Are the current events in the Middle East a Biblical sign that Jesus will return soon?

By Ron Jones ©Titus Institute 2009

Who can view the dramatic conflict that is currently going on in the Middle East and not wonder if this is a sign that Jesus is coming soon? I’m sure that you have wondered about this yourself. I know I have.

The Biblical answer to this question lies first in understanding what a true Biblical sign of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is and second how we can evaluate what is happening in the Middle East as it relates to what the Bible predicts will happen just before Jesus returns.

I. What is a Biblical sign of the Second Coming of Christ and when will these signs take place?

Jesus predicted that there would be several signs that would come before he returns to earth. Jesus gave these signs so that the people living at the time of his return would realize that his return was near and would repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ by faith to save them.

These signs were to be a warning.

Jesus gave these signs in his Olivet Discourse, which is recorded in Matt.24 and 25, Mk. 13 and Lu. 21.

First let’s look at Matt.24 and the question the disciples asked Jesus about these signs?

“And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, and said, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be and what shall be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?’”

First of all, notice the question that the disciples ask Jesus. It is concerning the time and signs of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world as they knew it. This discussion does not have to do with the rapture of the church. It has to do with the Second Coming of Christ when Jesus returns to earth.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples, which is in chapter 24 and 25 concerns Jesus’ return to the earth, not the rapture.

In fact, there are no signs for the rapture. It can take place at anytime. Jesus only talks about the signs of his Second Coming to earth.

In v.4-6 Jesus answers this question, “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Take heed that no one deceive you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am Christ.’ And will deceive many. And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled. For all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.’”

Jesus begins to prophesy of the signs of his coming. As he does this he uses a common prophetic address. He addresses the disciples as representatives of those who will be living at the time of his coming. In this context, they are representatives, not of Christians at the time, but of Jews living in Israel.

We know this for two reasons:

1) They were asking this question of Jesus as the messiah of Israel who would one day come and deliver Israel and make it a great nation. It is the same basic question as the one in Acts 1:6 “Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”

2) The context in Matthew 24 clearly reveals this in v. 15-16 “When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whosoever reads this let him understand). Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains.”

The holy place is in the temple in Jerusalem in Judea. Jesus’ answer is an answer to Israelites who have been awaiting the deliverance of Israel by the return of the messiah.

This is the interpretive key that opens up Matthew 24 and 25 to be understood in its proper context. It is a warning to Israel that Jesus was coming back in judgment. They needed to prepare for that. This was not only warning for those in the last days, but for all Israelites from Jesus’ time on. It has nothing to do with the rapture.

The signs of his coming are primarily given for Israel as a warning to her to repent and accept Christ as messiah.

Let’s just look at the first two signs mentioned. The first two signs are all we need to consider to understand the point. What is true for these two signs as far as timing is true for the rest because these are the first two given by Jesus.

1) Wars and rumors of wars: Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom
V.7 “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”

2) Famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
V.7 “…and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in various places.”

Notice what Jesus says about the “timing” of these signs.

V. 8 “All these are the beginning of birth pangs.”

The analogy is that labor has begun. Once it has begun it cannot be stopped, the baby is coming soon. These beginning labor pains must come before the severe ones.

These signs come at the beginning of the tribulation period. They show that the time period before Christ’s Second Coming, the seven-year tribulation period has begun.

This means that the “signs of the Second Coming” do not occur until the tribulation period begins. Until true labor begins, the baby isn’t coming. Once true labor begins, the baby is on its way and nothing is stopping it.

I believe that this coincides with the first four seals John talks about in Revelation 6. The tribulation begins in Rev.6.

Seal 1 The rise of the antichrist to power

V.1 “Now I saw the Lamb open one of the seals. And I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow. And a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

This is the antichrist who has a bow, symbolizing military might, but no arrow, symbolizing that he conquers without having to use his military might. This is speaking of the rise of the antichrist, who gains power by treaties and persuasion, influencing others by his power and might without having to use it. He rises to power in the first half of the tribulation.

Seal 2 War and military strife

V. 3-4 “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.”

Seal 3 Widespread economic breakdown

V.5-6 “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”

Seal 4 Widespread death from strife and war and hunger

V.7-8 “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

These seals in Revelation describe what will happen when the first two signs Jesus spoke about in Matthew takes place. The antichrist comes to power in the midst of a world filled with wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.

Revelation shows us that these signs will be far greater and more widespread than any the world has ever seen causing the death of a fourth of the inhabitants of the earth.

This all occurs in the first half of the tribulation.

