Introduction: In Revelation 22:7, Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book."
The question that Christians have been asking for 2000 year now is; “Just How soon is soon?” In other words, how soon will Jesus return for His church? How soon will Jesus appear in the clouds and take us to be with Him in Heaven? How soon will the events described in the book of Revelation begin to play out on the nightly news?
Of course no-one knows when Jesus is going to return in fact Jesus himself said that He didn’t even know. One day while Jesus was teaching His disciples they asked Him when He would establish the Kingdom of God, and what would be some of the signs that the time was drawing near. Jesus responded to their question by saying, says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Matthew 24:36.
But of course that hasn’t kept people from trying. Although the Disciples themselves didn’t try to guess when Jesus would return they all expected him to return during their lifetime. At the turn of the first Millenium so many people were predicting that Christ would return that many farmers didn’t even plant their crops. In the 1500’s Martin Luther believed that Christ would return and usher in His Kingdom during his lifetime. Luther wrote, "We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world won’t last any longer.”
In 1800 a man named William Miller predicted that Christ would return on or around April 3, 1843. All over the Northeast, half a million of his followers awaited the end of the world. Reportedly some of them made their way to the top of mountains, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend into heavens with their departed loved ones. But of course it didn’t happen.
More recently a retired NASA engineer by the name of Edgar Whisenant sold 4.3 million copies of a book that went into great detail outlining his reasons for believing that Christ would return in 1988. I remember reading the book, and I admit it was interesting reading. From what I remember He had come up with a elaborate mathematical equation for calculating the 2nd coming. Of course 1988 came and went and Jesus didn’t return. Whisenant didn’t give up though. He went back to the drawing board so to speak and then predicted that he had just made a mistake in his calculations and that the Lord would return in 1989. Of course he was just as wrong the second time as he was the first.
As I have already mentioned a couple of times during this Revival I do believe that we are much closer to what many of us call the “Rapture” than most of us realize. So having said that I want us to spend some time tonight looking at a few of the signs of His return that Jesus himself outlined for us in what has been referred to as “The Olivet Discourse.” It can be found in the 24th chapter of the book of Matthew.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ’I am the Christ, and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The First sign that Jesus mentions here is that…
1. Deception Will Be Wide Spread.
JESUS ANSWERED: "WATCH OUT THAT NO ONE DECEIVES YOU. FOR MANY WILL COME IN MY NAME, CLAIMING, ’I AM THE CHRIST, AND WILL DECEIVE MANY.”
Perhaps never before in the History of the church has there been a time when false doctrines and false prophets have been so prevalent. It seems like every other day you hear about a church or a denomination that has compromised the Scripture or watered down the gospel to try to make it more appealing to the world.
This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, when He said; “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
The Mormons, the Jehovah’s witnesses, and other cults are deceiving more and more people every day. They pretend to be something they are not, and are especially good at marketing their brand of religion.
Isalm is the fastest growing religion in the world, and unless we wake up and get busy there are going to be more Muslims in the United States than Christians in a few years. Movie Stars like Tom Cruise, and other celebrities like Shirley McLain and George Lucas openly promote things like Scientology, The New Age Movement, and Secular Humanism.
This is why it is so important for us to continue sharing the truth of the gospel message. Because like the Apostle Paul if someone is preaching a different gospel than the one He proclaimed then “It really isn’t a gospel at all.”
And of course it is only going to get worse as we wait for the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Until He returns more and more individuals like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, and David Koresh of the Branch Dividians, are going to actually going to claim to be Jesus Christ. Not only will there be widespread Deception before the Lord returns there will also be…
Point 2: Widespread violence and Warfare.
JESUS SAID, “YOU WILL HEAR OF WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS,”… HE ALSO SAID, “NATION WILL RISE AGAINST NATION, AND KINGDOM AGAINST KINGDOM.”
During August the World’s attention was once again focused on the Middle East as Israel fought a month long battle against the terrorist group Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Even though the fighting has stopped for now and a United Nations peace Keeping force has been deployed to the area, no one really expects the peace to last very long.
Of course we all know The United States is presently engaged in The War on Terrorism. Every day we hear about another car bomb exploding in Iraq or another roadside bomb taking the life of one or more American Soldiers. But the War on Terrorism is not the only War going on around the world.
The United Nations defines "major wars" as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict. In June of 2005 there were eight Major Wars being fought around the world and as many as two dozen "lesser" conflicts. Most of these were civil or "intrastate" wars, fueled as much by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities rather than ideology.
