Chapter 2

THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES


The sign of the end of the age—a world war accompanied by famines, earthquakes and pestilences—is God's warning that the Tribulation, the time of Jacob's Trouble, is approaching. Besides this sign, God in His Word has given us a number of additional signs that unmistakably identify the times in which you and I live as the closing days of this age.


The Return of the Jews to the Land of Israel

One of the most prominent signs of our times is the return of the Jews to the land of their fathers.

The Lord entered into a special covenant with Abraham to give the land of Canaan to him and to his seed:
18 In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, 20 and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, 21 and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite (Genesis 15:18-21).

From this passage it is clear that the land promised to Abraham included the vast territory from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. Though God promised this land to Abraham and his seed, he did not possess one foot of the soil. Nor have the Jews ever possessed all the land promised to them through Abraham. The writings of the prophets make it plain, however, that some day the Lord will give Abraham and his descendants all of the land He promised them. Beginning with Moses, many men of God have prophesied that the Jews would be scattered among the nations, where they would survive many cruel days; but at the end of those days they would return to the promised land and possess all of it.

The prophet Ezekiel, saw his people scattered, and he also saw them returning to their land, in his vision of the valley of dry bones.

According to Ezekiel chapter 37, the return of the Jews to the land is a process, a development, yes, a program—as shown by the vision of the valley of bones.

37 The hand of Jehovah was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 And he caused me to pass by them round about; and, lo, they were very dry. 3 And he said unto me, son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O lord Jehovah, thou knowest. 4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. 5 Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are all dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. 12 Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel, 13 And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that I Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it saith Jehovah (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

In verse 11 the Lord reveals that these bones represent the whole house of Israel at the time they say, "Our hope is lost, we are clean cut off." Thus, this vision does not represent the entire nation through the centuries, but only at the time when the Jewish people have given up hope.

What is the national hope of Israel?

Instantly the orthodox Bible student will reply, "It is the hope of the coming Messiah, who is to be the Redeemer of the nation." Therefore, the prophet saw a time in the future when the Jews would abandon their national hope, giving up all interest in the reliance upon the coming of the Messiah.

Since the Jewish people have held tenaciously to the hope of Messiah's coming through the centuries what period in Israel's history does Ezekiel's vision represent? Has there been a time in history when a majority of the Jewish people lost their national hope?

Those who are familiar with Jewish history know that the Jews largely lost their Messianic hope in these modern times after rationalism permeated Jewish life. Thus it is quite evident that the prophet was carried forward in vision and saw the nation of Israel at the present time.

According to Ezekiel's vision, at the time the majority of the Jewish people give up their national hope—the coming of their Messiah—something occurs that affects the nation and brings them together, just as the earthquake in the vision occurred and caused the movement which brought the bones together. Earthquakes and accompanying disasters are always destructive, something that will affect the Jewish nation materially, causing them to come together.

Has anything occurred in the world to cause the Jews to come together?

Everyone who is familiar with the events of World War I and its impact and effect upon the Jewish nation can understand what Ezekiel refers to. The great war and its aftermath affected the Jews to such an extent that they realized that they were unwelcome guests among the nations, and that their only hope of survival was to return to the land of their fathers. Thus the Zionist movement, which had been simply a little trickle of national hope and aspiration, was turned into a great stream of hope that flooded world Jewry.

Some say that World War I prepared the land of Israel for the Jews, and that World War II prepared the Jews for the land. It is a fact that the return of the Jews to their land has been accelerated since World War II.

As indicated by the coming together of the bones, the sinews appearing, the flesh growing upon the bones, and the skin forming over the flesh, this Bible passage sets forth the thought that there would be a gradual development of a movement to gather the Jews together that would be quickened by World War I with its aftermath.

God uses men and means and natural occurrences to bring about the desired results. The human side of the situation and human efforts are set forth by the coming together of the bones, the binding of them together by the sinews, the appearance of the flesh with the skin. These are symbolic of efforts which the Jews alone put forth.

