************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 3, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#5)
"The Signs of the Times"
The book, "The Late, Great Planet Earth." The book series, "Left Behind." Both have popularized a theology of the end-times known as premillennial dispensationalism. John MacArthur, Jerry Falwell, and Tim Lahaye also approach the Bible from this point-of-view.
This theology sees in the Bible a calendar of world events that have actually happened over the last 75 years:
-the formation of the state of Israel in 1948
-the destruction of the Berlin Wall
-the growing strength and numbers of the European Union
-the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong
-the diversion of the Euphrates River by Turkey
You heard me right. Premillennial dispensationalism finds a calendar of all these events in the Bible. To use the language of our sermon title, these "signs of the times" get them all really excited.
What are we to think of this viewpoint? What does the Bible itself say?
I The Signs in General
A Today's "calendar prophets" often ignore or overlook Jesus' teachings against trying to find a time-line of world events leading up to the final days. Jesus warns against trying to search out the secrets of God by reading more into signs than are there.
The clearest passage is Jesus' conversation with His disciples just before He ascended into heaven:
Acts 1:6–7 (NIV84) — 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority ..."Notice, Jesus tells His disciples "It is not for you to know the times or dates ..." This spells the end of the dispensational calendar. And many other passages teach the same thing (Mt 12:39; Mt 16:1-4; Mk 8:11-13; Mk 13:5-6, 21-23; Lk 17:20-24). When any of the dispensationalists make up a calendar of end-time events they are claiming to know something they cannot know.
There is a reason God does not want us to know the end-time calendar. The reason is that, if we did know, we would no longer be constantly watching and waiting for Christ's return. It is like knowing the date and time of our death -- why get ready now if we know we can hold off. It is like me playing hide-and-seek with my grandkids. There is no reason for them to look if they know where I will be.
B Those who make calendars of end-time events also do not understand the last days.
The Bible is clear that right now, today, we are living in the last days. But this does not necessarily mean Christ is going to come any day or hour now. But I will still affirm that we are in the last days. That is obvious.
Why do I say we are in the last days? We are in the last days because of Christ and Pentecost. I think of what is said by the prophet Joel and quoted by the apostle Peter:
Acts 2:17 (NIV84) — 17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.The pouring out of Christ's Spirit means we are in the last days.
As I said this morning, in the Bible "the last days" is a technical expression for the whole period of time between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. The last days are the days of the Spirit. So, you see, the last days are now.
C Those who make calendars of end-time events also do not understand the nature of the signs of the times.
Many dispensational Christians make the mistake of thinking that the signs of the times refer exclusively to the end-time. They think the signs of the times have to do only with the period of time immediately preceding Christ's return. The phrase "signs of the times" refers NOT only to what is still future but also to what is happening in the present. Each of the signs of the times are to be found in our day and will only intensify as the time of Christ's return draws closer and closer.
The phrase "signs of the times," like the phrase "the last days," characterizes the entire period between the two comings of Jesus Christ. The signs of the times, like the pouring out of the Spirit, are a signpost that we are in the last days -- those days between the first and second comings of our Lord.
D Finally, those who make calendars of end-time events also do a great disservice to the Bible and to the generations of Christians who came before them.
Dispensationalists, with their time-lines and calendar of events, assume that books of the Bible like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation were written in code -- a code that only they have managed to break. In their talk about modern-day Israel, Egypt, Russia, China, and the European Union they further assume that no one before our time could actually understand what the Bible says about the future.
Opposed to this way of thinking is John's statement that the book of Revelation was written to the seven churches in Asia (Rev 1:4). And, if it was written to them, then it follows that it was also meant to be understood by them.
As we look now at the specific signs listed in Matthew 24 it is helpful to group them under three headings: first, a sign indicating the grace of God; second, signs indicating opposition to God; third, signs indicating the judgment of God.
II Signs Indicating the Grace of God
A First, a sign indicating the grace of God. We see this sign mentioned in verse 14:
Matthew 24:14 (NIV84) — 14 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.What happens between the two comings of Jesus in the last days? The Gospel is proclaimed to all nations.
"The Gospel ... will be preached in the whole world." Jesus does not mean that every last person on earth must be converted before Christ's return; we know from the rest of Scripture this will never be the case. Nor does Jesus mean that every individual on earth must hear the Gospel before He comes again. Jesus is talking about groups rather than individuals. What He means is that the Gospel must be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. The sense appears to be that all nations, all peoples, all tribes, all languages are to be called to decision. All nations, all peoples, all tribes, all languages are to decide for or against Christ. All nations, all peoples, all tribes, all languages are to be called to account.
