I have been reading through Eckhard Schnabel’s recent book 40 Questions About the End Times. I will be doing a review in a few weeks so I will not say too much now but this is turning out to be one of the best books I will read this year.

In chapter three Schnabel answers the question, “What Are the Signs of the End (Matt. 24)?” He specifically deals with Matt. 24 but references Mk. 13 & Lk. 21 (pg., 32-33 has a helpful comparison chart of all three texts). The answer to the question is that there are eleven signs of the end times. That is, there are eleven signs that indicate when the end times have arrived. The eleven signs are broken up into three segments. Here are the signs and the segments (references are for Matt. 24 only):

SEGMENT ONE: The Time Until the End – Tribulation

Sign One: Seduction and Messianic Pretenders (vs. 4-5) – There were and will be men who will try to seduce men (including believers) that they are the Messiah, the returned Christ. There were people in the 1st century who fit this description and there have been since.

Sign Two: Wars & Rumors of Wars (vs. 6-7a) – Any history of mankind from the time of Christ and even earlier will show that war and the threat of war has been a part of mankinds existence. Just between A.D. 33-70 Schnabel lists nineteen wars and uprisings East of the Roman Empire. This is just within the first century.

Sign Three: Famine (vs. 7b) – There were a few severe famines within the 1st century and famine has been a part of world history since then.

Sign Four: Earthquakes (vs. 7c) – There is reliable documentation that shows there were several earthquakes in the 1st century and again history shows that they have been happening ever since.

Sign Five: Persecution (vs. 9) – The book of Acts has several accounts of the persecution Christians went through in the name of Christ. Jesus told his disciples and those who would follow him that persecution would be a part of their lives. God’s people have always been persecuted from Israel to the church today.

Sign Six: False Prophets (vs. 10-11) – Similar to sign one, false prophets will intentionally seek to deceive Christians. They will turn Christians against Christians.

Sign Seven: Injustice and Lack of Love (vs. 12-13) – Following the poisonous work of false prophets among Christians, lawlessness will increase and love for others will decrease. A history of both the church and unbelievers bears out many examples of these kinds of behavior.

Sign Eight: Universal Proclamation of the Gospel (vs. 14) – In Matt. 28:19 Jesus tell the disciples to make disciples of all nations. Schnabel believes that this was fulfilled in the 1st century with the gospel going to Ethiopia (south), Spain (west), Scythia (north) and India (east) (p. 38) . Even if it had not it certainly has by now.

Sings 1-4 deal with world affairs and signs 5-8 deal with Christians. After the fourth sign of earthquakes verse 8 states, “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains”, indicating that these sings are just the beginning of the end and there are more to come. Then, at the end of verse 14, after the mention of the eight sign of the universal proclamation of the gospel, Jesus says, “…and then the end will come.”

If one sees the first eight signs of the end as having began already and continuing until today, this allows the text to indicate that the return of Christ is truly at any moment because the end is here! However, lest we think this gives us the authority to set exact or even tentative dates or time constraints on when Christ is coming back, Schnabel is quick to bring out the accompanying warnings and exhortations from Jesus himself as he pronounced the signs of the end times.

Concerning the warnings he points out the following:

“Beware that no one leads you astray” (Matt. 24:4), “see that you are not alarmed” (v. 6), “let the reader understand” (v. 15), “from the fig tree learn its lesson” (v. 32), “keep awake” ( v. 42), “understand this” (v. 43), “you also must be ready” (v. 44), and “keep awake” (Matt. 25:13). (p. 47)

Concerning the exhortations he states the following:

The repeated declaration that nobody knows the date of Jesus’ return, which will happen unexpectedly, does not allow speculation regarding how close we are to Jesus’ return. Jesus emphasizes that “about that day and hour no on knows” (Matt. 24:36), “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v. 42), “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (v. 44), “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know” (v. 50), and “you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). (p. 47)

While we are given signs of the end times, which are here, this does not mean we know when the end of the end actually is. This bleeds with the immanency of Christ’s return and urges us to be watchful!

SEGMENT TWO:  A Specific Even of Divine Judgment – The destruction of Jerusalem

Sign Nine: The Destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 15-22) – In these verses Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem which ends in 10 A.D. with the fall of the temple. Within this there are six signs of this impending destruction: (1) “abomination of desolation” (v. 15), (2) “flee to the mountains” (v. 16), save their bare lives (v. 17-18), peril of pregnant and nursing women (v. 19-20), “great tribulation” (v. 21), and shortening of time (v. 22).

Sign Ten: Messianic Pretenders and False Prophets (vs. 23-25) – Like sign one and six, both will be present together seeking to lead people astray including “the elect.”

SEGMENT THREE: The Return of Jesus

Sign Eleven: The Return of Jesus (vs. 29-31) – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days,” says Jesus, there will be six indicators of the return of Christ at the second coming: (1) “the sun will be darkened”, “the moon will not give its light”, “the stars will fall from heaven”, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken”, “the sign of the Son of Man” and ” the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven”, and the sending of the angels with the gathering of the elect.

While these events accompanying the return of Christ can certainly be taken as literal in that the sun moon will literally be darkened like an overcast and cloudy day, “the apocalyptic, cosmic language of the prophecy  in 24:29 uses language from the Old Testament prophets who predict not the physical dissolution of the universe but, with symbolic language, catastrophic political events within history” (p. 41-42).

Do we know when the end times are? Yes, we are told in Matt. 24. Do we know when the end of the end times is? No, we are told in Matt. 24.

What are your thoughts on Schnabel’s explanation of the eleven signs of the end times?