René Gehring, PhD, is president of Bogenhofen Seminary, St. Peter am Hart, Austria

War breaks out in Eastern Europe. Flooding sweeps away towns in the Philippines. An underwater earthquake triggers a tsunami that creates a nuclear catastrophe in Japan. Massive hurricanes devastate Florida. A heat wave triggers fires in California. A pandemic kills millions.

Are these tragedies a sign of Jesus’ imminent second coming?

Strictly speaking, no.

Jesus speaks of such catastrophes as what must happen, what simply belongs to this fallen world: “ ‘And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows’ ” (Matt. 24:6–8, NKJV).

Yet the end, Jesus says, “ ‘is not yet’ ” (v. 6). In fact, the events are only “ ‘the beginning of sorrows’ ” (v. 8).

These catastrophes do, however, have an eschatological character. Jesus told us about them in response to the question about what would precede His coming. So, these tragedies, although pointing us to His advent, do not tell us when the end will come. In contrast, Jesus mentions one sign that immediately precedes the end of the world and, to a degree, prepares the world for it. “ ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14, NKJV).

It is, therefore, not bad news (famines, wars, and pestilences) that bring the end. It is, instead, “good news” (the gospel) that does it. The end comes when everyone has heard of God’s love for humankind, as most powerfully expressed at the cross. This, though, is the first of three major signs of the end.

The first sign

It is striking that Jesus does not simply speak of the gospel but of “this gospel.” What Jesus expresses in Matthew 24:14 parallels the “everlasting gospel” of Revelation 14:6–13. Jesus has in mind the true gospel as opposed to false gospels.

Jesus, in Revelation 14:6, identifies His church as preaching “the everlasting gospel.” It is clear that through the passage of time, false gospels would arise. Paul recognized this when he said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Gospels would be proclaimed, but only “this” one that Jesus speaks of, the “eternal,” unchanging, enduring one that John highlights, is the true gospel. And so, Revelation’s three angels’ messages are Heaven’s appeal to restore the true gospel.

Heralds of these messages

shall build the old waste places;

. . . raise up the foundations of many generations.

And . . . shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,

The Restorer. . . .

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath” (Isa. 58:12, 13a, NKJV).

The message of the Creator God and His Creation memorial day, the Sabbath, and the message of the investigative judgment, which calls for the acceptance of the offered grace—these are the messages that “rebuild” the original gospel that has been proclaimed incompletely for so long but is now restored as the “everlasting gospel.” Only when “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, KJV) have been proclaimed to every person is the sign fulfilled that announces the imminent return of Christ.

When exactly this is fulfilled, however, is not easily recognizable. An earthquake, a tsunami, or a war are seen, visible, and easily recognized. But the personal, silent inquiry into biblical truth, the secret listening to a sermon on the three angels’ messages, the hidden reading of a book like The Great Controversy, or the unnoticed study of the Bible during the lunch break—who can measure these things?

One thing is certain: technology could allow us to spread the “everlasting gospel” to the whole world within the shortest possible time, ways being increasingly used all over the world.

The second sign

The second major sign is directly tied to the first. In Matthew 24:3–31, disasters and persecution are not Christ’s core message. Instead, His warning against apostasy is. His first statement refers to this danger, even before He speaks of any other sign: “ ‘See that no one deceives you’ ” (Matt. 24:4, NABRE). This warning appears three times in His speech: at the beginning (v. 4), in the middle (vv. 10–12), and at the end (vv. 23–28). No other topic is emphasized so often or takes up as much space.

Consequently, when we speak about one of the major end-time signs, it must include apostasy: “ ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ ” (Luke 18:8, NABRE). There is a concrete reason for this apostasy: “ ‘Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold’ ” (Matt. 24:12, ESV). All the problems that Jesus outlines, from hatred to persecution to killing, have their origin here. In His entire discourse, He does not give a single reason for these ills except for this one. Everything else is symptomatic of the underlying “disease,” which is the increasing “lawlessness” (ἀνομία) depicted in this one verse.

Jesus is not talking about general lawlessness in relation to society and state laws. Quite the contrary. Verse 10 indicates that Christians will betray one another and hand each other over to the authorities precisely because they hold the state laws in higher esteem than they do the law of God, which their (despised) brothers and sisters still keep. Verses 9 through 14 are about Christians alone, not about unbelieving society. Accordingly, it must also be the law of God, not that of the state, that is broken. It will be possible among many Christian groups to see some that will preach a strange gospel. Thus, while a faithful remnant will preach the everlasting gospel to the end (vv. 13, 14), a significant portion of Christendom will preach a corrupted gospel, one that condones lawlessness, the breaking of God’s commandments, and will lead many astray.

