The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed. Matthew 16:1–4
What a wonder!—to live in the time of abundant signs, and ask for more! What inexplicable folly to walk up to the Sign, and ask for signs! Jesus had come after hundreds of years of great silence, had matched perfectly the many prophecies given about the manner the Messiah would come, had been announced and acknowledged by His forerunner John, and continued, by His ministry, to fulfill line after line of Scripture.
The Pharisees and Sadducees mentioned here were men whose whole lives were given to studying the Scripture, but, even with that aside, the very face value of Christ’s actions was enough to plainly demonstrate His heavenly origin and mission. Every time a leper was cleansed, a lame man walked, a blind eye was opened, a dead man was raised—everything Jesus touched was a clear, unmistakeable sign. Heaven’s own preacher in their midst, at their eye-level, speaking their language— every time He opened His mouth, they heard divine words of wisdom and instruction, and they persisted in asking for a sign from heaven. Wicked and adulterous indeed!
It is a constant blind spot among the human race to condemn the mistakes of past generations while foolishly committing the same errors. Every time we read about or consider people like those who refused Noah’s warning, like the backsliding Israelites and their rejection of God’s holy prophets, or like, in this account, the generation who ignored the world’s Messiah, we shake our heads and marvel at their supreme ignorance and uncommon blindness.
Or is it so uncommon? Are we any more sign-conscious than our predecessors? And, if being more conscious, are we any more responsive?
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 2 Peter 3:3–4
No, friends, we are not free of this sign-scoffing curse. In reality, there has never been a time of so many scoffers, and such blatant scoffing, as now. Our society, with all of its great intellect, superior understanding, higher learning, brilliant solutions, and whatever other miserable humanist advancements we boast, is fatally blind to the most basic signs of the time. What an eternal shame that we in the last era—an era of greater importance, in a real sense, than the time of Jesus Christ—we with the accumulated experience of the ages to warn and guide us, we with the most to gain or lose, should fall stupidly into the same wicked and adulterous category!
We read scriptures like 2 Timothy 3 where the apostle Paul prophesies the exact condition of mankind in the last “perilous times,” and we can go down the list and tick each box without the shadow of doubt. Or turn to Matthew 24 where it likens the last time with the days of Noah, and then compare our society with the description of that generation in Genesis 6:5, “The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Surely we could highlight that verse as describing 2019, and back it up with thousands of footnotes! Some of us even understand the Revelation and the seventh trumpet angel’s burden that “there should be time no longer.”
And in one sense, we can realize the time even without deep biblical understanding. Just as the signs in Jesus’ time were evident to any honest heart, so we can look around us at the world today and sense, without question, the imminent Second Return of Christ. It seems that every news headline is a warning; all the pain in our world, the filth, the deception, the selfishness, the injustice, the new legislation accommodating new sin, the governments actively fighting against God—everything points to a single possible outcome. We dare not be guilty of such wickedness as to demand a sign when they appear around us every day.
So then, what, friends, are we doing with the signs of our time? What is our reaction? Satan has reacted to the understanding that his time is short, and his greatest burden is to make sure we don’t react. He attacks each of us with the same doubts, the same selfishness, the same near-sightedness that were the destruction of the generations before us. The temptation, too often successful, is for us to relax comfortably into the “eating, drinking, marrying” lifestyle that seems so lawful, but that drowned multitudes in the Flood.
Many of us never claim to doubt, but may deceive ourselves into postponement, like that evil servant who said in his heart, “My lord delayeth his coming.” This is one of the most dangerous conditions to be in, comforting one’s self that he believes the end is near, but manifesting no proof in his actions.
Do not take the Lord’s tarrying as a license for careless living. This same passage tells us plainly that it is His longsuffering alone that stands between us and the Last Day (2 Peter 3:9). The vision of the writer here seems to be of God ready, longing to return, but forbearing only because He is not willing that any should perish. His longsuffering is great. In the days of Noah He gave men 120 years, but be assured, He is not slack concerning His promise. That day will come, the infallible Holy Scripture assures us, and we are also told, again like in the time of the preaching of Noah, that the majority will make the same utterly foolish and eternally momentous decision—to reject all warnings and offers of deliverance.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 2 Peter 3:11–14
The question is, in light of all this, “what manner of persons ought ye to be?” If we really are looking for and hasting unto the coming of that Day, our lives will reflect the belief. Sinner, if you hope to avoid the inevitable punishment of the scoffers, your sole pursuit must be to repent and be saved. You must pursue salvation with the urgency that only an understanding of the shortness of time will bring.
To the saint, shame on us if we preach this message and do not live it ourselves. In fact, the only hope of the world’s heeding the message relies on our first getting under the burden and living it before them. How can we live slow, plush, self-seeking lives, and expect sinners to fear the Judgment? Our holy conversation and godliness must bring a jolting stop to their wicked scoffing. Our diligent, blameless lives must be in themselves an undeniable sign to the hardened world.
Do you see the signs, or are you wicked and adulterous? Are you a scoffer, or will you be found of Him in peace?