But the breathing of life and vigor into these lifeless bodies by the Spirit of God represents a supernatural event—the spiritual rebirth of every member of the house of Israel.

Zephaniah, a prophet of the Lord God of Israel, commanded the Jewish people to gather themselves together in the end days of this age. Zephaniah prophesied:

Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation that hath no shame; 2 before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of Jehovah come upon you, before the day of Jehovah's anger come upon you. 3 Seek ye Jehovah, all ye meek of the earth, that have kept his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye will be hid in the day of Jehovah's anger (Zephaniah 2:1-3).

It is clear from this passage that members from the Jewish nation will gather together before "the day of the Lord's anger" comes upon the world. In fulfillment of this prediction, approximately two million Jews have already returned to the land of Israel. The state of Israel became a reality in 1948. The Jews in the land are doing marvelous things in spite of opposition and all but insurmountable obstacles. Israel today is a modern miracle of human planning, scientific execution, and indefatigable energy. Yet the present return to the land is not that full and complete restoration of which the psalmists sang and the prophet's spoke. That will not take place until the dawn of the Golden Era.

The fact that the Jews are returning to the land of their fathers is a most significant sign of the times.


The Restoration of Ancient Babylon

Another sign if the times is the work that is being done to restore the ancient city of Babylon to its former splendor and beauty.

It is recorded in the Bible that King Nebuchadnezzar, as he walked in his palace one day, looked out over the city of Babylon and exclaimed, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" The God of Israel had to punish the heathen king severely for his conceit and pride, to teach him that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will." But it was during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, in the sixth century B.C., that Babylon became the commercial, political and religious center of the civilized world.

Babylon was a magnificent city, situated on both sides of the Euphrates River. Some historians estimate that it was spread over an area of 196 square miles. It was surrounded by a deep, wide moat filled with water. In addition, the city was protected by an outer and an inner wall; these may have been about 300 feet high and over 80 feet wide. The city had 100 bronze gates, 25 on each side. It was a city of temples and palaces, of two, three and four story houses, of straight, broad streets, of orchards, and gardens and parks.

At the height of its glory it seemed like an invulnerable city that would live forever. But great Babylon finally died and was buried under dust and rubble for centuries.

According to the Bible, ancient Babylon is going to be restored to unbelievable beauty and glory and power. It will become the capital of the world, and it will be the most wicked of all cities during the very end of this present age.

John the apostle saw Babylon as the commercial center of the world during the close of this era and saw that it would be utterly destroyed (Revelation, chapter 18).

According to Isaiah the prophet, "Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride," will be destroyed in the day of Jehovah.

Babylon is located in Iraq, in the middle east, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, near the city of Hillah. One can walk from Hillah's train station to Babylon in about 20 minutes.

Approximately 2,500 people now live in the village of Babylon. Its population has increased remarkably since 1958 because the Iraqi government is building homes and moving in workers to bring Old Babylon out of her dusty grave. The ancient city of Babylon is being "resurrected."

Babylon tops the list of ancient sites to visit in Iraq. The following is quoted from IRAQ—A GUIDEBOOK, published by the Iraqi government in 1961:

The most moving of the places to visit is undoubtedly the site of the ancient
Babylon which goes back nearly 4,000 years. Here time and the elements, as well as man himself, have worn away what was probably the most spectacular city of ancient times, with its Hanging Gardens, its mighty walls and gates, its palaces, its crowds, its religious rites and ceremonies and all the other trappings of power. Dominating the scene is the great Lion of Babylon, giving a suggestion of such ponderous and almost crushing strength as would be hard to duplicate in the sculpture of any other kind.

... There are still many things to see in Babylon:
The great Street of the Processions, the Ishtar Gate with the beautiful bas-reliefs of animals so cunningly contrived as to seem almost alive, but with that quality overlaying them that will always distinguish the work of art from the natural object, the huge temples of Easgila and Etemenanki, the latter, the famous staged tower, in all probability the Tower of Babel. When you stand among the ruins you are linked in a way with Hammurabi, with Nebuchadnezzar and with Alexander the Great ...