This sign of the time, do you know what it means for the church? As I already said, we are in the last days. This sign means that these last days are the days of missions, of evangelism, of witnessing by a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led church. The period between Christ's two comings is the missionary age. This is a time of grace, a time in which God invites and urges all men to be saved. So this sign of the time gives us our marching orders, our purpose, for these last days.
B This sign makes it very difficult to date the time of Christ's return. Think about it. Who can be sure when the Gospel has been preached as a testimony to all nations? Roughly 6,500 languages are spoken in the world today; 3,945 of them have no Bible. Into how many of these languages and dialects must the Bible or parts of the Bible be translated before we can say it is a testimony to all nations? Or, how many members of a nation or tribe must be exposed to the Gospel before one can say that the Gospel is a testimony to that nation or tribe? We must humbly admit that only God will know when this sign has been completely fulfilled.
The fact that the Gospel is being preached on air waves and via the internet throughout the world, that Scripture is being translated, that missionaries are going out to the farthest corners of the earth, are all signs that Jesus has come and that He is coming again. But, they do not tell us the exact time of His return. In the meantime, the church must keep on proclaiming the Gospel faithfully throughout the world, knowing that this is a precondition to our Lord's return.
III Signs Indicating Opposition to God
A What happens between the two comings of Jesus in the last days? Second, we see three signs of the times which indicate opposition to God: namely, tribulation, apostasy, and Antichrist.
First, Jesus indicates tribulation as one of the signs of the times when He says:
Matthew 24:9 (NIV84) — 9 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Cf Mt 24:21-22)Jesus is telling us that persecution is one of the signs of the times between His two comings. Throughout this present age the world will oppose the Kingdom of God. Christians, says Jesus, can expect to suffer for who they are and what they believe.
When Christians suffer tribulation or persecution we have to recognize what this means: it means that Christ will surely return.
B The second sign which indicates opposition to God is the sign of apostasy. Jesus tells us that men will fall away from the true worship of God. As this is one of the signs of the times, one of the signs of the last days, He is telling us this happens throughout the entire history of His church.
Matthew 24:10–12 (NIV84) — 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold ... (cf Mt 24:24; Heb 6:6; 10:29; 1Tim 4:1)
What is clear is that in the time between Christ's two comings there will be church members who fall away; many who have made an outward profession of faith will slip and fall. None of them will be true believers (Jn 10:27-29; 1 Pt 3:5). And we've seen that, haven't we? Think of the many who have been part of this church and have slipped away. We can only hope and pray that their falling away is temporary and not permanent.
C The third and most striking sign of opposition to God is the sign of the Antichrist. Jesus tells us about this sign when He says,
Matthew 24:23–25 (NIV84) — 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
The sign of the Antichrist is to be found throughout the present age but reaches its culmination in the appearance of THE Antichrist.
The Antichrists and THE Antichrist speak against the Most High God and try to wear out the saints.
I look around the world and I see so many heresies and so many false prophets: the New-Age Movement and other Eastern religions, the Unification Church and their claim that the Rev. Moon is the Christ, Rabbi Schneerson of Brooklyn who doesn't discourage claims that he is the Messiah, the Mormons, the JWs. Each and everyone of these are Antichrists and prove that Christ's return is getting closer and closer.
IV Signs Indicating the Judgment of God
What happens between the two comings of Jesus in the last days? Third, let us look at signs which indicate divine judgment: wars, earthquakes, and famines. Jesus talks about them in verses 6-8:
Matthew 24:6–8 (NIV84) — 6 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. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
These signs point to divine judgment. This does not mean that people who undergo suffering or death as a result of disasters like wars, earthquakes, famines, or COVID-19 are more wicked than all others; Jesus never allows us to think or talk that way (Lk 13:1-4). But these signs do mean that the present world is under God's curse (Gen 3:17). These signs do mean that the wrath of God is constantly being revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and wickedness of men (Rom 1:18). These signs are continual reminders that the Judge is standing at the door (James 5:9).
Like all the other signs, these too mark the entire period between Christ's first and second comings. They are indications that God is working out His purposes in history. When they occur, we are not to become fearful, but are to accept them as "the beginning of birth pains" (vs 8) leading to a better world.
I want you to leave here tonight and realize we can't look at the signs of the times and set a date or make a calendar of past or present or future political events like the premillennial dispensationalists. However, we can look at events in the light of Scripture and realize we are in the last days, the time between Christ's two comings. In these last days there are all of these signs happening right now. We see them.
What is to be our response? We need to be watching, waiting, getting ready. We don't know the day or the hour. We need to be ready. So I make this appeal to you. If you have not yet given your heart to Jesus, if you have not yet been led to serve Him, do so before it is too late.
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