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02 September 2019

The Apostle Paul and the Signs of the Times


Storm over a city - Photo by Nikolas Behrendt on Unsplash
Albert Einstein reportedly defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Over the past five generations, since at least 1830, American prophecy preachers have pointed to earthquakes, wars, famines, increased speed of travel, and vast increases in human knowledge as evidence that they were part of the “last generation” to exist before the return of Jesus.
Despite these claims with their a seemingly impressive amount of evidence, Jesus has not returned, the battle of  Armageddon has not been fought, the Antichrist has not appeared, “Gog and Magog” have not attacked Israel from the north, the Roman empire has not risen again, the false prophet and his new world religion are nowhere to be found, the great tribulation has yet to commence, California has not fallen into the sea, and there has been no “rapture” despite the passage of over seventy years since the founding of modern Israel (1948). This would seem to fit Professor Einstein’s definition.
Preachers tell us that Jesus and the Apostle Paul told us that we are to know the “times and seasons” so that we can recognize the “signs” that will indicate the proximity of the “end” with the return of Jesus. But did Paul ever state this?
The Apostle Paul referred often to the future “coming” of Jesus; it is foundational to the Christian hope.  Our salvation will remain incomplete until Jesus returns and raises us from the dead. Paul did a time or two describe key events that will coincide with the return of Jesus, including the resurrection, the consummation of the kingdom, the cessation of death, and the judgment of the wicked (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
But Paul’s listing of “signs” that will precede the coming of Jesus are few and far between. His description of sin and deceivers waxing worse and worse is too general to pin to any specific event; every generation of Christians has been plagued with false teachers and apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
The closest Paul comes to a list of more readily recognizable “signs” is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, though he referred to two things that had not yet occurred as evidence that the “day of the Lord had not yet set in,” not as evidence of its proximity. The day of the Lord could not possibly have commenced in Thessalonica since neither the “man of lawlessness” nor the “apostasy” had appeared on the scene. Interestingly, this “man of lawlessness” will be characterized by his “lying signs and wonders.”
In only one passage does the Apostle Paul discuss the “signs and seasons,” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3. “But concerning the times and the seasons you have no need that anything be written to you, for you yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night.” This follows the paragraph in which Paul provided further explanation on the “coming” or Parousia of Jesus, which demonstrates that the Thessalonians did not possess a detailed and accurate knowledge of final events.
Paul’s point is there is no need to provide them with details about the “times and seasonsbecause, as they already knew “accurately,” the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night, echoing a parable of Jesus.  The point of the analogy is to always be ready precisely because of the reality that no one can know where and when a thief will strike.
Paul goes on to express his assurance that the Thessalonians will not be taken by surprise, not because they know all the signs for which to watch, but because they are children of the light and live righteous lives. They remain ready for that day’s sudden arrival because of their right relationship with God.
As for the wicked, they will be declaring “peace and safety,” living as if nothing toward will ever occur until “sudden destruction overtakes them.” The analogy of Jesus comparing the years prior to his return with the “days of Noah and of Lot” are echoed in this statement. His point was not that life will replicate the conditions before the flood or that those final years will be characterized by catastrophic events; rather, men and women will be going about their daily routines until the day of the Son of Man suddenly overtakes them.

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