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02 September 2019

Paul and the Signs of the Times

SYNOPSIS:  Rather than provide a detailed outline of the “times and seasons,” Paul exhorted believers to live righteously and, thereby, to be prepared for the sudden arrival of the Day of the Lord.”

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Over the past five or so generations since at least 1830, prophecy preachers have pointed to earthquakes, wars, famines, the increased speed of travel, and vast new leaps in human knowledge as evidence that the “last generation” before the return of Jesus is underway.

Despite these oft-repeated claims, Jesus has not returned, the battle of  Armageddon has not occurred, the Antichrist has not appeared, the army of “Gog and Magog” has not attacked Israel, the Roman empire has not risen again in Europa, the false prophet and his new world religion are nowhere to be found, California has not fallen into the sea, and there has been no “rapture,” all this despite the passage of over two “biblical generations” since the founding of modern Israel (1948). This would seem to fit Professor Einstein’s definition.

Prophecy “experts” remind us that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul exhorted us to know the “times and seasons” so we can recognize the “signs” and know when the return of Jesus in glory is at hand. But did Paul ever state such a thing?

The Apostle referred often to the future “coming” of Jesus; it is foundational to the Christian hope and the message proclaimed by Paul. Our salvation will remain incomplete until Jesus returns and raises us from the dead. A time or two Paul did describe key events that will coincide with the return of Jesus, including the resurrection of dead believers, the consummation of the kingdom, the cessation of death, and the judgment of the wicked (1 Corinthians 15:20-282 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

But his list of “signs” that must precede the coming of Jesus is rather brief. The description by Paul of sin and deceivers waxing worse and worse is too general to pin to any specific event or time period; every era of Church history has been plagued with false teachers and apostasy:

(1 Timothy 4:1-2) – “Howbeit, the Spirit expressly saith—that, in later seasons, some will revolt from the faith giving heed unto seducing spirits, and unto teachings of demons— in hypocrisy, speaking falsehood, [of demons] cauterised in their own conscience.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The closest the Apostles comes to giving us a list of recognizable “signs” that will portend the arrival of Jesus is found in his second letter to the Thessalonians:

(2 Thessalonians 2:1-4) – “But we request you, brethren,—in behalf of the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him, That ye be not quickly tossed from your mind, nor be put in alarm—either by spirit, or by discourse, or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord hath set in: That no one may cheat you in any one respect. Because [that day will not set in] —except the revolt come first, and there he revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction,  The one who opposeth and exalteth himself on high against every one called God, or an object of worship; so that he, within the sanctuary of God, shall take his seat, showeth himself forth that he is God” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Thus, Paul described two things that must occur before “the Day of the Lord” can begin; first, the “man of lawlessness” must be “revealed.” Second, the “apostasy” must take place. How long after these two events occur before the “Day of the Lord” arrives Paul does not say (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9).
In only one passage does the Apostle Paul discuss the “times and seasons” in the first letter to the Thessalonians:

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) - “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren,—ye have no need that unto you anything be written; For ye yourselves perfectly well know—that the day of the Lord as a thief in the night so cometh; As soon as they begin to say—Peace! and safety! then, suddenly, upon them cometh destruction,—just as the birth-throe unto her that is with child,—and in nowise shall they escape.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

 This statement follows a paragraph in which the Apostle provided needed explanations about the “coming” or Parousia of Jesus, explanations necessary because the Thessalonian believers did not possess an accurate knowledge of final events (1Thessalonians 4:13-18).
His point? There was no need to provide the Thessalonians with details about the “times and seasons” because, as they already knew “accurately,” the “Day of the Lord” would come like a “thief in the night,” the latter an echo of a parable of Jesus.  The point of the analogy was and is to always be ready because no one can know where and when a thief will strike (cp. Luke12:37-40).

In this passage, Paul expressed his assurance that the Thessalonians would not be taken by surprise, not because they knew all the signs necessary to calculate the end, but because they were children of the light who lived righteous lives. Therefore, they were ready for that day’s sudden arrival because of their proper relationship with God and it would not overtake them “like a thief in the night.”

As for the wicked, they declare “peace and safety,” and live as if nothing untoward will ever occur until it is too late and, thus, “sudden destruction overtakes them.” The analogy by Jesus comparing the years prior to his return to the “days of Noah and of Lot” is echoed in this statement by Paul.

The point of Jesus was not that life just before his return will replicate the conditions before the Flood; rather, that men and women will go about their daily routines until the day of the Son of Man arrives suddenly and overtakes them.

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