How to Interpret Biblical Signs
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1998
The Holy Scriptures is a document that informs us about God and His ways. It is nothing less than an instruction book from God to mankind on how to conduct their lives, to show why they were put on earth, what they are destined to become, and who was and is responsible for everything that happens to us on earth or in the universe. The Bible has information in it that God actually expects us to use in governing all aspects of our lives. It will pay handsome dividends to those individuals (as well as the heads of governments and businesses) if respect and acquiescence are given to its divine teachings. It is an encyclopedia of knowledge that touches on all things physical, as well as many things mankind cannot see and feel that involve spiritual matters. In fact, it delivers its teachings with authority, as if those instructions were the very Word of God that covers all things that are necessary and indispensable for mankind to know and to follow. This is one of the reasons that it presents within its pages numerous "signs" and also "wonders" that can be classified by mankind as being miracles. These things are intended to bolster the authority and the efficacy of the Bible itself. The Holy Scriptures also provides the means and the standards by which mankind can judge what those "signs" entail and what significance they may have for individuals, groups or even whole nations. Note that the word "significance" has as its base root the word "sign." This is also true of the words "insignia" and "signature." In a word, the foundational lexical meaning of "sign" in a biblical context has to do with identifying essential factors in doctrinal and prophetic themes (particularly in regard to events inspired of God) that authenticate the basic and mature teachings of the Father and Christ. There are many types of "signs" in the Holy Scriptures. What we need to do, who are God’s own children, is to discover what the keys are that will allow us to correctly and profitably distinguish what God intends by His "signs." The only benchmark one can use to comprehend the true meaning of biblical "signs" is to apply the teachings and examples given in other parts of the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures must be used as a standard in interpreting the "signs" of the Scriptures. External or secular teachings alone are useless in appraising biblical signs. With this in mind and since we are approaching the prophesied period called in the Bible "the Time of the End," all of us need to know "How to Interpret Biblical Signs."
The central teaching of Jesus Christ about the meaning and importance of "signs" is found in Matthew 16:14. What Christ taught in that section of the Holy Scriptures is the place to start in anyone’s quest to understand the matter of "signs" as they relate to the overall teachings of God. I can do nothing better than to quote the words of Jesus in regard to this subject.
"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting, desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 16:14).
Three major points can be obtained from this educational and instructional teaching of Jesus. Every one of the three points is significant and we need to pay close attention to them.
Point One: Striving for Signs is Wrong
This teaching by Jesus in the above section of the Scriptures gives us some essential beliefs that Jesus held dear, and he minced no words in proclaiming them. First and foremost, Jesus characterized any human as being a part of a wicked and adulterous generation if he or she seeks after any kind of sign from God. That is what Jesus said, and I have no doubt that he intended his listeners to believe him explicitly. Jesus not only discouraged seeking after signs, he actually forbade it in the above verses.
This command of Jesus is similar to one that he gave in what is today called "The Sermon on the Mount." He presented in that long "Sermon" (in a staunch and disapproving manner) a roundup of maneuvers expressed by many people who claim to obey God and Christ in their outward demeanor before men, but they instead only want to witness material manifestations of God’s power. He perceived that such people were more interested in observing and participating in the practice of miracles and foretelling the future (which are a part of miraculous signs) than they were in living lives commensurate with their divine calling in being the children of God. Notice what Jesus related in Matthew 7:2123.
"Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils [demons]? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity [lawlessness]."
One can clearly observe in the above verses that Christ was speaking about the principal intent of the hearts of these people (their wrong attitudes in desiring miracles and signs for the sake of seeing such things). On the other hand, if one had a sick son or daughter who was near dying (or any close relative or friend), Christ gave many personal examples to show that prayers to God to heal such persons were not only desirable, but doing such was an essential practice of Christ under ordinary circumstances.
Such miracles as these were not done by Jesus to satisfy the curiosity of people or to provide entertainment for them. His signs and miracles were to perform good deeds that would benefit all the people involved, and to teach that the Father loved the people. In any event, Christ would not approve of the actions by numerous evangelists today who place banners in conspicuous places proclaiming that "Signs and Miracles Will Be At the Crusade Tonight" — "Come And Expect a Miracle." Advertisements such as these attracting people to come to any meetings are counter to the plain and simple words of Christ.
Point Two: Only One Sign Should Satisfy All
Christ did not diminish the value of signs, but it was people’s attitude toward them that he railed. In fact, there is one sign that all Christians must acknowledge that God the Father has given to the world to prove that Jesus was (and is) the Christ. That sign was that of the prophet Jonah. Simply put, Jesus was teaching that the Son of Man (himself) would be in the heart of the earth for the same period of time that Jonah was in the belly of the fish. Jesus would be dead for three days and three nights. [I have explained in many articles and books that the Hebrews and their prophets most often counted a part of a day (or the part of a night) as a whole day or a whole night — even parts of years were reckoned as whole years (see my book The Star that Astonished the World under the item "the 15th year of Tiberius" for proof of this.]
What Jesus wanted people to realize (and to believe) was the fact that he would be killed and placed in the heart of the earth (in a tomb) for parts of three days and nights. But, just like Jonah came forth from the belly of the fish (it appears from the text of Jonah that the prophet was actually dead during his tenure inside the fish), Jesus would likewise be resurrected from the dead. It is this sign, and this sign only, that is given to each person on earth as a witness regarding the role of Jesus in the salvation of the world. Once you understand this one sign and also believe it, then you do not need any other sign to prove that God exists, that God loves you, or that God will come to your aid in time of need. Any other sign is completely superfluous as far as the teachings of Jesus are concerned. That one sign should satisfy us completely.
