The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.
Signs of the Times
Copyright © 2015 Dorian S. Cole
Are the days of today the worst that has ever been? A look at our times say definitely not.
What is the sign?
Looking for signs to point the way was common for people in the Hebrew Bible (OT). When priests had a question, they would commonly use the Urim and Thummim on their clothing breast plate to seek a yes or no answer, or use other methods to divine the will of God. Even the Apostles at first looked for signs. But as the Apostles matured in their walk with God, they ceased looking for direct signs. Instead, the example of the Apostle Paul was simply to look for doors that were open to him or closed. His feet, following the path of love, entered the doors that were open to him.
Should we look for signs from God in the natural environment, or from people, or events? When Jesus came, people were always looking for a sign that he was the savior to come. The miracles that he performed were not signs that he was the savior. They attested to his authority from God. But people persisted in looking for a sign to show them the divine. Luke 11: 29-32 (NIV): "As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here."
The sign of Jonah was that he was in the belly of the whale three days. The sign of Christ was that he was in the tomb three days, and resurrected.
The reference to Jonah is very relevant. Jonah's story tells us about the reason for prophecy and condemnation. When Jonah felt called to go tell those in Nineveh that they were going to be destroyed by God, he said, no, wait a minute, if I do that, they will repent and change, and then you won't destroy them, and then I'll be the prophet that lied to them. Needless to say, he ended up going, and things worked out just as he predicted. Prophecy was not about wiping people out. Prophecy was about getting them to change. That type of prophecy faded out, and the Book of Revelation is the last prophecy of that type. It was written in code so that the Romans would not know what it meant, but it was prophecy about the Romans, and largely was fulfilled during that era of intense troubles, the destruction of the Temple, scattering of Jews to the hills, and an age of intense Christian persecution. By 300 AD, Christianity was no longer being persecuted.
In Matthew 16: 1-4, (NIV): The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Later that day, Jesus said to his disciples, in Matthew 16: 5 - 12 (NIV): “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” ..."Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, mentioned in Luke 12:2. The reference to the Sadducees was less specific. What we know of the Sadducee sect is that they came from the group that returned from Babylon to rebuild the Second Temple. They believed that the reason the Temple had been destroyed was because as a people they had not followed the Law well enough. There were certainly enough prophets who looked at the grave sins of the Israelites. The Sadducee emphasis was legalism. Follow the Law, no exceptions, all 613 of them. They could not see what Jesus taught, that the Law was for man, not for God. They would rather do harm to people than break a Law of God. They constantly tried to trip Jesus up by throwing Bible verses at him to see if he would either refute the law or blaspheme against God, a capital offence that would get the authorities to kill him.
Jesus walked into an atmosphere of bickering within Judaism, similar to that of today. The Sadducees didn't believe in eternal life. Others did. They bickered over who stood taller before God because who kept the Law better. The Law forced purity standards, and they condemned others as impure and unworthy of God's benefit. They gathered to stone sinners, but those who threw stones were also sinners. The Law was a wedge between them, and between them and God.
The Apostles struggled over the idea of making non-Jews (Gentiles) follow Jewish Law. They decided not to. The Apostle Paul confirmed that we are not under Law, but under grace. That is the new covenant brought by Christ. That doesn't mean that people can harm others. It means they have to consider the consequences of their actions.
Christ preached the Good News that he asked the Apostles and everyone to tell to others: We are forgiven. The Law cannot condemn us. We are in the Kingdom of God right now.
Many people today throw Bible verses at others, just as the Sadducees and Pharisees did to Jesus, to try and trip them up and condemn them. They argue continuously about the Laws of God, especially the ones they want others to follow, but not about the ones they don't follow, and there are many. Pick six of the Ten Commandments, and many will fail, or any of the 613 Laws of Judaism and all will fail. Yet no matter what, they continue to tell people to obey laws. They don't remove the beam of wood in their own eye.
Waht are the actual "signs of the times?" Matthew 24:37 (NIV): "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."
There are no signs such as things showing in the heavens, or events, or political leaders, or any other thing that is a "sign." Christ made it very plain that "No one knows the day," not even him. So when it comes to "signs of the times," the days of Noah are the sign of the times. How were those days? Genesis 6:5 (NIV): "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time."
Christ is in us. As long as we are in the world, Christ is here. But what would bring him back again? As it was in the days of Noah. As Peter tells us, there were only 8 righteous people. And when the angels visited Abraham on the way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked him if he would destroy it if only 10 were righteous. The answer was no.
God loves to be merciful. God loves to forgive. These are some of the overarching messages in the Bible.