Hillah covers a part of the site of ancient Babylon. Urban and suburban Hillah have a population of about 85,000. The city is divided by the Hillah Branch of the Euphrates River into two sections. Its citizens identify their section by saying they live in either the "large side" or in the "small side" of Hillah. The larger and newer section lies west of the river. The "small side" lies on the east. Babylon is about two miles northeast of the "small side."

Hillah is considered a wealthy city. It is principally an export center for grain—wheat, barley and rice. Saddlery and handicraft are its chief industries. Its bazaars are large. Its environs are serenely beautiful, and its climate is mild and delightful. Hillah is growing rapidly. In fact, its population expansion is on a par with that of any prosperous city of the modern world.

One of Hillah's prominent citizens, an official of the Arab Students Organization, recently stated, "I believe Hillah will become a great center of attraction for the whole world. The government (Iraqi) is waking up to see the profit to be gained from the romance and lore of old Babylonia. As the government becomes more and more stable, greater funds and energies will be poured into the redevelopment of Babylon and surrounding area."

In harmony with this official's statement is one of King Hussein's. The Jordan king Recently said:

The common destiny which we have [Arab World] envision, and for which we have committed our energies and our resources, is to forge ahead in the modern world, as speedily as we can, with a view to making the fullest contribution possible to the cause of world civilization ... and to partake in the movement of human kind towards a richer and higher life for all.

This is not, I assure you, a vain expression, but rather a deep-felt yearning which draws inspiration and sustenance from our history, our traditions and our sense of mission. The Arabs are probably one of the most history-conscious people in the world, and it is a history which is predominantly humane and creative, liberal and tolerant and distinguished as much for its ability to learn as to teach.

In the very short period since our modern renaissance we have made far-reach progress in every walk of life ...

Jordan, Iraq and 11 other Arabic countries have become unified under the United Arab Republic within the last decade.

The middle East is growing very rapidly in power and influence. Some modern historians, among them Dr. Toynbee, believe that the center of world political gravity is shifting eastward.

If you are in doubt as to whether this age in which you live is drawing to a close, keep an eye on Babylon and on developments in the Middle East, especially Iraq.

Trend Toward a World Church

Another sign of the times is the modern trend toward a World Church. The Bible clearly teaches that there will be one great World Church at the end of the age.

This World Church is pictured in Revelation 17:1,2 as a "great harlot that sitteth upon many waters [ecclesiastical system supported by many of the inhabitants of the world]: with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication [false religious teaching]."

For almost as long as the Church of Jesus Christ has existed it has been divided on certain doctrines and practices. And as long as it has been divided there have been individuals and groups, at various times down through the years, who have longed to see it united. These have prayed, and preached and worked to unify the church. This movement has come to be known as the
ecumenical movement—that which is concerned for the unity and renewal of the church.

None of the efforts to unify the church was successful, however, until the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.

When did this modern movement begin?

It is generally believed that it got its start during a Protestant missionary conference.

Many missionaries on the foreign field learned that there were times when they had to pull together with other missionaries, even though their beliefs and practices might differ somewhat. They often needed each other's help and encouragement. So missionaries from different denominational backgrounds learned to work side by side, and sometimes hand in hand.

Out of this spirit of mutual concern and co-operation, the first World Missionary Conference was born. It was held in Edinburgh in 1910. The conference appointed a committee to continue the work of the conference. As a result, the International Missionary Council came into being in 1921.

This was probably the first step taken in the modern ecumenical movement. Since then successive steps have been taken which are bringing the movement nearer to its goal—the unity and renewal of the church.

Not long after this, two other conferences came into being which have played a large part in the modern ecumenical movement.

One was a Universal Conference on Life and Works which first met in Stockholm in 1925. This conference placed its emphasis on the social responsibilities of the church.

The other was the World Conference on Faith and Order, which held its first conference in Lausanne in 1927. It met for the specific purpose of discussing those things on which the churches were divided.

As these three groups held separate conferences, all working toward the same goal the unity of the church, it is obvious that a lot of work was being duplicated. But what could be done about it? Something could be done, and was.