This sad truth is also announced in
2 Thessalonians 2. Three times this key concept, lawlessness, is referred to as the basis of apostasy. The “man of lawlessness” (v. 3, ESV) establishes the “mystery of lawlessness” (v. 7, NKJV) and appears as “the lawless one” (v. 8, NKJV), with signs and wonders in the power of Satan. Note that “mystery” (μυστήριον) is almost invariably the code for “gospel” in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Rom. 16:25, 26; 1 Cor. 2:1, 7; 4:1; Eph. 1:9, 10; 3:3–11; Col. 1:26, 27; 2:2, 3; 4:3). The true gospel, “the eternal gospel,” is supplanted by a man-made “gospel of lawlessness” and supported by the miracle-working power of Satan, which leads to the deception of almost all humanity (cf. Rev. 13:13, 14).

Whether Satan’s deceptions and seductions are successful is determined, then, by one’s attitude toward the law. If people deny and openly break it, their love for God must inevitably grow cold (Matt. 24:12), and Satan—through false prophets, false teachers, and miracles—gets room to work powerfully in them. “Because they have not accepted the love of truth. . . . Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power, so that they may believe the lie” (2 Thess. 2:10, 11, NABRE). In other words, one’s fate is greatly determined by one’s love for (or lack of) the truth, which certainly includes God’s law, His Ten Commandments (Rev. 14:12). Without that love for the truth, deception follows.

It is exactly this problem that marks the last epoch of church history with the stain of lukewarmness. Laodicea (Rev. 3:15–17) lacks the fiery love for the truth; many are even growing cold. Although at the same time, the remnant emphasizes the commandments—to keep and preserve them (Rev. 12:17; 14:12)—the mixture of the “hot” and “cold” brethren leads to an overall “lukewarm” atmosphere where tares and wheat grow together (Matt. 13:30).

The third sign

The third key sign of the times is, therefore, polarization. While some are driven by love for God’s truth and His commandments and proclaim the eternal gospel of Jesus in all the world, other “Christians” listen to false teachers—allowing themselves to be ensnared by miracles—and then not only hinder the gospel proclamation but also betray those who proclaim it.

It is, then, not the anxious observation of world events or the spreading of fear in emerging crises or the meticulous examination of conspiracy theories that prepares the church for Jesus’ return. Rather, it is the accurate knowledge of the Scriptures, which includes the law of God, that keeps the love for God alive in our hearts and makes us sincere followers of Christ. Jesus prayed for unity, making it a clear sign for His people and a sign for the world (John 17:23). It is not political upheavals, the mechanization of life, or economic and political globalization that bring about the end. It is divisiveness within the church and the world and the lack of love, reflected in the abandonment of God’s commandments, that brings God’s patience to its final limit (Isa. 24:5, 6).

It is ironic that many Christians, unfortunately including some Seventh-day Adventists, see the preaching of the law as an obstacle to strengthening one’s love for God. Law or grace, commandments or love—these have become alternative opposites. It is, supposedly, one or the other. The one who looks to the law will become cold and unloving, even fall “away from grace” (Gal. 5:4, ESV); such is the widespread attitude. Yet, according to the Bible, we show our love for God by keeping the law, not as the means to salvation but as the sign of true love. Far from contradicting each other, love for God and obedience to His commandments only reinforce one another (John 15:10; 2 John 6). If we want to prepare ourselves and our church for the Second Coming, it is precisely this truth, the law and the gospel together (Rev. 14:12), that must be proclaimed.

“As I have loved you”

It is not crucial to know exactly when Jesus will return; if it were, He would have told us the exact time. Jesus calls His followers not to respond to the calamities of this world with fear and doom. “ ‘On the earth [there will be] distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. . . . Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’ ” (Luke 21:25, 26, 28, ESV).

It is good to know what is going on in the world, but it is more important that the church stand with truth, resisting all temptations to lawlessness and Laodicea’s lack of love. Selfless love for each other and sacrificial love for the world will usher in the second coming of Jesus.

“The love of the Redeemer will draw hearts together in unity. . . .

“And when His parting words are fulfilled, ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven.”1

And three major signs—the “everlasting gospel” to all the world, apostasy, and Laodicea—tell us, indeed, just how near that redemption really is.

  1. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 641.

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René Gehring, PhD, is president of Bogenhofen Seminary, St. Peter am Hart, Austria

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