Christopher Kabwe Mukuka, MA, is a pastor in East Zambia. He is completing a PhD in World Missions at the Adventist University of Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

In today’s world, many people, irrespective of their religious affiliations, are actively seeking answers and searching for signs that may provide them with insights into what the future holds, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are curious about upcoming events and how they will unfold. They want to understand what, when, and how things will happen. Some people are even wondering who will bring about changes and shape the new world order. There is much uncertainty surrounding the future, which has led to diverse speculations and conjectures among both believers and nonbelievers.

The context

When it is evening, you say, “it will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times’ ” (Matt. 16:2, 3, NKJV).

In this passage, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees who were demanding a sign from Him to prove His authority. Jesus used the term hypocrites to convey His frustration and disappointment with them for their failure to recognize the truth about Him. Jesus condemned their spiritual blindness. The signs of the times that Jesus referred to in this passage were the events and circumstances that pointed to the fulfillment of prophecy and the coming of the Messiah. Despite being well-versed in the Scriptures, the religious leaders of His day failed to recognize the signs and rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Even John the Baptist had some doubts about whether Jesus was the promised Messiah.

The phrase signs of the times comes from the Greek words σημεῖα τῶν καιρῶν (sēmeia tōn kairōn) and refers to meaningful indications of what God has done, is doing, or is about to do. In Christian eschatology, the “signs of the end” are events or trends that indicate the nearness of the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ. These signs are based on several passages in the Bible, such as Matthew 24:3–8; Mark 13:3–8; and Luke 21:7–11, and are believed to increase in frequency and intensity as the end draws near.1

The signs in Matthew 16:2, 3 were meant to point people to the truth of His identity as the Son of God and Savior of the world. The expression the signs of the times is also typically used to refer to the events and circumstances that are believed to precede or point to the end of the age and Jesus’ second coming.

While it is important to pay attention to these signs, our reaction should not be an emotional one of fear or anxiety2 but, rather, a drawing closer to Jesus Christ. We should be hopeful and expectant of His return and determined to live our lives in a way that honors Him.

Erroneous interpretations

As they seek to discern the signs of the times in light of current events and their potential implications for the future, many people have ended up being consumed with speculation, conspiracy theories, and sensationalism. Various erroneous interpretations can have far-reaching consequences. These interpretations are subjective; depend on individuals’ worldviews, beliefs, and values; and are not supported by mainstream theological views.

Pandemics and natural disasters. One of the significant events of our time is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected every aspect of life, from economics and politics to religion and personal relationships.3 Some religious leaders have questioned whether this pandemic is an ultimate sign of the end times. While we cannot know, Jesus does warn us that the global turmoil and upheaval coming in the last days will be the beginning of the birth pains.

Conspiracy theories. Another common er­­roneous interpretation of the signs of the times is the belief in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories often exaggerate the facts or are based on limited or inaccurate information. They can lead to irrational and harmful beliefs and actions. One example is that some religious groups and individuals believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is a conspiracy orchestrated by a secret group or government.4

Technology and artificial intelligence. Some people have perceived artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies as harbingers of doom. The Bible speaks of a time when a mark will be required to buy and sell (Rev. 13:16–18), and speculations have been made that the proliferation of technology is meant to facilitate this requirement. Others equate it to the increase in knowledge as a sign of end times and fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 12:4. Ray Kurzweil argues that the exponential growth of technology is a natural result of human innovation and that it will continue to accelerate in the future.5

Guidance

Instead of causing speculation and conspiracy theories, the signs of the times should provide hope and encouragement because they point to Jesus’ soon coming. They are also a clear call to preparation and awareness and offer potential opportunities for evangelism and outreach. Overall, the emphasis is on the need for vigilance and preparation in the face of these signs.

Discerning the signs of the end times requires serious Bible study that leads to a deep knowledge of the Scriptures, prayer, vigilance, listening to collective church leaders, guidance from the Holy Spirit, and observation of the fulfillment of prophecies.

Study the Scriptures. A deep knowledge of the Bible is essential. Ellen White postulates, “Those who would share the benefits of the Saviour’s mediation should permit nothing to interfere with their duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God. The precious hours, instead of being given to pleasure, to display, or to gain seeking, should be devoted to an earnest, prayerful study of the word of truth.”6 By studying the Scriptures and comparing them to current events, we can discern the signs of the times.

Watch and pray. The importance of prayer and vigilance in discerning the end times cannot be overemphasized. Ellen White writes, “God would have his people prepared for the soon-coming crisis.”7 We must stay awake and alert and seek God’s guidance through prayer and study.

Listen to church experts. Moreover, we know that God does not send light, knowledge, and understanding to only secluded individuals but, rather, to many of His servants. Therefore, we must be diligent in studying and listening to what church experts say on discerning the signs of the end times.

Be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate guide in discerning the signs of the end times. Ellen White writes, “God alone, by the quickening, vivifying influence of His Holy Spirit can enable men to distinguish between the sacred and the common.”8 By allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us, we can have open ears and eyes to discern the true significance of current events and understand their place in God’s plan for the world.

Look for the fulfillment of prophecy. Ellen White also shows that the fulfillment of prophecy is a key indicator of the end times. She writes, “The prophecies which the great I AM has given in His word, uniting link after link in the chain of events, from eternity in the past to eternity in the future, tell us where we are today in the procession of the ages and what may be expected in the time to come.”9 By looking for the fulfillment of prophecy, we can better understand the signs of the end times and understand how current events fit into God’s plan.

Trusting and faithful

In conclusion, just like the Pharisees and religious leaders failed to recognize the signs of Jesus’ birth, contemporary believers may also have difficulties understanding the signs of Christ’s second coming because even though all prophecies will be fulfilled, we do not know exactly how. However, we must study God’s Word diligently and be always filled with God’s Spirit. Moreover, while we may not fully understand all the signs and events around us, we must always be ready, always in a close relationship with God, always awake, praying without ceasing, serving God, and fulfilling the mission God has given us.

Paul says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. . . . They will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2–5, NKJV). We cannot know for certain what the future holds, but we can certainly trust in the sovereignty of God, remain faithful in fulfilling His purposes for our lives, and guide our parishioners to do likewise.


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Christopher Kabwe Mukuka, MA, is a pastor in East Zambia. He is completing a PhD in World Missions at the Adventist University of Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

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