The Sign of His Coming!
Jesus is coming again. Nature impatiently awaits it (Rom. 8:19-21). Justice legally demands it (Mt. 24:27-28). Christians eagerly anticipate it (Heb. 9:28). And the Bible authoritatively proclaims it (Mt. 24:32-35). But can men of faith truly know the sign of the Savior’s return to the earth?
On a gloomy day outside of the Eastern Wall of Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago, the Lord’s disciples posed that same question. They asked, “. . . what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3). There was urgency in their voices. Their inquiry came in direct response to the Savior’s announcement that He was leaving and that Israel would not see Him again until they were ready to say, “. . . Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:39). The disciples had followed the Lord for three long, difficult, yet glorious years. They were convinced that He was going to deliver Israel – that He was going to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression – that, as the legal heir to the throne of David, Jesus would re-establish Israel to her former glory. The announcement that He was leaving, therefore, had the force of an exploding bomb. One question dominated their thinking, one issue consumed their being – the sign of His return.
The word sign appears more than one hundred times in the Bible. It occurs as early as Genesis 1:14 and as late as Revelation 15:1. Biblical signs were given by God to substantiate, confirm, or identify – to mark out someone or something as genuine, authentic, the “real McCoy.” Consequently, signs were unusual, miraculous, and supernatural.
When God sent Moses down to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel, He equipped His servant with a rod. And to Moses God said, “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shall do signs” (Ex. 4:17). In the court of the Pharaoh of Egypt, Moses used that rod to perform which were miraculous and supernatural. They were given to authenticate and confirm that it was the self-existent God of the Hebrews who had sent Moses into the courts of Pharaoh to redeem the children of Israel. And try as they would, the wise men and sorcerers of Egypt, empowered by Satan, could not duplicate the signs given by God through His servant Moses (Ex. 7:8-13).
Centuries later, the Apostle John, in giving the reason for penning the Gospel that bears his name, wrote, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; But these [signs] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (Jn. 20:30-31). John chose out seven miracles from among the many that Jesus performed. These were chosen because they authenticated and substantiated that Jesus was (1) the promised Messiah and (2) the Son of God. Each of these signs were unusual, miraculous, and supernatural.
God placed signs along the trail of human history. They were located at crucial forks in the road proclaiming to men and women of faith, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21).
THE SIGN OF HIS BIRTH
Jesus Christ is the preincarnate, self-existent Son of God. He is coequal and coeternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. But at a precise moment of history, Jesus would be born of a human mother on the planet Earth. The preincarnate Son of God would become the incarnate Son of man. He would be both undiminished deity and perfect humanity – the God-Man, who alone could meet every need of the human heart.
But how would men recognize Him when He appeared? How would they know with absolute certainty? How could He be picked out from among the literally billions of men who would live and die on the planet Earth?
Here was a crucial fork in the road of human history, so God would place a sign – not something small which could be inadvertently passed by, but a giant billboard which all could see. It would be unusual, miraculous, supernatural – something which Satanic power could not duplicate. The sign would be given to confirm and authenticate – to leave no doubt concerning the identity of the Son of God. He would make His appearance in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), and men of faith would be able to recognize Him.
The sign was promised by God more than seven hundred years before it appeared. An unrighteous king was ruling over the kingdom of Judah. His name was Ahaz. To this king God gave a promise that the military attack being planned against him by Syria and the ten northern tribes of Israel would not succeed. To confirm His promise, God invited King Ahaz to request a sign – nothing easy or commonplace, but something miraculous and supernatural. To this faithless king God said, “Ask a sign of the Lord, thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above [this was an invitation to test the Lord – to have Him bare His right arm of power]. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I test the Lord” (Isa. 7:11-12).
God turned, therefore, from the unbelieving king to the whole house of Israel. He would give them a sign – a sign to identify the righteous king who would bring certain eternal deliverance.
To Israel God said, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold [signs were made for beholding], the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). The birth of a child through a virgin was not an everyday occurrence. It was unique – unprecedented – miraculous – it would require supernatural power. It would be a bona fide, unimpeachable sign to identify the Messiah and Savior of the world when He appeared.
And so the long centuries moved agonizingly on, one century after another, one generation after another, and the sign which God had promised did not appear. In time, some ridiculed the promise of a sign, others ignored it, and many forgot it. Only a few, like the righteous priest, Zacharias, and his wife, Elizabeth (Lk. 1:5-6), and godly Simeon, continued to wait for “the consolation of Israel” (Lk. 2:25).
It must have been a clear Judean night, the latter rains were now past, the stars were shining brightly, the hills surrounding Bethlehem were never more beautiful. There was a solemn hush which fell over all things – the shepherds were watching their sheep. And then it happened as if a dream – but it was real – earth was visited by Heaven. An angel appeared and said unto them, “. . . Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:10-12). The sign of which the angelic messenger spoke was not, “. . . ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” although in truth that is the almost universal interpretation. There was nothing terribly unusual about a child being wrapped in swaddling clothes or lying in a manger in the first century. Certainly there was nothing miraculous or supernatural about it. Those details were simply given so that the shepherds could locate the child in Bethlehem.
The sign which God gave was the virgin birth – it was the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah,”. . . the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son . . .” (Isa. 7:14). The shepherds raced to Bethlehem to find the child. When they got there, they had no need to inquire, “Where is the proud father?” They knew who the Father was.
Before them lay the Son of God, because the eternal God was His Father, and the Son of man because the Jewish maiden (Miriam), who never knew a man, was His mother (Lk. 1:34-35).
Seven centuries earlier, the Sovereign of the universe had promised a sign (the virgin birth) to substantiate that God was dwelling among men in the little village of Bethlehem, which lies along the patriarchal highway, the sign was posted for all men to see.