So for those churches who are forever telling prophecy, and beating people over the head with the laws they want them to obey, instead of telling the the Good News, there is this reminder from Revelations 2: 4-7: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. ... He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
But don't bother to argue with them, because just as in the days of Christ and the Pharisees and Sadducees, they can't understand.
Next: Are these really bad days?
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Are these really bad days?
Many Christians would argue that we are really in the worst of times. They look at historical events, such as the state of Israel coming to life again in Palestine. (Note that a nation is composed of people, and they can be anywhere, but a state is a political entity. But skip this for now, it's the return of the state of Israel that they point to as a key to prophecy.)
Since Israel was initiated in 1947, and made gains toward becoming an independent nation in the next decade, many have been consumed with finding the Antichrist so they can warn others. Every ten years or so, they point to another leader who could be the Antichrist. They point to all kinds of happenings in our political world to point toward the Antichrist. But none of these supposed signs have anything like the days of Noah.
Others point to what they perceive as sin in our world. We supposedly are getting more sinful by their standards. Well, we are strongly instructed not to judge others.
Luke 8:37-42 (NIV): “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. ...He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
We all fail in the things God asks of us. Even the best among us. None of us can judge others. "Oh, but we're just condemning the sin," they say. No, that isn't their job. James 4:11 (NIV): "Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it."
Matthew 7: 15 - 23 (NIV): “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. ...Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ...“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In John 5:22-29, Jesus explains that those who hear his words will skip the judgment. (They know the Truth, and know they are forgiven.)
It isn't up to me to judge people who say they are telling you prophesy. But be careful who you listen to. Like the Sadducees, they may be trying to drag you back into the trap of a thousand laws that they want you to live up to every day in order to stand before God.
The best of times or the worst of times
We're all too young to remember the worst of times, the past centuries, until the 20th. Century. I take my grandkids to historical villages from the late 1800s, and I can honestly say, "I've lived like that. I've harvested grain with a scythe, lived without hot and cold running water, walked a mile to school, canned fruit to keep in a cellar, had a barn made from giant logs and round wooden pegs, had wood stoves in every room, and known that the average life expectancy was 47 years. I've known what it is like to have jobs since age 8, when I mowed yards and delivered papers. I've listened to my grandparents tell of their lives in earlier years. But we seriously don't know about life in the previous centuries. It's easy to romanticize those times.
What we don't remember are plagues that wiped out entire cities and entire continents, leaving only half or less alive. If Ebola had started in those days, most people would have died.
We don't remember an average life expectancy of around age 32 in previous centuries, and most parents outliving most of their children. "Estimates concerning some French, English, or Spanish villages in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries indicate that at least one-third of the children lost one of their parents during childhood. In nineteenth-century Milan, one child out of two had lost at least one parent by age twenty. In nineteenth-century China, almost one-third of boys had lost one parent or both by age fifteen." How Many Orphans Were There?
Widows and orphans in previous centuries went to live with relatives or found no home or food. They became beggars, thieves, prostitutes - anything to buy food. In some kinder countries, they went to workhouses or other programs where they performed work for their bed and food. The great silent movie actor and producer, Charlie Chaplin, had lived in a workhouse with his mother, and they both worked. He died in 1977, not that long ago.
Childhood was not something that people had until the 20th. Century. Children were simply viewed as small adults. While young children remained with their mothers until they were capable of working, the rest of children worked just like everyone else. If they were fortunate, they were schooled. Many were apprenticed to some skilled craftsman or farmer.
Safety was not something that was pursued. You might learn that certain things would hurt you, but many people died doing dangerous aspects of their work, or were seriously injured and lost limbs. Even during transportation, people fell from horses or buggies overturned. One of my great aunts and uncles was killed when their buggy overturned at the bottom of a hill.
People, including children, worked very long hours doing hard labor and tedious tasks 6 or more days a week. They wore their bodies out and died. Employers were hard taskmasters. There were no benefits, and no retirement plans. You worked until you died. If you needed a doctor, you were on your own.
There was no hot and cold running water. You got your water from a city well. On the way to the well, you walked through streets paved with mud, urine and feces from bathroom pots, food waste, animal waste, butchers waste, trash, and anything else people didn't want - there were no sewers and trash disposal. Everything was thrown into the streets. People didn't even wash themselves much. Between the sewage in streets, unsanitary conditions in homes, poor construction techniques, vermin and insects spread disease into homes, and disease was rampant.
Serious conditions had no treatment. Those with infectious diseases, like tuberculosis, were isolated and left to die, which they did. Today, most diseases are conquered or curable... If you can afford insurance. Many still can't even with ACA.
