"THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS" Introduction To The Epistle INTRODUCTION 1. The Epistle to the Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament... a. It begins as an "essay" - He 1:1-2 b. It progresses as a "sermon" - He 2:1-4 c. It ends as a "letter" - He 13:23-25 2. Its contents are deep and challenging... a. Many Christians find it difficult b. Some equate its difficulty with the book of Revelation 3. But for Christians who are willing to take the time to read and reflect upon it... a. They are REMINDED of how blessed they are to have trusted in Christ b. They are IMPRESSED with the superiority of Christ and His New Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant c. They are WARNED of the danger of apostasy and the need for steadfastness in their faith 4. With this lesson, I wish to begin a series of expository sermons based upon this epistle... a. Yet just as one should not begin a journey without some idea of where they are going b. So it is beneficial to begin with a preview of this epistle, that we might have an idea... 1) Of where we are headed 2) And what we can expect to find [Such a "preview" or introduction would naturally include some information on...] I. THE BACKGROUND TO THE EPISTLE A. THE AUTHOR... 1. The author does not identify himself 2. Many believe it to be the apostle Paul (e.g., Clement of Alexandria) a. This seems unlikely in view of the author's statement: "...was confirmed to us by those who heard Him," - He 2:3 b. For Paul declared that he had not received the gospel from or through men - Ga 1:11-12 c. Yet there are many arguments which favor Paul as the author (cf. New Testament Commentary on Hebrews, Robert Milligan, pp. 5-19) 3. Other names have been proposed over the years: a. Barnabas (suggested by Tertullian) b. Apollos (suggested by Luther) c. Priscilla (suggested by Harnack) -- In the end, we can only say with Origen, "But who wrote the epistle, to be sure, only God knows." B. THE RECIPIENTS... 1. The general consensus is that this letter was written to Jewish Christians 2. But there is uncertainty as to where they and the author were at the time of composition a. Most believe the recipients were in Palestine, and the author in Rome b. Others suggest the readers were in Rome and the author elsewhere, based upon a possible implication in He 13:24 -- In any case, they were Jewish Christians whom the author knew personally - cf. He 10:34; 13:19 C. THE DATE OF WRITING... 1. We know it was prior to 96 A.D., for Clement of Rome quotes from Hebrews in his letter written at that time 2. There are certainly strong implications that it was written prior to 70 A.D. a. There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple b. The author writes as though priests were still offering sacrifices - He 8:4; 10:11 3. If the Jewish Christians were in Palestine, it was likely before or at the beginning of the Jewish Wars (ca.66-70 A.D.), in light of He 12:4 -- The time frame of 63-65 A.D. is often suggested D. THE PURPOSE OF THIS EPISTLE... 1. To prevent his readers from abandoning their faith in Christ - cf. He 2:1-4 2. To encourage his Jewish brethren not to go back to the Old Law a. By showing the superiority of Christ and His Covenant cf. He 8:1-2,6 b. A key word found throughout the epistle is "better" 1) Christ is "better than the angels" - He 1:4 2) We enjoy "the bringing in of a better hope" - He 7:19 3) Jesus has become "the surety of a better covenant"- He 7:22 4) He is also "the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" - He 8:6 5) The heavenly things benefit from "better sacrifices" - He 9:23 -- Indeed, the purpose of this epistle was to exhort his readers- He 13:22 [With this background to the epistle, let's continue our brief survey of the book by noticing...] II. THE MAIN DIVISIONS OF THE EPISTLE A. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST - He 1:1-8:6 1. Better than the prophets, as a much better Spokesman - He 1: 1-3 2. Better than the angels, by virtue of His Deity and humanity - He 1:4-2:18 3. Better than Moses, for He is the Son who provides a heavenly rest - He 3:1-4:13 4. Better than Aaron, as His priesthood is a superior one - He 4:16-8:6 B. