Normally when one seeks to find information concerning the end-times, one will gravitate towards the book of Revelation. However, Jesus presented some fascinating information concerning the end-times in a message that He delivered on the Mount of Olives. The message is popularly titled The Olivet Discourse. In the opening points given in the message, Jesus provides nine signs that the end is drawing near. These are not the only signs that exist. Nonetheless, the signs provide a fascinating glimpse at the conditions one can expect as the end draws near.
Sign One: Increase in False Religions
Jesus began the message in saying, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5, ESV). The first sign is that one can expect false Messiahs to increase in the end. Notice that Jesus emphasizes “many.” In a world bombarded by information, many ideas and philosophies invade the intellectual arena. Some would claim that they were the Christ. Others would claim that there is only one Christ—Jesus of Nazareth. Some would claim that another person was the Christ. Some would claim that everyone is the Christ. While yet others would claim that the “Christ” is a false idea. Only one can be correct. In fact, there is only one who can meet the standard of the Christ, which is Jesus of Nazareth. That the world is blitzed with much more exposure to multiple religions and philosophies points to the fact that the end may be nearer than one might think.
Sign Two: Increase in Violence
Jesus continues his discourse in saying “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (6-7). Violence has been part of human history since the very beginning. The first murder is recorded in the Bible when Cain slayed Abel in Genesis 4. However, as the end draws increasingly near, one can expect a monumental rise in violence globally. In fact, Jesus states later in the message that “as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (24:37). The days of Noah were known for illicit violence and great depravity. As violence increases worldwide, one can anticipate the looming of the end.
Sign Three: Increase in Famines
Jesus additionally denotes that “there will be famines” (7). Here, Jesus notes that famines will increase during the end-times. Certain studies indicate a concern for the possibility of a coming crisis as it pertains to global food supplies, particularly corn and grain. However, more research will be necessary as it pertains to this issue.
Sign Four: Increase in Natural Disasters
Jesus continues by saying “and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (7-8). As the end approaches, one can expect an increase in natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and perhaps solar bursts and meteor strikes will all increase as the end approaches. While disasters have occurred since the dawning of mankind, such occurrences shall increase in number and will be more destructive in nature.
Sign Five: Increase in Persecution
Jesus continues by warning that “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (9).
Philip Jenkins writes,
“Matters changed swiftly during World War I. Massacres and expulsions all but removed the once very large Armenian and Greek communities in Anatolia (now Turkey). Counting Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks together, murder and starvation killed more than two million Christians between 1915 and 1922.
Emerging Arab nations also targeted Christians. Iraq’s slaughter of Assyrians in 1933 gave lawyer Raphael Lemkin a basis upon which he defined the concept of genocide. The partition of Palestine and subsequent crises in the region massively shrunk other ancient Christian groups. The modern story of the Christian Middle East is one of contraction and collapse. By the end of the past century, Christianity in the Middle East had two great centers: Coptic Egypt, and the closely interrelated lands of Syria and Lebanon. They are now home to many refugee churches” (Jenkins, 36).
Persecution has undoubtedly increased in the twenty-first century. Whether it is physical persecution, social persecution (e.g. peer pressure), or other means of persecution, one can expect such to increase as the end approaches.
Sign Six: Apostasy
The sixth sign given by Jesus is described in the following statement: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (10). Here, Jesus is referring to the faithful. Among the faithful in the end times, one should expect many to fall out of the church. Some may not have realized that the Christian walk was as tough as it was. Others may feel that being a follower of Christ is passé. One must wonder whether such a person ever truly knew Christ in the first place. Nevertheless, the true Christian will remain as such a one “endures to the end” (13).
Sign Seven: Departure from Truth within the Assembly
The seventh sign that the end is near is that in the end “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (11). Stuart Weber writes of verse 11 in that
“Verse 11 sounds similar to verse 5 above, describing false prophets instead of false Christs. A prophet was a spokesman for God; therefore, a false prophet was one who falsely claimed to be God’s spokesman. This was a more subtle form of deception, since there was only one Christ. However, there can be many prophets from God, and it was easier to pass oneself off as a prophet. Jesus said there would be many such deceivers and that they would deceive many people” (Blomberg, 398).