THE SIGN OF HIS LIFE AND DEATH
The Lord Jesus Christ embarked on His public ministry at age thirty. This was the traditional age at which Jewish rabbis officially began their teaching. And Jesus functioned as a rabbi. His ministry was short-lived. At age thirty-three, after only three and one-half years of ministry, His life ebbed away as He slowly suffocated on a Roman cross. By any standard, the span of His ministry was brief – but it cannot be measured like the shooting meteor that lights up the dark sky for a brief instant, to be remembered no more. Rather, it was like the dawning of a new day as the sun moved from below the horizon to directly overhead. Men could see its rays and feel its heat – and still can.
For most men, the rays of the truth He taught are too bright and the heat exemplified in His holy living is too hot.
Repeatedly the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus to ask for a sign (Mt. 12:38-40; 16:1-4; Mk. 8:11-12). They were asking for something miraculous, something supernatural, something
that would authenticate and substantiate what they viewed as His revolutionary teaching. They wanted to know, “By what right and by whose authority do you do these things?” “Give us a sign,” they challenged.
Jesus responded by saying, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign . . .” (Mt. 16:4). The point was this: Had they been faithful to Moses and the prophets of Israel – to their own Old Testament Scriptures – they would have known who He was and by what authority He taught and did the things which the Pharisees now questioned. They had become an adulterous generation, having prostituted themselves through false, man-made religious worship, all the while proudly proclaiming their orthodoxy.
Finally, in response to their request for a sign, Jesus said that only one sign would be given. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40).
The sign which Jesus gave to substantiate and authenticate all that He said and did in life was His death and resurrection. “. . . Destroy this temple [His body], and in three days I will raise it up,” He confidently declared (Jn. 2:19), and He did (Mt. 28:1-6).
Outside the Northern Wall of Jerusalem, where multitudes still pass by, the place where the sign was posted can still be seen. In the midst of an ancient but still beautiful garden is an empty tomb.
THE SIGN OF HIS COMING
The news stunned the disciples – Jesus was leaving. The relationship between the Lord and the Jewish leadership had been strained, now it was broken. Events had turned ominously dark in recent days.
The leaders of Israel had officially rejected His messianic claims (Mt. 21), and following His cleansing of the Temple, the Herodians, Sadducees and Pharisees sought to discredit Him before the multitudes, who viewed Him as a prophet. In response to these events, Jesus, in the severest language found in the Bible pronounced judgment on the Pharisees and denounced them for what they really were – hypocrites (Mt. 23).
His rejection by the nation was total and irreparable. Now, with a heart that was breaking, the Savior lamented over His beloved people and her capital city.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:37-39).
He was leaving. He had come unto His own, and His own received Him not (Jn. 1:11). There was one supreme thought in the minds and hearts of the disciples, “. . . what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?”
At this point, a loving Shepherd began to instruct His confused and fearful sheep.
First, He warned them that “false Christs” will appear. They will be empowered by Satan to perform counterfeit signs (Mt. 24:22-26; Rev. 13:13-14). He gives a solemn warning that they are not to heed these false signs (Mt. 24:24-26).
Second, He instructed them concerning the true sign that will confirm His return. This sign will be so awesome, so overwhelming, they will know it when it comes. The genuine sign of His return is likened to lightning coming out of the east and shining unto the west (Mt. 24:27).
Third, Jesus provides one of the reasons for His return. It is revealed in His rather obscure statement. “For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Mt. 24:28). The meaning is, where moral corruption exists, divine judgment fails. In the end, justice will be vindicated, sin will be punished.
Finally, Jesus revealed what the sign of His coming actually is. At the end of the Tribulation period, the lightswitch to the universe will be turned off. Men prefer darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (Jn. 3:19) – for a short period, they will get their wish. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened [switch off!], and the moon shall not give its light [switch off!], and the stars shall fall from heaven [switch off!], and the powers of the heavens [to give light and heat to the earth] shall be shaken” (Mt. 24:29). Lights off – pitch black – so black that men will think they can feel the darkness (Ex. 10:21). And then, at last, finally, “. . . shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:30). Men shall see the Son of man coming because signs are for seeing. But how will they see Him in the midst of total blackness? Will it be through worldwide satellite, as some have suggested? How absurd. He will lighten up the universe by His very presence (switch on!). It is the manifestation of His glory which is the sign of His coming. The light will snap back on and every eye shall see Him. It is the infinite, eternal glory of God which was concealed within the flesh of Christ during His first coming as a Lamb who would die which shall be displayed at His second coming as a Lion who will judge.
The Apostle John wrote concerning the Lord Jesus, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not” (Jn. 1:4-5). And writing about the New Jerusalem and the eternal state, the same beloved apostle says, “And I saw no temple in it; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did light it, and the Lamb is the lamp of it” (Rev. 21:22-23).
This is not new truth – it can be traced all the way back to the first chapter of Genesis. In the context of God’s creative acts, the sun, moon and stars were placed in the heavens in part to be signs (Gen. 1:14). That is, as the sun, moon and stars provide light and life on the earth, they pointed to the One who is Himself the infinite, eternal life and light of the universe.
The sign to authenticate the Savior’s incarnation is the virgin birth. The sign to authenticate His life and death is His resurrection. The sign to authenticate His second coming is the manifestation of His Shekinah Glory – He will dispel the darkness of the blackened universe by His physical presence at His return.
Signs are for seeing – so go ahead, look up. There is a miraculous, supernatural sign written by God on the parchment of the heavens. The sun, moon and stars are God’s sign proclaiming that Jesus is coming again in power and great glory.
Editor’s Note: The sign of His coming should not be confused with the time of His coming, which is so often done. God willing, I will deal with the time of His coming in the next issue of ISRAEL MY GLORY.