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE NEW COVENANT - He 8:7-10:18 1. For it is based upon better promises - He 8:7-13 2. For it is based upon a better sanctuary - He 9:1-28 3. For it is based upon a better sacrifice - He 10:1-18 C. EXHORTATIONS DRAWN FROM THIS SUPERIORITY - He 10:19-13:25 1. To draw near to God and hold fast - He 10:19-39 2. To run the race of faith with endurance - He 11:1-12:29 3. Miscellaneous exhortations - He 13:1-25 [A unique feature of "The Epistle To The Hebrews" are the warnings throughout the book. As we conclude this introduction, perhaps it may be profitable to summarize...] III. THE KEY WARNINGS IN THE EPISTLE A. THE WARNING AGAINST DRIFTING - He 2:1-4 1. Through neglect we can easily drift away 2. The solution is to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard B. THE WARNING AGAINST DEPARTING - He 3:12-15 1. Through sin's deceitfulness we can become hardened and develop a lack of faith by which we can depart from the living God 2. The solution is exhort one another daily and remain steadfast C. THE WARNING AGAINST DISOBEDIENCE - He 4:11-13 1. Like Israel in the wilderness, we can fail to enter our rest through disobedience 2. The solution is diligence and heeding the Word of God D. THE WARNING AGAINST DULLNESS - He 5:11-6:6 1. Dullness of hearing can make it difficult for us to appreciate the extent of our blessings in Christ, and even falling away to the point of crucifying the Son of God afresh! 2. The solution is grasping the first principles of the oracles of God, and then pressing on to spiritual maturity and perfection E. THE WARNING AGAINST DESPISING - He 10:26-39 1. It is possible to so despise God's grace as to no longer have a sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment 2. The solution is to hold unto our confidence in Christ, and believe with endurance F. THE WARNING AGAINST DEFYING - He 12:14-29 1. It is possible to refuse to listen to the One who now speaks from heaven! 2. The solution is to look diligently to the grace of God, receiving it in such a way so we may serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear CONCLUSION 1. With such warnings, this book is indeed a "word of exhortation"! - He 13:22 2. As we proceed through the book in the coming lessons, it will be my intent... a. To REMIND you of how blessed we are to have trusted in Christ b. To IMPRESS you with the superiority of Christ and His New Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant c. To WARN you of the real danger of apostasy and the need for steadfastness in our faith My task will be easy if I am faithful in letting the book speak for itself. That is my hope and prayer...
To Whom Does Matthew 19:3-12 Apply?
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
In order to sort out the proper application of the discussion on divorce in Matthew 19, one must take into account several contextual indicators.
First, observe that in the context of the passage, Jesus addressed Himself to Jews (vs. 3—“Pharisees”)—not Christians. He answered their question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” (vs. 3).
Second, if Jesus’ answer applies only to Christians (as some claim), then He did not help His Jewish inquirers and, in fact, He completely dodged their question. But He made clear that His answer did apply to them and to everybody else, for three reasons:
- He said, “Have you not read” (vs. 4) and “But I say unto you” (vs. 9). He was speaking to them!
- He used the term “whosoever” (vs. 9)—an all-inclusive term that means anyone and everyone.
- In verses 4-5, He appealed to Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 for His answer to their question. The instruction from Genesis predates the Mosaic period in its original context. Consequently, the teaching of Genesis (i.e., that God has intended from the very beginning of time for one man to be married to one woman for life, with the only exception being fornication) is teaching that applies to mankind and humanity in general.
Though (a) during certain time periods (e.g., Mosaic), people grew lax in their sensitivity to this Divine guideline, and though (b) God “winked at” this lax behavior (Acts 17:30), such is no indication that people today are free to ignore the laws of God on divorce and remarriage (Hebrews 13:4).
