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ICC Note: This article/sermon points out a fact that we often trumpet in our ICC media. That is, that persecution is normal. Jesus said if the world hated him it would hate us. The persecuted suffer not becuase they are troublemakers or agitators. They suffer because they are His and not willing to submit to this world.

This sermon also has to make you think. . .are we in the end times? Every century has said now is the time but the world definitely seems to be unraveling.

Signs of the times
A Sermon By Greg Laurie
Worldnetdaily I don’t know about you, but I am beginning to distrust the weatherman. It seems like when they tell us it will be warm, it’s cold; when they tell us it will be rainy, it’s sunny. It seems like I could do just as good of a job of predicting the weather for the day by simply looking out of my window.

Jesus said, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather – why can’t you read the signs of the times? (Matthew16:2-3 The Message)

In the same way, all you have to do is pick up your morning paper, watch the news on TV or read WorldNetDaily to see “signs of the times.” And what do these “signs” tell us? That Jesus Christ is coming back!

Jesus mentioned certain signs, or “birth pains,” that would indicate the time of His return and the end of the world:

Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:4-8)

Are we seeing evidence that these signs are appearing in greater and greater frequency in our generation? Let’s consider some of the facts.

No. 1 – The explosion of religious deception

In the Last Days, there will be an emergence of false teachers, false prophets, gurus and so forth who will “deceive many.” This will culminate in the emergence of the ultimate deceiver, the Antichrist.

For many years now, we have witnessed an explosion of cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), the Christian Science Church, the Church of Scientology and other groups. Then there have been newer cults like the followers of Jim Jones who committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978; the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, who died in a standoff with federal agents in Texas in 1993; and the Heaven’s Gate suicides in Southern California in 1997.

There also has been an explosion of New Age mysticism and spirituality in recent years. I find it interesting how many people today will say, “I am spiritual, but I am not into organized religion.” It is their way of saying that they want to have a belief system, but they want to live as they choose. So many people today talk about how they have found their own truth and their own path. I believe all of this is pointing to the emergence of the Antichrist and the beginning of the Tribulation period described in Revelation 6:

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (vv. 1-2)

Who is this rider these verses are speaking of? Is it Jesus Christ? No, it is the Antichrist. I find it interesting that he rides a white horse and has a crown, because we read later on in Revelation that when Christ comes back, He will be riding a white horse and will be wearing many crowns (see Revelation 19:11-12). This reminds us that the Antichrist is essentially an imitator. He is an imitation of the real thing.

The prefix anti- not only means “against” but also means “instead of.” In many ways, the Antichrist, or the Beast as he is also called, masquerades as the Messiah. The Antichrist will succeed where others have failed. He will bring temporary solutions politically, militarily and economically. In fact, his accomplishments will be so spectacular, far-reaching and unprecedented that many will hail him as the very Messiah. But in time he will impose his own religion on the world and will have his false prophet working alongside him.

No. 2 – Wars and rumors of wars

This leads us to another sign pointing toward the Last Days, which will be “wars and rumors of wars” (see Matthew 24:6). Think of all the wars our planet has seen so far in its history. We know that more than 10 million people lost their lives in World War I, which was thought of as the war that would end all wars. But it took only 20 years for a new and even more terrible war to develop. During World War II, 50 million people died.

These wars, as horrible as they were, will not compare to the scale of war that will be unleashed by Satan during the Tribulation period. How it will happen we don’t know. It could be cataclysmic. We know that God could pour out His wrath on the earth. Then again, God could allow humanity to unleash all the weaponry that it has been amassing for years now.

To date, nations with nuclear weapons have been able to keep one another at bay. But now there are rogue nations that have gotten hold of nuclear weapons. Some terrorist organizations have been trying to obtain them for some time. It could be that, in this terrible war, all of that nuclear weaponry would be released. Such war would give an explanation as to the global famine and pestilence that will follow the emergence of the Antichrist.

No. 3 – Famines and pestilences

In addition to “wars and rumors of wars,” global famine and pestilence will be one of the signs of the last days (see Revelation 6:8). Contrary to what some may think, famine isn’t a problem of the past. According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, more than 800 million people go hungry every day, while 24,000 people die each day from hunger and hunger-related causes.

When it comes to global pestilences, think of what has happened in our generation alone. Thirty-eight million people presently live with HIV-AIDS. Of these, 95 percent live in developing nations, mostly on the African continent, where there is a pandemic of AIDS. Eight thousand people die every day of the AIDS virus. Certainly, this would be one of the things the Bible is speaking of. Also, it seems that on a regular basis, some new kind of epidemic is breaking out, more recent ones being SARS and the bird flu.

As we look at this and what is happening in our world, we can certainly see the birth pains that seem to be getting closer together.

No. 4 – Earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis

Jesus said, “And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:11)

Consider the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia , Dec. 26, 2004. It was caused by the fourth most powerful undersea earthquake on record – an earthquake so powerful that it moved the entire island of Sumatra 100 feet southwest of its original position. Geologists said the tsunami was so powerful that it set the whole earth vibrating. It interfered with the earth’s rotation to the degree that time stopped for three microseconds.

According to the U.S. Geological Society, the occurrence of earthquakes is on the rise. For the past 50 years, the number of recorded earthquakes has increased every decade – not just the minor ones, but the “killer” quakes as well. The earthquake that caused the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia was one of the strongest ever, with more than 286,000 casualties in its wake. More earthquakes will come.