Point Three: Physical Signs Normally Explain What Spiritual Signs Represent
Jesus usually introduced his teachings and parables about spiritual signs by giving physical examples that people could easily understand. It should be noticed in the New Testament that physical signs are helpful interpreters in explaining spiritual themes. They also provide the first caution. Note that in the verse above Christ appealed to the common meteorological beliefs of his time regarding the atmospheric signs for forecasting the weather. He compared these natural observations to illustrate how the prophetic signs of the times should be understood. Weather signs are very appropriate. The reason why can be understood even by us moderns who have some of the most sophisticated types of weather instruments and even satellites to predict what the weather will be tomorrow and the rest of the week.
Christ used weather signs because they are uncertain of themselves. Even today, we still make mistakes in our professional forecasts just as the Pharisees and Sadducees of Christ’s time no doubt missed the mark on their own weather forecasts (even by applying the very signs mentioned by Christ). Actually, the weather is a very complex apparatus to comprehend and it is not possible for man (even the most educated in the weather sciences) to satisfactorily state what the weather at the latitude and longitude of Jerusalem will be in an exact sense even 48 hours away. This is one of the reasons Christ used such examples. It was his way of providing the first type of cautionary measure to people in interpreting any biblical sign.
Natural Examples and Spiritual Fulfillment
Another physical sign that Christ gave in order to explain a spiritual significance was the parable of the fig tree. Note that he gave a simple illustration with which all would agree, and then he provided a spiritual meaning that people have been arguing about ever since. Look at the parable found in Matthew 24:3235.
"Now learn a parable of the fig tree. When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away."
First, everyone recognizes what the first part of the parable about the physical fig tree signifies. That part happens every year, right on schedule. When the fig tree blooms in Palestine, summer is just over the horizon. But what about the second part? I know at least a dozen different interpretations of what Jesus was supposed to mean. Was the fig tree a symbol of something besides being a natural fig tree? If so, what was that "fig tree"? Before we hastily give an answer, I think it would be wise to consult the Scriptures closely about this matter, because we may be wrong.
Second, what did Jesus mean when he said "this generation" would not pass away until his prophetic words are fulfilled? I have also heard a dozen different interpretation of the two words "this generation." Some theologians have even interpreted that the word "generation" does NOT mean a span of time during which "one generation" of men will live. Some believe the word "generation" to mean a nation of people (most pick Israel) and that Christ means there will always be Israelites on earth until the Second Advent of Christ. Others think Jesus meant that "this" generation was that generation in the first century to whom he gave the prophecy. These two interpretations (among many others) do not make sense to me. I believe he meant (reading his words carefully) that the last generation before the Second Advent will be "this" generation that sees (or experiences) all the prophetic statements of Christ that he made in the Olivet Prophecy. Truthfully, one must always use caution in teaching what these parables signify in the manner God intended.
Signs Using Contrary Examples from Nature
Now I wish to give an example (out of many) to show that extreme caution must be exercised in interpreting even the parabolic words of Christ. This concerns the use of the word "leaven" (the substance that causes bread to rise in baking or to help wine to ferment in the bottle). In the majority of places in the New Testament, we find that "leaven" is something that symbolically is close in meaning to the word "sin" or "evil." Yet there is one section of the Scriptures in which Jesus used it in a contrary sense within a context that exemplifies good and righteousness. Look at Matthew 13:33.
"Another parable put he [Jesus] forth unto them, saying, the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
In this parable we find the symbol of "leaven" used precisely opposite of what it normally signifies in the other parts of the New Testament. Indeed, there are no commentators who believe that Christ was saying that the Kingdom of Heaven would finally become exceedingly sinful and unrighteous when it becomes fully leavened. All interpreters rightly understand that Jesus meant something else. What do you think it was?
This example in the above parable shows the illustration of a symbol that is contrary to every other usage of the symbol of leaven in the rest of the Scriptures. This indicates that God can even present opposite meanings to symbols if he so desires. The consequence of this contrary application reveals that we must use caution in evaluating what the parables or signs are trying to teach. We should not take for granted that consistency in itself will always provide the correct biblical answers. Caution must be used.
Interpreting Opposite Statements
If the former illustration shows we must express caution in teaching the supposed meaning of the signs and symbols in parables, the next example reveals that we must use even more caution. It is like observing a hypothetical red flag (when we try to interpret signs) which has the warning "extreme caution" emblazoned on it. When are such precautions necessary? The next example will show what I mean.
Do you know that there are statements in the Bible that are positioned alongside one another where one statement teaches the exact opposite of what the other statement says? When you see such things, the normal reaction that most people display is to question which statement is correct since they both present diametrically opposite teachings? Let me give you two statements that are like this (in Proverbs 26:4,5), and then I will provide you with the proper interpretation that God wants us to realize.
"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him."
"Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit."
The truth is, both statements are 100% accurate. Though the wordage in those two statements clearly shows opposite teachings, in this case there is still a consistent context within the Scriptures that has the basic theme of answering fools with royal wisdom. The immediate context within which those verses are found involves the exercise of kingly wisdom (which the king derives from God) in judging all cases. Look at the two statements above.
