What is the sign of your coming?” (cf. Matt . 24:3b),1 the disciples asked Christ . They expected a specific answer. Instead, Christ replied: “Don’t be deceived” (cf. v. 4a), a word He used three times in Matthew 24. He was concerned that “ ‘great signs and wonders’ ” could deceive even the “ ‘elect’ ” (v. 4b).
Besides the warning about deception, Christ mentioned crises to occur prior to His coming: wars (v. 6), famines and earthquakes (v. 7), persecutions (v. 9), and many apostasies (v. 10, 12). He also exhorted His followers to study the abomination in Daniel (v. 15; see Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) and to keep the Sabbath (Matt. 24:20).
Finally, after all these, Christ answered the question the disciples had asked. He said, “‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory’” (v. 30). His glory is like lightning flashing across the heavens (v. 27). A counterfeit Christ, out in a desert or in an inner room, cannot come through the heavens in blinding glory (v. 24–26). But a counterfeit Christ powerfully deceives people (v. 24) and robs them of salvation.
Ellen G. White said, “Satan is not permitted to counterfeit the manner of Christ’s advent. . . . As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will personate Christ. . . . Satan will, if possible, prevent them from obtaining a preparation to stand in that day.”2 No wonder Christ spoke of deception. The greatest crisis precedes the true Second Advent. In order to be relevant, Satan’s counterfeit must come before the genuine. Christ is saying do not be captivated by a counterfeit Christ on earth. Look to the biblical Christ and avoid the great crisis.
At the true Second Advent, Christ will send His angels “ ‘with a loud trumpet call’ ” to gather His people (v. 31). Paul adds that these people will rise up to meet Christ in the air, and together go with Him to heaven (1 Thess. 4:16–18). The rendezvous with Christ will be in the sky, not on earth. So anyone claiming to be Christ on earth is a counterfeit. Christ does not return to this earth to set up a kingdom or to rule a kingdom already set up—various views of nonbiblical theology.3 The sign is Christ coming in the sky. Above all other signs, Christ wanted His disciples to know the sign.
No question, the world and the church are facing stupendous events as we reach the end of time and the final crisis that precedes it. This article unfolds different aspects of the end-time crisis and points to the way to survive it.
Look to Christ, not to the crisis
Looking to Christ, not to the crisis, is a timeless principle in Scripture. For example, when God’s people were in the land of promise, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites came to make war against King Jehoshaphat and Judah. They made up “ ‘a vast army’ ” (2 Chron. 20:1,2). Alarmed, Jehoshaphat sought the Lord in prayer and with fasting. “ ‘Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you’ ” (v. 12). He looked to the preincarnate Christ, and not to the crisis, and great was the victory.
When the Egyptian army was behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, God’s people were trapped. They faced annihilation. “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (Exod. 14:10). “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still’ ” (vv. 13, 14). They were to focus on Christ, not on the crisis. Had they forgotten what Christ had already done for them? Had not Christ protected them in Goshen, when plagues fell on Egypt? (Exod. 8:22, 23). Had not the Jewish firstborn been spared through the blood of the lamb when the Egyptian firstborn perished (Exod. 12:6–13)? The deliverance at the Red Sea will be repeated by the end-time deliverance in Armageddon. Whereas only the greatest contemporary military opposed God’s people at the Red Sea, nearly the entire world will be against God’s people in the end time (Rev. 13:3b, 4; 16:12–16).
“Thief in the night” crisis
Now fast-forward to the end time. Christ said the end would come when the gospel is preached to the whole world (Matt. 24:14), but it will still be a complete surprise, like the global flood. Christ therefore urged “ ‘keep watch’ ” (v. 42)—“ ‘be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ ” (v. 44; Luke 12:40), just like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3).
But how can Seventh-day Adventists experience the thief in the night at Christ’s second advent? Would they not expect His return after the Sunday law, death decree, and plagues? Surely, they will not be surprised? But what if the thief in the night experience takes place before the Second Advent? What if it takes place at the coming of the latter rain?
There are two comings of God in the end time: the coming of the latter rain, and the coming of Christ. Just as Christ comes a second time, the coming Pentecost is the second coming of the Holy Spirit. Preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit is the most important need for us today. This is why the call for revival and reformation is so timely. We must be ready to be sealed by the Holy Spirit in order to be ready for Christ’s second advent.
