Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (July 2010)
The signs of the times should be carefully considered within their correct dispensational framework. There are Christian ministries who describe various kinds of natural disasters, including manmade disasters, as judgements of God upon apostate nations. In many cases, however, end-time signs describe conditions during the seven-year tribulation period and have been given announce the soon coming of Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives. Sings of this nature are often wrongly applied to the church dispensation.
We are in the dispensation of grace - not in the dispensation of divine judgements. Bad things that do happen now are in most cases the consequences of wrong human attitudes and irresponsible actions: “For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). America has an anti-Jewish president simply because the American people have elected him. It is not God who appointed him in order to judge wayward Americans! Events such as these should be seen as wrong decisions by deluded people with selfish or humanistic agendas. The spirit of error is at work to deceive people everywhere.
The apostasy will continue until God intervenes by removing the true believers by way of the rapture, and only then will He judge the wicked. We are not living in Old Testament when there were intermittent times of divine blessings and judgements in the world. God often intervened miraculously to save Israel and judge the wicked. In this way He physically demonstrated His approval or disapproval with people’s behaviour. These divine acts often resulted in the complete destruction of wicked societies (cf. the times of Noah and Lot).
At the beginning of the New Testament God revealed Himself to humanity through the incarnation, public ministry, crucifixion and ascension of His Son, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Christian church on earth. Believers would live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). God would work within the body of believers to save, protect and care for people, while His Holy Spirit continues to convict the lost of their sins and need of salvation.
All people have a free will to decide whether or not they want to be Christians. There is no coercion or intimidation to force people to act in a certain way - neither any judgement upon wicked nations during this dispensation. Divine judgements are reserved for the end-time: “…because [God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).
People may choose to continue with their sins, and indeed most of them do, thereby accepting the control of the devil and rendering the world a predominantly evil place to live in. Because of this situation, oppressive empires, evil governments, false religions and apostate churches may survive for extended periods, even for centuries, without being judged or removed from the scene by God. When they do collapse, it is because of internal divisions and moral decay.
Only extreme Calvinists regard humanity’s fate in all its detail as being predestined by God, including natural disasters. This dogma raises many questions: Is spiritual deception not to be blamed for evil actions among people? Are their afflictions not self-imposed? How can natural disasters be seen as God’s judgements if they occur at random and harm more innocent people than striking the real perpetrators of evil? Are many of these disasters not caused by man’s excessive greed which leads to the over-exploitation of natural resources and the disastrous heating of the planet through high emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? The greedy and the wicked are destroying their own habitation.
We should urgently get to grips with these phenomena by correctly interpreting them within their dispensational context. That will help us to better understand the signs of the times. The major eschatological signs of the church dispensation during the time preceding the rapture of true believers are not natural disasters but rather signs that relate to spiritual and ideological matters, as well as the re-emergence of Israel as a major role-player in world affairs:
· Spiritual deception is the evil driving force behind a great falling away from moral and religious standards which is hastening the end-time outpouring of God’s wrath (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:3). Only true believers in Christ will escape the coming wrath (Luke 21:36; 1 Thess. 1:10).
· The physical restoration of Israel in preparation of their spiritual revival as God’s people is a major sign indicating that the revelation of God’s kingdom on earth is at hand. Support for Israel, the promotion of their spiritual well-being by proclaiming that Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha Mashiach) is their only Saviour and hope for the future, and also the defence of their territorial integrity and biblical right over Jerusalem, are indicative of a sound end-time orientation among true believers.
· The rising of an antichristian new world order which provides a platform for the soon revelation of the Antichrist and the beginning of the tribulation period is an end-time occurrence. This movement is characterised by political, religious and economic globalism (cf. Rev. 13) and constitutes Satan’s counterfeit kingdom on earth by which he will endeavour to oppose and avert the revelation of Christ’s millennial reign on earth. True Christians should commit themselves to restraining the Antichrist’s rise to power (2 Thess 2:6-8).
The wars and natural disasters described in the Olivet Discourse of Christ, and also in prophetic books such as Revelation, are signs that point to the public coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation period. These signs refer to the judgements of God that will be poured out during the seven years of tribulation, which will also be the dispensation of the Antichrist’s evil government on earth. The present wars and natural disasters do not fall into that category and are, on the most, early warning signs of the coming time of world-wide distress. In their present form these phenomena are not judgements.
If we would focus more strongly on the sign of spiritual deception, we will realise that Israel’s spiritual problems are just as alarming as that of their worst enemies. Instead of condemning Israel’s enemies for not recognising and supporting the modern Jewish state, we should rather confront both parties because of their spiritual errors and rebellion against God. The critical factor is people’s relationship with Christ, and not interstate relations.
Because of Israel’s lamentable spiritual condition they are, like all other nations, part of the problem and heading for the time of Jacob’s trouble – the seven-year tribulation. By then, natural disasters will be strongly part of divine intervention in human affairs with a view to testing believers and judging unbelievers. At the end of this period a remnant from all nations will be saved (Matt. 24:29-30; Zech. 12:10; 14:16). The prophet Isaiah confirms that during the coming millennial reign of the Messiah, a remnant of Israel, Egypt and Syria will serve the Messiah with one accord (Isa. 19:23-25).
At present we are still in the dispensation of grace, albeit in its very final stage. God speaks to us through His Spirit, His Word and the testimony of true witnesses in the church. We have many prophetic warnings that the end of the dispensation draws nigh. Let us, for the present, turn our attention away from hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic ash-clouds, oil-spills, evil governments, and a threatening economic meltdown, and rather focus on the deep spiritual problems of Israel and the nations.
The time will indeed come when the powers of heaven will be shaken in a much more severe way than is the case during the church dispensation. The purpose with these unprecedented signs will be to announce the public coming of the King of Kings who will judge the wicked and rule over the world (cf. Isa. 13:9-13; Zech. 14:2-13; Luke 21:25-27; Rev. 19:19-21). These apocalyptic signs are specifically associated with the great tribulation and will, during that time, clearly and rightfully be recognised as acts of God (cf. Rev. 16). We are not in that situation now.
The big responsibility which now rests upon Christians is to be engaged with preparations to meet the heavenly Bridegroom. That calls for higher level of personal holiness in every believer, as well as increased involvement with evangelism so that “the fullness of the Gentiles” may come in (Rom. 11:25). Our relationship with the Lord Jesus should be pure so we can appear before him holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). This calls for complete sanctification in our spirit, soul and body (1 Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Pet. 3:11,14). In this state of wholehearted dedication we should move out to bring in those who are still outside. “Blessed is that servant whom his Master, when He comes, will find so doing” (Matt, 24:46).