Third, notice the disciples’ reaction to the stringent nature of Jesus’ declaration: “[I]f the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (vs. 10). In other words, if a man is obligated to remain married to his first spouse (with the only possibility for divorce and remarriage being the sexual unfaithfulness of that mate), then the man ought to think twice, deliberating long and hard, before he decides to get married the first time. In marrying, he is committing himself to a lifetime with the same woman (in God’s sight). It may very well be preferable to live single than to risk permanent marriage to a mate who creates misery and is unpleasant to live with (but who remains sexually faithful). This is the gist of the disciples’ remark to Jesus. They understood Jesus’ instruction to be very restrictive. But they then drew an erroneous conclusion by proposing the propriety, even priority, of celibacy.
Fourth, in response to the disciples’ remark, Jesus noted in verse 11 that not everyone can live as they suggested (i.e., single and celibate). The implication is that some, more than others, possess a greater need for companionship and the sexual relationship that accompanies that marital companionship. (Notice that sex is perfectly permissible in God’s sight—after all, He designed it! But, if one desires to indulge, the participant is under obligation to conform to divine guidelines, limiting and confining sexual activity to a scriptural marriage relationship). Jesus then elaborated upon three classes of men (vs. 12) who would be able to pursue the celibate life which the disciples proposed: (1) those who are born physically defective and, consequently, are unable to function sexually; (2) those who are born physically normal, but who are then surgically rendered unable to perform sexually. Though odd to the modern mind, it was a common practice in ancient cultures to render impotent various individuals who sought to function in official capacities, e.g., wards in charge of royal bedchambers, servants who lived in the palaces of royalty, etc. (cf. Genesis 37:26; 40:2,7; Daniel 1:3; Esther 1:10; 2:21; 1 Kings 22:9; 2 Kings 8:6; 9:32; Acts 8:27); (3) those who simply choose to forego sexual relations and marriage in order to devote themselves completely to religious matters (like Jesus and Paul).
Fifth, Jesus’ concluding statement, “he that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (vs. 12), pertains to that which He had been discussing, i.e., the choice to live celibate. He could not have been referring back to the statement of verse 9. Such would be a contradiction. For, on the one hand, He would have been declaring emphatically that those who divorce/remarry unscripturally are guilty of committing adultery, and then, turning right around and minimizing this declaration by suggesting that a person does not have to abide by the stricture if he does not want to. If people are free to decide their own guidelines for marriage, there was no need for Jesus to have even mentioned the matter in the first place. But when has God ever laid down any regulation with the implication that men do not have to obey if they do not wish to? The “saying” (vs. 11) with which He took issue, maintaining that it should not be set in concrete or urged upon mankind indiscriminately and universally, was the saying of the disciples—that men ought to refrain from marriage and live celibate lives. Jesus’ statement in verse 9 is clearly universal in its application and import. The disciples’ statement in verse 10 is clearly limited in its scope and application to the three classes of individuals that Jesus delineated. Only those three categories of persons are in a position (physically, and/or mentally) to “receive this saying” pertaining to abstinence from marriage.
To Judge, or Not to Judge?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
One of the most oft’-quoted verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1—“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Those engaged in immoral behavior frequently quote this verse when attempting to defend their sinful lifestyle. Certain religionists quote it when being challenged to prove that their questionable practices are backed by biblical authority. A belligerent teenager might be heard reciting this phrase to his parents when they inquire about his occasional association with “the wrong crowd.” Skeptics even quote Matthew 7:1 in an attempt to show an inconsistency in Jesus’ teachings. From church pews to barstools, from the “Bible belt” to Hollywood, Matthew 7:1 is ripped from its context and bellowed as some kind of scare tactic: “Do you dare judge me? Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ ” Allegedly, Jesus meant that we cannot pass judgment on anyone at anytime.
Sadly, Matthew 7:1 is not only among the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible, but also is one of the most abused verses in all of Scripture. Its exploitation becomes clear when the entire context of Matthew 7 is studied more carefully. Throughout Matthew chapters 5-7 (often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus publicly criticized the Jewish scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness and abuse of the Old Testament. Near the beginning of this sermon, Jesus stated: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The unrighteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus wanted His audience to understand that self-righteousness would not be permitted in the kingdom of heaven; rather, it would lead to “condemnation” in hell (5:20; cf. 23:14,33). A follower of God must be “poor in spirit” (5:3), not filled with pride. He must love his enemies, not hate them (5:44). He is to do good deeds, but only to please God, not men (6:1-4). The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of wearing “righteousness” on their sleeves, rather than in their hearts (6:1-8; cf. 23:1-36). It was in the midst of such strong public rebuke that Christ proclaimed:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).