Those two opposite teachings were recorded to remind kings and judges (particularly King Hezekiah in this case, who was responsible for having these Proverbs placed in the Holy Scriptures) that the external circumstances may be different in various cases of law and that wisdom must be used to distinguish and to evaluate those variations. The verses show that each occasion under consideration by the courts of justice must be judged on its own particular merits. In some cases it would be wise NOT TO ANWER a fool as he presents his case before the court, but in other circumstances where different conditions prevail, it may well be proper TO ANSWER a fool in the exact way he presents his foolish case before the court. The teaching in the Book of Proverbs is to show how to demonstrate a consistent wisdom in judgment even when the various cases being tried before the courts are extremely disparate from one another.
There are even teachings of Jesus that must be judged in this fashion. At one time Jesus commanded his apostles: "Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, neither bread, neither money" (Luke 9:3). He also taught: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). But the night before his crucifixion, Jesus demanded that those same apostles do the opposite. He said: "But now [note the contrast], he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his script: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one" (Luke 22:36). These commands to his apostles were the exact opposite to one another, because the circumstances had changed. The wise interpreter will always adopt Christ’s teachings (and the signs that he gives) to accord with the appropriate circumstances intended by Christ. Common sense demands such actions.
More Teachings With Opposite Meanings
The Book of Genesis records events that are the oldest in the Holy Scriptures. These early teachings and examples can have meaning for us today. In one section of Genesis, we have early narratives that use a single word in the context of two prophecies, but the intended sign in one prophecy of that same word is the exact opposite from that in the other sign. This is to instruct us that we must use an extra amount of caution in giving God’s answer in interpreting signs. Of course, if we have the spirit of God in us, as did Joseph the son of Jacob (and given the unique authority to reveal the meaning of signs), then we can make the correct interpretation. Look at Genesis 40:823.
"And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.
"And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.
"When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head. And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee. And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler [exalting his head with a crown] and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker [the rope around his neck lifted up his head]: as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him."
Such puzzles and play on words were used quite often in ancient times. And, as I have shown, they are even used in the Bible as signs and prophecies. One must be profoundly careful in interpreting them. In the secular world, most of us remember the prophetic oracle that was given to King Croesus of Lydia in Asia Minor when he wanted divine knowledge if he would win the war against the Persians that he was evoking. The famous oracle at Delphi stated that if he set out against the Persians he would destroy a great empire.
Croesus, of course, interpreted the prophetic oracle in his own favor. But alas, the prophecy came true. The "great empire" that would be destroyed was that of Croesus himself and his Lydians. It is well known that the oracles that were given to the ancients (before such readings became unpopular by the first century) could almost always be interpreted in a positive or a negative sense and seldom did they ever prove wrong (that is, if the priests were expert and clever in manipulating the words).
There are such prophecies or situations even in the Holy Scriptures. Note the incident involving Haman and Mordecai mentioned in the Book of Esther. Haman hated Mordecai. Indeed, Haman had constructed a gallows for Mordecai, but the Persian king (whose queen was Esther) wanted to honor Mordecai unbeknown to Haman.
"And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? There is nothing done for him. And the king said, Who is in the court? And the king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in. So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?
"And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour. Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.
"Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour. And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered. And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him…. And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified" (excerpts from Esther chapters 6 & 7).
This true story is again pertinent to our study of interpreting signs or any biblical circumstance. Haman made a big mistake in his interpretation. This event is recorded by God to show that we must learn to be careful in what we might hastily assume to be proper. There is a similar play on words even when Jesus was talking about his own crucifixion and the part that Judas was to play in it. Note what Jesus said in Matthew 26:24,25.
"The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said."
Notice the underlined words in the verse above. They have been misunderstood for generations. Most take it to mean that it would have been good if God the Father would never have let Judas be born into this world. It is assumed that Jesus meant that God would now have to roast him in hell for the rest of eternity because of Judas’ dastardly act that he committed against Jesus. So, it is imagined by many people that had Judas not been born, he at least could escape that terrible fate.
But this is not what Jesus intended by the use of the pronouns (which people have been applying to the wrong persons). The truth is simple. Jesus actually meant: "It [the present situation for Jesus] had been good for the man [for Jesus himself, called the Son of Man] if he [Judas] would not have been born [to carry out his evil deeds]." It simply means that had not Judas been ordained to carry out his task (he was divinely chosen — see Jude 4 — and prophesied to do his deed — see Acts 1:20), Jesus would have been spared the terrible consequences of the crucifixion and its corollaries. There is nothing in this verse about any eternal judgment being given to Judas through this statement of Christ.
A Misuse of Words and Deeds Brings on the Antichrist at the End of the Age
We must be especially cautious in interpreting the signs of the future. For example, a great counterfeit system that will resemble the true prophesied Kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ is soon to emerge on the political scene. It will imitate so closely the millennial kingdom of Christ that people on earth will appraise it as indeed the very kingdom of Jesus Christ and that the person heading it is no less than Christ himself returned to earth. What a shock will be in store for all people in the world when they discover that this EndTime Empire is really that of Satan the Devil and his evil angels. They will finally realize, when Christ truly returns to earth, that they had been misinterpreting the words of the Scriptures (which they thought they understood). They had been applying the deeds of the Antichrist as being the prophesied works of Christ. They will discover how wrong they were.
