In all of history, only at the end of World War II did the world order change shape as rapidly as it is changing right now. And those changes were set up by a global war. Today’s changes have come, seemingly, out of the blue. Yet, every day the world looks more like the one described in the Bible as existing during the time of the tribulation.
For decades, I have been teaching that these changes would come. But even for me, the pace and scope of change over the last few weeks has been stunning.
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus spoke extensively about His second coming. He included a list of signs. In chapter 24, verses 4-7, Jesus gave what have since become the most famous of those signs. He spoke of wars and rumors of wars, people groups rising up against other people groups, countries against countries, and of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes.
Then, in verse 8, Jesus said, “All these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”
That’s quoting the New American Standard Bible. In it, the word “merely” has been italicized. The translators weren’t trying to emphasize the word, but to let us know that they had added it. “Merely” is not in the original text. A better reading would be, “These things are the beginning of birth pangs.” As we suffer the present pestilence, we can see that there isn’t anything “mere” about it – except when compared to what’s coming.
When Jesus used the expression “birth pangs,” He was comparing the end-times world to a woman in labor. “Birth pangs” are a series of contractions, waves of tightening and relaxing the uterine muscle. The process is called “cervical effacement and dilation.” Relative to the lives of mother and child, it is an extremely brief period. But it can feel like it will never end. It is the painful and difficult transition of the mother’s body that will allow her to give birth.
Contractions are usually characterized by an increase in frequency and intensity. If the earth itself and all the people on it are beginning to experience “birth pangs,” it begs the question. What’s being born? And the answer is astounding. The thing being born is a new world.
The signs will increase in frequency and intensity right up to the point when Jesus returns. Sounds terrible, right? That’s why the seven-year period leading to the return of Jesus is known as “the tribulation.” Jesus called the last three and a half of those years “great tribulation.”
In Matthew 24:21, He said, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.”
Though we’re beginning to feel the birth pangs, we are not in the tribulation period. Jesus will remove His people out harm’s way before the judgments of tribulation fall on the world. That event is usually called the rapture. After that, people will still come to Christ. For the sake of those post-rapture Christians, the tribulation will end before the destruction of everything. And it will end with suddenness and brilliance. “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:27)
There are many extremely specific signs of the second coming, but no signs specific to the rapture. There can’t be. If there were, the event would not be imminent. “Imminent” does not mean it will happen in the next hour. Imminent means that it could happen in the next hour.
James 5:8 says, “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” That was almost two thousand years ago, so how could he say, “is at hand”? In this case, “at hand” means imminent. The first part of the Lord’s coming – the rapture – could happen at any time. That means there cannot be any signs yet to be fulfilled before the rapture. Otherwise, it would not be “at hand.”
In Luke 12:40, Jesus said, “Be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Jesus did not say, “Look for signs and when you see them, get ready.” He said, “Be ready.”
If you expect to go in the rapture, you may wonder why signs should interest you. If we’re seeing signs of events that will take place after the rapture – and we are – we should be looking up, because it means the rapture must take place very soon!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I hope you can join me every Sunday evening at 11PM EST on Daystar, or online anytime at www.hallindsey.com or www.hischannel.com for my line by line examination of Revelation. If you missed any episodes in this study, you can catch up by visiting www.hallindsey.com/videos/.