What Shall Be the Sign of Thy Coming?
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Today we think concerning the sixteenth and last in the series Questions Which Demand An Answer . Open your Bibles, please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, for the question which we are going to consider today is found in verse 3. The question is, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” Follow in your Bibles as I read with you the first eight verses:

Matthew 24:

1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Notice our question in verse 3:

Matthew 24:

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

The word age would be a better word for the word world . “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the [age]?” Actually, there are three questions here. We are interested in the one which we have called to your attention.

The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples had come out of the temple where He had sat teaching the Word and His disciples, like a lot of us sometimes, were more interested in the material than they were in the spiritual. They said to Jesus, “Look at the temple. Isn't it beautiful?” It was a beautiful edifice indeed. The Lord Jesus Christ, I may be so bold as to say, felt like sometimes I think we preachers feel when we have taught the Word and we expect a spiritual response and all we get is something like, “My it was a nice day for church today, wasn't it?”, instead of something that God has given through the Word.

The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Do you see all of this beauty you are talking about? There is a day coming when not one stone is going to be left on another. All of it is going to be demolished.”

This surprised them because they had the feeling that the temple was forever, and so they said, “When will that happen?” Because of their feeling that the temple would be forever, they added, “And what will be the sign of Your coming?”, for they related the destruction of the temple to the coming of Christ. Then they said, “What shall be the sign of the end of the age?”, because they related the coming of Christ to the end of the age—three questions, and yet one.

Now the answer to their first question, “When will the temple be destroyed?”, is recorded in Luke, chapter 21. It occurred in 70 AD, and that is all that we are going to say about that. The answer to the second question or the second two, if you want to relate them as two instead of one, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and the end of the age?”. The answer to that question is found in verse 7. Notice what He said:

Matthew 24:

7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

Did you notice? They did not say to Him, “What are the signs (plural) of your coming?” They said, “What is the sign?” What one sign can people look for above and beyond all else? He gave the answer in verse 7.

We do not have the time to study the Old Testament idiomatic expressions which are given here in verse 7 which would verify what I say to you. The detailed discussions are on tape. You may get the tapes and study them if you want to, but the idiomatic expressions that are contained in verse 7—nations rising against nations, kingdom against kingdom—describe total war in the area under discussion. What is the area under discussion here? The world. What is the sign of the end of the age? A world war accompanied by famines and pestilences and earthquakes. “Jesus, what one sign can You give men that will tell men that the end of the age is here?” He said, “When you see a world war accompanied by famines, pestilences and earthquakes, you will see the sign.”

The Sign of the Coming of the Lord

I suggest to you that of which I am firmly convinced. You may meditate upon it and make up your own minds. I believe that that first sign was the first world war of 1914. I believe that that was the sign of the coming of the Lord.

May I anticipate a question in your minds? How then could the Apostle Paul look for the coming of the Lord if the sign did not come until 1914? Jesus didn't say that it would not come until 1914 and thus say to Paul, “Paul, you don't have to think about the coming of the Lord. You will be long dead before it occurs.” He simply said, “Look for the sign,” and it could have occurred at any time. In the providence and wisdom of God, it did not occur until 1914. Why? I don't know. We will let God make His own explanations, but I say to you that I believe that we have seen the sign of the coming of the Lord.

Someone says, “My, that has been a long, long time. I know. I was born three years after the first world war started, and I can tell you from the feelings in my bones that it has been a long time. Sixty-five years have I been on this planet, and the world war of which I speak began three years before that. It has been a long time. “Well, if that was the first sign, why hasn't Jesus come?” Ah, it is a simple reason. Jesus said that that was the first sign. He actually said that it was the beginning of the things that were going to be set in motion that would cause us to realize that we are approaching the end of the age, for you will notice in verse 8 where He said:

Matthew 24:

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

He said, “What I have been talking about is the beginning of sorrows.” Very literally, the phrase, “beginning of sorrows,” may be translated by the phrase, “first birth pangs.” We are talking about the beginning of a new age and He said,“When you see a world war accompanied by famines, pestilences and earthquakes, you will know that the first birth pang of the new age has occurred.”