This Week President Bush urged the United Nations to send a Peacekeeping force to the Darfur region of the Sudan. Where a three year conflict between the government and various rebel groups has claimed approximately 200,000 lives.
Then of course there are also the rumors of war. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ah-Madinejad has openly said that He would like to see the Nation of Israel wiped off of the face of the earth, and has refused to stop the enrichment of Uranium despite the fact that the United Nations has demanded that He do so. The United States, Israel, Great Britain and other countries are opposed to the idea of Iran possessing Nuclear Weapons for obvious reasons. However, the rest of the world seems to think President Bush and the United States is more of a threat to World Peace than Iran. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has been cozying up to Iran and Ah-Madinejad and has promised him that if the United States attacks Iran or bombs one of their nuclear facilities that Venezuela will attack the United States. Russia has also expressed its concern over any U.S. interference in Iran.
China and Russia, who were once bitter enemies, have recently participated in joint military exercises. These exercises have strengthened the military relationship between these two countries both of whom have expressed concerns about the way the United States has dominated International affairs in recent years. Last year A Chinese Military leader told reporters that China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against "hundreds" of U.S. cities if a conflict breaks out over Taiwan.”
3. Next Jesus said there will be Widespread Famines and other Natural Disasters.
In the second part of verse 7 Jesus says, There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
A. We generally think of Famines taking place in places like Ethiopia and Kenya, or other underdeveloped nations in Africa. However, according to Jesus Worldwide famines will increase in number and severity before He returns. This is hard for us to even think about because we are so used to going to the grocery store and buying whatever we need, whenever we need it.
However, Jesus is indicating here that a day is coming when that will not be possible. We have seen in recent years what happens when people are unable to buy the food and water they need to provide for their family.
Frustration and anger quickly sit in and before long lawlessness breaks out and people begin taking whatever they can get. How this is going to happen no one knows. Maybe it will be the result of global warming or other changes in the climate, or perhaps a nuclear war. But however and whenever it happens, it will bring the world to its knees.
B. Jesus also mentions that earthquakes will take place in various places.
On December 26, 2004, while most of us were still celebrating the Christmas holiday the most powerful earthquake in over 40 years took place in the Indian Ocean. It was centered about 100 miles from the coast of Indonesia. The massive earthquake, which registered 9.0 on the Richter scale, sent deadly Tsunami’s crashing into countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kenya, Malaysia, Somalia, and Tanzania. These Tsunami’s killed over 170,000 people in Asia and Africa.
In his book, “Apocolyptic code,” Christian author Hal Lindsey says, “Earthquakes have increased in frequency and destructiveness during the 20th Century. Between 1890 and 1950 there were an average of 2 to 4 devastating earthquakes every year in the world. In the Decade of the 50’s there were 9. During the 60’s there were 13; during the 70’s there were 51; during the 80’s there were 86, and from 1990 – 1996 there were more than 150 damaging earthquakes recorded.”
According to the National Earthquake information center in Golden, Colorado, 178 earthquakes have taken place around the world during the last 7 days. One seismologist at the Scripps Research Center in La Jolla, California, recently said, “It is almost as though the earth’s plates are gyrating in anticipation of the world’s greatest earthquake.”
In the Book of Revelation the Apostle John prophesied that the worst earthquakes to ever be recorded will occur during the Tribulation period.
But as we have seen during the past few years, earthquakes are not the only Natural disasters that seem to be increasing in number and intensity. Since 1995 the number of Hurricanes that have developed in the Atlantic basin, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico have increased. In 2004, Florida was hit by 4 Hurricanes. In 2005 the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas were hit hard by Hurricanes Katrina & Rita. No one really knows why there have been more Hurricanes during the last few years, although some people are claiming global warming has something to do with it. ABC news did a story about this last October. They had an expert on who claimed that the increase in the surface water temperature in the Atlantic Ocean was a result of global warming, and that this is the reason we are seeing more powerful Hurricanes. On the same show Hal Lindsey, who is considered by many to be an expert in Biblical prophecy, made the comment that He believes these Hurricanes are God’s Judgment on America. Most Americans who watched the show probably dismissed Lindsey as nothing more than another religious fanatic. But what if Hal Lindsey is right. What if God all is using all of this wicked weather that we have experienced the last few years to try to get our attention.
In Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse He mentions something that Matthew doesn’t. In Luke 21:25 Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world,”
C. Luke also mentions something else that Matthew doesn’t.
Luke 21:11 says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places.”
