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TALK ON THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES  

8th NOVEMBER 2012

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Many of you will have heard accounts claiming that we are approaching the end of the world; that the Biblical signs of the times are making themselves manifest in our age and the events mentioned in the Book of Revelation concerning the end of the world and the new creation of heaven and earth are imminent. Our talk today will be to see some of the signs mentioned in the Bible and compare them with events that have occurred in history, but especially in our times.
Many people watch for the signs of the times but what is actually meant by this phrase? The words are taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew where it says that the Pharisees and Sadducees desired that Christ show them a sign from heaven to prove that he was the expected Messiah, Christ told them: "When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" (Matt. 16:1-3) The signs of the times that Christ is referring to are the signs in the Prophesies which foretold that it was the right time for the appearance of the Messiah. The signs of the times were given them to be able to recognize the Christ when he came. During the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not study the signs of the times in order to see that Christ had come; that the Son of God was already on earth.

There were signs that they should have recognized. For example, in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, there is a prophecy that gives us the approximate period in which the Messiah would come. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which he couldn’t remember and Daniel told him the dream and its interpretation. The interpretation concerns four great kingdoms or dynasties that will come after Nebuchadnezzar. These are probably the Medes and Persian Empires, the Greek or Macedonian Empire and the Roman Empire After these God will set up a kingdom that will grind to powder all other kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. This kingdom that will come is the coming of the Messiah who kingdom shall be for all eternity. But there is another prophecy from Daniel concerning the seventy weeks of years, which means that the Messiah was to come about 490 years from the time of Daniel. Those Jews who read their scriptural books very carefully knew exactly what these prophecies were all about, and at about the time that Christ came they knew that it was time for the Messiah.
But these were outward signs. More importantly, the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been watching for the inward signs. If their hearts had been right with God, and if they had not been merely trying to fulfil the outward commandment of the law, their hearts would have responded and recognized God in the flesh when He came. And many of the Jews did—the apostles, the disciples, and many others.
Christ continued to say: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah." The events of the Old Testament contain prefigurations of events in the New Testament. When Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, this was a prefiguration of our Lord being three days in the tomb. This sign he gave that even after his death and Resurrection they might recognize that he was truly the Christ.
Our Lord told the Pharisees and Sadducees that an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign. What he is saying is that they sought for spectacular events, that is, fire coming down from heaven, or the Romans being chased away, angels manifesting themselves and banishing the foreign government of the Romans, and things of that sort. Christ told them this kind of sign would not be given. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after this, but those who are pure of heart seek rather something more spiritual. Thus, from our Saviour's words, we know that we are not to watch for spectacular signs, but we are rather to look inwardly for spiritual signs. Also, we are to watch for those things which according to Scripture must come to pass.
We Orthodox Christians have already recognized and accepted the signs of Christ's First Coming. The very fact that we're Orthodox Christians means that we've done this. We know what these signs mean: for example, the sign of Jonah, the 490 years of Daniel, and many other things which our Lord fulfilled. Our Orthodox Divine services are filled with Old Testament prophecies which were fulfilled in the coming of Christ. These we all see and recognize and the prophecies all seems clear. But now we have to look for different kinds of signs, that is, the signs of the Second Coming of Christ. The whole teaching about the Second Coming of Christ and the signs which will precede it is set forth in several places in the Gospels, but especially in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew.
This chapter tells of how our Lord departed from the Temple, and how his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the Temple. Of course, in those days the Temple was the centre of worship. Every Jew had to come to the Temple at least at Pascha, the Passover, for this alone was where God could be worshipped in the right way. Our Lord looked at the Temple and told His disciples, "See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you: There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." To tell a believing Jew at that time that the whole Temple is to be thrown down, that nothing is to be left of it, is like saying it's the end of the world, because the Temple is precisely the place where God is supposed to be worshipped. How are you going to worship God if there's no Temple? So these words of our Saviour made the disciples start thinking about the end of the world. They immediately said, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" In other words, they already knew that He was going to come again and that this would be bound up with the end of the world.