Those of us who have had the experience of helping our wives bear our children, know that the wife, when time comes close, will say, “I believe the pains are starting,” when she has her first birth pang. When the first of our seven were born, I went to grab the suitcase and couldn't find it. Went out to start the car and realized that I hadn't taken the keys, and finally she said, “Dear, we don't have to hurry.” “What do you mean we don't have to hurry? You said that you had a pain.” “Oh, I did, Dear, but that is just one pain. We will wait a while.”

We waited and I got more nervous and more scared, and I said, “We have got to go.” She said, “No, Dear. The pains are not close enough yet.” By that time I had cooled down and found the keys to the car and put the suitcase in it and was almost relaxed. Then she said, “Dear, I think we had better go now.” That is why I don't know if we are any help when it comes to helping our wives bear children.

That was with the first child. It was a long time, it seemed to me, from the time of that first birth pang until we went to the hospital, and then it was even longer as I paced up and down wondering why in the world they couldn't get it over with. Do you see what I am saying to you? It has been a long time since the first birth pang—the first sign that Jesus is coming—but that doesn't mean that He isn't coming. It means that that is the beginning of the birth pangs, and it means that you and I, when we see that first birth pang, should begin to put the suitcase in the car, figuratively speaking, for the coming of the Lord draws nigh.

Tribulation

If you will glance with me at chapter 24, you will see that as the Lord Jesus Christ discusses the subject of His coming, He gives some characteristics related to that period of time immediately prior to the coming of the Lord. Look at the paragraph which begins with verse 9 and continues through verse 13, and then the paragraph which begins with verse 19 and continues through verse 22. In those paragraphs the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Just before I come, there will be unheard of tribulation.” You think there has been tribulation? It is nothing compared to what there will be just before the Lord Jesus comes.

Universal Proclamation of the Gospel

Then in verse 14, He said, “There will be the universal proclamation of the Gospel; that is, the Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world. Oh yes, we believe in the Great Commission and the church is working at it. We are not making a great deal of headway, but just before the coming of the Lord, there will be a resurgance and power and the 144,000 designated witnesses will preach the Gospel to every kindred tribe, tongue and nation. Then, just before the Lord Jesus Christ is seen in the sky—remember now, we are not talking about the Rapture of the Church, which could occur any moment and the Lord Jesus Christ will catch us up. It will come as a thief in the night—we are talking here about the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory when every eye shall see Him just before He appears in glory. In verses 29-31, there will be universal, heavenly disturbances. You think there has been some heavenly disturbances for various reasons up to this point. Then there will be unusual heavenly disturbances and the Lord Jesus Christ will appear in the sky and every eye will see Him.

Somebody says, “But what about the Rapture?” The sign in the Scripture is always given in regard to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, the Rapture occurs seven years before that. So if you are looking for the coming of the Lord and you think it is close, just remember the Rapture is closer.

If what I am saying to you from the Word of God is true, and it is or I would not be saying it to you, we who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will not be here when these signs occur immediately before the coming of the Lord—when these signs appear at the hospital, so to speak. We won't be here, so we say to our God, our Christ, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and related signs that we can look for, that we can use to monitor the date of the Lord's return?” Notice what I am saying—to monitor the date of the Lord's return.

Three Steams of Prophecy

I think that it is a grave mistake to try to see in every current event the fulfillment of prophecy. It may not be the fulfillment of prophecy, but it may be something which can be interpreted in the light of Scripture that will indicate to you that the coming of the Lord is nearer than when we first believed. I want to give you some suggestions that will serve to answer the question, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” In order to do that, we must recognize that there are three streams of prophecy which ought to be observed continuously by all believers in order to monitor the coming of the Lord.

In I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 32, the Apostle Paul said:

I Corinthians 10:

32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

Notice those three words: Jews, Gentiles, Church of God. Those are the names of the three prophetic streams which I say we should monitor from time to time to indicate to us the nearness of the Lord's return.

