The end of time is coming, and coming quickly. Soon this world and all that is in it will be subjected to a great upheaval and a violent conflagration. Soon we will be forever separated from every earthly possession, pursuit, and pleasure. For soon our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the clouds of glory in mighty power to fulfill His promise to bring the history of this world to its close. There will be no earthly utopia. There will be no earthly kingdom of Christ. Instead, the Lord the righteous Judge will destroy it all.

We who confess such things are often accused of being pessimistic. But the Word of God makes clear that this is a true and faithful confession. It is the confession of those who live by faith in God and His Christ. The true believer is not a pessimist or a defeatist. He is optimistic and lives with hope in his heart. He is thankful that an end is coming, and that it is coming soon. His believing perspective is described in Luke 21:28. When he notices that the end is approaching, he looks up. He lifts up his head toward heaven. By faith he looks away from all that is earthly and focuses on that which is heavenly. He does so with great joy, for he knows that his redemption is near.

In today’s climate of untold problems in the world as well as grievous struggles in the church, who among us has not been much more conscious of the return of Christ? How can any believer, living under such difficult circumstances, not be more interested in and not turn his mind more often to Scripture’s eschatology? The precursory signs are increasingly obvious, and through them the Lord awakens us from spiritual slumber and directs our focus to His return.

Significant and disturbing events are happening in the world and in our lives. The news is filled with reference to and analysis of a worldwide pandemic (the pale horse in Revelation 6). We see the drastic effects of this pandemic and the responses to it on the economy (the black horse in Revelation 6). Much more significantly, we see the negative effects on the church and on the preaching of the gospel (the white horse in Revelation 6).

There are also other signs aplenty that point to the nearness of Christ’s return: terrorism and war (the red horse of Revelation 6), natural catastrophes, increasing ungodliness, riotous living, abounding apostasy, violent rebellion against authority, a crazed pursuit of sinful pleasure, and a world in which every man does what is right in his own eyes.

I trust we are not so spiritually dull that we fail to notice these signs. I trust you hear Christ’s footsteps as He approaches. I trust you realize from all these signs that soon the heavens will open and soon your Savior will appear in order to condemn and destroy, and in order to vindicate and save.

Among the many precursory signs, however, there is one sign that is the sign of all signs. It stands out as the most prominent of them all, for it is of central importance for the coming of Christ. It is the sign that most clearly demonstrates that His return is near. And that is the sign of the worldwide preaching of the gospel.

The nearness of the end is not confirmed so much by war or pestilence or terrible ungodliness. Nor is it confirmed so much by apostasy or the appearance of the Antichrist. But it is confirmed by this, that the gospel is preached in all the earth.

That this is the sign of all signs is specifically stated in Christ’s final discourse to His disciples in Matthew 24 when He said: “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” (Matt. 24:14).

God’s Word is clear that Christ will return only when His gospel has been preached in all the world and has accomplished His purpose of hardening the wicked and, more importantly, of saving the elect. What sign can be more significant than the one which accomplishes the salvation of the church? What sign can be more important than the one that, when it has been fulfilled, determines that “then” Christ will return?

This is confirmed in Revelation 6. Of the four horses mentioned there, the first is the white horse. This horse, along with its rider, goes forth conquering and to conquer. This represents the victorious, worldwide preaching of the gospel through men Christ calls and sends as preachers of His Word. That the white horse is mentioned first shows that the victorious preaching of the gospel is preeminent. That preaching dominates the whole New Testament age. Everything else follows from and is subservient to it.

We also read of this in Article 37 of the Belgic Confession which states that “when the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the elect complete, that [then] our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as He ascended, with great glory and majesty to declare Himself Judge of the quick and the dead, burning this old world with fire and flame to cleanse it.” When the preaching has brought about the completion of the number of the elect, then Christ will appear without delay and bring all things to an end.

Reformed believers understand and confess that the preaching of the gospel in all the earth is crucial with a view to the end and the return of Christ. The prominence of this sign is seen by how it relates to the other precursory signs. Many of the other signs are dependent upon this one. As the following examples show, the preaching of the gospel is a sign that causes these others to happen.

The prominence of this sign is seen by how it relates to the other precursory signs. Many of the other signs are dependent upon this one. As the following examples show, the preaching of the gospel is a sign that causes these others to happen.

First of all, the preaching of the gospel brings about the sign of apostasy, for the rejection of the truth can only take place when and where that truth is first of all preached and proclaimed. Secondly, the sign of preaching is a significant cause of the sign of lawlessness, for lawlessness and ungodliness arise in men’s wicked hearts when they hear and then hate and reject the demands of God’s Word in the preaching. Thirdly, the sign of preaching also brings about persecution, for the wicked not only hate and rebel against the truth that is preached, but they also persecute those who embrace and confess it. The preaching of the gospel is clearly the prominent and controlling sign.

That this is the most prominent sign means that the worldwide preaching of the Word, more than any other precursory sign, tells us how close the end of time is. When watching for the end, therefore, our minds should focus first of all and foremost on this sign. And as we hope to see in our next article, that will lead us to conclude (correctly) that Christ’s final return is indeed on the horizon.

What a gift and blessing of Christ when He leads us to observe this sign. Then we will cry out all the more earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

[to be continued]