N NOVEMBER 16, 1966, SCIENTISTS predicted a massive meteor shower. Carlos and I, academy students, hoped to see a replay of the great meteor shower of 1833, which had motivated many to anticipate the soon coming of Jesus.
But the sky was overcast that night. There was nothing to see, not a star, much less a meteor. We took my parents’ car and roamed the back roads of New Jersey, looking for patches of clear sky, but to no avail. The meteor shower of 1966 may have been as great as that of 1833, but it was seen only from airplanes and in a few places in the American West. Both showers were related to heavenly debris left behind by the comet Temple-Tuttle, which pursues a 33-year orbit around the sun. Some increase of meteorites occurs every November, seeming to emanate from the constellation Leo.
Carlos and I were trying to recapture something of the spirit of our Adventist pioneers. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day in 1780, and the giant Leonid shower of 1833 all seemed to confirm the words of Scripture in Revelation 6:12, 13: “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind” (KJV).
The meteor shower of 1833 drove our forebears back to their Bibles, searching for deeper understanding of the second coming of Jesus. These signs seemed to confirm that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Yet the entire nineteenth century passed and the signs began to grow old. By 1966 these signs were getting really old. What do you do when the signs grow old?
Signs of the Age
One thing we can do is remind ourselves that “signs” in the heavens and on earth have always been with us. When we examine the New Testament carefully, we discover that many world events that Christians take as signs of the end are really signs of the age instead. They teach us that Jesus knew the character of the whole age in advance. He will not be mistaken about the event that brings it to a close.
When the disciples asked Jesus (Matt. 24:3) about the sign of His coming and the end of the age, He replied: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (verse 6). Wars and rumors do not herald the end; they are part of what life is like before the end.
Jesus went on: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (verses 7, 8). For Jesus, wars, famines, and earthquakes do not signal the end—they are signals of the beginning! The disciples asked for a sign of the end; Jesus gave them signs of the age. In Luke Jesus even adds the words “terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11, NASB)* to these signs of the age (cf. verse 9). These signs were not given to stimulate speculation about the timing of the end. Instead, they remind us to be watchful for the end at all times (Matt. 24:42).
If wars, earthquakes, and famines are signs of the whole age, it should not surprise us that what many call the “signs of the end” were already experienced in the first century. While peace characterized Palestine in A.D. 31, there were “wars and rumors of wars” throughout the 60s. There were famines (Acts 11:28), earthquakes (Laodicea in A.D. 60, Pompeii in 63, Jerusalem in 64, and Rome in 68), and heavenly signs (see The Great Controversy, p. 29). Paul could even claim that the gospel had gone to the world within his lifetime (Col. 1:23; Rom. 1:8; 16:26). It is no wonder, then, that the apostles believed they were living in the last days (Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:18).
According to the Bible, therefore, we should not be surprised that the signs have grown old. They were given not to satisfy our curiosity regarding the timing of the end but to stimulate Bible study and faithful living. What the events of 1755-1833 did was to make our Adventist pioneers aware that we were entering into a momentous, final period of earth’s history. Seventh-day Adventist students of Daniel and Revelation discovered that while the “last days” truly began in New Testament times, the “time of the end” is a much more recent phenomenon. With the passing of the great time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, we are now living in the time of the end. While we cannot know with certainty that this is the final generation, we do know that things can wind up very soon. And that should keep us focused on the one thing that matters the most.
Keeping Faith Alive
The one thing that really matters is preparing to meet Jesus when He comes. This is what keeps our faith alive when the signs grow old. The following text is illustrative: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
The tragedy of the lost at the end is not the quality of their theology or the lack of good deeds; rather, Jesus laments, “I never knew you” (see Matt. 7:21-23; 25:12). The climax of the end-time is not the battle of Armageddon, but the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The end is about Jesus more than it is about events or ideas.
Ellen White emphatically agrees that knowing Jesus is the key factor in a healthy approach to the end:
“The shortness of time is urged as an incentive for us to seek righteousness and to make Christ our friend. This is not the great motive. It savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God be held before us to compel us through fear to right action? This ought not to be. Jesus is attractive. . . . He proposes to be our friend, to walk with us through all the rough pathways of life. . . . Jesus, the Majesty of Heaven, proposes to elevate to companionship with himself those who come to him with their burdens, their weaknesses, and their cares” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Aug. 2, 1881; emphasis mine).
What a beautiful summary of the centrality of a relationship with Jesus in a healthy anticipation of the end! It is the daily walk, the daily companionship that sets the stage for our expectation of an eternity with the same Person!
Some 15 years ago I taught a couple of classes at Helderberg College in South Africa. I spent more than a month away from my wife for the first time. It was not an easy experience. But as the delay in our relationship grew longer and longer, did I begin to forget her? Did I get tired of waiting and begin setting imaginary dates for my return? No! I spent that month thinking about her more than I had ever thought of her before. In fact, she was never sweeter, never more beautiful to me than she was during that period of absence. The more time went by, the more eagerly I anticipated our eventual reunion. I tasted our relationship again and again in my mind’s eye, and my longing for her grew and grew.
So it is with the return of Jesus. He is worth all the time and energy we could possibly expend in getting to know Him. He is worth going through all the troubles of the endtime and then some. He is worth at least a “thoughtful hour” every day (The Desire of Ages, p. 83), reviewing His character in our mind’s eye. As our relationship with Him is renewed every day, our desire to be with Him in person grows. Every event in the world or in the heavens calls us to a deeper walk with Him. And when you really know Jesus, the signs never grow old.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. What is the difference between “signs of the end” and “signs of the age”?
2. What is the “one thing that matters most”?