The Bible makes it clear that Satan the Devil appears to mankind as being the very epitome of righteousness and goodness. Most people, however, do not view Satan in this capacity of looking so righteous and so innocent. The world has characterized Satan as an evil looking, fire-spitting individual who is red all over, horns on the head, with a long tail that injures mankind. But this is not the description of the real Satan. The apostle Paul under divine inspiration from Christ said that Satan appears with his ministers as righteous and holy people. "For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness" (II Corinthians 11:14,15). The Bible reveals that Satan is really an "old serpent" (very wise and cagey) who is "called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). He has deceived the totality of this world into accepting that he is something he is not.
Let’s face it. What would the apostles think if the coming human ruler called the Antichrist (the False Christ) would arrive on earth looking like some Babylonian Gentile priest with a mitre of Dagon the fishgod on his head, demanding Sunday worship, the observance of pagan holy days associated with the Spring Equinox or the Winter Solstice, and teaching that all should come under the authority of the Gentile city of Rome? Would there be any apostle of Christ (who lived in the Jewish first century) who would accept such a man as the true prophesied Christ? Of course not! But Christ said the Antichrist would be so clever at the Time of the End that even the very apostles would be close to believing he was the real Christ if they did not know better (Matthew 24:24,25).
Indeed, there will even be a fake "Second Advent" that the world will witness and mistake as that of the true Christ. Recall that Satan and his angels will be thrown out of heaven (Revelation 12:717). These angels of Satan will even appear to some deceived people disguised as departed loved ones who recently died or other prominent individuals that all people knew had died. People will mistake these appearances for the resurrection of the dead that is prophesied to occur at Christ’s true advent. This will be just like the familiar spirit who came to Saul disguised as Samuel, though the real Samuel was dead in his grave and no longer alive (I Samuel 28:11,14). When Satan is expelled from heaven, the majority of people in the world will actually believe that Satan and his angels are Christ and his angels returning to earth at the Second Advent. There will be numerous miracles and signs that people will misinterpret to be those of Christ and his servants. The apostle John wrote.
"And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast" (Revelation 13:1114).
People at the time will interpret these signs in a wrong manner. They will believe them to be proper signs that identify Christ and his servants. How wrong they will be! Christ is warning us beforehand of these matters so that we can be cautious when it comes to signs and miracles. We will need more than human wisdom at that time to evaluate them correctly. Thanks be to God, he will give to us His divine help to safely make the right judgments.
Safeguards in Interpreting Signs
It is extremely important that we learn to appreciate the guidance and direction of Christ Jesus when it comes to appraising the many signs that are prophesied to take place at the End of the Age. Indeed, we have some excellent historical examples to show us that the teachings of Christ (if believed under all circumstances) can lead any person or nation into a right evaluation of the signs that God may give of a righteous nature, or that God my allow Satan and his ministers to perform to deceive people who do not want the truth. The teachings of Christ will allow us to distinguish between the two. Let us look at some recorded historical events. They come from the writings of Josephus that deal with the signs that God gave to the Jewish people at Jerusalem and in Judaea between A.D.63 and 66 to save them from the holocaust of Roman chastisement and their ultimate ruin that occurred from A.D.67 to 70.
Had you (or anyone else living at the time) had heeded the signs given by Christ, you and all others would have been rewarded by Christ’s advice and fled the country. You would have been able to escape all the calamities of that disastrous war by simply heeding the teachings of Jesus who said in no uncertain terms that the Temple and the City of Jerusalem were to be thrown down and laid even with the ground. Speaking of the Temple, Jesus said:
"There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2). He also said about Jerusalem. "For the days shall come upon thee, that thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:43, 44).
Now Josephus was the Jewish historian who was an eyewitness to the war with the Romans who destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in A.D.70. He candidly admitted that God gave several important signs in the Spring of A.D.66 to allow people a chance to realize what God had in mind for the Temple and Jerusalem. With the words of Jesus as a guide, every Christian would have known how to interpret those signs. But alas, most of the Jews remaining in Jerusalem after A.D.66, interpreted the signs differently than the clear instructional context provided by Jesus in his prophecies. As a result of this negligence, they suffered extreme pain and many died. Here is what Josephus said in War VI.5,23.
"A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the Temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such his deliverance.
"Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year."
These were the first signs in A.D.66 before the war. They were astronomical ones. Jesus said that there would be signs in the heavens to prophesy about the future ruin that lay just ahead. He said: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars" (Luke 21:25). Josephus said that there were such things before the war to give people a chance to escape the ravages of the destruction that was prophesied by Jesus to descend on Jerusalem in the near future. But that was not all. There were even more signs that God gave the Jews telling them to flee as Jesus said to do. Josephus continues:
"Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it."
Those Jews who listened to the prophecies of Jesus knew that this sign was an evil omen of destruction. This light was like that of the Shekinah (the great light that led the children of Israel in their journeys in the wilderness under Moses). And so it was. But note this. In the time of Moses, when the Shekinah appeared and then moved, it meant that Israel was to disassemble the Tabernacle [the portable Temple] and leave that area where they had pitched their tents. But with this sign, it was like the great Shekinah glory of God (the Spirit of God itself) becoming dark over the divine Sanctuary. It signalized God’s glory being eliminated from His Temple. And this is how the sacred scribes, Josephus tells us, interpreted the sign, while the majority of the people oppositely analyzed it as the Shekinah returning to the Temple to help the Jews win the war against the Romans. With Christians having the advance teachings of Christ about the coming destruction of the Temple, they knew how to evaluate this sign of the great light. Then a few days later, something else happened.
"At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the Temple."