In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus instructed us not to do charitable deeds…“as the hypocrites do” (to be seen of men). In 6:5-8, Jesus told us not to pray…“like the hypocrites” (to be heard of men). In 6:16-18, Jesus taught us not to fast…“like the hypocrites” (to be seen of men). Likewise, in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus was teaching us that judging another is wrong…when that judgment is hypocritical.
But, what if we are doing charitable deeds to be seen of God? Then by all means, “do good to all men” (Galatians 6:10)! What if our prayers are led from a pure heart and with righteous intentions? Should we pray? Most certainly (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Can we fast today, if the purpose of our fasting is to be seen of God and not men? Yes. But what about passing judgment? In Matthew 7:1-5, did Jesus condemn all judging, or, similar to the above examples, did He condemn only a certain kind of judging? Matthew 7:5 provides the answer. After condemning unrighteous judgments (7:1-4), Jesus instructed a person to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” He was saying, in essence, “Get your life right first. Then, in love, address your brother’s problem.” This is consistent with what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:4). God never intended for Christians to be recluses who never interacted with those around them. Rather, He gave us the responsibility of helping others by lovingly correcting them when they sin. In Matthew 7, Jesus was not suggesting that a person can never judge. He was saying, when you judge, judge righteously (as when we pray, fast, and do good deeds—do it without hypocrisy—John 7:24). Incidentally, Jesus already had judged the Pharisees. Thus, He obviously was not teaching that we should never judge anyone.
Further proof that Jesus did not condemn all judging can be found throughout the rest of chapter 7. In fact, in the very next verse after His statements about judging, Jesus implicitly commanded that His followers make a judgment. He said: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (7:6). Disciples of Christ must judge as to who are “dogs” and who are “hogs.” Otherwise, how can we know when not to give that which is holy to “dogs”? Or how can we know when not to cast our pearls before “swine”? Jesus said we must judge between those who are “worthy,” and those who are like dogs and pigs (cf. Matthew 10:12-15; Acts 13:42-46). A few verses later, Jesus again implied that His disciples must make a judgment.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:15-20).
Question: How can we “watch out” for false prophets if we cannot make judgments as to who the false prophets are? According to Jesus, determining the identity of false teachers involves inspecting “their fruits” and making judgments—righteous judgments.
What does the rest of Scripture have to say to those who regard all judging as being wrong?
- In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul commanded those “who are spiritual” to restore those who have been “overtaken in any trespass…in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (6:1). Certainly, determining who is spiritual and who has sinned involves making judgments.
- While addressing an issue in the church at Corinth where a man had “his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1), Paul wrote through inspiration:
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus…. I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person…. Therefore, put away from yourselves the evil person (1 Corinthians 5:4-5,11,13b).
Paul commanded the church at Corinth to purge a fornicator from its midst. This man’s sin was even to be addressed in a public manner. To follow Paul’s command, the church had to make a judgment. Paul also commanded the congregation to “put away” others who were living in a state of sin. When we make such judgments today, they are to be righteous judgments that are based on facts and carried out in love. Such judging should be performed in a merciful spirit (Luke 6:36-37), and for the purpose of saving souls (“that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”—1 Corinthians 5:5). Judgments are to be made from good (righteous) intentions. But judgments nevertheless must be made.
- Paul instructed the church at Ephesus to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11). And to the Christians in Rome he wrote: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (16:17). Were churches going to have to make important judgments to comply with Paul’s commands? Yes.
- Similarly, the apostle John indicated that “whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11, emp. added). To determine whether or not we are going to allow someone into our homes, necessitates a judgment on our part.
