Light of the World
"The Lord said to me: . . . 'I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account' " (Deuteronomy 18:17-19).
These words were spoken by God to Moses, and they hold out the promise that the Almighty One would raise up from among His people a prophet like Himself. This prophecy from Old Testament times met its fulfillment in Christ, the greatest of all prophets.
Many who heard Jesus teach and those who witnessed His miracles exclaimed, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world" (John 6:14). Christ was not an ordinary prophet. He was "the Prophet." Jesus was God's messenger and teacher, the mouthpiece and voice of the Eternal One, the infallible guide for all mankind. Adam Clarke said, "Every word spoken by him is a living, infallible oracle from God himself."
Now prophecy is "a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19). That "morning star" is Christ. He is the One who removes the dark veil from the future and gives us a clear, understanding look into the unknown. Prophecy is not given merely to satisfy our curiosity about future events. It is given to inspire faith and confidence in God. Jesus said:
"I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe" (John 14:29).
The apostles lived to see many of Christ's predictions fulfilledfor example, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (See the prophecy in John 14:16-18 and Luke 11:9-13, and its fulfillment in Acts 2.) As the Holy Spirit came upon the praying apostles, they believed more fully in Christ, and their faith was greatly strengthened. The promised blessing came as Jesus had said it would (see John 14:29), and the disciples believed with all their hearts.
In this booklet we will study two great lines of prophecy given by our Savior during the week before His crucifixion. These predictions have special meaning to us, for they apply to the very time in which we are now living.
PROPHECY DID CHRIST MAKE CONCERNING HIS GOSPEL?
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
In this one verse, Jesus foretold the triumph of the Christian message in the centuries which stretched before Him. He had visions of the everlasting gospel going "to every nation, tribe, language and people" (Revelation 14:6. The whole world would never be converted, but Jesus said that "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). Everyone is to have a chance to hear and be saved.
Today, with the great facilities of the internet, television, radio and print mediums, and with Bibles and Christian books in a thousand languages, all the world may hear the living or the silent messenger and find the way of life clearly outlined for them.
It is possible for Christians to hasten their Lord's return by increasing the tempo of their witnessing. Peter says that we are not only to look for, but to speed the coming of the day of God (see 2 Peter 3:12). The Christian message of the gospel and the second coming of Christ is being carried right now to countries that represent nearly 99 percent of the world's inhabitants. Jesus said that when everyone has had a chance to hear, "then the end will come." Friend, we are standing today on the very doorstep of the eternal world!
GIVES SIGNS OF HIS SECOND COMING
"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?' (Matthew 24:1-3).
In answer to these questions, Jesus warned of the dangers and troubles that would precede His second coming to this earth. Let's note five specific signs that have appeared to warn us that the "great day of the LORD is nearnear and coming quickly" (Zephaniah 1:14).
1. False Christs and False Prophets
"At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles. . . . So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:23-27; see also Matthew 24:5).
Most of us have seen or heard or read about false teachers and prophets (see Matthew 7:15-20; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2). And we have heard of or seen the false Christs who show signs and wonders to deceive (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). Then, too, there is the widely taught delusion that Christ returns at death.
Thousands go to the secret chambers seeking to solve the mysteries of the unknown. Is Christ there? No. He Himself says, "Do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:26, 27). When Jesus comes the second time, He will not appear as a teacher or a healer. He appears personally in the clouds of heaven as a Ruler, Judge, Deliverer, and King of kings and Lord of lords (see Revelation 19:11-16).
2. Repeating the Days of Noah and Lot
"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. . . . It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed" (Luke 17:26-30; see also Matthew 24:37-39).
First, let's get the setting of this prophecy as given by Jesus. In Lot's day and in the days before the Flood, multitudes had turned away from God and His holy will. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5).
The inhabitants of Sodom were given up to unholy lusts, and because of their wickedness God destroyed them. The world today is following in the footsteps of the old antediluvian world and the Sodomites. The earth is filled with wickedness and violence, but the inhabitants seem unmindful of the judgments that are coming, although the rumblings of disaster are all about them. They go on eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage, forgetful of God and heedless of the Savior's warning that the storm of God's wrath is gathering and that the cup of His retribution is about to be poured out. What a day of fearful, agonizing surprise awaits this heedless, careless, godless generation!
3. Wars and Conflicts among the Nations
"You 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. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:6-8; (see also Mark 13:7, 8; Luke 21:9, 10, 25, 26).
All the advances in education, science, and technology have increased the horror of war and brought it into our living rooms as live entertainment. The threat of nuclear war is a constant gloomy shadow on our civilization's consciousness. Superpowers are increasingly concerned at the possibility of nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of rogue states. Droughts, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have spawned a whole new industry of ecological conservation. Calamities by land and sea and air are also markers of the emerging twenty-first century. The only alternative is the moral regeneration of mankind. With nuclear capability in the possession of increasing numbers of ideologically diverse nations, it is little wonder that men of science tremble for the future.
One noted scientist, Harold C. Urey, said, "I am the apostle of doom. I am still a frightened man and I wish to be frightened. The gravity of the present situation in the world is frightening beyond our ability to express. It is not possible to exaggerate this situation" (Town Meeting Bulletin, May 16, 1946, page 4).