The fact that Jesus uses the term “prophetes” (prophet) demonstrates that these false leaders exist within the assembly of believers as opposed to the false messiahs who exist outside the assembly. Thus, the church can anticipate that as the end approaches more and more false teachers, preachers, and pastors will arise. There will be many more “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).
Sign Eight: Departure from Known Morality
The eighth sign that the end is drawing near is that “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (12-13). The things that are right will become scoffed and the things that are wrong will be celebrated. Morality will decline as the end approaches. The end will resemble that days of Noah (24:37), a time known for the abandonment of faith and moral recklessness.
Sign Nine: Global Evangelism
The previous eight signs were negative in scope. However the ninth sign is positive in nature. The final sign listed in this section of the Olivet Discourse in that the end is drawing near is that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (14). The advent of the internet allows for the gospel to be shared all across the globe. In fact, at http://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com, over 172 nations are being reached with the gospel message of Christ. Countless other ministries are spreading the good news of Christ all across the globe. Now, more than ever before, it can be said that most every nation has a chance to hear the gospel message. This, although a positive sign, is a sign that the end is drawing imminently near.
Some would approach the previous verses from a preterist interpretation. Craig Blomberg writes,
“It is crucial to observe the fulfillment of all these preliminary events prior to a.d. 70. This fulfillment will explain how 24:34 can be true. It demonstrates that everything necessary for Christ’s return was accomplished within the first generation of Christianity, so that every subsequent generation has been able to believe that Jesus could come back in their times. It should lead us to reject all views that claim to know for sure that Christ is returning in a given year, decade, or century on the basis of some unique event that has never previously occurred in Christian history (as, e.g., with the reestablishment of the state of Israel or with some future, hypothetical rebuilding of the temple). Moreover, by including the extensive preaching of the gospel (item 9) with the eight negative signs, Jesus offers something of a balance in his presentation of events that must occur before the end. Neither the unrelenting pessimism of traditional dispensationalism nor the unbridled optimism of certain forms of postmillennialism is justified. Instead, the period of time prior to Christ’s return will be characterized by a growing polarization between good and evil. God’s people will increase in power, witness, and impact in the world, even as persecution and hostility intensify and global conditions deteriorate. Revelation 11:3–13 graphically depicts this polarization, and church history, beginning already in Acts 8:1–4, has frequently demonstrated the truth of Tertullian’s slogan that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Blomberg, 357).
Even if it were true that these events were fulfilled before the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, an approach to which this writer is skeptical, prophecy tends to hold a two-edged sword as it is often forth-telling and foretelling, forth-telling in describing something that was to occur near the time projected, and foretelling of some distant event. Even if these nine signs were primarily intended to describe the imminent destruction of the Temple, one could rightfully postulate that these signs point to a time near the end when Christ would return. Seeing that Christ did not return in 70 AD during the destruction of the Temple, a preterist view is suspect in this writer’s opinion. As Weber denotes,
“The second question Jesus answered has to do with the purpose of preaching this gospel of the kingdom throughout the world. A testimony (marturion) was a legal term, referring to the sharing of information on a particular topic. In this case, it had to do with Jesus and his kingdom. The testimony served two purposes simultaneously: (1) it could win the listener over, and (2) it could condemn the guilty. Implied here is Jesus’ distinction between those who listened and those who did not (11:15; 13:9, 43) End here means the end of the age” (Weber 399-400).
Jesus was answering two questions: one concerning the destruction of the Temple and the other concerning the end. These nine signs speak clearly to the characteristics of a society nearing the end of time. Are we near the end? Check the signs and judge for yourself.
© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.
Blomberg, Craig. Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
Jenkins, Philip. “Is This the End for Mideast Christianity.” Christianity Today 58.9 (November 4, 2014): 36. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.
Weber, Stuart K. Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.