How can we avoid the “thief in the night” crisis?
Christ spoke of ten virgins, representing those who believed in the second coming. But five of them lacked oil (Matt. 25:1–4). The foolish virgins were superficial, unprepared, and left out of heaven (vv. 9–13). They were seemingly unaware of their crisis, not looking to Christ. For some time they were satisfied with their state. After all, they were virgins waiting for the Bridegroom. But they were satisfied with only a little of God’s oil when they really needed much. They still had a flickering flame, for their lamps had not gone out as stated in the King James Version of Matthew 25:8. They were not candidates for the sealing.
End-time Christians have a form of godliness but deny the power of God (2 Tim. 3:1–5). Christ speaks of the end-time church as Laodicea, which thinks it needs nothing but really needs everything that counts for salvation. They keep Christ outside of their lives (Rev. 3:14–21). They are defeated by the crisis of self-satisfaction, not looking to God for wisdom and guidance.
Looking to Christ, not to the crisis, includes the knowledge and experience that will allow them to be sealed (cf. Rev. 7:1–3). Ellen G. White defines the sealing as “a settling into the truth, both intellectually [knowledge] and spiritually [experience], so they cannot be moved.”4 So, the sealing involves a deep study of and a deep love for truth. The sealing takes place at the outpouring of the latter rain. Without the seal, or without the latter rain Holy Spirit, no one can survive the times of trouble. But the good news is that all who are sealed cannot be moved. Look to God’s gift of sealing, and be unmoved by the coming crisis.
Looking to Christ, not to the crisis, means looking to Christ in order to gain knowledge of Him and to have an experience with Him. When we receive this dual gift, we find ourselves hidden away in Christ. Jesus said, “ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ ” (Matt. 11:28). But coming to Him is not enough. We need to stay. Christ said, “ ‘Remain in me, as I also remain in you. . . . Apart from me you can do nothing. . . . If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ ” (John 15:4, 5b, 7).
Christ continues, “ ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands [commandments, New King James Version], you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete’ ” (vv. 9–11).
Keep looking to Christ
Every day, preferably first thing, we need to set aside time to mediate on Christ. We then need to commune with Him through the day and revel in His embracing love. If we want to spend eternity with Christ, we need to spend time with Him each day now. As we do this, we will grow so deeply in love with Him that nothing, no crisis, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39).
Here are some lessons from The Desire of Ages regarding the life of Christ that we should dwell on:
1. “Jesus did not count heaven a place to be desired while we were lost. He left the heavenly courts for a life of reproach and insult, and a death of shame. He who was rich in heaven’s priceless treasure became poor, that through His poverty we might be rich.”5
2. “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’ ”6
3. “Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.”7
4. “Though now He has ascended to the presence of God, and shares the throne of the universe, Jesus has lost none of His compassionate nature. Today the same tender, sympathizing heart is open to all the woes of humanity. Today the hand that was pierced is reached forth to bless more abundantly His people that are in the world. ‘And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.’ The soul that has given himself to Christ is more precious in His sight than the whole world. The Saviour would have passed through the agony of Calvary that one might be saved in His kingdom. He will never abandon one for whom He has died. Unless His followers choose to leave Him, He will hold them fast.”8
There is a principle in Scripture, that by beholding we become changed. This is good news for those concerned about the coming crisis. Paul says God’s people “are being transformed” by “beholding . . . the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18, NKJV). This is in the present continuous tense. Every day we dwell upon the lavish love of Christ (cf. 1 John 3:1), we are being transformed, or becoming like Him. That is why John says, “When Christ appears, we shall be like him” (v. 2b). This is the ultimate in looking to Christ, and not to the crisis. Christ promises, “‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:20b). “ ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them [or the coming crisis], for the Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Deut. 31:6).
1 Unless otherwise stated, the 2011 New International Version is used throughout this article.
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), 625, 624.
3 For example, Augustine in the fourth century considered the millennium (or kingdom) to be the duration of the Christian age. In our postmodern era, Emergent and National Apostolic Reformation movements focus on building the kingdom on earth to prepare for the second coming of Christ.
4 Ellen G. White, Last Day Events (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1992), 220.
5 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 417.
6 Ibid., 25.
7 Ibid., 753.
8 Ibid., 480, 483.