The Problem with Looking for Signs

by David Fincher, President of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri

As a Bible student and teacher, I am always interested in digging deeper into the Scripture. Growing up, I heard many preachers and teachers take an approach to prophetic books and passages. Upon further study and reflection, I realized that many of the things I heard were not helpful to learning what God’s Word actually said. Through the years, I have shared with many students and churches that there are some approaches to prophecy that need to be avoided because they can lead to a WRONG interpretation. 

In the next couple of days, I will share a few WRONG ways to approach prophecy.  I have no desire to criticize Bible teachers who use these approaches. I believe it is better to study the Bible with a wrong approach than not to study it at all because God can use the truth of His Word in spite of mistakes we might make while teaching it. But a better approach is to carefully approach Scripture and avoid the mistakes that can lead us away from truth towards opinion or tradition.

One WRONG approach to prophecy is WORRYING about signs and situations. Unfortunately, some teachers make Bible prophecy all about the Middle East. Every news report regarding Jerusalem, Palestine, Syria, Russia, or Europe is forced into a Bible verse, or worse, an assumption that can’t even be found in Scripture. As a result, Christians are left looking for signs of a conspiracy, a New World Order, or some other evidence that the prophetic clock has almost run out of time.

What would you think if I told you that there are NO SIGNS OF JESUS’ RETURN? I know, that sounds blasphemous in light of what prophecy teachers traditionally say. And the disciples of Jesus thought for sure there would be signs of His return. They asked in Matthew 24:3, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” There were three things they asked about:  “these things” (the temple being destroyed as Jesus mentioned in 24:2 and answered in 24:4), “Your coming” (which Jesus will describe starting in 24:36),  and the “end of the age” (which will be described starting in 25:31).

In fact, if you will take the time, open your Bible to Matthew 24:36 and read all the verses between there and 25:30 that specifically mention the coming of the Son of Man will be a surprise with no signs.

24:36 – “that day and hour no one knows”

24:39 – “they did not understand”

24:42 – “be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming”

24:44 – “the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

24:50 – “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect”

25:13 – “you do not know the day nor the hour”

25:19 – “After a long time the master of those slaves came”

Jesus doesn’t want us to be worried about signs and situations. In fact, He wants us to “do business until I come” (Luke 19:13). In contrast to those whose focus is worry about the future ramifications of today’s sign, Jesus would say, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34). Jesus is building the church (Matt 16:18), over which He is the head, just as He is the head over all rule, authority, power, and dominion in this age and the future age (Ephesians 1:21-23). 

What is a better approach than WORRYING about signs? Instead, remember Noah and Lot. Noah was warning the people around him, but they couldn’t see anything that demonstrated rain or judgment was coming. They were going through life like normal: eating, drinking, marrying, raising children, and working. On the day Noah entered the ark, the flood came. That was the sign, and it was over. Jesus said that is how “the coming of the Son of Man will be” (Matt 24:38-39), “just as it happened in the days of Noah” (Luke 17:26-27).

He also said that His coming will be just like the days of Lot: eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building. One day it is life like normal, but the next day Sodom is destroyed (Luke 17:28-30). There were no signs, no warnings, and no worries.

Some think that the signs of the times are what build our faith and help us trust God’s Word is true. But that wasn’t the case with Noah or Lot. Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah had faith, even though the warnings of God were “about things not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:7). His faith was not because there were signs, but because there was a warning, just as we receive now (Hebrews 12:25-26). And Lot was a righteous man rescued from the judgment on his surroundings, even though there were no clear signs for him to see that his deliverance was coming. And yet he fled on foot without looking back for a sign to prove that judgment was real, evidence of faith that his wife unfortunately did not share (Luke 17:32; Genesis 19:26).

So don’t worry about how signs or situations might affect our interpretation of or confidence in the Bible’s teaching. They are irrelevant to the timing or certainty of Jesus’ return. Only the faith of Noah and the righteousness of Lot can help us endure those difficulties. Our trust is in the faithfulness of Christ, who will come when His Father’s patience has run out and judgment can be withheld no longer.