When God created the world, there was one stream—the Gentiles. From that stream, there branched off another stream—the Jews. They flowed together until the Day of Pentecost and then branched off another stream—the Church of God. Those three streams have traveled down to our age and through our age and they represent the only three divisions of mankind that God recognizes. There are Jews. There are Gentiles. There is the Church of God, which is made up of both Jew and Gentile. The Church of God is represented by the organized church, represented to the human eye by the organized church, so we must keep that thought in mind as we suggest these three streams to you. It has pleased God, in His wisdom, to take these three streams of prophecy and give us some signs by which we may monitor them and see where we stand in regard to the coming of the Lord and the end of the age.

The Jews

Let us think first about the stream of prophecy that we refer to as the Jews . Turn back to Matthew, chapter 24, where you will discover in the paragraph which begins with verse 32 an indication of what God has to say about the Jews. We will take up our reading with verse 32:

Matthew 24:

32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it [the coming of the Lord] is near, even at the doors.

A fig tree in the Word of God may represent the Jewish nation. Every time you see a fig tree, it does not necessarily mean that it is the Jewish nation, but when it does represent the Jewish nation as it does here, then you are able to monitor the progress of the stream. Did you notice what we read here? Notice verse 32 again:

Matthew 24:

32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

If you were a gardener you would go out and if you had an orchard of fig trees and you were not really sure when summer was going to come, you would say, “Well, it is nearly here.” You would examine your fig trees and go back in the house and say, “Wife, summer is not far off. I saw some leaves on the fig tree.”

When you go examine it again, you would say, “Wife, summer is just around the corner. The fig tree is sprouting leaves all over.” We do not have the time to examine all the leaves on the fig tree, so I will simply summarize. You can read them for yourself. There are three leaves that have appeared on the fig tree about which there can be no doubt at all.

I said a bit earlier that it is not wise to try to interpret every current event as the fulfillment of prophecy, but when things have become an established fact and they are related to the Word of God, then we can speak of them with certainty, so I suggest that you keep in mind the regathering of the nation of Israel to her own land. That is probably the first leaf that appeared on the fig tree to remind us that summer is near, to remind us that the coming of the Lord is near.

Those of you who are familiar with the subject might wonder why I have not suggested that we look at Ezekiel, chapter 37. That is a good passage at which to look, but I have suggested, just to refresh your mind, that there are other passages because you see some dear folk who are not as interested in the study of the prophetic Word as we are say, “You just base that on one or two isolated passages of Scripture.” When you have time, read Ezekiel, chapter 22, verses 19-22. I do not need to instruct you in history. You know that the nation of Israel is gathered back in the land, and you know that she is a recognized nation. Her flag is flying and she is everything that a nation wants to be as far as recognition is concerned, but you know as well that she has not had an easy time. True, she is there, many of her people in unbelief, not acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, still under the thumb of God for her rejection of the Messiah. That is the reason she is having a rough time, but hear me: We are privileged to live in the generation in which we live because it is in our generation in which this leaf has appeared on the fig tree, and we know that the coming of the Lord is near.

Are you thinking? The first birth pang occurred back in 1914. Now we are looking at a few more of the birth pangs and they will be getting closer together. There can be no doubt that God has fulfilled His Word in regathering the nation of Israel to her land.

Another leaf appeared on the tree which was startling indeed and it is described in Luke, chapter 21, verse 24, where we were told that the nation of Israel would be sent away from the city of Jerusalem and the city of Jerusalem would be under the control of the Gentiles until near the end of the age. You well know that the city of Jerusalem has been returned to the control of the nation of Israel in our day. What do you read there in Luke, chapter 21, verse 24? Notice:

Luke 21:

24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled [until it is close to the end of the age and the beginning of the new].

You see, the Jews are on the sidetrack now, so to speak. One day they are going to be the center of attention as far as God's program is concerned. The times of the Gentiles has come to an end and the leaf is on the tree. You say, “Well, if the time of the Gentiles has come to an end, why hasn't He come?” We are talking about birth pangs. They are getting closer together.