Soon the battle of Armageddon will be foughtthe final struggle before the return of Jesus. Even now the rulers of the earth are preparing to fight for their lives. Armaments are piling up under the premise that preparedness is the only safeguard of peace. But unwittingly, the nations are arming for the last great conflict in human history (see Revelation 16:12-16).
4. Distress of Nations
"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, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:25-27).
The world today is in a state of agitation. There is security nowhere except in God. Men are losing confidence in their fellow men, in human plans and organizations. Although they may band together for strength, they secretly sense their helplessness. James S. Stewart speaks of "this immensely critical hour when millions of human hearts are besieged by fierce perplexities; when so many established landmarks of the spirit are gone, old securities wrecked, familiar ways and habits, plans and preconceptions, banished never to return" (Heralds of God, page 12).
Only the student of prophecy knows what the future holds. The signs of the times are ominous, and the crisis is stealing gradually upon us. While men's hearts are failing them for fear as they look after those things which are coming on the earth, they are turning to the pleasures of sin to drown their sorrows. This is another sign of the times (see Luke 21:34, 35; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). But the human mind and spirit cannot stand the pressure, so we find mental illness at an all time high.
5. A Pleasure-Loving Church
"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:12, 13).
The abounding iniquity of our times has converted millions of professing Christians to the pleasure-loving ways of the world. Gambling, self indulgence, and bingeing are common. Hollywood and Broadway mold the lives of multitudes of theater-going, television-viewing, alcohol-consuming, recreational drug-taking, amusement seekers. There is a continual round of excitement, and many Christians lose their interest in the sober realities of truth, the Bible, and the church. Their love waxes cold. Writing of our times, Paul said:
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud . . . without love . . . rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Godhaving a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
In the light of these prevailing sins, Jesus warned His true followers in the last days:
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34-46).
SIGNS WERE TO APPEAR IN THE HEAVENS?
"Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2).
This prophecy was made in A.D. 31 and was fulfilled thirty-nine years later, in A.D. 70, when Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, destroyed the city after a long siege. It is said that nearly a million Jews perished in the general slaughter. The very stones of the temple were torn up in the awful melee. Looking beyond the destruction of Jerusalem, Christ foresaw long centuries of darkness. His prophetic eye envisioned a period of 1,260 years (see Revelation 12:6; Ezekiel 4:6) during which the Christian church would suffer tribulation and anguish. Jesus did not give details of the events of these terrible centuries of trial, but passed them by quickly, saying:
"For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until nowand never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:21, 22).
The dark centuries of tribulation for the people of God came to an end in the eighteenth century when, after years of turmoil and war, a degree of religious freedom emerged in Europe, ending the persecution of the church. Maria Theresa of Austria granted such liberties to her subjects. In America, an asylum of freedom had opened for the oppressed who fled to its shores to escape the intolerance of established churches.
Now, with this in mind, let's turn to the signs in the heavens as Jesus gave them, with the time specifically noted for the first one to appear:
"Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken' " (Matthew 24:29).
On May 19, 1780, there occurred the famous Dark Day. The unexplainable darkness of that day was followed by the mysterious withholding of the light of the moon on the following evening when the moon was at the full (see Webster's Dictionary, edition 1869, "Dark Day"). Jesus had said that these remarkable events would take place "after the distress of those days." There was little or no public persecution in Europe after the Declaration of Independence was signed in America on July 4, 1776. "Immediately after," or in 1780, these two signs appearedthe darkening of the sun, followed by the withholding of the light of the moon.
On November 13, 1833, the greatest display of shooting stars in recorded history occurred over most of the United States. These signs in the heavens came in the precise order that Christ had said they would. The last of these signs, the falling of the stars, occurred in 1833, as we have just stated. After that, Jesus said, "the heavenly bodies will be shaken" (Matthew 24:29). The powers of the heavens are the sun, moon, and stars. When Christ appears the second time in power and glory, these heavenly bodies will be shaken. The entire universe will tremble at the appearance of the King of kings and Lord of lords. The fact that all these propheciesexcept the very last onehave been fulfilled in order should convince us of two things: first, that Jesus is "the Prophet" whom God sent to enlighten the world (John 1:21) and second, that we are now living in the very closing days of time and that Jesus' second coming is near at hand.
WE KNOW THE TIME OF CHRIST'S RETURN?
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36).
Jesus didn't mean by this that His coming need be a complete surprise to His followers, for almost in the same breath He declared:
"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:32-35).
"When you see all these things," He declared, "you know that it is near, right at the door." Do we see that these signs are omens of His return? Are we living in the generation that will witness the second appearing of our Lord? Without a doubt we are. And the Lord has warned us to "be ready," for the element of surprise will always be present. "The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44).
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST CERTAIN?
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matthew 24:30, 31).
Jesus' coming will be literal, personal, and universal. It is the focal point of all the great prophecies:
"And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).
Soon the final day will dawn, and what a day that will be! But now, ask yourself: Has the morning star risen in my heart? That "morning star" is Christ, the Light of the world, who has given us the hope of ultimate salvation at His second appearing. When that day comes, will we be ready? Jesus said:
"When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. . . . Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:28, 31).
And now, as we return to the scene on the Mount of Olives, we can imagine that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were stirred as they never had been before. As they descended the mount with their Lord, after listening to His description of future events, their hearts must have been deeply moved, for they had stood at the very threshold of the future and witnessed one great scene after another. With a deeper faith and trust they followed Jesus, who is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall