How do you interpret the signs of the times? How do we know whether something is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy? How can we recognize the times that we live in? These are questions to be asked as we look at the ‘Signs of the Times.’
THREE MIRACLES: Restoration of Israel
The recent Langstaff Letter, which shared three miracles related to the restoration of modern-day Israel, brought a variety of comments. So much so, that I decided to follow up by sharing my view on ‘Interpreting Prophecy,’ regarding the end times and the return of Jesus in what we call the second coming.
Before I do that, let us look at two key passages.
MATTHEW 24 AND LUKE 21
There are two passages of Scripture from the teaching of Jesus that are particularly important. Various scholars and teachers interpret them in different ways. Some see them as a clear picture of the events leading up to the return of Christ. Others see much of what Jesus said as being fulfilled in the events of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
I would suggest that both positions could be true; that much of what Jesus prophesied was both fulfilled in the destruction on Jerusalem in AD 70 and also is yet to be fulfilled in the last days. In other words, you have what is sometimes called ‘the near and the far fulfillments’ of prophecy.’
An example of this can be seen in Isaiah 7:14, which states, ‘The virgin shall conceive and bear a son,’ which initially applied to the time it was given. This prophecy concerning a virgin giving birth to a son was repeated in Matthew 1 and is obviously related to the coming of Jesus. So you have the ‘near and the far’ fulfillment of the prophecy.
MANY EXPLANATIONS REGARDING THE SECOND COMING
You will find many different viewpoints on the events leading up to the second coming. You have probably heard how, for example, there is pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, and even pan-tribulation, a belief that it will all pan out in the end.
I do not consider myself a skilled teacher in the area of eschatology, but let me be bold enough to share my particular viewpoint.
THE ‘THIS IS THAT’ THEORY
Let me start by asking you to imagine for a moment that you were in the Upper Room, the night before the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was about to be poured out on believers. You have been waiting for days for it to happen. There is great faith in Jesus’s promise and also great expectancy in what is about to happen in fulfillment of His words, ‘You shall receive power.’
In light of this, suppose you went up to Peter and said, “Peter, you have heard and believed the command of Jesus ‘not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me and you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ You also know the promises of Scripture (we know this because, on the day of Pentecost, Peter was able to quote a large section from the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32). So, Peter, you have the words of Jesus, and you also have the witness of Scripture. Now, tell me, how is this going to happen? What is going to take place tomorrow? How will this word be fulfilled?”
I don’t think Peter knew what was going to happen as he didn’t have a full understanding of how it was going to occur. Rather, he just knew something was going to happen. And when it did, as recorded in Acts 2, Peter was able to stand before the people and declare, “But this is that, which was spoken of by the prophet Joel.”
In other words, after it happened, Peter was able to look back at Scripture and see the fulfillment of Scriptures’ promises.
‘THIS IS THAT’ TODAY
I believe, in some real measure, that is what we are to do in regard to Scripture and the second coming of Jesus. We are to know what the Scripture has recorded, even in the teaching of Jesus. Then when something happens, we can say as Peter did, “This is that, which was prophesized in the Scriptures. It is happening now, just as Scripture said it would.
AN EXAMPLE OF THIS IS THAT IN ISRAEL
In the previous Langstaff Letter, I shared my thoughts about the three miracles involving the restoration of the modern nation of Israel and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
I see the restoration of Israel as a ‘this is that.’
In Luke 21:24, Jesus declared, “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.” That happened in AD 70, and for 2,000 years, the Jews were scattered across all nations.
Then Jesus also said, “Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” That has also happened. For 2,000 years, Gentiles, not Jews, ruled the Promised Land. Then in 1948, the nation of modern Israel was reborn. In 1967, Jerusalem came fully under Israel’s command, and in 2017, Jerusalem was recognized by America and other countries as the capital of the modern state of Israel.
If you continue reading in Luke 21, it goes on the talk about the coming of the Son of Man. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” This is followed by the parable of ‘The Fig Tree,’ which is a symbol of Israel.
SPECULATION IN THE END TIMES
Across the years, there have been many theories and speculations about the end times. Speculation about who might be the antichrist, or what might be the mark of the beast. John Calvin and Martin Luther both believed it was the Pope, who is still a favorite with people today. But no one really knows for sure who it is. But when a prophetic sign is clearly fulfilled, we will know. But, till then, we need to wait until we can say, ‘This is that,’ which was spoken of in Scripture. It is not wrong to look at the possibilities, but we should be careful not to declare them the fulfillment of prophecy until they truly happen.
Just as Peter did not have a full understanding of how Pentecost would happen, we don’t know for sure all the details of how the second coming of Jesus will take place. Even so, we can still hold fast to what the Bible has promised will happen.
A friend of mine wrote to me after the previous Langstaff Letter saying, “In the end, I find that I can assert positively that Christ will one day return, the church will be raptured, the judgment will happen, and the church will enter Paradise as the Bride of Christ. But as to when, how, what, and who – I find them all fraught with mystery!”
Amen! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!