What? Whoever heard of such a thing? Surely, an ordinary person might think, the high priest and the other priests were certainly mistaken in their appraisal. Though a cow and a lamb are domestic animals (and both are suitable for sacrifice on the altar), there is no way that a ram could mount a calf and then produce offspring. And besides, this calf was a heifer which no doubt had never been mounted by a male animal. The way it reads in Josephus, one gets the idea that the lamb fetus was dead. It could have reminded many of the Jewish authorities of a "Lamb" who was sentenced to death by their Sanhedrin about 36 years before, and the heifer could have resembled the Red Heifer whose ashes cleansed Israel from sin. Early Christians equated Christ with the Heifer (Barnabas 8:14).
But, lambs and cows normally do not breed together to produce offspring. This brings us to the negative side of this sign. In Genesis chapter 6 is a narrative of the Sons of God marrying the Daughters of Men and "Giants" were produced through those unions (the offspring were not the type of which God approved). And in the prophetic teachings of the apostle Peter, he said that similar anomalies were being done in his day (just before the Jewish/Roman War) and those actions were leading to excessive sinfulness (II Peter 2:4,5, see also Jude verse 4 through 6). To any Jew living in the first century, they would have understood that such a sign of contrary "kinds" breeding with one another and producing "non-acceptable" offspring was an evil omen. They would immediately have reflected on the account in Genesis 6 (and that was what Peter and Jude were referring to as occurring in their time). This was at the same time Josephus said this negative sign was given to the Jews in Jerusalem. Indeed, Josephus gives even more.
"Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] Temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the Temple came hereupon running to the captain of the Temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the common people to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these [the wise scribes] publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them."
What I am trying to show in these historical references in Josephus is that most of the people who lived at this period just before the Jewish/ Roman War began (in A.D.66), were well aware of the teaching of Jesus that the Temple and Jerusalem were going to be thoroughly destroyed. They should have interpreted all the signs in agreement with the teachings of Jesus, but they did NOT do so. Indeed, for the whole 40 years from the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (from A.D.30 to A.D.70), there were constant signs being given in the Temple that it was to be destroyed within "that generation" (a generation of time being 40 years). Let us notice those warnings that God gave to the Jews about these very matters that have been retained by the Jewish authorities in their Talmuds. The Jewish people were aware that God was going to destroy the Temple as Jesus had predicted, and for that period of 40 years (A.D.30 to A.D.70), they were given constant signs emphasizing Jesus’ prophecies.
Signs Concerning the Temple’s Destruction
There were in particular four miraculous signs that the apostles and the Jewish people witnessed in the 40 years before the destruction of the Temple. The historical account of these four signs is recorded in both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds.
This shows that the knowledge of these four special signs was well recognized by the Jewish authorities in the period when the Talmuds were compiled. It is now time that all of us who desire to know the history of Palestine in the first century be made aware of those outstanding warning signs. Not only is this knowledge important for Christians, but it is equally significant for all the Jewish people today. What were those four signs?
The Four Major Signs to the Jewish People
First, let us note what the Jerusalem Talmud has to say about the four signs. The following translation is that of Jacob Neusner from his book "The Yerushalmi," pages 156,157.
"Forty years before the destruction of the Temple [starting in A.D.30] the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai to the Temple, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars’ (Zechariah 11:1)" (see Sotah 6:3, bracketed words are mine).
Let us now look at what the Babylonian Talmud has to say (quoted from the Soncino Version).
"Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel would open by themselves, until Yohanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekel, Hekel, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars" (see Yoma 39b words in brackets are the Soncino text).
The four signs are precisely the same in both Talmuds, and both state that the signs began in the year A.D.30 (which is the very year in which Christ gave his Olivet Prophecy about the coming destruction of the Temple and the year he died on the tree of crucifixion). As explained in my book "Secrets of Golgotha," I showed another important historical event that was associated with these four signs that happened in that same year. Let me record it in this Doctrinal Report.
"Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin was banished [from the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple] and sat in the Trading Station [also in the Temple, but east of its former location]" (Shabbath 15a the words in brackets mine).
As I explained in my books "Secrets of Golgotha" and "The Place of the New Third Temple," the move of the official Sanhedrin from the Chamber of Hewn Stones (which was located near the Altar of Burnt Offering in the holy Temple) could be accounted for by the falling stonework that was over the entrance to the Hekel [the Holy Place] which supported the curtain that tore in two because of the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion.
Something like this must have happened to that vaulted structure called the Chamber of Hewn Stones that rendered it unfit for the Sanhedrin to enter from A.D.30 onward. The earthquake at the crucifixion could well have caused that damage. No other explanation that is discernible in the historical records makes any other sense. This would mean that the last trial ever held in that prestigious and beautiful building on the Temple Mount was that of Jesus.
And with that event which occurred exactly 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, there began that series of important signs that the Temple and its ritualistic system were destined to come to an end. The apostles would have been well aware of these signs as were the Jewish people in Judaea. The signs were certainly looked on as being most important to the Jewish authorities. The main four signs involving the Temple were interpreted by Yohanan ben Zakkai as being warnings that the Temple was to be destroyed. This witness of Yohanan is significant because he lived both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Indeed, this man named Yohanan ben Zakkai was the most important person in the Jewish hierarchy during the period after the destruction in A.D.70. He was no less than the head of the new seat of Jewish government which was established after A.D.70 at Jabneh (Jamnia) about thirty miles west of Jerusalem. His witness and interpretation is paramount to justify the reliability of the occurrences of these four signs.
