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WHY THERE IS LITTLE PREACHING
"Tell us, when shall these things be? and what
shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3).
The late Dr. M. R. DeHaan said,
They had asked for a sign. Jesus gave them many signs. Some of these signs have been present in every age since then; but when all these signs shall be present at the same time, then His coming is drawing near - even at the doors (M. R. DeHaan, M.D., The Days of Noah, Zondervan, 1963, p. 20).
The signs are present all around us today. They show that we are living very near the end of this age and the Second Coming of Christ. But strangely there is little preaching on these signs at this hour. To be sure, there is much Bible teaching, and there are many books, on Bible prophecy. But there is little heard today about the signs.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in the general plan of prophecy as given in the Scofield Reference Bible. I preach the pre-tribulation rapture, the seven-year Tribulation, the premillennial coming of Christ to this earth, and His one-thousand-year reign. I do not criticize or disparage any of this. Furthermore, I am not presenting anything "new" in this sermon. I am giving you the older view of the signs. I am doing this because I am concerned that we hear so little about the signs today, when we need to hear about them more than ever.
I give six of the major signs in my book, The Church That Will Be Left Behind (Hearthstone, 2001, pp. 12-19). They are,
1. The ecological signs, Luke 21:11, 25-26.
2. The racial signs, Luke 21:10.
3. The antisemitic signs, Luke 21:20; Romans 11:28; Zechariah 12:3.
4. The signs of religious deception, Luke 21:8; Matthew 24:24;
II Timothy 4:3.
5. The sign of religious persecution, Luke 21:12; Luke 21:16-17.
6. The psychological sign, Luke 21:34-36.
To this list could be added other signs, including
7. The sign of the days of Noah, Matthew 24:37-39.
When I was a young person, in the 1950s and 60s, these signs were often preached upon by such well known men as Dr. DeHaan and Billy Graham, when he was much better than he is now (he still preaches occasionally on "The Signs of the Times," although not nearly so forcefully as he did then). W. E. Blackstone and I. M. Haldeman preached the signs of the times, which they said would come before the rapture. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith preached the signs this way. Kenneth Wuest, long professor at Moody Bible Institute, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, also took this position. Dr. Wuest said,
Things on earth are rapidly forming themselves toward a crisis in human history such as the Bible predicts…Israel is back in the land as a nation among nations. Wickedness is coming to a head. False doctrine is sweeping the church. Russia is an ever-present menace [it still is!]. War seems always in the offing. Humanity is getting so restless and turbulent that a world dictator is needed to straighten things out. Things cannot go on like this indefinitely. Time is running out. It is later than we think. We are on the threshold of the rapture of the church, and after that, the second advent of the Son of God (Kenneth S. Wuest, Prophetic Light in the Present Darkness, Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 27-28).
Men like Blackstone, Haldeman, Wuest, Wilbur Smith, M. R. DeHaan, and a young Billy Graham, preached loud and clear that the basic signs had to be fulfilled before the rapture. They preached and taught that we are seeing those basic signs today. Yet there are few who preach like them today on this great subject. Why? I will attempt to answer that question in this sermon.
I. First, you must understand that the preterists and many
modern dispensationalists are wrong about the signs.
The preterists are those who teach that most prophecy has already been fulfilled. As Thomas Ice puts it, they teach "that most apocalyptic prophecy relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Preterists teach that the book of Revelation is primarily a prophecy about the Roman war against the Jews in Israel, a war that began in A.D. 67 and ended with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70" (Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, AMG Publications, 2000, p. 1483). The preterists also teach that the signs which are given really describe the Roman persecution of the Christians and Jews in 67-70 A.D.
Preterism has gained a wide audience today. It teaches that nearly all of the "signs" happened way back in 67 to 70 A.D. But they are wrong, and I think that two passages of Scripture clearly show that.
Turn with me to Luke 21:25,
"And there shall be signs [the word "signs" is used] in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations [plural], with perplexity [anguish]; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26).
