the wicked world. His coming can never be a coming of grace and mercy for them. Christ’s, coming and the judgment of the world are inseparable. We need, therefore, not be surprised that wars and rumors of wars, death and famines and pestilences and earthquakes, social conflict and revolutions accompany this coming of the Lord. Thus it will be at the end of the ages. Thus it is also throughout the ages. And even as He gathers His church throughout the ages, calling His own out of darkness into His marvelous light, so He is also ever preparing. the wicked, God’s eternally predestinated vessels of wrath, for their day of wrath at the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The purpose of this rubric, we understand, is not simply to treat these several precursory signs of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is, however, the purpose: of this department to look at these signs of Christ’s coming as occurring in the world around us. It was in this vein that Rev. VanBaren ably acquitted himself of this task while writing in this department. We expect to continue in this vein. One of these precursory signs, so common in our present day, and age, is held before us in Matt. 24:12: “And because iniquity, shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Of course, these precursory signs are always being fulfilled. Do we see them? Do we have the grace, as we see them, to view them as the signs of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord willing, in our following article we plan to call attention to this passage of Matt. 24:12. It is the sign of Christ’s coming known as the Great Apostasy.