Then there is the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. All of these are signs of the times.

No. 5 – Religious persecution

Another sign of the times will be persecution. Jesus said, “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. And you will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” (Mark 13:9-10)

We have seen persecution against the church for centuries. There was a martyr period in church history that extended from A.D. 100 to A.D. 314, where literally thousands and thousands of courageous men, women and children stood up for their faith with their blood. Many secular historians suggest there were 10 great persecutions intended to wipe out Christianity, beginning with Caesar Nero and ending with the Roman emperor Diocletian.

During this time, believers were fed alive to wild animals. They were killed in Roman arenas for sport. They were torn apart, tortured, burned at the stake and crucified. Diocletian felt that he had been so successful in eradicating Christianity from the face of the earth that he had a coin struck that read, “The Christian religion is destroyed and the worship of the Roman gods are restored.” Needless to say, Diocletian was proved wrong. Instead of being destroyed by persecution, the church actually grew stronger.

We need to remember that if we are true followers of Jesus, we, too, will be persecuted. The Bible says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). In John 15, Jesus said:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. (vv. 18-20)

When we stand up for our faith, it will make some people angry, especially when we declare that Jesus Christ is the only way to God (see John 14:6). In our pluralistic society of moral relativism, when someone makes a statement such as, “All roads don’t lead to God – only one road leads to God; all truth is not yours to choose – there is only one real truth, and Jesus Christ is the only way to God,” some people will not like it.

In fact, in our own country today, we see our religious liberties evaporating before our eyes. For example, in 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court found prayer in public schools unconstitutional. In 1980, the Court banned the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. In 1989, the Court ruled that a nativity scene in a government building was unconstitutional. In 1992, prayer by clergy members at public school graduation ceremonies was ruled unconstitutional. In 2003, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from office for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state’s Supreme Court building. And at the time of this writing, a national debate is under way as to whether marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman and whether or not we should keep the phrase “One Nation Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Here in the United States , some people have been attacked physically – even killed – because of their faith in Christ. Fresh in our memories are the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, where 13 people lost their lives. Among them were Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott, who were singled out for their Christian faith.

Outside U.S. borders, we know that persecution is far worse. For example, thousands of Christians in Sudan have been beaten, driven from their homes and martyred for their faith. In Iraq , the radical Muslim group responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Kim Sun-il of South Korea in June 2004 claimed they killed him because he “tried to propagate Christianity in Iraq .”

Persecution will only get worse in the Last Days – that is what Scripture tells us.

No. 6 – Jerusalem as an international focal point

Jerusalem, the city of David, has always had a central role in Scripture, and it figures prominently in prophecies about the Last Days in which God will “restore the fortunes” of Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 32:44; Danield 9:25; Joel 3:1). In Mark 13:28-29, Jesus said the rebirth of Israel will be a supersign of the last days: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near – at the doors!”

On more than one occasion in Scripture, Israel is compared to a fig tree (see Judges 9:11; Hosea 9:10; Joel 1:7-8). I believe that Mark 13:28-29, along with many other Scripture passages, such as Ezekiel 37-39, speak of the rebirth of Israel – the regathering of God’s people. When the nation of Israel comes back into existence, Jesus was stating prophetically, it is a supersign that His coming is near.

Of course, we know that this prophecy was fulfilled not that long ago. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion stood before the masses gathered in Tel Aviv and declared Israel ‘s independence. Israel announced to the world that she was once again to be a free state . Having lost 6 million Jews to Nazi concentration camps, the Jewish people began returning to the very land that God had given to them centuries before. It was unprecedented in human history for a nation to essentially cease to exist and then to come back into existence.

After the state of Israel was declared in 1948, five Arab states came against Israel , and the resulting war left the city of Jerusalem divided. Jordan retained control over the old city, including the Temple Mount and most historic sites. During the six-day war in 1967, Israeli forces once again captured the old city and reunified all of Jerusalem . The city of Jerusalem was under Jewish control for the first time in many centuries. Bible prophecy had been fulfilled perfectly.

God said, “I will make Jerusalem and Judah like an intoxicating drink to all the nearby nations that send their armies to besiege Jerusalem . On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone, a burden for the world. None of the nations who try to lift it will escape unscathed.” (Zechariah 12:2-3, NLT). So when God says that Jerusalem will be the focal point of the last-days scenario, we see this already happening.

You can hardly scan today’s headlines without reading about conflict in the Middle East . So often it centers on Jerusalem . There are many, many passages of Scripture that specifically say Jerusalem will be at the heart of it all. Jerusalem , of course, remains at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Arab leaders worldwide insist that the old city and entire West Bank are rightfully Palestinian territory and must be ceded back as a condition for peace. Scripture tells us that God will gather all the nations of the world together against Jerusalem (see Zechariah 12:2-3; 14:2). The only true peace that will ever come is when the King of kings, Lord of lords, and the Prince of Peace comes back and establishes His kingdom on earth. This is what we need to be looking for.

So what is all this about? Are we really in the Last Days? The answer is yes. What we see today are the labor pains of what is yet to come. As we watch these things happen in our world, as we sense these labor pains getting closer and closer together, they tell us the coming of Jesus Christ is near. In fact, I see nothing in Scripture that needs to occur before the Rapture of the church can take place. In my understanding of Bible prophecy, it is the next event on the prophetic calendar. And it could happen at any time.