Now, this did not happen when the Romans attacked Israel in the first century. To be sure, there was much bloodshed, the Temple was destroyed, and the Jews were dispersed into the various nations of the world. The Christians were also persecuted by the Emperor Nero at that time. But what Jesus prophesied here did not happen. There were no signs in the sun, moon and stars. There was no perplexity of "nations." Notice that the word "nations" is plural. There was no dismay among nations in the first century! Instead there was what is known as the "Pax Romana," the "peace of Rome." There was universal peace among the nations, brought about by the great power of the armies of Rome. Needless to say, to those who know history, this was not a time when "men's hearts failed them for fear, and for looking after the things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." That did not happen in the first century! These signs can only apply honestly to our time, and the days that follow.
The second great passage of Scripture which shows us that the preterists are wrong is in Matthew 24:37-39,
"But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be"
Now, that is not a picture of what happened in the first century at all. The days of Noah describe apostasy - a world turning away from God and the Bible. That is not how it was in the first century. Just the opposite was true! The world was turning to Christ, not away from Him! The first century experienced great revival, not the apostasy of the end-times described by our Lord in this passage in Matthew, chapter twenty-four. So, the prophecy of the days of Noah also shows that the preterists are wrong to shove all these signs back into the first century.
But many modern dispensationalists are also wrong. They shove all the signs forward - into the seven years of Great Tribulation. One of these good men wrote, "If something else must happen first, then Christ's coming would not be imminent" (LaHaye Study Bible, p. 1072). These modern dispensationalists take a different view from that which was presented by Dr. M. R. DeHaan, Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, Dr. Kenneth Wuest, and Billy Graham in the days of his strong preaching on the signs. They say that since the rapture is imminent, it could have happened at any moment since Jesus went back to Heaven. Dr. John R. Rice, whom I greatly esteem, took this position, that Christ is coming with no signs; because His coming has always been imminent, it could have happened at any moment since His ascension into Heaven. But, although I greatly admire Dr. Rice as a deeply spiritual and highly insightful preacher, and I am loath to criticize him even on this point, I do think he was wrong on this. I believe that Dr. DeHaan was right on the signs and that Dr. Rice was wrong on this point.
The two passages I have quoted against the preterists also shed light upon what is wrong with shoving all the signs forward into the Tribulation, so that none of the signs apply to our time.
The perplexity, or anguish, of nations will not happen. The "distress of nations" will not happen in the Tribulation per se. Again, most of the seven years will be a time of peace, enforced by the Antichrist, the final world dictator. It will be largely a time of peace. As Nero enforced the Pax Romana (the peace of Rome), so the Antichrist will enforce the Pax Antichristos (the peace of the Antichrist). Nothing like what is described in Luke 21:25-26 will happen until the very end of the Tribulation, when the bowl judgments are poured out by God (cf. Revelation 16:1-21).
Furthermore, the "signs" (Christ used the word) in Luke 21:25-28 are followed by this admonition of Christ's,
"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh"
But at the end of the Tribulation, when the bowl judgments are poured out, there won't be any living Christians on the earth to look up! They will have been raptured. And those who have become Christians in the Tribulation itself will have been beheaded by the Antichrist,
"And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (Revelation 13:7).
"And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus" (Revelation 20:4).
Those who do not receive the mark of the beast will all be dead by the time of the bowl judgments, in my opinion. And those who are left on the earth will not lift up their heads to see their "redemption draw[ing] nigh" (Luke 21:28). No! No! Those left on the earth at the bowl judgments
"blasphemed the name of God" (Revelation 16:9).
"And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds" (Revelation 16:11).
So, when Jesus told us "there shall be signs" in Luke 21:25-28, signs that would make good Christians look up to see their redemption coming, He was not talking about something that would happen after the rapture, in the Tribulation. He was giving us signs of the rapture, and saying that we would see the Son of man coming in a cloud for us at the rapture, after these signs on earth (cf. Luke 21:25).