In the coldest weather, there was minimal heat in homes. Mostly there was no heat at night. Although stoves could be stoked at night to last until morning, it was hard to afford the wood or coal for them. Most of the year, most of the family slept in one bed, or two. Farm animals were often kept inside the home.
Wars were endless. Countries rarely had times when they weren't fighting other countries, or being invaded. War was normal. Only countries with landholders with their own militaries could keep people safe. If it wasn't countries trying to conquer each other for wealth, it was religious wars. And then there were raiders who came to small villages and stole people for slaves and trade.
Justice was a brutal affair. If you were caught for some minor crime, like stealing food, you most likely went to prison. Your family had better bring you food, otherwise you got none. You probably slept on a very uncomfortable bed, or more likely on the floor. There was a good chance you simply got executed.
Many people were slaves (indentured servants) because they owed debts or simply lacked the ability to stay employed, so assigned themselves or their children to some land or business owner for their support in exchange for work. Many who came to the US were indentured servants.
If you dared travel the roads, or even walk city streets at night, you might be robbed, beaten, or raped. There was minimal police presence, if any, and thieves were difficult to catch.
Archaeologists have taken X-Rays of Egyptian Kings, and found that at a young age, they often suffered from a number of miserable ailments. We live better than kings today.
Many people today would like you to believe that people are getting bad, and abandoning God. They point to things like homosexuality, and fewer marriages, and believe these are the cause of our society supposedly "falling apart." They point to these things as evidence of people abandoning God, and bringing about a very bad era and the End of Days.
Around 70% of people in the US identify themselves as Christian. Others identify with other religions, and only 3% are atheists. Some Christians like to judge other Christians and say, well, they really aren't Christians, and maybe some of them aren't. They especially like to point out homosexuality as a divider. And they believe all women should be married. How many of these people think only of evil all the time? The figures say not very many. In 18 - 29 year olds, 75% say they are more spiritual than religious. They tend to be a rejection of formalized religion. There are very valid reasons for that, which I have described in other articles as reactions to Christians and churches. It would be difficult to call that evil. But some judgmental Christians will.
Some Christians point back to the time of Adam and Eve, and say this is the way God meant for marriage and family to be. Marriage and family did turn out to be this way for some. But down through the ages and into today, marriage and family have been rocky, and have not looked much like the portrait in the idealized Adam and Eve. And in most Biblical literature, the verses don't bother to list the exceptions. People just don't conform to ideals, if there ever was one. We're people. We don't match the perfection demanded by Ancient Jewish Law. God created the new Covenant, through Christ, that says, "I know you're not unblemished pictures of perfection, but you're acceptable and forgiven." It adapts to changing cultures. For example, the Bible doesn't condemn slavery. We do.
As for today, we've learned a good deal about marriage. Women are not forced into marriages that they don't want. Sex and family aren't driving forces that make people get married who shouldn't. We don't force homosexuals to do heterosexual marriage, and try to change them. We don't force people to accept abuse in marriage. We don't make children endure and learn the example of abusive relationships. We are less likely to bring children into unstable and financially unsustainable families. And while the divorce rate went way up for a while, it is on the way down. People are waiting longer to get married, until they are sure it is likely to work. And for those couples having trouble, we have much better tools to help them save their marriages. Marriages that go through troubles and survive, end up being stronger marriages.
According to some Christians, what is happening in marriage is a bad thing. Yet we're making marriages and families better, and those Christians who criticize go through the same failures. How are their failures better than others, and how do they have the privilege of making others captive to their "family" beliefs?
The world we live in today is exponentially better than the world of the last 5500 years of written history. People have choices of careers and safe working conditions. The streets are generally safe, and few nations have attacked other nations since WWII; most struggles are internal. People choose their marriage partners. Education is available. Many diseases are gone or curable. People live long lives, with the mathematical mode currently being age 86. Most do not live in poverty. People don't do backbreaking work all day long. We live in homes that are heated and cooled with indoor plumbing and waste disposal, and food is as near as the local supermarket or restaurant. Entertainment is at the click of a button.
This world is the result of most of the inhabitants working for themselves and others to make this a better world. Most of them want a connection to something spiritually larger than themselves, and most do something altruistic for others. Somehow those screaming that the world is coming to an end because of evil in our hearts, has a hollow ring to it. Kind of not like the Days of Noah, when every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
To understand more about the Law and prophecy, see my article, Freedom In Christ.
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Copyright © 2011 Dorian Scott Cole
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