Signs of the Times
Luke 21:7-28
And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?…

The mere simple relations of these portentous appearances strike us with horror: and Josephus, who has left us a full history of these times, informs us that they all actually happened at that tragical period. When he enters upon the subject, he uses some of the very words of this chapter, proposing to speak of the signs and prodigies which presignified the approaching desolation; and he mentions the following horrendous prognostications: A star, in the shape of a sword, or a comet, pointing down upon the city, was seen to hang over it for a whole year. There were other strange and unaccountable meteors seen in the aerial regions: armies in battle-array, and chariots surrounding the country and investing their cities; and this before sunset. The great gate of the temple, which twenty men could scarcely shut, and which was made fast with bolts and bars, opened of its own accord to let in their enemies: "for so," says Josephus, our wise men understood the omen. At the ninth hour of the night a great light shone upon the temple and the altar, as if it had been noon-day; and at the feast of Pentecost, when the priests went at midnight into the temple to attend their service, they first heard a kind of noise as of persons removing from a place, and then a voice, "Let us away from hence." And what Josephus relates is confirmed by Tacitus, a Roman historian of the same age who had no connection with the Jews.

1. There seems to be a correspondence and propriety in it, that there should be a kind of sympathy between the natural and moral world; that when the kingdoms of the earth are tossed and agitated, the earth itself should totter and tremble under them; that when the light of the rational world, the splendour of courts and kingdoms, is about to be extinguished or obscured, the sun and moon, and other lights of the material world, should abate their glory too, and, as it were, appear in mourning; that when some grand event is hastening to the birth, that terribly illustrious stranger, a comet, should make us a visit, as its harbinger, and shake its horrendous tail over the astonished world; that when peace is broke among the nations, the harmony of the elements should likewise be broken, and they should fall into transient animosities and conflicts, like the restless beings for whose use they were formed. There is an apparent congruity and propriety in these things, and therefore the argument is at least plausible; but as it is drawn only from analogy, which does not universally hold, I shall not lay much stress upon it. And yet, on the other hand, as there is an obvious analogy, which does unquestionably hold in many instances, between the natural and moral world, the argument is not to be utterly disregarded.

2. These unusual appearances are peculiarly adapted to raise the attention of mankind, and prepare them for important revolutions. There is a propriety and advantage, if not a necessity, especially with regard to that part of mankind (and there are always many such upon earth) whose benefit is intended by these extraordinary events and revolutions, that they be prepared for them. And they cannot prepare for them without some general expectation of them; and they can have no expectation of them without some warning or premonition of them. Now the ordinary appearances in nature cannot answer this end, because they are ordinary, and therefore not adapted to rouse and fix the attention; and because they really have no such premonitory signification. And as to the Word of God, it may have no direct perceivable reference to such extraordinary periods; and, therefore, can give us no previous warning of their approach. But these unusual phenomena are peculiarly adapted to this end: their novelty and terror catch the attention of the gazing world. Such premonitions would be striking illustrations of the goodness and equity of his administration, who does not usually let the blow fall without previous warning, and they would contribute to the right improvement of such dispensations. This, therefore, I think, we may look upon, at least, as a probable argument; especially if we add that, as these unusual appearances are, in their own nature, fit to be premonitions, so —

3. It seems natural to mankind to view them in that light; and they have been universally looked upon in that light in all ages and countries. As to the Jews, the matter is clear; for Josephus tells us, that their wise men actually put this construction upon those alarming appearances, which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. And as they had been accustomed to miracles for the confirmation of their religion, they were even extravagant in their demands of this sort of evidence upon every occasion; as we find in the history of the evangelists. As to the Gentiles, this was the general sentiment of all ranks among them, not only of the vulgar, but of their poets and philosophers. From mankind's generally looking for miracles to prove a religion Divine, and from impostors pretending to them, we justly infer that God has so formed our nature, that it is natural to us to expect and regard this sort of evidence in this case: and that God does adapt himself to this innate tendency, and has actually wrought true miracles to attest the true religion: and we may, with equal reason, infer from the superstitions of mankind, with regard to omens and prodigies, that God has given a natural bent to our minds to look for them; and that in extraordinary periods he really does give such previous signs of future events.

4. History informs us, that such unusual commotions and appearances in the natural world, have, with a surprising regularity, generally preceded unusual commotions and revolutions in the moral world, or among the nations of the earth. When an hypothesis is supported by experiments and matters of fact, it ought to be received as true. And this argument will appear decisive, ii we find, in fact, that such commotions and revolutions in the world have been uniformly preceded by some prodigies: for such an uniformity of such extraordinary periods, cannot be the effect of chance, or of blind natural causes, unadjusted and undirected by an intelligent superior power; but it must be the effect of design, a wise and good design, to alarm the world, and put them in a proper posture to meet these grand occurrences. There is nothing more natural, nothing which astronomers can compute with more exactness, than eclipses of the sun and moon; and yet these have so regularly and uniformly preceded the first grand breaches, and the total overthrow of kingdoms and nations, that we cannot but think they were intended to signify such revolutions; and thus mankind generally interpreted them. A total eclipse of the sun happened before the captivity of the ten tribes by the Assyrians; before the captivity of the Jews in Babylon; at the death of Christ, about thirty-seven years and a half before the last destruction of Jerusalem; and about the same number of years before the slaughter of six hundred thousand Jews under Adrian; before the conquest of the Babylonians by the Medes; and before the fall of the Mede-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. Upon the whole, let us endeavour to put ourselves in a posture of readiness to meet with all events that may be approaching. Though I know not these futurities, yet I know it shall be well with them that fear God: but it will not be well with the wicked;neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

(President Davies, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?

WEB: They asked him, "Teacher, so when will these things be? What is the sign that these things are about to happen?"

Signs of Nearing Redemption
Top of Page
Top of Page