Out of conferences held by the three groups in 1937 and 1938 an idea developed. Why not form a World Council of Churches? The last two groups would merge; the first group, the International Missionary Council, would be associated with the World Council. The idea met with approval and plans for the merger were soon under way.

World War II delayed the merger; but after the war was over, preparations for the merger were completed. The World Council of churches became a reality on August 23, 1948. In 1961, at the third assembly of the World Council of Churches, the International Missionary Council merged with the World council to form one great ecumenical body.

The two great objectives of the World Council of Churches are the unity and the renewal of the church. The Council is not a church. It simply offers the various churches a means by which they may pray, talk and work together while striving toward the goal of unity. It has a growing membership, consisting of churches in all parts of the world.

On the Roman Catholic front, Pope John XXIII was deeply committed to the cause of Christian unity. His successor, Paul VI, is carrying on where he left off. One of the long range goals of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council is to bring into one fold all of the people in the world who label themselves Christian.

The Roman Catholic Church was greatly encouraged in its drive toward unity by the meeting in the Holy Land, early in 1964, of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of the Orthodox Church.
Life magazine reported that "the Pope and Athenagoras, prayed together that Christians throughout the world—not just members of the Catholic churches—might be reunited."

The Protestant publication
Christian Century pointed out that by implication all Protestants in the World Council of Churches were involved in the meeting of Pope Paul with Patriarch Athenagoras, supreme leader of Eastern Orthodoxy." Whenever it (Eastern Orthodoxy) strengthens its ties to the World Council of Churches, Orthodoxy will pull the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches closer together," the paper said.

Dr. John F. Walvoord, an evangelical Protestant leader who is opposed to the foundation of a World Church, made this observation in the Sunday school Times: "Now, for the first time in the history of the church, the ecumenical movement is a major action toward unity with a goal, some claim, of bringing together all major elements of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Protestant bodies into one World Church."

The moves by both Protestants and Roman Catholics toward "Christian Unity" are well worth watching. They are definitely a sign that we are in the last days and moving, perhaps slowly now, but with ever increasing speed, toward the World Church of the end days—"the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters."

Trend Toward a World Government

Steps in the direction of a World Government are another sign of the times.

Daniel, the Hebrew prophet who lived in the sixth century B.C., prophesied that the nations would come up under a one-world government at the end of this age.

Daniel was given a vision which troubled him greatly:

2 ... I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of heaven brake forth upon the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse from one another. 4 The first was a lion and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man; and a man's heart was given to it. 5 And, Behold, another beast, a second, like to a bear; and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. 6 after this I beheld, and, lo, another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four wings of a bird; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7 after this I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it ... (Daniel 7:2-7).

While Daniel was troubled by the vision which he had seen, God, through an angel, gave him the interpretation of it:

17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings [or kingdoms], that shall arise out of the earth. 19 Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast which was diverse from all of them, exceeding terrible ... 23 Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces (Daniel 7:17,19,23).

Many Bible scholars believe that history has recorded the fulfillment of three fourths of Daniel's vision. The Babylonian (lion), Medo-Persian (bear), and Greek (leopard) kingdoms have had their hour of power and glory one after another, and have fallen to rise no more. The fourth kingdom is a type of government that began with the rise of the Roman Empire to power and has continued in some part of the world ever since. At the very end of this age the fourth type of government will "devour the whole earth," and the nations of the world will come up under a World Government.

Years ago men considered the idea of a one-world government impracticable and impossible. But two world wars and modern methods of communication and travel have shrunk our globe. As a result, new attitudes are being formed.

Soon after World War I was over, the League of Nations was founded to be a permanent organization through which the nations of the world could work together for peace and progress. But World War II brought an end to the League. Before that war ended, a new world organization for peace and progress was set up—the United Nations. Today world leaders are trying to work together through the United Nations; and the majority of the nations are at least outwardly "united" to try to keep the peace and to better the living conditions of the underprivileged peoples of the world.