One thing must be noticed by us all. Yohanan ben Zakkai (and all the later rabbis for the next 400 years) maintained that these four signs in the Temple were given by God to denote the coming destruction of the Temple, not that the people had gone over to "Christianity" or some other reason. While the four signs commenced precisely with A.D.30 when Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead, none of the signs was associated by Yohanan ben Zakkai or the later rabbis as a "disapproval" from God because of the arrival of Christianity. There was no "displeasure" on God’s part with the vast numbers of Jewish people who had gone over to a belief in Christ Jesus in the thirty-three years (up to A.D.63) following the crucifixion. James stated that "tens of thousands" of Jews then believed the Gospel (Acts 21:20 Greek).
In any event, it was because the vast majority of those Jewish Christians later turned away from the faith of (and in) Jesus that Peter and Jude wrote their epistles of warning to the Jews (Second Peter and Jude) that their erroneous actions would lead the area of Judaea into becoming as desolate as were Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus was serious in his prophecies.
The truth is, Jesus had foretold, just two days before his crucifixion, that Jerusalem and the Temple were destined to be destroyed (Matthew 24:13). He had also told the authorities that he, himself, was the new Temple and that he (being that new Temple) would be raised from the dead after three days (John 2:1921).
In short, all Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus were looking for the destruction of the physical Temple that existed in Jerusalem, and Yohanan ben Zakkai (who lived at the time of the apostles, and afterward) also knew that God was prophesying the destruction of the Temple by the four major signs given during that period of 40 years. What I am trying to show in this Doctrinal Report is that the early Christians had a great advantage in being able to correctly interpret all those signs connected with the Temple because they had the express teaching of Jesus that it would soon be destroyed. Let us now look carefully at what those signs were.
The Babylonian Talmud lists the first sign as being that in which "the lot ‘for the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand" (Yoma 39b). What was meant by this? The Holy Scriptures speaks about this ceremony (Leviticus 6:534). On the Day of Atonement two identical goats were brought before the High Priest and lots were cast over them (one source says the lots were in the form of a white and black stone—the white stone was "for the Lord" and the black was "for the Scapegoat"). The priest would put his right hand into a receptacle containing the two stones. Without looking, he selected a stone with his right hand and placed it over the right hand goat.
The Babylonian Talmud says that in the previous two hundred years the stone would be sometimes white and sometimes black as most people would have expected (that is, a random selection each year would bring up the black stone as often as the white). But beginning in A.D.30 (the very year in which Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple, and the very year of his death and resurrection), the right hand of the High Priest selected the black stone every time for 40 straight years!
The odds of a black stone coming up forty times in a row are almost astronomical in scope. And, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients (a table of odds first devised by the French scientist Pascal who lived from A.D.1623 to 1662 in which he showed odds in a pyramid style), the numerical chances of this happening under normal circumstances would be one chance in 1,099,511,627,776! That is utterly "astronomical" in scope.
But the Jewish records show this rare phenomenon occurred with regular consistency for 40 straight years! The apostles would have been well aware of this occurrence and with each year passing with the same consistency of the black stone coming up in the High Priest’s hand, they would have been amazed with this phenomenon. There is no doubt that some Jewish authorities at the time (and certainly later) were also impressed.
That does not conclude the matter, however. Both Talmuds also report another sign (from eyewitness accounts) that boggles the imagination. Beginning in A.D.30 (the very year of Jesus’ crucifixion), the western light of the Menorah (which is the Hebrew name for the seven branched lamp-stand in the Holy Place) went out for the same period of forty years. This Menorah was positioned with its seven lamps facing north. The western lamp was that which was next to the Holy of Holies and this made it the most important lamp symbolically.
In fact, we are told in the Talmud that at dusk the lamps that were unlit in the daytime (the middle four lamps remained unlit, while the two eastern lamps normally stayed lit during the day) were reignited from the flames of the western lamp (which was a lamp that was supposed to stay lit all the time—it was like the "eternal" flame that we see today in some national monuments). Josephus, citing an earlier historian, said that on the Temple Menorah there was a flame that was supposed to be kept lit night and day (Contra Apion 1:22; and also see Tam. 3,9; 6,1; Sifra, Emor 13,7; Sif. Num. 59; Yoma 33a; etc.).
This "western lamp" was to be kept lit at all times. For that reason, the priests kept extra reservoirs of olive oil and other implements in ready supply to make sure that the western lamp" (under all circumstances) would stay lit. But what happened in the 40 years from the time Christ said the physical Temple would be destroyed and in the very year that Christ became a new, resurrected "temple" for the Jewish people and for all the world? Every night for 40 years the western lamp went out—and this was in spite of the priests each evening preparing in a special way the western lamp so that it would remain constantly burning all night! All their efforts to keep it lit failed.
Now, using the chances, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients (which shows regarding this event that there can be only one chance in 1,099,511,627,776 for a black stone to come up in the right hand for forty occasions), imagine what the odds would be for the western lamp (that was supposed to be the "eternal" flame for the nation) to go out each of the 365 days of a year for 40 years? The odds of that happening are so "astronomical" that even mathematicians would stagger at trying to show a normal decimal answer like that given in Pascal’s pyramidical illustration.
But even this does not end the signs. For 40 straight years (during that single generation following Christ’s crucifixion) the crimson strap of the Temple ritual never changed its color to white as it had often done in the previous two hundred years. This is a ceremony not mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, but it was associated with the Day of Atonement from at least the time of Simon the Righteous (an honorable and upright High Priest who lived in the third century B.C.).
