The Signs Of The Times, Part 2
If you are a student of history, and you want to fully understand a particularly important event, you will have to trace the timeline back to see what events precipitated the historical happening. All along the path you would find markers that could have been signs, indicators, and warnings to the people who experienced the event. Some of those signs could have been obvious and acted upon, and others may have been mysterious and missed. The need to understand the signs of the times has been a part of human history from the moment of creation.
The Word of God is replete with sign language, so to speak. God has chosen to use both the obvious and hidden meanings of His dealings with humanity and history for the purpose of developing in us the ability to understand the natural world that He created and the supernatural (spiritual) realm that He lives in. God has created humans in His image to live with Him for eternity. He has also placed us in a time/space reality where we need to understand what God is doing by looking at, and understanding how, God’s Word and His will are affecting our natural world, and act accordingly.
God’s use of signs has its origins in the very early stages of the creation of our known universe. “Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” [Gen 1:14 NASB]. This is a very loaded verse of holy truth. God has just created the stars, moons, planets (other than Earth), and other celestial bodies that He calls lights. The Hebrew word used here comes from a root word that can mean, light, as in visible light, but it can also mean enlightenment. So right from the get-go, God built into creation both natural and spiritual meaning to everything.
God says that these lights will be for signs for seasons, for days, and for years. The natural meaning for this verse seems to be pretty obvious. God has set the lights in the sky to point to natural occurrences that once understood, will aid humanity in living in the world He created. For instance, understanding the phases of the moon helps with understanding tides in the ocean, times for planting and harvesting crops, and for calendaring the passage of time, among other things. Understanding the position of certain stars with reference to the horizon will help navigate a tiny ship on an immense ocean. From the earliest of times, humanity has been able to tap into the rhythm and beat of the clock-like precision of creation. To know these natural signs was vital for natural survival.
A careful investigation of this verse from Genesis also reveals another agenda for the creation of these lights. Throughout the writings of scripture these lights are depicted as signs of God’s activities in the world. There are references to constellations, individual stars, eclipses, and other heavenly happenings that God is using to speak prophetically to humanity. Over time, sects of stargazers developed into highly organized societies of scientists and sorcerers who used the knowledge of the heavens to understand current events and also predict the future. It was the knowledge of the heavenly signs that led the Magi right to the front door of Jesus’ home in Bethlehem!
God has chosen to use these lights, and other created entities and happenings, as divine sign language to speak to us regarding aspects of His eternal purposes and how He expects us to respond to them. We are told in the verse we sited from Genesis that God uses these signs to reveal to us the seasons. This word indicates more than just winter, spring, summer, and fall. This word also means an appointed time or place, a set time for something to happen or to come into being.
God has a preset plan and a predetermined purpose for all that He created. God is working His plan out in the stages or seasons that correspond to necessary conditions. We would not be surprised if it snowed during winter (in cold climates), but it would take us by surprise if it snowed in the heart of Summer. In the same way, God has a time for everything under Heaven. Solomon captured the essence of season when He was inspired to write, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under Heaven” [Ecc 3:1 NASB].
If we are to know and understand the signs of the times, we first must know what season we are in. God is not capricious and does not have attention deficit disorders. His plans are engineered with the outcome built into the smallest and most insignificant moments of time that He created. Throughout the scriptures we see things that seemingly suddenly happen. However, if we continue to study the event, the concept of “in the fullness of time,” emerges over and over. Why did Jesus come to the earth when He did? Why were you and I born when we were? Why does God take so long to answer some prayers? The answer lies in understanding how God is working in seasons.