There is another leaf that has appeared on the tree which is tremendously significant to me because it is a leaf that seems to be growing continually in the sense that it is not a completed fact, such as the regathering and such as regaining the control of the city of Jerusalem. I am going to read this passage of Scripture because it expresses it in words that I think will be fixed in your memory and you will be able to see why I have suggested it to you as one of the leaves on the tree. Turn to Zechariah, chapter 12, and notice, beginning in verse 1:

Zechariah 12:

1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.
2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.

Notice the phrases, “for all people,” and “though all the people of the earth be gathered against it.” What are we reading? We are reading that the city of Jerusalem will be the center of the attention of the whole world. You today pick up your newspapers and discover a reference to the city of Jerusalem, not as the place where Christ was born; that would be the only reference you would have read years ago and then only around Christmastime. But now you read of Jerusalem as the center of the world's attention. Did you notice what God said? “At the end of the age, just before Jesus Christ comes back [That is the context of Zechariah, chapter 12.], the center of the world's attention will be on Jerusalem, but I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling in the hand of every man that takes it. I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone around the neck of the nation that has anything to do with it.”

What are we reading? Jerusalem is a problem. It is. The Jews of Israel want Jerusalem recognized as the capital of her nation, but the ambassadors from the nations of the world take up their residence, not in the city of Jerusalem, but in the city of Tel Aviv because the nations of the world know that everything they do in connection with the city of Jerusalem could boomerang on them and their relationship with the rest of the world.

The United Nations demanded that Jerusalem be expelled from their group and when that question was on the agenda, the United States said, “If you do it, we will exercise our veto.” Nobody wants to take a stand because when you get too closely associated with the city of Jerusalem, it is going to affect your relationship to the whole world.

Do you realize what we are reading today? Do you realize that we are living in the very period when this is true? You say, “Aren't you doing the very thing that you suggested we should not do but a moment ago? Aren't you suggesting here that we take current events and see the fulfillment in prophecy?”

No. These are historical facts. They are not current events which make the headlines today and will be on the back pages of the newspapers tomorrow. These are facts that are matters of history that cannot be changed on a moment's notice.

The Gentiles

I suggest that we look at another stream of prophecy that will enable us to determine the effect of the signs on the coming of the Lord, and I refer to the Gentile. What was it we read? “Give none offense to the Jew, the Gentiles…” As we look at this prophetic stream of Gentile prophecy, do we find anything that will indicate to us that the coming of the Lord is near? I suggest that we do. I think, for example, the Commonwealth of Europe as seen in NATO and the Common Market is an indication of the trend of prophecy, for in Daniel, chapter 2, in Daniel, chapter 7, in Revelation, chapter 13, and in Revelation, chapter 17, we are told that at the end of the age, just before the Lord Jesus Christ returns, the territory that was once the old Roman Empire will be divided once again or assembled once again as ten definite units of government control. The Common Market has ten members. You read what you will in newspapers and periodicals concerning the Common Market and NATO and you will discover that through the two of them, Europe is putting all of its eggs in one basket and all of its arms in one arsenal so that it will have a greater clout than any one nation in the whole world.

Oh yes, there are difficulties, there are problems, there is much, perhaps, that needs to be done; but you see what I am saying to you. The blueprint is there and bit by bit, the pieces are falling into place. As I look at the prophetic Word connected with the Gentile nations of the world, I see the stream rising and I know that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Likewise, I keep my eyes on Russia, for in Ezekiel, chapter 38-39, we are told that Russia will have an unusual interest in the Middle East, particularly the nation of Israel and will eventually begin her armies rolling toward Israel for the purpose of conquering that nation. The details are given in those two chapters.