The tribulation is divided into two halves according to Dan.9:27, which says,

“And he [the antichrist] shall confirm the covenant with many for one week. And in the middle of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the offering to cease, and for the wing of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

A week in Dan.9 is figurative for a period of seven years. This week here is the tribulation period.

In the first part of the seven years, the antichrist makes a covenant with Israel and others presumably to bring peace to a world filled with war.

In the middle of the seven years (midpoint – 3 ½ years), the antichrist breaks the covenant and desecrates the temple in Israel.

This is what Jesus is talking about in Matt.24:15.

V.15 “When, therefore, you will see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, (whosoever reads this, let him understand).

When this midpoint is reached and the antichrist breaks the covenant and desecrates the temple, the last three and a half years begin, which is called the “Great Tribulation” or “Jacob’s Distress.”

Dan 12: 1 says,
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people [Israel]. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.”

Daniel shows it will be a terrible time for the Jews, yet Michael (who is the protector of Israel) will arise to stand so that all Jews will not be destroyed. This is Satan’s plan during this last half, to exterminate the Jews. He is also exterminating Christians.

However, Michael will prevent him from killing off “those whose names are in the book.” The book is probably the “book of life” in Rev.20:12. These are those Israelites who will accept Christ and be rescued by Christ when he returns and enter the millennium in physical bodies (Zech.14:1-2).

NOTE: If you’re lost, it’s all on our website under “The End Times.”

This is why, regarding this second half of the tribulation, in Matt.24:16, Jesus says that when the Jews see the abomination of desolation, they should flee.

V.16-22 “Then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house. Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding! But pray that your flight might not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day. For then shall there be a great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, no flesh would be saved. But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”

By the way, the “elect” in this last verse probably refers to those Israelites who come to Christ in the tribulation which are referred to as “your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found in the book.” in Dan.12: 1 as I related earlier.

All that to show that the tribulation is divided into two halves.

All the signs of the Second Coming occur in the tribulation, not before it.

That means that the current events we are seeing in the Middle East are not Biblical signs of the Second Coming.

This is important because “Biblical signs” as Jesus spoke of them mean the tribulation has started and Jesus will be returning in seven years.

Because these current events are not Biblical signs, anything can happen (in the sovereignty of God, of course) in the immediate future with Israel and the Arab nations. It may get worse. It may get better. We don’t know. We can’t know.

However, we can speculate (I use that word carefully) that we could be seeing indications that the Lord is getting the “chess pieces” in placed to begin the tribulation. We just cannot be sure. If it was a Biblical sign, we would be sure.

II. How can we evaluate what is currently happening in the Middle East based on what we know the Bible says?

We know this.

1. Israel must be a nation inhabiting their land during the tribulation period.

They are in the land. This is the only time they have been a nation and in the land since the days of Christ. There is no other prophecy that shows that Jews will be a nation and then be dispersed again before the tribulation. Although this could happen, it is probably not likely.

2. Israel will have rebuilt the temple by the midpoint of the tribulation. Matt.24:15 shows there is a temple in Israel during the tribulation.

Is it possible that Israel will make a treaty with the antichrist who has made a treaty with the Arab nations at the beginning of the tribulation in order to rebuild the temple? It wouldn’t take very long to rebuild the temple with modern technology. How fast do you think Israel would start building and complete the building once given the go ahead because they knew they might never get this chance again?

Did you know that in Israel today they are working on recreating all the temple implements so they can have sacrifices again?

One more thought. Recently on a national talk show, a Jewish talk show host stated that the Jews in this country need to realize that the conservative Christian right is helping them and Israel.

Is it possible that if the rapture of the church is pre-tribulational (Jesus raptures all Christians before the tribulation begins which is what I believe), that once all Christians in this country and around the world are suddenly gone, Israel will find itself without a friend in the world? Is it possible that the antichrist will befriend Israel promising her peace on her borders and the possibility of rebuilding the temple?

Hmmm…something to think about….

One thing we know for sure, we are not seeing the signs of the Second Coming unless we are in the tribulation. We could be seeing indications that the tribulation is about to begin and the rapture (pre-trib.) could come at anytime.

We also know for sure that God’s plan for the future of Israel has already been determined and that Israel will enter the tribulation as a nation (Dan.9:24-27).

Jesus Himself will rescue his people when he comes again.

Zechariah 14: 1-9 says these incredible words:

“Behold, the day of the LORD comes, and your spoil shall be divided in your midst. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, and the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley and half of the mountain shall be remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. You shall flee, like you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with him.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall decrease, nor dark. But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night, but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.

And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea; in summer and in winter shall it be. And the LORD shall be king over all the earth. In that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.”

This tells us that in the end Israel will have achieved its greatest victory by the power of its messiah, Jesus Christ!