The dictionary defines a pestilence as a widespread and often fatal infectious disease.
In 1995 the World Health Organization said, “the world is ripe for super plagues of apocalyptic proportions.” In 1996, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, the Director of the World Health Organization said, “We are standing on the brink of a global crisis in infections diseases.” He went on to say, “During the past 20 years, at least 30 new diseases have emerged to threaten the health of hundreds of millions of people. For many of these diseases there is no treatment, cure of vaccine….Diseases that have been around for centuries are popping up in incurable strains.”
Of course during the last 30 years, AIDS has been the most devastating plague or virus to ever strike mankind. In 1993 AIDS became the leading cause of death of U.S. males between the ages of 20 and 45. In a 1997 report The World Health Organization reported that 11.7 million people had died of AIDS since it was discovered. Harvard University scientists recently estimated that there are over 25 million people worldwide who have full-blown AIDS, and an additional 100 million people who will be infected with the HIV virus in years to come. Last September Fox News reported that 600 people die from AIDS every day in South Africa.
AIDS of course is a sexually transmitted disease and cannot be spread through the air or casual contact. But other diseases like SARS, West Nile, The Ebola virus and Asian Bird Flu are also causing concern. What is frightening, about many of these diseases is that they can be transmitted by mosquitoes, casual contact, or even through the air.
An article published in National Geographic says, that there is evidence that influenza pandemics occur on a regular cycle, with one every 20 or 30 years. The notorious Spanish flu killed at least 20 million people worldwide in 1918. Outbreaks in the late 1950s and late 1960s resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in the United States alone. Now according to this article the world may be due for another outbreak.
Stephen Morse, the director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University in New York, said "Almost everyone in the field feels that an influenza pandemic is virtually inevitable, and that we need to be prepared for it."
The World Health Organization estimates the Asian Flu virus could infect up to 30 percent of the world’s population and result in millions of deaths.
All of this is quite disturbing. But what are we supposed to do? We can’t just live like hermits and never leave our homes. I think the answer is to trust Jesus, after all in the Sermon on the Mount He said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The next thing Jesus mentions that will be evident before He returns is…
4: Widespread Wickedness.
Matthew 24:12 says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,”
The Apostle Paul also wrote about the widespread wickedness that would be prevalent in the last days in (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
Which says, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
According to (Revelation 9:20-21) the Top 7 Sins during the Tribulation are:
-Rebellion against God
-The Worship of Demons
“In other words, the moral conditions spoken of in the Book of Revelation are already here. We are already living in days like those of Noah– days our Lord predicted would be evident just before His return. Morally speaking, nothing needs to happen before Christ’s return. The rapidly declining moral standards of our day make it very clear that millions of people around the world are already living like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Conclusion: In His book, entitled, “Are we Living in the End Times?”, Christian Author, Tim Lahaye writes, “Christ could come today, and no prophecy of the end times necessary for His coming would go unfulfilled.”
He also says, “While we cannot be certain that ours is the last generation before our Lord returns: we are certain of one thing: our generation has more reason to believe he could return during our lifetime than any generation preceding us.”
So what does this mean to us, what should we be doing. Look back with me to the 24th Chapter of Matthew. In verse 42, Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44
So we should watch for his return and be ready because He could return at any moment. What does it mean to be ready? Well that depends on whether you are a Christian or not. If you are not a Christian, then that is the first thing you need to do is repent of your sins and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
But what about those of us who are Christians? What should we be doing? Should we sell all of our possessions and go to the top of the mountain and wait for Jesus to return?
Let me share a story with you that I think illustrates what we as Christians should be doing.
In the days before Connecticut became a state, the colonial legislature was in session when a thick black cloud blocked out the sunlight. Someone shouted, "It is the Day of Judgment! Let’s go home and get ready!"
But one member of the legislature, who happened to be an old church deacon, stood up and said, "Brethren, it may be The Day of Judgment--I do not know. The Lord may come. But when He does, I want Him to find me at my post, doing my duty up to the very last moment. Mr. Speaker, I move that candles be brought in and that we get on with the business of the colony."
In the same way, as we have seen tonight the signs are pointing to the fact that Jesus could return at any moment. But until He does, our duty as His servants is to make the best use of our talents and our opportunities. We need to continue doing the business of His Kingdom, by sharing the Gospel message of His Love and His Grace with everyone that is lost and dying in their sins.