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02 September 2019

You Must Know the Signs of the Times!

SynopsisContrary to a popular belief, Jesus did not command his disciples to know and understand the “signs” and “seasons” of his return in glory. Instead, it is “not for you to know times and seasons.”

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
Jong sun Lee on Unsplash
End-time prophecy teachers often stress that Jesus commanded us to “know the times and the seasons” - his disciples must understand the signs of the end so they can discern the nearness of his coming and related events and, thus, prepare to meet him. This claim has been repeated so often it is taken as an established fact. But did Jesus ever say anything like this?

On one occasion, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a “sign from heaven” to prove his identity. He refused to do so; instead, he responded with a challenge:

When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather: for the heaven is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to-day: for the heaven is red and lowering. You know how to discern the face of the heaven; but you cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah(Matthew 16:1-3).

The “sign of Jonah” refers to the prophet’s summons to the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent. The book of Jonah records no “sign” or miracle performed by him. In contrast to the religious leaders of ancient Israel, the pagan Gentiles of Nineveh did repent in response to Jonah’s preaching. The Pharisees and Sadducees had already heard the call to repent from John the Baptist, and now from Jesus. Another “sign,” even one “from heaven,” would make no difference.

Jesus did warn his disciples that after his departure many deceivers would come and “deceive many; false messiahs and false prophets.” They would show “signs and wonders” in order to deceive the very elect (Matthew 24:4-8, 24:24).

Photo by Purnomo Capunk on Unsplash
Purnomo Capunk on Unsplash
What about the “signs of the times” from Christ’s Olivet Discourse? Jesus warned of deceivers who would come in his name, and the disciples would “hear of wars and rumors of wars.” But they were not to be troubled (by whom?). They also would hear of earthquakes and famines.

Such things must come to pass “but the end is not yet”; at most, such things were harbingers of the eventual end of the age, but they were not “signs” by which one could calculate its approach. The stress on “hear” by Jesus, if anything, suggests that the deceivers would spread these rumors of war, pointing to natural and manmade catastrophes as “signs” of the nearness of the end.
A few verses further, he warned that false prophets would spread disinformation about the coming of Jesus (“he is in the wilderness”; “he is in the secret chamber”). In contrast, when Jesus did arrive, it would be like lightning flashes across the sky; no one would mistake or miss that event. 

What Jesus did say about the timing of his return is crystal clear: “No one, not the angels of heaven or the Son knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone.” Ever since false prophets and other deceivers have expended great effort to invent and sledgehammer loopholes into the words of Jesus. He even declared, “Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the season is…Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you least expect him” (Mark 13:33, Matthew 24:44).

In John’s gospel, Jesus complained, “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (John 4:48).

But the most damning passage to this common belief is in Acts 1:7. Just before his ascent to heaven, the disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom. His answer was explicit: “It is not for you to know times and seasons, which the Father has put in his own authority.” Instead, the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit, then they were to take the gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth.

The point of Christ’s constant warning was that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival BECAUSE they cannot know the timing of that day.  Its appearance will be sudden and unexpected; on that day, it will be too late to prepare for it.

The problem with this claim is that it is nowhere found on the lips of Jesus, at least, not in the written record. Instead, Jesus said the exact opposite.

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