- Finally, if all judgments concerning spiritual matters are wrong, then why would Jesus have commanded His disciples to go and teach the lost (Matthew 28:19-20; cf. Acts 8:4)? Before one ever teaches the Gospel to someone who is not a Christian, a judgment must be made. Is this person lost in sin, or saved “in Christ”? If we are to teach the lost today, then it is necessary to determine who is lost and who is not.
If we never can “judge people” in any sense, as many today suggest (through the misuse of Matthew 7:1), then the above commands never could be obeyed. But, they must be obeyed! Thus, (righteous) judgments must be made.
The popular and politically correct idea that “all judging is wrong” is anti-biblical. Those who teach that Jesus was condemning all judging in Matthew 7:1 are guilty of ignoring the context of the passage, as well as the numerous verses throughout the rest of the Bible which teach that judging the sinful lifestyles of others is necessary. One key ingredient that we need to incorporate in every judgment is “righteousness.” Jesus commanded that His disciples first get their own lives right with God; then they can “see clearly” to be of help to others who are overcome in their faults (Matthew 7:5). As Jesus told the Jews in the temple on one occasion: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
Things God Cannot Do
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
Both Christians and atheists generally have assumed that if the God depicted in the Bible exists, He can do anything—since He is represented as being all-powerful. However, this assumption is incorrect. The Bible does not claim that the omnipotence of God implies that He can do anything and everything. In reality, “omnipotence” does not, and cannot, apply to that which does not lend itself to power. Skeptics and atheists have posed queries that they feel nullify the notion of omnipotence, thereby demonstrating the nonexistence of God. For example, “Can God create a boulder so large that He, Himself, cannot lift it?”
Separate and apart from the fact that God is not, Himself, physical, and that He created the entire physical Universe, though He is metaphysical and transcendent of the Universe, the question is a conceptual absurdity. It’s like asking, “Can God create a round square or a four-sided triangle?” No, He cannot—but not for the reasons implied by the atheist: that He does not exist or that He is not omnipotent. Rather, it is because the question is, itself, self-contradictory and incoherent. It is nonsensical terminology. Rather than saying God cannot do such things, it would be more in harmony with the truth to say simply that such things cannot be done at all! God is infinite in power, but power meaningfully relates only to what can be done, to what is possible of accomplishment—not to what is impossible! It is absurd to speak of any power (even infinite power) being able to do what simply cannot be done. Logical absurdities do not lend themselves to being accomplished, and so, are not subject to power, not even to infinite power (see Warren, 1972, pp. 27ff.).
While God can do whatever is possible to be done, in reality, He will do only what is in harmony with His nature. Further, to suggest that God is deficient or limited in power if He cannot create a rock so large that He cannot lift, is to imply that He could do so if He simply had more power. But this is false. Creating a rock that He, Himself, cannot lift, or creating a four-sided triangle, or making a ball that is at the same time both white all over and black all over, or creating a ninety-year-old teenager, or making a car that is larger on the inside that it is on the outside—to propose such things is to affirm logical contradictions and absurdities. Such propositions do not really say anything at all. Though one can imagine logical absurdities that cannot be accomplished, they do not constitute a telling blow against the view that God is infinite in power.
So, no, the concept of “omnipotence” does not mean that there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do. In fact, the Bible pinpoints specific things that God cannot do. For example, the Bible states unequivocally that God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2). He is a Being whose very essence entails truthfulness. Falsehood is completely out of harmony with His divine nature. Further, God cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13).
Another impossibility pertaining to God’s power is the fact that He shows no partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Romans 2:11; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17). He is “open and above board”—evenhanded—with all His creatures. He can be counted on to interact with human beings as He said He would. His treatment of us centers on our own self-chosen behavior—not on our ethnicity or skin color (Acts 10:34-35; 1 Samuel 16:7).