Then our Lord gives a whole set of signs which are to come to pass before He comes again. Let's hear these signs from the Gospel reading:
"Jesus said, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
The first thing we must have if we are going to have the true interpretation of the signs of the times is something we can call basic Orthodox knowledge or understanding. That is, knowledge of the Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments (and not just according to the way it seems, but according to the way the Church has interpreted it); knowledge of the writings of Holy Fathers; knowledge of Church history; and awareness of the different kind of heresies and errors which have attacked the Church's true understanding of dogma and especially of the last times. If we do not have a grounding in sources such as these, we will find ourselves confused and unprepared. That is precisely what our Lord tells us: to be ready, to be prepared. Unless we have this basic knowledge, we will not be prepared and we will misinterpret the signs of the times.
The most important thing we need to gain knowledge is the virtue of spiritual discernment. The last times will be about discerning between things that seem identical or very similar to each other, but one is true and the other false, one has the spirit of Christ while the other the spirit of the Antichrist.
Antichrist does not merely mean someone who is against Christ but also "in imitation of, or in place of Christ." The Antichrist, as all the Holy Fathers say in their writings about him, is to be someone who imitates Christ, that is, tries to fool people by looking as though he is Christ come back to earth. Seeing the figure of Antichrist, many people will be fooled into thinking that it is Christ.
So let's take each of the signs given us by Christ and see how these apply to us in our times. "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." Here Christ is not specifically referring to the Antichrist who will come in the last days. Christ is the Church; he is the head of the Church and we are the members of his body. Throughout the history of the Church many have risen up against this Church. Many have cut themselves off from this body claiming that they are the true church, which is like saying they are Christ. The many heresies that abounded in the first few centuries, but especially in our times, the thousands of denominations who come in the name of Christ claiming to be Christian, are all shouting out I am Christ and have deceived millions.
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom."
There have always been wars and rumours of wars so this sign is rather vague in its meaning. Certainly the frequency and intensity of wars in the last century have increased and more people were killed in the two Great World Wars, the Russian Civil War, the Congo War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq and others, than in all the wars of past centuries put together. Already in this century more than 40 conflicts and wars are raging all around the world. But Christ tells us that we should not be troubled by these wars because the end is not yet. There is much more to come and we cannot imagine what would happen if there was a Third World War. With nuclear and biological weapons, poisonous gases and all kinds of destructive weapons now on the scene, a Third World War would be catastrophic and bring tribulation as has never been seen before. In its first few days, these weapons will be responsible for more damage and deaths than all the wars in history. Wars and rumours of wars cannot on their own be seen as a sign of the last days unless they are seen collectively with the other signs Christ has given us to recognize the last days.
"And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows."
As the population of the world has grown, many countries have seen an increase in poverty; this with the consequences of war and an increase of world food prices has lead to many famines around the world. We have all seen images of the famines in Ethiopia and Somalia and many other African countries where famines have killed thousands upon thousand. Less remembered is the Great Chinese famine of 1959 to 1961, which because of poor planning by the former Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong, famine claimed an estimated 45 million lives. It is expected that in 2013 the African countries of Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Comoros, and Sierra Leone will all be at extreme risk of famine. With the global economic crisis now looming over the world, less money will mean less aid will reach these countries and we can expect a higher death toll than in previous years.

Pestilences refers to diseases, but is not confined only to diseases affecting humans. Crops are constantly being infected with pestilences and all it needs is for the crops to fail in the great crop growing countries like Canada, Australia, America, Russia and India, which are already at risk from rising temperatures, for the world food markets to collapse and effect the world like a domino chain reaction.
As for humans we have seen in past centuries many diseases that took the lives of millions. For many of these diseases man has found a cure, but in recent years new bacterial and viral diseases are appearing which are affecting millions around the world. Various cancers are also on the increase possibly caused by preservatives in foods, pestilent killers and radiation in the air.
Like wars, earthquakes have been happening in various places around the world for centuries. Christ's reference to earthquakes as a sign of the times simply means that there will be an increase in the frequency and size of earthquakes not only in the places which are known for such activity, but also in other places that would not be considered normal. Certainly in the past century we have seen an increase of earthquakes and possibly more catastrophic than at any other time.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, the same signs of the times are also given but we are also told that the sea and the waves will be roaring. (Luke 21:25) Great earthquakes in the sea cause the waves to rise as though roaring and in recent years we have seen the destruction caused by these waves which we have come to know as Tsunamis. Even in the past week the 7.7 earthquake in Canada triggered a tsunami which beat the US eastern coast and a super storm named Sandy with winds more than 100mph working itself inland. All these Christ says are the beginning of sorrows. Before the end is near there will be a lot more sorrow and terrifying things for as Christ says in Luke: "For men's hearts failing them for fear." (Luke 21: 26)
After the beginning of sorrows Christ says: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."
