In the last lesson, we discussed the current position of many Bible teachers that the return of Christ will not be preceded by series of specific signs; that is, by specific fulfillments of prophecy showing that His return is drawing nearer. They say that the Rapture has been the next event on the prophetic timetable ever since Pentecost—that prophecy sees no other event or development that must come first, before the Rapture. The only signs, they say, are general signs—signs that merely display conditions characteristic of the entire Church Age. But this currently popular view disregards the many prophecies fulfilled within the first few centuries after the death of Christ. Each fulfillment was a definite historical event or development coming after Pentecost. The believers who witnessed it rightly saw it as the completion of another necessary step on the way toward history's final consummation; in other words, as a sign of Christ's imminent return.
A list of fulfilled prophecies within the apostolic era and later during the first several centuries will make it undeniable that God granted the early church many signs of the times. He was showing them that history was advancing steadily toward the moment of Christ's return, and He was encouraging them not to relax their watchfulness in hopeful anticipation of that moment.
During the first few decades after Pentecost the number of signs that appeared to the church was at least fourteen, and in the next few centuries the church saw at least another seven. Studying all these signs will be worthwhile for three reasons:
- We will learn that God has been generous in granting the church signs of the times.
- The demonstration that Bible prophecy is always fulfilled will strengthen our faith.
- The many signs that appeared to the early church will give us a sign that we are approaching the end. What I mean will be made clear later.
Let us now look at all 21 signs. In each case the sign is a prophesied event or development within the opening years of the Church Age.
1. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost
Although the first few signs appeared exactly when the church was born, they were not general signs, for after being seen only once or only within a limited span of time, they did not appear again. The prophet Joel had prophesied,
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter declared that the empowered and emboldened witness of Jesus' followers on that day was a fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 2:16).
2. Speaking in tongues
Jesus had said,
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.
The phenomenon of speaking in tongues by the enabling of the Spirit began at Pentecost and continued for about a generation, finally disappearing at the end of the apostolic era (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6).
3. Peter's leadership of the church
It was after his good confession that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God, that Peter first received the promise that he would lead the church
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Peter indeed led the church in Jerusalem during the years of its infancy (Acts 2-12), and throughout his career he was regarded as the chief apostle (Gal. 2:7-8).
4. Preaching of the gospel in Judea
Jesus Himself had charted the progress of the gospel.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The early chapters in the Book of Acts show how the prophecy was fulfilled (Acts 2-8).
5. Preaching of the gospel in Samaria
The passage just quoted shows that the plan of God designated Samaria as the next place to hear the gospel. Indeed, as recorded in Acts 8, the gospel went to Samaria after it had been preached in Judea. Both the prophecy and its fulfillment must have originated in a God who is no respecter of persons, for the Jews normally avoided any dealings with the Samaritans.
6. The power of the apostles to do miracles
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
The first expansion of the church was spurred by many great miracles. These included two instances of the dead being brought to life (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-12).
7. The power of the apostles to heal the sick
After His resurrection, Jesus promised,
. . . They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Among the miracles done by the apostles were healings without number (Acts 5:12-16; etc.).
8. The power of the apostles to cast out unclean spirits
Again, the source of this prophecy was Jesus.
19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils. . . .
The fulfillment of these prophecies was another mark of the apostolic era (Acts 5:16; 16:16-18).
9. The power of the apostles to handle snakes and drink poison
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. . . .
Although the New Testament mentions no occasion when an apostle drank poison, it does tell us that Paul came to no harm once when he accidentally picked up a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3-6).
10. Rejection of the gospel by the Jews
Jesus had taught that although the children of the Israel would have the privilege of hearing the gospel first, most of them would not believe it.
16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.
23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
The Book of Acts tells that wherever the gospel was preached to the Jews, some received it but many did not (Acts 6:1-12; 13:43-45; 14:1-2; etc.).
11. Jewish persecution of the church
Not only would the mass of Jews reject the gospel. They would also persecute and kill its messengers
12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake.
13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer:
15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
16 And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues.
Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute.
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.
Persecution began almost at the Day of Pentecost. After unsuccessfully trying to suppress the new movement (Acts 4:21; 5:33, 40; 7:54-59), the Jewish leaders finally unleashed an attack that forced believers to flee from Jerusalem into all the adjoining regions (Acts 8:1). In most of the cities where Paul introduced the gospel, a faction of Jews rose up to resist it, and their opposition generally did not stop short of violence (Acts 13:43-45; 14:1-2; 17:5; etc.).
12. God's rejection of the Jewish leaders
9 Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.
10 And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.
11 And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.
12 And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.
13 Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.
14 But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.
15 So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?
16 He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
17 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
18 Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
The Jewish leaders never ceased opposing the church, and at last, when Roman armies overran and demolished Jerusalem in AD 70, the whole structure of power and privilege that sheltered them came crashing down, never to reemerge.
13. Proclamation of the gospel to the gentiles
A large number of texts in the Old Testament and in the Gospels speak of God making salvation available to the whole world.
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
Besides these, other prophecies with the same message include Gen. 22:18; Deut. 32:21; Psa. 22:27; 83:9; Isa. 9:2; 60:3; Dan. 7:14; Hos. 2:21-23; Luke 14:16-24; Matt. 21:43; 22:8-10. The last quoted above, like many others, states that God will send the gospel to all nations only when His own nation, Israel, has rejected it.
The first outreach to gentiles is recorded in Acts 10. The first non-Jewish converts were the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family.
14. Gentile persecution of the church
18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. . . .
21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Matthew 10:18, 21-22
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
Gentile persecution started as soon as the gospel spread into gentile regions. From the beginning of Paul's ministry, he was hated and harassed by gentiles as well as by Jews. The first serious opposition initiated by gentiles was at Philippi, after Paul cast out a demon from a girl who told fortunes (Acts 16).
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.