The passage of Scripture given in Matthew 24:37-39 also does not fit into the Tribulation. It tells us that things will seem normal, as in the days of Noah, that life will go on as usual, with people eating and drinking, and marrying, and having marriage parties, and not concerned at all about judgment. That is hardly a picture of the Tribulation. The Tribulation will be a time of peace at the beginning, to be sure, but it will be a dictator's peace. It will be like Germany in the late 1930s. Life will not go on normally, and many people will be frightened and realize that the Antichrist is the man of sin. I think this partly accounts for the great revival that will come in the first part of the Tribulation, when 144,000 Jews and "a great multitude" of Gentiles will be converted (cf. Revelation 7:1-14). This is a time of dictatorship, strict regulation, and a time of unprecedented revival. This is hardly like the days of Noah! It is nothing like the days of Noah!
No, the "days of Noah" sign (Matthew 24:37-39) must not be moved forward and put into the Tribulation. It is a sign of the days in which we are living, right now!
So, there is little preaching on the signs of Christ's coming because the preterists have shoved the signs back into the first century, and because many modern dispensationalists have pushed the signs forward, into the Tribulation.
But we must understand why these modern dispensationalists have put the signs in the Tribulation. There is a reason they have done that, which brings us to the second main point of this sermon.
II. Second, the reasons good men are wrong when they say
the rapture has always been imminent.
I should point out that I myself am a dispensationalist. The old-time dispensationalists preached the signs of the end. But many modern dispensationalists have stopped preaching the signs and have pushed all of the signs forward, into the Tribulation. Why have they done this? The main reason comes from their wrong belief that the rapture has been imminent (could come at any moment) ever since Jesus ascended to Heaven. They think the Bible teaches that the "any moment" rapture could have occurred, virtually, at "any moment," ever since Christ went back to Heaven. That view leads good men to say, "If something else must happen first, then Christ's coming would not be imminent" (ibid.). According to their reasoning, if signs had to be fulfilled before the rapture, then the rapture would not have been imminent before these signs were fulfilled. So, they push the signs forward into the Tribulation to protect their view that the rapture could have come at any moment ever since the ascension of Christ.
But the Bible does not teach that the rapture has been imminent, and could have come "at any moment," ever since Christ ascended back to Heaven in A.D. 33. The Bible just doesn't teach the "any moment" rapture could have happened ever since that time. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite! Let's look at nine reasons why the rapture could not have come "at any moment" since A.D. 33:
1. If the rapture had been imminent, the Great Commission could not have been given by Christ, Matthew 28:19-20. It would take at least several years for the known world to be evangelized. The rapture could not have come "at any moment" before that.
2. If the rapture had been imminent, Jesus could not have predicted the death of Peter, which happened many years after His prediction (John 21:18-19). It was not possible for the rapture to come "at any moment" before this prophecy of Christ was fulfilled. In a very real sense, both the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the death of Peter were "signs" of prophecy that had to be fulfilled before the rapture could take place. And they clearly show that imminency could not have been possible before the end of the first century.
3. If the rapture had been imminent, Paul (under divine inspiration) could not have predicted his own death, II Timothy 4:6-8. Paul's death was indeed a "sign" that had to take place before the rapture could occur.
4. The parables of Christ in Matthew 13 require time. It takes time for the sower to sow his seed. It takes time for the tares to grow among the wheat. It takes time for the mustard seed to grow into a tree. It takes time for the leaven to be hidden in the meal. It takes time for a man to go and sell all he has to buy the field with its hidden treasure. It takes time for a man to search for the pearl and then sell all he has to buy it. It takes time for the dragnet to be drawn through the sea, then the contents separated. In a very real sense, these parables in Matthew 13 were "signs" that all had to be fulfilled before the rapture could take place.
5. The answer of Christ to the Apostles in Matthew 24 shows that signs must occur before the rapture. Even the modern dispensationalists admit that at least some of these come before the rapture. If even one of them does, then the rapture was not imminent until then. The rapture is clearly given in Matthew 24:40-41. This view was held by the late Dr. Wilbur M. Smith and Dr. Arno Gaebelein, consulting editor of the Scofield Reference Bible. The signs in Matthew 24 had to take place before the rapture could occur.