This persecution of Christians could be referring to the first three centuries of Christianity when persecution was at its height against the new religion, but Christ is talking about the last times. In the past century we saw the persecution of the Christian faith in Russia where under a communist regime, millions of people were killed for their belief in Christ. Could the prophecy be referring to the Russian people or are we to expect a new persecution of Christians in the future? This is a very real possibility and if the prophecies recorded in the Book of Revelation for a new world order and a world ruler, the Antichrist, are interpreted correctly, the world is already setting the stage in preparation for total globalization. With each passing day more and more nations are ceding their sovereignty to larger institutions such as the European Union, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Court. Given the current global financial crisis and the potential catastrophe of a global war, more and more diplomatic leaders and world politicians are calling for global government. If this were to happen the leader of this global government will be the Antichrist who will solve all the worlds' problems concerning war, famine and disease and will be honoured by the peoples of the world as their saviour. All the religions of the world will become one and he will be worshipped as Christ come again into the world. Only the true Christians who recognize the signs of the times will know him for what he really is and refuse to be part of his global kingdom. Then can we expect for a new and terrifying persecution of those Christians who remain steadfast in faith and are not deceived. Many will be killed and true Christians will be hated of all nations because they don't worship the false saviour of the world. There will be mistrust with people betraying even their own family members who have not accepted the new world order.
In those days many false prophets will rise, and deceive many. Who are these false prophets? Like the Antichrist who with the power of Satan will perform many miracles, he will have the elite members of his government around the world keeping order and possibly also performing miracles in his name.
"And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
Another sign of those days is that iniquity will abound. When the true Christ comes iniquity will come to an end, but Christ gives us a sign to recognize the Antichrist. He will not bring an end to iniquity, but rather it will increase and by this we will know that he is not the Christ. In our times sin has increased to a level unimaginable in previous centuries. In the Old Testament Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed because they had practiced immoral sexual behaviour. In our times these immoral sexual practices have become common practice and have been accepted by society as normal behaviour. Add to this greed, selfishness, lies, thefts, aggression, violence and the meaningless killings, our world today can be interpreted as a sign of those last times. Our movies and TV programs portray all the evils imaginable and the majority of us are happily entertained by them.
Christ says that the love of many shall wax cold. True Christian love is a rarity in most societies. Gone are the days of giving hospitality to a stranger on his journey. Gone are the days of helping someone in need. Violence has brought fear into the hearts of people who now lock their doors securely to isolate themselves from the dangers of the outside world; to protect themselves from people who commit crimes for no reason other than for the thrill they receive because they do not have God inside them. On a larger scale we have seen people exterminate nations for some idealistic notion. Hitler had more than six million Jews killed because he supposedly blamed them for Christ's death. In 1975 the Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia killed off more than two million people quite ruthlessly, based on some abstract idea of getting the people back to the rural countryside. Everyone had to leave the cities. If they couldn't they were killed. It they were educated they were killed. An incredible one third of the entire population were massacred in the four years from 1975 though 1979.
The sign of cold-heartedness is probably the most deadly of all the signs because Christ tells us that the sign of Christians is that they have love for each other. When this love grows cold, as it has in our times, this means that even the Christians are beginning to lose Christianity.
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
This sign of the Gospel being preached unto all the nations we see about us now. The Gospel itself is produced in hundreds of languages now to almost all the tribes of the earth, and Orthodox Christianity is being preached in almost every country of the world. In Africa there are great missions: in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the Congo, and spreading out from there. New technology like satellite TV and the internet allow us to communicate with people on the other side of the world right from our own homes, churches and offices. Through this new technology, Christianity can reach even those remote places that in the past missionaries couldn't. But probably this sign is not just referring to the outreach of the Gospel but also to its acceptance. The great religions of the world like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism will embrace the Christian faith, but as we have already mentioned in the possibility of the World Order, the majority will be deceived into thinking that the Antichrist is the Christ of the Gospels. Then Christ says the end shall come.
"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
What is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel that we are supposed to understand? Daniel speaks of a king who shall pollute the holy covenant and blaspheme greatly against God and even magnify himself above God. It is interpreted that this self proclaimed god is the Antichrist who will stand in the holy place meaning the temple of Jerusalem and proclaim to the world that he is Christ.