What was the meaning of this? It had been observed that on the Day of Atonement, when Simon the Righteous would enter the Holy of Holies, that a crimson-colored thread that he had in association with his person miraculously turned white for the 40 years he was priest and that the ‘lot of the Lord’ always came up in his right hand (Yoma 39b). It appears that this positive indication in both ceremonies (with the "white" constantly in evidence in the time of Simon the Righteous) became a pattern for future signs to the Jewish people in showing God’s appraisal of the Temple and its rituals. They came to believe that these signs showed God’s pleasure or displeasure with their activities. This is because of a special sign given in the year of Simon the Righteous’ death that showed what the "white" and the "black" indications were intended to mean.
Let us see how the Jewish rabbis came to understand these things. The Jewish reference continues.
"Our Rabbis taught: In the year in which Simon the Righteous died, he foretold them that he would die. They said: Whence do you know that? He replied: On every Day of Atonement an old man, dressed in white, wrapped in white, would join me, entering the Holy of Holies and leaving it with me, but today [on that final Day of Atonement that Simon performed his high priestly duties] I was joined by an old man, dressed in black, wrapped in black, who entered, but did not leave, with me. After the festival of Tabernacles he [Simon the Righteous] was sick for seven days and then died" (Yoma 39b words in brackets are mine).
From the time of Simon the Righteous’ death, the priests began to notice that the ‘lot for the Lord’ (which was the ceremony ordained in the Old Testament) would come up randomly, one time white and one time black. But that was not all. The crimson thread would sometimes also turn white and at other times it would remain its crimson color. This procedure prompted the Jewish rabbis to interpret that if the crimson thread turned white, then God approved of the Day of Atonement rituals that year and Israel could then be assured that they were forgiven their sins as the Holy Scriptures stated.
Thus, these traditional rites of the crimson colored thread and the biblical ceremony of the "black" and "white" stones were established as official signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure. But note this. With the year A.D.30, at the very time the Supreme Court of the Jewish nation condemned Jesus to death on the tree of crucifixion, the crimson thread never turned white again and the white stone never came up in the right hand of the high priest (for the period of 40 years) from the time of Christ’s crucifixion until the complete destruction of the Temple in A.D.70.
This still does not end the signs. There is even more to relate from the historical records of the early rabbis. During that same period of 40 years, the doors of the Hekel (the doors in back of the Temple curtain that tore in two at Christ’s precise time of death) were found to be opening of their own accord at night during the time the Temple was off limits to the ordinary people. Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds state that this opening of the Hekel doors was something that periodically happened throughout the whole period of 40 years!
And recall, the fact of these signs were vouched for by no less than Yohanan ben Zakkai (the top rabbi after the fall of Jerusalem). He was an eyewitness to all the things that had occurred in the Temple in those 40 years before its ruin.
The Consequences of These Four Main Signs
By reckoning all these four signs together (with their multiplied occurrences) as being mere coincidences and that they happened in a natural and normal way is entering the realm of patent absurdity. The odds of those things occurring by chance are so "astronomical" that to express the odds in a linear decimal fashion would jolt the normal limits of human terms to reckon it. But that these four signs were directly from God (and that their wonderful consistency of action was showing the coming destruction of the Temple that Jesus foretold) is something that made sense to the early Rabbis who lived from the time of the Temple’s destruction and for almost four hundred years afterward. The apostles who also saw those miraculous things occurring daily and yearly would have been knowledgeable of these same interpretations, and they would have supported them. In my estimation, those remarkable signs to the Jewish people came through the direct intervention of God the Father. To believe they happened by chance is too absurd for any common sense person to accept.
Josephus Records Even More Signs
There were other signs that God gave to the Jews before the actual war with the Romans began in late A.D.66. There are more eyewitness accounts by Josephus that dovetail with Christ’s prophecies (and all indications show that Josephus was not a Christian, so his opinion cannot be reckoned as biased in favor of Christ’s teachings). Josephus records some outstanding signs that could only have come from God the Father. They were easy to interpret as long as people continued to believe to the teachings of Christ that Jerusalem was going to be encompassed with armies and be demolished. Josephus records a sign that was so well known that most people in Judaea were witnesses to it. He said:
"Besides these [signs mentioned earlier], a few days after that feast [of Unleavened Bread], on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities" (War VI.5,3).
This is precisely what Jesus said would occur. He told the Jews that they would in the future be able "to see" (that is, to observe with their eyes) Jerusalem compassed with armies. When they would "see" such things, that was the time to flee because the desolation of Jerusalem was very near (Luke 21:20). This prophecy has been a puzzle to commentators because they wonder how it would be possible to flee Jerusalem unimpeded if there were armies encompassing the city with their armies? What was not understood was the fact that Christ meant that he would send a major sign to the people of Jerusalem (and other cities of Judaea must have been included) that would signal the time to leave. So, on what is known as the last day of the Second Passover season (if people were unable to keep the Passover and Unleavened Bread ceremonies in the first month, they could do so in the second month), Christ sent all the Jews a major sign. This is the one that Josephus and all the people of Judaea witnessed. It showed armies in the clouds all over Judaea surrounding the various cities (including Jerusalem). This was a miracle of the first magnitude since thousands of people were witness to it.
But that did not end the signs that God gave to the Jews before the war began in late A.D.66. Notice one other important sign that Josephus (an eyewitness) mentioned. It is significant!
"Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the Temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’"
Exactly 36 years before, on this exact day of Pentecost, the Christian community received the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem at the Temple as recorded in Acts chapter two. And now, 36 years later (precisely 12 times 3 years later), a sign to flee Jerusalem and the Temple was the final one that God gave to the Jewish people to depart and save their lives. In effect, with the sign that stated: "Let us remove hence," this was tantamount to saying: God was abandoning His Holy House (the Temple) and also the City of Jerusalem that had been His capital for all affairs on earth. This was the final sign to flee. People living at the time, who understood the teachings of Jesus that the Temple and Jerusalem were to be destroyed would have left the city for safety. And Eusebius, the Christian historian of the fourth century, presented records that showed that the remaining Christians in Jerusalem packed up their bags and left the city and the region of Judaea at that time. All of them were saved from that agonizing tribulation that the rest who remained underwent.
Previous History an Example for Today
Past history is instructive for us. The time called the "End of the Age" is just on the horizon. We are fast approaching that time. It will be a period of signs and miracles (Acts 2:1621). But Paul also said: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons]" (I Timothy 4:1).
In this Doctrinal Report I have been giving both biblical and historical accounts of signs being used in the past as examples of how to appraise any signs we may encounter in the future. The main point I have tried to establish (and what I wish to emphasize) is the fact that we who are Christians should not be too hasty in our interpretations of the signs at the Time of the End.
Signs for the Immediate Future
As God and Christ gave signs to the people of Jerusalem and Judaea in the 40 years before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, we can be assured that they will send them to us who are destined to witness (at the End of the Age) even more difficulties than those experienced by the Jewish people from A.D.66 to 70. Are you sure you can interpret them properly? I have been trying to show you in this Doctrinal Report that you should exercise extreme caution in appraising the signs (especially in this age of deception that is prophesied to occur in advance of us — see II Thessalonians 2:111, especially note verse eleven). We can only interpret signs correctly IF (and I do mean IF) we follow Christ’s cautionary instructions for this End Time. And what are Christ’s admonitions?
Christ consistently in the Olivet Prophecy warned people NOT to set dates for the fulfillment of prophetic events. People, of course, will set dates, but those prophetic dates will always be too early. Look at Christ’s teaching in Matthew 24 and 25. He says in no uncertain terms that all the chronological prophecies that are given at the End Time will be wrong. Date after date will be set by those claiming to know the chronological standards of the Holy Scriptures, but those dates will NOT witness the supposed prophecies fulfilled on those specified dates. The general consensus that will develop when the prophetic dates will be given by certain "top authorities" and "prophets" will have most people saying: "My Lord delays his coming" (Matthew 24:48).
This instruction of Jesus is important. It tells us in no uncertain terms that when most of us think that Christ will arrive, he will NOT come at that time. Peter said that the general attitude of people at the Time of the End will be: "In the last days [there will be] scoffers walking after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation’" (II Peter 3:4).
Christ said that even we Christians are not permitted to know the intricacies of the chronological seasons, since that is something put into the power of the Father alone (Acts 1:7). If any person starts setting dates for prophesied events to occur, we can automatically know that he and/or she cannot fathom what they think they know. Chronology is a very complicated subject, and in a forthcoming book I will show how ignorant even the world is of it. Be careful with date setting. This is the admonition of Christ.
In the parable of the Ten Virgins we find the main indication of Jesus that even Christians will not know the precise dating of prophetic events that God the Father has prepared to occur. Remember that the foolish virgins took only enough oil with them to last through the first part of the evening (the normal time for weddings to take place), but the bridegroom came at a most unusual hour — at midnight. The oil of the foolish virgins had been extinguished or going out by that unusual hour. Still, the wise virgins had enough to last till midnight and even beyond (Matthew 25:113). Note that the bridegroom came NOT LONG after their oil was going out, but the wise took enough extra oil to cover all the time periods within which a proper wedding could take place. We should always do the same and be prepared, even in the middle of the night.
This is the context of caution that Christ gives to the world (including us who are his people). We should never set dates for events or signs to occur. The prophesied events will, of course, happen right on schedule, but God has not allowed us to be privy to the knowledge of those exact dates (especially that of Christ’s Advent).
Let us recall one important point that I emphasized at the beginning of this Doctrinal Report. That is the fact that there is really only one sign that God has felt obligated to give us. That one sign is that of the prophet Jonah. That sign is something given to the world almost 2000 years ago. It was the sign that Christ would be dead for three days and nights, and the conclusion of the sign being Christ’s resurrection from the dead. That is the only sign we need.
As for us, we may not even realize that some things are signs until they have happened and we look back and realize that God did in fact present us with his divine signs. The reason I can say this is because of the teaching of Christ, even after his resurrection from the dead. He said: "These signs shall follow them that believe" (Mark 16:17). Christ did NOT say that he will give us signs TO LEAD us into doing such and such things (or to give us faith and assurance). He specifically said that the signs he will present to us for our good will be those that "FOLLOW" us. When we walk through the doors of faith in teaching the Gospel to all people on earth, Jesus says we will be able to look back on what we have been doing and we will begin to observe specific signs that happened to us (or in the world) that had helped to teach his Gospel to the world.
We need to be about our Father’s business of teaching that wonderful Gospel of Christ to the world. He will open the doors of signs and wonders to pave the way for our success. Christ forbids us, however, to crave for signs and miracles, or to insist on seeking them. There is only one sign we need to get the job done: that is the single sign of the prophet Jonah.
Ernest L. Martin
© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions