Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus the very question that every Christian still wonders today: how do we know when you’re coming back? Amazingly, Jesus answered by giving the actual "signs of his coming and the end of the age." He didn’t refuse! We can read his straightforward answer in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yet Christians don’t understand his answer as evidenced by how they fall for every speculative counterfeit end time sign theory hatched by prophecy writers in its place. Find out what you’ve been missing in Jesus’ answer so you understand the real signs of his coming and never have to fall for another false prophecy theory again.
Jesus' Answer to the Biggest Question Christians Have
When asked by the disciples, “Tell us...what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3) Jesus did not refuse to answer. He plainly told them what to look for in the future to know when he was coming and when he was not. His answer began with two preliminary signs that would happen long before the end and ended with a few of the actual signs of the end and his coming just like the disciples requested. This made for a very balanced and clear answer. Or so you would think.
You've probably read Jesus' answer on these end time signs dozens of times. But I guarantee you have never understood it because there is a major problem with it.
Nevertheless, you may think you do. I've met many who claim to.
However, if you did understand the answer, you would have confidence to make long term plans like marrying or remarrying, having a child or another child, moving or buying a home or going back to school for further education, starting a business, etc. You would not be wondering how to tell if Jesus is coming back soon or not. You would not question whether he can come back this year or next. You would know you are safe to live your life and pursue your goals and dreams without them being interrupted by the end of the age.
Moreover, you would never fall again for another speculative or date-setting prophecy theory that many Christians end up following year after year. You wouldn't fall for these counterfeit theories because you'd already know the real answer from Jesus himself on what he said were the “signs of his coming and the end of the age” (Mt 24:2).
By the end of this article you will indeed understand Jesus' words like never before and have confidence about where we are in prophecy.
Examining Jesus' Problematic Answer on the Signs of the End
If you still think you understand Jesus' answer, you may change your mind when we see it broken down and dissected logically. Let's do that now.
Notice first that Jesus starts his answer to the disciples by giving two predictions, now fulfilled in history (H1 and H2), of what to expect before the end. He plainly says that these developments are not signs of the end and are therefore nothing to be alarmed about:
Matthew 24:4-6 (HCSB) — 4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 [H1] For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6 [H2] You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For...
Notice there are two predictions (labeled H1 and H2 in brackets by each one above). History clearly shows Jesus was right that deception in his name followed soon after and has continued to this day. Same with wars and rumors of wars. Nothing unique in either of these. Not signs of the end because they have been with us from the beginning and continue. Real signs of the end must be unique or unprecedented for them to be useful gauges of a special time called the "end of the age."
By the way, this statement by Jesus that "the end is not yet... For/because" contradicts the popular "imminent return of Christ" doctrine you may have been taught. That doctrine states that the reason Jesus said "no one knows the day or hour of my coming" is because it is imminent or able to come at any time without a prior prerequisite event. However, Jesus in the above verses connects his coming with the end of the age and promises to reveal signs of when the end is finally arrived.
The "for/because" introduces the next couple verses where he will finally cover these "birth pain" signs of the end of the age when his coming is possible (labeled B1 and B2). In other words, until we see what he lists next, his coming is not possible and not imminent because the end has not yet arrived.
Matthew 24:7-8 (HCSB) — 7 For [B1] nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. [B2] There will be famines, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.
Here he gives the end time signs that immediately precede his coming. But do you see the difficulty with what he said?
Firstly, the first birth pain sign (B1 - nation vs. nation and kingdom vs. kingdom ) is too similar to the first historic sign (H1 - wars and rumors of wars). Both talk of wars. One is rumors and wars and the other is wars and wars (with no rumors mixed in). It's impossible to differentiate the two of them just from what he said alone.
Secondly, neither of these two birth pains is unique or unprecedented. As covered earlier, wars have always been with us, even before Christ. Earthquakes and famines have always happened in various places. That's the very nature of severe calamities like these. They happen in different places over time, and not, say, every place at once (which would be unique and, of course, devastating!)
The Beginning of Birth Pains?
When you carefully analyze Jesus' words like that, it's difficult to defend them. We all naturally want to rush to Jesus' defense and read his words in unconventional ways to explain how they do make sense. But all the attempts and approaches require stretching or torturing the words out of their plain meaning or plain context.
But there is no mistaking what he is plainly saying here. He shared what would happen before the end so his disciples would not be alarmed or confused thinking the end had come. He then pivoted into the end time signs using the word "for..." Further, when he finished with these end time signs, he labeled them "birth pains." Of course, a woman endures birth pains only when she has come to the end of her pregnancy and has begun to deliver her child. Jesus is saying that his own coming is also preceded by difficult pains.
Let's remember that in 280 days of pregnancy, a woman finally only has birth pains in the last day or two. She does not have these in the previous 278 days of her pregnancy. They are unique to the end.
For Jesus to label certain events as birth pains, they would similarly only come at the end of the 2000 year waiting period we've been in since his first coming. They could not be events that match anything over the last 2000 years. They would be unprecedented. In this way, when we finally do see them, we could know that we are finally near the end of the age and his coming.
Yet, again, wars, earthquakes and famines in various places are nothing special. Is it any wonder every generation has thought they were the last generation? They see a temporary increase in severity of any of these things and guess that this is what Jesus meant. But a woman's birth pains do not start as soon as she is pregnant and slowly increase over time. They come suddenly and severely and only at the end.
And by the way, contrary to claims by many trying to explain Jesus' words, earthquakes are not on the increase in this century. That's not my opinion; it's what the authorities on earthquakes say, the USGS and British GS.
Finding Jesus' Original Words Describing the End Time Signs
Then what's the answer? You'll be pleased to know Jesus is not to blame. He did not give some impenetrable, mysterious or allegorical answer that we have to torture, struggle with or speculate about. Instead it looks like a Greek scribe or translator is to blame for the difficulty of the passage.
I discovered this while reading a less popular Bible version I owned. I had bought it because, rather than relying only on the Greek NT texts like most popular Bible versions, it leveraged the Hebrew and Aramaic NT texts that are available. When I came across the passage in question, I was shocked at what I read there in this new version:
Matthew 24:7 (Hebrew Roots Version) — For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, and earthquakes in every place.
[Note: you can read the entire Matthew Hebrew online for free in this Schonfield translation]
Earthquakes In Every Place
Instead of earthquakes and famines in "diverse" or "various places," it says they would be in "every place.
Do you understand the difference this makes? Earthquakes and famines happening in every place at once is at last a unique sign. It's unprecedented in recorded human history and therefore could serve as a sign of something new: the end of the age.
But what could cause this? It certainly points to a global cataclysm or a violent upheaval on the planet. If you have seen your share of Hollywood disaster movies, you might already have a guess at the source. But you don't have to guess if we look at the parallel passages to this text in Luke and later in Revelation.
Luke Adds Two Birth Pains That Explain the Cataclysm's Source
Luke 21:11 (HCSB) —There will be violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues [pestilences] in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
According to Luke's account, Jesus also mentioned plagues to go along with the earthquakes and famines and something else that helps us identify the cause. He says there will be terrifying sights and great signs in the heavens. If you see something new in the sky getting bigger as it approaches earth, this would be terrifying because of the possibility of a collision or impact. The movie Deep Impact portrayed exactly such a scenario.
Revelation's Parallel to Jesus' Words
Revelation parallels Jesus prophecy with greater detail. If you doubted the reliability of the minor Bible version quoted above as saying "earthquakes and famines in every place," check out what Revelation predicts in the end times beginning at the 6th seal:
Revelation 6:12-14 (HCSB) — 12 Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place.
Revelation describes solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers and the sky departing which would match the terrifying sights and signs in the heavens Jesus described. As well, we have here a violent earthquake. It must be a global earthquake in "every" place because it moves "every" mountain and island out of its original place. All this is unique and unprecedented and makes for actionable end time signs just as Jesus clearly intended to give.
If you want to see what happens next, read Revelation 7 and 8 up until the 4th trumpet (Rev 8:12). You will learn about the coming of:
- great winds
- a meteor storm burning up all the grass on earth
- an asteroid impacting the ocean and destroying ships and sea-life
- a star or planet named Wormwood being blamed for poisoning fresh waters (think death and pestilence)
- a one third reduction of all day and night light sources reaching earth's surface (think cold and famine and more pestilence)
All of this points to this new named body Wormwood coming close enough to earth to gravitationally and (to some degree) physically interfere with our planet.
Jesus' End Time Signs Understood
Very scary stuff, but I did not cover this to scare you. We were trying to understand the very practically useful answer Jesus gave for the sign that his coming was finally near.
Now we know what it is. Jesus was predicting an end time global cataclysm brought on by something new from space, something terrifying. Also, based on his further words in Matthew 24, this all happens before before the Great Tribulation and before the rapture.
What this means is that until this global cataclysm comes, the end of the age has not begun and Jesus' coming is not near. No matter what theory you hear from even fellow Christians to the contrary, do not believe them. Believe the words of Jesus only. He said to look for severe global earthquakes and famine as the sign of the end of the age.
"Take heed that no man deceives you" (Mt 24:4). Accept no substitute counterfeit theory that comes down the pike, no matter who says it.
If you're worried about going through this, don't. Prophecy covers how God has an end time escape plan for all his servants. You will be able to take part in it when the time comes just because of the same desire to know and follow God's word that led you to find and read this article today. Again, don't worry as God has to make an escape plan that we can all qualify for no matter how little we understand of the Bible, how little we pray, how little we fast and how often we seem to fall short.
In my book, I explain that escape plan and also how an unknown rogue planet could indeed exist and not be detected yet by scientists. Also how the mechanics of it passing close to the earth could explain all the things Jesus and Revelation describe, including things not covered in this article. (Note, this is not your daddy's Planet X theory).