But this can only happen if the Jerusalem temple is rebuilt. In 70AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and the Jews were dispersed among the gentile nations of the world. The Romans renamed the area Palestine, and for almost two thousand years the Jews lived in exile. Throughout history the Jews have wondered from nation to nation suffering persecution all over the world. But God had promised to bring the Jews out of exile and bring them back into the Land of their fathers. The aftermath of Hitler's Holocaust of the Jewish people created these very conditions for their return and in May of 1948 the nation of Israel was re-established. For the first time in history rebuilding of the Temple has now become a possibility.

This was tried only once before, in the fourth century. St. Cyril mentions it, as do several of the Church historians at that time. Because of his passion to overthrow Christianity, Julian the Apostate, decided that, since Christ had prophesied that not one stone of the Temple would be left on the other, if he rebuilt the Temple, he would prove that Christ was an impostor, and therefore paganism could be restored. So he deliberately invited the Jews back to Jerusalem, and they began building the Temple with the blessing of Julian the Apostate. They would build a little in the daytime, and the next morning they would come and all the stones would be on the ground. They tried again and balls of fire began to come out of the earth. All the historians agree on this. In fact, modern rationalist historians, because they see that they cannot deny the texts and that something did actually happen, begin to say things like, "They must have struck oil," or "There were underground gas flues." It was obviously a miracle of God to keep the Temple from being built, because it was not the time—the Temple is to be built only at the very end of the world. Anyway, they finally failed in their attempt and gave up the operation. Of the few stones that remained, not one was left on the other. So the prophecy was fulfilled in the time of Julian the Apostate.

But now, since 1967, the site where the Temple was before is now in the hands of the Jews. Therefore for the first time, it becomes quite possible that the Temple could be rebuilt. The only thing interfering is the great mosque which the Moslems have there. If that's destroyed, there will probably be a war.
This sign involving the Temple is in fact a very big sign and when we see the Temple being built, then we will know that the time is at hand, because that is definitely one of the signs of the very end. So far, of course, it's not being built, but there are all kinds of rumours that plans have been laid, that stones are being gathered, etc. It's obvious that the Jews are thinking about it. It is also said that the vessels and priestly garments for the Temple have all been prepared. Probably when all the nations including the Muslim nations accept Christianity the great Mosque will be of no consequence and the once Muslim countries will give their blessing to have it destroyed to make room for the Temple.
Many Protestant churches are joyfully anticipating the rebuilding of the Temple: they talk about the Temple as though it will be built in order for Christ to come back and reign over the world for a thousand years. But nowhere does it say that Christ will come back to reign from the temple. On the contrary, the temple has been destroyed and Christ will no more come to it. The only one who will come to the Temple is the Antichrist so what they are joyfully anticipating is the coming of Antichrist. The millennium, according to the Protestant interpretation, as being a special thousand-year reign at the end of the world, is actually the reign of Antichrist. Christ comes only at the end of the world to begin the eternal kingdom of heaven.
Therefore Christ tells us to beware of false Christs. If any man say to you he is here or he is there, believe it not, even if someone comes showing great signs and wonders, such miracles that will deceive many even the very elect if it were possible. And Christ tells us of his true coming so that we will not be deceived. "In those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven:" that is, the sign of the Cross will appear in the sky. "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." The nations of the earth shall mourn because they worshipped the Antichrist and didn't take heed of the signs of the times. And Christ will "send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
After telling all this about the signs of the end, our Lord gives a final command, saying, "Watch, therefore, for you know not on what day your Lord cometh.... Therefore, be also ready, for in an hour that you think not, the Son of Man cometh."
All these signs of the times can be very negative and depressing. They are signs that the world is collapsing, that the end of the world is at hand and that the Antichrist is about to come. As Christians we must be prepared for these times, but at the same time not to remain indifferent to the sufferings of people just because we expect these things to come and much worst. Not to become cold hearted because Christ said they would happen so why should I worry or be concerned, let the prophecies be fulfilled. This is falling into the sign of hearts waxing cold. We have to be, rather, all the more Christian, with love for all people, thinking about other people and trying to help others in their suffering. We must be Christian until the very end for as Christ said: "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
The Bible has many more other signs for the last times both in the Old and New Testaments. We have been given these signs to watch and be prepared but not as most people believe to watch for the times of the Antichrist. That's rather a secondary thing. We watch the signs of the times so we can know when Christ is going to come. Amen.