Seasons represent where God is currently, not where He was. Where He was is holy and precious, but it is not currently where He is acting. Jesus gave light to this when He taught the nation of Israel that a season change was coming and He was the weathervane that was pointing to where the shifting wind of God was going next. He said, no one put new wine (what is coming) into old wineskins (what is presently), but new wine must be placed in new wineskins otherwise the old will burst and wine and the container will be ruined (Luke 5:37). Jesus came in the fullness of time (Rom. 5:6) to offer to Israel a new wineskin, the New Covenant, for the wine that was about to come. God was changing His season and Jesus wanted to bring the nation into what was coming next. They mostly rejected it as they were content with what they had, and as a result, they lost what they had because God had moved into a new season.
Genesis 1:14 also says that the signs that God established also indicated “days.” The Hebrew word chosen here indicates the part of the 24 hour period when the light of the sun is bright and warm, when people are most awake, and when visibility is at its best. In other words, it is the best time to get work done. For most of us, the day indicates when we act on our vocation or calling (in modern times, round-the-clock shift work has slightly altered this understanding). Jesus was ushering in the new season of God and demonstrating what kind of corresponding work was to be done. Jesus said that He and His Father were working together (present tense, John 5:17), and that He only did and said what His Father was saying and doing (present tense).
Jesus addresses this present-tenseness with His disciples when He instructed them, "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” [Jhn 9:4 NASB]. This indicated that although God may be acting for a long time in a particular season, each day's work may be different. Jesus spent 3+ years going around doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by Satan and his demons (Acts 10:38). But, a new day was coming when His work would drastically change. The work of the cross was coming and Jesus was preparing His disciples for this cosmic change in assignments.
If we are to know the signs of the times, we must not only know what season God is working in, we must also know what work is to be done each day in the season. If understanding this was solely a human endeavor we would be scattered all over the landscape of God’s purposes tripping all over each other. Jesus made it clear to His disciples (and to us) that He would send to us His Spirit, Who would lead us and guide us into all truth. What we are doing today in and for the Kingdom of God is directly related to our interpretation of the what season we are in.
The final phase of God’s use of signs in Genesis 1:14 is to indicate years. In our natural understanding, a year is a passage of a set amount of time that has a definite and recognizable cycle or pattern. In our current calendar system, a new year cycles around every 365 (or so) days. We can look back and count years that have passed from one event to another, and we can look forward to what is expected to come in the future. It is our way of determining the age of something and for getting an idea of how much longer something will exist (including us!)
God counts years quite differently. Peter tried to give a handle to this when he stated that, to the Lord, a day is like 1,000 years and a 1,000 years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). God created time for us, not for Him. When God speaks of years, it is referring to when He changes everything as we know it presently to be. There may be multiple seasons in God’s year, but they are all related to a specific focus of God’s will being worked out. When we celebrate a birthday, we check off the end or completion of the present year and begin a whole new year- one that has never been lived before by us. God’s will is worked out in the same way. God’s years ushers in something new, at least new to us.
All through scripture we see God’s years come into view every time He creates something new or inaugurates something that did not exist just prior to the moment of introduction. Some notable examples are: the original creation, the birth of Isaac (the start of the promised seed of salvation), the birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, the birth of the church at Pentecost, among others. According to God’s revealed timeline, there are two more very exciting “years” to look forward to: the triumphal return of Jesus to the earth as King and Lord of all, and the creation (or better, recreation) of a new Earth!
God is still at work in seasons, days, and years, bringing His plans to ultimate fulfillment. It is the responsibility of His church to know where God is, what He is doing, and what He is preparing to do. This is what knowing the signs of the times is all about. This is what Jesus is expecting of us to understand. This is the primary reason Holy Spirit lives in us. If Jesus could be in perfect harmony with the will and ways of His Father, so can, and so must we.
In the next post, we will investigate some of what we commonly call the signs of the times and see if they are signs that are pointing us in the right direction. If somehow we have missed our exit on the freeway because we got distracted, it would be foolish to keep driving away from where we need to be. We may need to pull over and turn around if we want to get back on the right road.
So for now, you may want to pump your breaks and slow down - just in case you have to pull over if your GPS starts to re-route you...
by Pastor Jim