FF Chong—London, UK
In the Bible, to know the time is not just about being conscious of the time as shown on the clock. It refers, more importantly, to a spiritual strength and capacity based on knowing God’s work and His plan for His chosen people. A Christian who knows the time is endowed with a spiritual perception that keeps his walk in line with God’s way. Not only is he in a position to resist the corrosive influence of the world, he is also able to exert a positive influence on those who are around him, particularly the church community.
Not every believer of God knows the time. In this aspect, the people of God in the Old Testament were inferior even to birds (Jer 8:7). When winter approaches, the God-given instinct of migratory birds prompt them to migrate to a safe place. Their ability to detect and defect to warmer regions with unfailing regularity is innate, ensuring their survival and allowing them to continue growing and multiplying. They know how to avoid being trapped in turbulence, which could cause them to lose their senses and ultimately, their lives.
Ironically, the people of God were spiritually shortsighted, being trapped frequently in their waywardness. Their lack of acknowledgment of their Master’s providence made them inferior to animals (Isa 1:3). Having lost the capacity for discernment, they lived a life contrary to the will of God and grieved their Master, the Lord. Worse still, God’s judgment was looming but these people did not have the slightest inkling that the wrath of God was about to be poured upon them.
Likewise, the Pharisees and the scribes of Jesus’ days were unable to discern the signs of the times. They were religious leaders assigned with the task of leading the nation to God. Unfortunately, they had lost sight of matters concerning salvation. They were, ironically, skilled in discerning the weather (Lk 12:54–56)! This lack of discernment over spiritual matters earned them a rebuke from Jesus.
KEY SIGN OF THE TIME: FALSEHOOD
Our ultimate aim in believing Jesus is to receive Him when He comes again and to be with Him forevermore. This requires us to stay alert in Jesus to the end. However, the world distracts us from God, blinding us with its affluence and allure. Without spiritual preparation, we are unable to know the signs of His second coming. Without a heart sensitive to the word of God, we are unable to delve deeply into His teachings through which God enhances our spiritual discernment every day.
To know the time, we need to know its signs. These signs do not appear in obscure and mysterious ways that defy discernment. Instead, they are events long prophesied in the Bible that are happening in the church of God today. The following considers some signs Jesus spoke about in the Gospels. These signs cannot be ignored and must be thoroughly understood with the help of Holy Spirit. They are interrelated and consistently indicate that the time of Jesus Christ’s second coming is near (Mt 24:3).
Increase of False Teachers
One sign of Jesus’ second coming is the confusion of the truth due to the increase of false teachers at a frightening rate (Mt 24:4–5). Many will come in the name of Jesus, saying, “I am the Christ.” The Gospels of Mark and Luke give a slightly different rendition: “I am He” (Mk 13:6; Lk 21:8). Both “Christ” and “I AM” are titles that mean the “Messiah” or “the anointed,” and “the only self-existent God,” respectively.
The attempts by false teachers to confuse the truth are one of the present dangers in the True Jesus Church. They subtly distort the doctrine of the “one true God” away from that of the Bible and the church’s traditional belief. For example, the church believes and teaches that only God is self-existent. In recent years, the emergence of heretical teachings concerning Satan’s self-existence deceived many and hurt the church, just as Jesus and the apostles had once prophesied (Mt 24:5; Mk 13:6; 2 Pet 2:1–2).
This sign is a stern reminder that we must submit ourselves to the authority of God and be obedient to the truth that God has given to His church. Teachers of the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, must first have no doubt about the accuracy and authenticity of the truth that the church has received. They must then teach this truth completely and faithfully (Phil 4:9; 2 Tim 2:2). Those who meddle with the pattern of sound words enmesh the church in deception, but ultimately earn themselves destruction (2 Pet 2:1).
Increase in Internal Conflict
Jesus has warned that His coming would not bring peace on earth. Instead, His coming would bring about conflict and division. One layer of meaning to this prophecy is the increasing conflict within the house of God in the last days (Lk 12:49–53). This teaching is in line with the prophecy of Micah (Mic 7:5–6). The message highlights the prevalence of mistrust among God’s people, creating an atmosphere that breeds conflict and enmity—“A man’s enemies are the men of his own household” (Mic 7:6b).
Is such a biblical interpretation exegetically consistent? Careful analysis of the accounts in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Micah shows that both writers highlighted conflicts within the setup of a family or household. In Luke’s account, immediately after proclaiming the internal conflict (Lk 12:49–53), Jesus went on to declare the need to discern the time (Lk 12:54–56). This suggests that the intra-household conflict is no routine family misunderstanding but one that can happen even within the household of the Lord.
What is the cause for such a conflict? From Jesus’ messages on the signs of His second coming, this conflict stems from the infiltration of falsehood (Mt 24:4–5; Mk 13:6–7; Lk 21:8–9). Jesus warned that things that are made for our peace are now hidden from our eyes (Lk 19:42). Truth is integral to the church. It is by the truth we hold onto that we stay reconciled to God. It is by the truth that we are united together (Eph 4:13). When the fabric of unity, the truth, is removed, believers will fall prey to deception and deceiving spirits. In the absence of the truth, man’s heart and the community of faith will become places for wickedness, hence the exponential increase in conflict.
Jerusalem is Surrounded
According to Luke, we will know that the desolation is near when Jerusalem (the church in the spiritual sense) is surrounded by armies (Lk 21:20). This desolation refers to the abomination of desolation (Mt 24:15). In Matthew’s writing, the account of the abomination is bracketed by two accounts of the rise of false prophets (Mt 24:11, 24), indicating that falsehood is the cause of the desolation.
The church is able to stand against all odds because God is in her midst. Nevertheless, God’s presence with the church is on the condition that she abides by His truth. The true church cannot afford to be complacent even for a second because her opponents are the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. These two beasts go all out to fight against God (Rev 13:5–6), striving to destroy the church by attacking her foundation, the truth. When the truth of the church is being challenged from all directions within the church, then we would know that the end time is near (Lk 19:44).
HOW DO WE DISCERN THE TIME?
Although the signs of the times are clearly recorded in the Bible, and messages about these are repeatedly preached, there is no discernible sense of urgency among the believers. Such general indifference has contributed to a lack of discernment in the church. Not only will this stifle the growth of the church, but also over time there will be a general apathy towards and lack of interest in the matters of God and the well-being of the church. How can the trend be reversed?
Wake Up from Slumber
In his message to the believers in Rome, Paul urged them to wake up from their slumber. Only those who are spiritually awake will realize that the salvation of God is nearer than ever before (Rom 13:11–14). Spiritual slumber is a threat to our spirituality. We must never allow ourselves to slip into the darkness of slumber. As children of light, we are vastly different from the rest of the world (1 Thess 5:6). We do not do things against God and His principles.
Waking from slumber requires us to cast off the works of darkness, for example, lust and pride. There are two immediate benefits from doing this. First, we are able to know the truth of God; those who are of the flesh and controlled by their lust can never learn the truth well (2 Tim 3:6–7). Without the knowledge of the truth, we will be blind and spiritually unable to see that the time of His coming is near. Second, the truth enables us to safeguard ourselves against falsehood.
Put On the Armor of Light
Even after being awakened, we cannot afford to become complacent. If we are not constantly alert and protected, there is a high likelihood of us falling back into slumber. We can easily fall under the influence of the world again. Paul reminds us of the urgent need to put on the armor of light after casting off the works of darkness (Rom 13:12). Our journey of faith is a battle that requires us to prepare well in order to overcome the world. The armor of light comprising faith, righteousness and humility helps us withstand the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph 6).
This armor of light serves two very important functions. One is to protect us from external forces; we will be defeated by such evil forces if the attributes and nature of God are not part and parcel of our lives. The other is to guard against internal forces; we have to keep our heart from turning against God. Specifically, we must guard against pride, which comes from the heart and mind. An arrogant mind submits neither to God nor His word. We must beware of pride because it can manifest in subtle ways, deceiving us and playing tricks on us. Changing the word of God is the most obvious symptom of pride. When we subdue both sets of forces with the armor of light, we will be able to maintain the sharpness of our discernment.
Redeem the Time
The word of God is likened to a two-edged sword, and we are all given this sword. How often do we apply the word of God in our lives to demonstrate His virtues? For us to manifest His virtues, we need time to practice, for as the old adage says, practice makes perfect. Nowadays, because of the many distractions in our lives, it is challenging for us to make good use of our time. Inspired by the Spirit, Paul said that we must redeem the time (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5). We have to rely on God to use our time wisely. This means we utilize the time God has given us well by exhibiting His virtues, such as caring for others, preaching, and cultivating ourselves in a conscious and persistent manner.
When each and every one of us is well aware of the necessity of redeeming the time, the church will collectively gear towards the level of perfection God wants us to reach. If we put in conscientious effort in redeeming the time, we will always stay vigilant, and the entire church will be acutely aware of the signs of the times that God has revealed around us. Our spiritual minds will be fine-tuned to anticipate the impending destruction of the universe. Such perception of the end time will make us look for and hasten the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12) and spur us to be diligent in nurturing ourselves spiritually.
Knowing the signs of the times is not done through physical exercise. Training our discernment in a classroom setting alone will not help us to be mindfully aware that the coming of the Lord is near. This is because when we are in spiritual slumber, we lack the discernment to know the time, despite the signs being around the corner and fulfilled in our midst. The ways to sharpen our discernment are to discard the works of darkness, put on the armor of light, and redeem the time, knowing that this world is evil.
With these basics put in place, we will be in a better position to perceive the signs of the times clearly. We will become faithful to the truth and will not allow any compromise to exist in the church, knowing that the truth is not a matter of personal opinion. The church does not and must not tolerate two different sets of doctrines. Though our defense of the faith will cause the heretics to be more aggressive against us, the defenders, we should not be surprised; based on Jesus’ prophecy, we know the church will inevitably be surrounded by enemies from within. When these signs happen, we will know that the end time is near.