A third instance that qualifies the meaning of “omnipotent” is seen in God’s inability to forgive the individual who will not repent and forsake his or her sin (Joshua 24:19; Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 6:15; 18:35; Luke 13:3,5). As great and as magnificent as the mercy and forgiveness of God are, it is impossible to bestow forgiveness upon the person who does not seek that forgiveness by meeting the pre-conditions of remission. God is literally powerless to bestow forgiveness through any other avenue than the blood of Jesus and obedience to the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16; 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).
The more one studies the Bible, examining the attributes and characteristics of the God depicted there, the more one is struck with (1) the inspiration of the Bible—since its skillful handling of such matters places it beyond the charge of successful contradiction, and (2) awe at the infinitude of God. Not one of the factors discussed in this article reflects adversely upon the reality of God’s omnipotence. But it is abundantly clear that a person may so live as to render the God of heaven incapable of coming to that person’s aid. It is imperative that every human being recognizes the need to understand His will and to conform one’s behavior to that will. It is imperative that every individual avoid placing self in the precarious position of being in need of that which God cannot do.
Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).
There Will Be No Signs!
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
It is not uncommon to hear people discussing the end of time and delineating the “signs” that, they say, are proof that Christ’s return is imminent. These signs include “wars and rumors of wars,” “earthquakes,” and various political/military events that one observes on the evening news. These loud proponents of gloom claim to be representing the Bible in their calculations and forecasts. Of course, to date, every attempt to pinpoint the date of Christ’s return has failed.
The fact is that earthquakes could not have been intended by God to be a sign of the end of the world. Since 1900 alone, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, or about 20,000 a year (NEIC Web Team, 2003). Since earthquakes have been fairly constant for the last 2,000 years, and occur on a daily basis, they would be completely useless in attempting to recognize the end of the world. However, if Jesus intended them to be immediate signs, contemporaneous with the first century, they would have served a useful purpose.
Consider for a moment what the Bible actually teaches on this matter. In Matthew 24, Jesus pinpointed numerous signs by which His disciples and Jewish Christians could recognize the occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The signs that Jesus mentioned included “wars and rumors of wars” (vs. 6), “famines and earthquakes” (vs. 7), the Gospel preached to the whole world (vs. 14), and the approach of the Roman armies (vs. 15; cf. Luke 21:20). These events functioned as signals by which the faithful could identify the “end” (vss. 6,14) of the Jewish commonwealth. Jesus provided descriptive detail in response to the disciples’ question concerning the destruction of the temple (vss. 2-3). Just as tender branches and fresh leaves signal the approach of summer (vs. 32), so the multiple signs that Jesus pinpointed would signal the coming of Christ in judgment on the Jewish nation (vs. 33) in A.D. 70.
Then, beginning in verse 36, Jesus turned His attention to the question of the end of time and His Second Coming. Notice the difference! Jesus went out of His way to stress the total absence of signs signaling the end of the world and the Second Coming. He declared that His final coming would be comparable to the Deluge of Noah’s day (vs. 37), in that it will be totally unexpected. Right up to the very day that Noah and his family entered the ark, life was going on as usual. No signs! Jesus said farmers will be in the field as usual (vs. 40); women will be involved in their activities as usual(vs. 41). Jesus even likened the unexpected nature of His final coming to the exploits of a thief (vs. 43). Both Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:2) and Peter (2 Peter 3:10) repeat this analogy. As the coming of a thief in the night is preceded by absolutely no signs, so the final coming of Jesus will be preceded by absolutely no signals.
Contrary to the prevailing notions of today concerning “the signs of the times,” the Bible asserts that there will be a total absence of signs to prepare the world for the end of time. The only hope of the entire world is to render obedience to the written revelation of the Bible (Matthew 24:46). Noah preached, apparently for many years, in hopes of alerting the world’s population to the coming judgment upon them. They refused to listen. Likewise, the only “tip off ” available today is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that instructs every accountable individual what to do to be right with God. When one brings one’s life into compliance with those directives, “signs” by which to anticipate the return of Christ are completely superfluous.
NEIC Web Team (2003), “Earthquake Facts and Statistics,” [On-line], URL: http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/eqstats.html.