I don't need to instruct you to you read your newspapers as I read mine. You know all of the political maneuverings on the part of Russia to get control of the Middle East. Back when I first started preaching the Word, I taught these things because the Word of God teaches them, but I could not say what I am saying to you now. These are matters of history. The birth pangs are becoming more frequent and they are getting closer. Likewise, there has been coined in our language today a phrase which you never heard a few years ago—“the third world nations”—and yet God knew about those “third world nations” because in Daniel, chapter 11, verse 40, and in related passages of Scripture, the king of the South along with the king of the north would be manifesting an interest in Israel. The king of the south represents Egypt and related Arab nations. You know all that is going on among the Arab nations. Whoever heard of the Arab nations meeting together to decide what they could do about the Jews before this present time? You see, the birth pangs are there, and they are getting closer. In Revelation, chapter 16, verse 12, God is preparing the way for the kings of the east—Asia—to make an inroad upon the land of Israel to gather the kings of the east to battle.

Kings of the east were a great slumbering giant until our day. China has opened her doors to the rest of the world and don't you believe even for a moment that she has done that because she is interested in the rest of world. This is part of God's program to bring China to the forefront of the nations of the world that God's prophetic program might be fulfilled.

The Church of God

One last prophetic stream that I would call to your attention and that is the Church of God, keeping in mind that we are using this phrase not to speak solely of the body of born-again believers wherever they may be, but to speak, rather, of the church organization which is well known to men and visible as well. God has laid down certain characteristics of the Church at the end of the age and when we see these things beginning to come to pass, then we know that surely we must be near the end of the age.

Characteristic of Affluence

I have described the characteristics of the Church of God at which we might look to determine the nearness of the coming of the Lord under three phrases. I have used the word affluent . In Revelation, chapter 3, verses 17-18, we are told that at the end of the age, the Lord Jesus Christ will be outside the Church, knocking on the door, trying to get in. The Church will be filled with riches and wealth and will have need of nothing. As you read those passages of Scripture, you will see that the Church will be supporting damnable heresies as part of the doctrine, and you certainly can recognize that is happening today.

Characteristic of Apostasy

That leads us to the second characteristic of the church at the end of the age and that is apostasy , as described in II Peter, chapter 2, verses 1-2, when the Church will depart from the faith to the extent that you will hardly recognize that it would be what it is today. Tell me, you older folk, when you were attending church when you were young, would you have ever considered that you might have to sit under the ministry of an immoral man as your pastor? You do today because the church of today has named a number of immoral things and have said that they should not be connected with whether or not a man is fit to pastor a church. Would you have even considered that you would be taught from the pulpit some of the things that are being taught from the pulpit today that have absolutely no connection with the Scriptures? Yet, that is being done. Look at the stream of the church of God and recognize what is happening.

Characteristic of Amalgamation

The last word I would leave with you is amalgamation . I use these words as a matter of helping your memory, beginning with the same sound, described in Revelation, chapter 17. What am I talking about? I am talking about the trend of the church today, where everything is working toward the idea of being one universal church. There is evidence in the Word of God that the church described in Revelation, chapter 17, will be built on the framework of the Roman church. I personally do not believe that the references to this church are a reference to the Roman Catholic church. I believe it is something bigger than that, but I believe the framework is there and all you need to do is to recognize the association between Catholic and Protestant. I can remember the time when they were as far apart as could be. Now they are not. I remember the time in this very place, years ago, when we began this testimony, we were having at a conference here. A Roman Catholic priest who had found Jesus Christ as his Savior was giving his testimony across the world and the local priest, who is not here now, along with some of his people, called me and said, “You dare not have that man there; you will be sorry if you do.” What has happened? They would come to hear him now, for I have lived in this town long enough to see a Protestant preacher stand at the altar of the Catholic Church right up the street here and join hands with a Catholic priest and marry a couple. That wouldn't have happened years ago. It is happening now.

Conclusion

Let me tell you, Beloved, Jesus is coming and an individual who doesn't believe that Jesus Christ is coming and coming soon is willfully ignorant of what the Word of God has to say or simply doesn't care. I personally am looking for the coming of the Lord, and nothing would make me happier than for Jesus Christ to come even before I get to the end of this sentence. One thing I know: I want to be sure and have my suitcase packed because I do not think it is going to be much longer.


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