6. The bridegroom "tarried" (delayed) in the parable of the bridegroom, Matthew 25:5. The whole idea of the "any moment" rapture ever since the ascension in A.D. 33 is answered and corrected by this one verse alone, in Matthew 25:5, "While the bridegroom tarried [delayed], they all slumbered and slept." The tarrying of the bridegroom shows that the rapture could not have happened "at any moment" since the ascension. The "sign" of tarrying had to take place first.
7. The Scofield note on II Thessalonians 2:3 correctly indicates that the apostasy had to come before the rapture. This is given as the second "order of events" in the Scofield note. There must be "a falling away first," before the rapture and the unveiling of the Antichrist, "the man of sin." So, the apostasy which has increasingly characterized the churches for the past 150 years is a "sign" that had to be fulfilled before the rapture could happen.
8. The apostasy of the last days foretold in II Timothy 3:1-4:5 shows that the "any moment" rapture could not have happened before the 20th century. The conditions describing the churches do not fit any other period, for in no other period was the Bible rejected en toto, 3:13-17; 4:4. The sign of last days apostasy in II Timothy 3 and 4 shows that the rapture could not have taken place before the apostasy of the 20th century.
9. The seven phases of church history in Revelation, chapters two and three could not have been given if the rapture were "imminent" ever since the first century! The Scofield note, above Revelation 3:14, calls Laodicea "The final state of apostasy." How can you have a final state of apostasy if the rapture could come at "any moment' during the last two thousand years? How can you have a prediction of seven stages of church history if the rapture has always been imminent? The Scofield note on Revelation 1:20 says that the messages to the seven churches have four applications, and that the fourth is "prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say, A.D. 96 to the end" (Scofield note on Revelation 1:20). The prophesied "seven phases" of church history show that the rapture could not have happened until the seventh phase! Laodicea is a "sign" that had to be fulfilled before the rapture.
Don't let anyone take the signs away from you so they can make the Bible fit their scheme of theology! I say that the signs are present all around us today! The Jews are returning to the land of Israel, as the Bible predicted they would do "in the latter days" (Hosea 3:5). Since the re-establishment of Israel, the rapture has become imminent. The rapture could now come at any moment. Look around you! The world is headed for judgment! The rapture is coming soon! Every sign points to it. "Prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12).
1. The Jews are returning to Israel - this is a great sign. "Prepare to meet thy God."
2. The Muslims are rising up to terrorize Christians - this is a great sign. "Prepare to meet thy God."
3. The churches are going (or have gone) into apostasy. This is a great sign. "Prepare to meet thy God."
4. The Muslim nations will soon (in 3 or 4 years) have the hydrogen bomb. This is a great sign. "Prepare to meet thy God."
5. The nations are turning against God, and are rushing toward judgment. This is a great sign. "Prepare to meet thy God."
"Well," you may say, "Dr. Hymers, how do I prepare to meet God before judgment comes?" That is a good question, and I will answer it. Prepare to meet God by getting back here to church next Sunday and every Sunday. The world is a dark and lonely place in these last days. You need to be in church at every service, especially in times like these. We say, "Why be lonely? Come home - to church!"
Then, secondly, make sure you are converted. You are not ready for the rapture if you are unconverted. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24). Strive with all your might to be converted! Think about your sins and your need for Jesus, the Saviour. He died on the Cross to pay for your sins. His Blood can wash your sins away and you can be saved. Turn fully to Christ and trust Him with all your heart - and He will forgive your sins, and you will be converted. "Prepare to meet thy God." Do it quickly. The signs all show that you don't have much time left.
Scripture Read by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan Before the Sermon: Matthew 24:3-14.
Solo Sung by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith Before the Sermon:
"In Times Like These" (by Ruth Caye Jones, 1944).
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."
THE OUTLINE OF
WHY THERE IS LITTLE PREACHING
"Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3).
(Luke 21:11, 25-26, 10, 20; Romans 11:28; Zechariah 12:3; Luke 21:8; Matthew 24:24; II Timothy 4:3; Luke 21:12, 16-17, 34-36; Matthew 24:37-39)
I. The preterists and many modern dispensationalists are
II. The reasons good men are wrong when they say the rapture