One of the most widely misinterpreted passages relating to end times prophecy comes from Jesus' description of the birth pains, or "signs" that we would see in the season leading into the Tribulation and then followed by His return. First, however, lets review what Jesus said referring to the signs around us.
"Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will also be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:10)
And in Matthew's account:
"Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."
We summarized these signs, with a focus on "fearful events" here before.
Jesus was giving us critical information, not only on the signs, but he stated that these would mark the BEGINNING of birth pains. He also told us later (Matthew 24:34) that one generation would witness all of these signs and His second coming.
As detailed in his book "Footsteps of the Messiah", prophecy scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum makes the case that "Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom" is an idiom for world war, given the context of Matthew 24. Indeed - if you look at all of the signs that Jesus gave, pestilence, world war, famine, and earthquakes - ALL of these signs peaked in a dramatic way in the era of WWI, in numbers never seen before, and then again for the second time during WWII. Jesus also said these signs would occur in a cyclic pattern, or as birth pains/contractions. They come in waves. Thus, we have the beginning of "birth pains", and we are now approximately 90 years into that generation.
A common mistake that I hear almost every day is this: "The world has always had earthquakes...We've always had wars...We've always had famine" etc..." Lets note what Jesus did NOT say...Jesus did NOT say "The first occurrences of earthquakes will occur in this generation...The first occurrence of pestilences will occur in this generation." Jesus never said that. Nor did Jesus say the following: "This generation will see these signs, which need to be statistically analyzed and if deemed "statistically significantly" higher than past generations, then that's a sign"....No, Jesus never said that either.
Some folks will even go so far as to say "well, we have more earthquake monitoring stations now, so the increase in earthquakes doesn't count". HUH? Actually, Jesus said that the earthquakes sign WOULD be seen in "diverse places". Without such monitoring stations, we wouldn't even know about such quakes. The monitoring stations in diverse places is actually a necessity for fulfillment of that prophecy.
Jesus simply stated that we would see these signs in a manner analogous to birth pains. In other words, these signs would be NEWSWORTHY - something in the public's consciousness. Something that we would be aware of. This fact is obvious. If the sign wasn't newsworthy, and didn't make the news, then there would be no awareness, and thus not a "sign".
In fact, to make a quick tangent - I now realize that we are also living in the first generation that COULD witness all of the signs. For instance, 100 years ago, I wouldn't be reading about earthquakes around the world, or fighting around the world etc. But today, I get these kind of news within minutes. Prophecy watching (as directed by Jesus) would have been impossible for any other generation. But I digress.
Now back to pestilences.
The recent swine flu "story", as I have stated on many occasions, is bizarre and unlike anything I have ever seen in medicine. Clearly the Swine Flu is highly contagious, as spread is incredibly rapid, but the fact remains, it is a relatively mild flu. This "disconnect" has led to multiple conspiracy theories, theories I'd rather avoid (not dismissing them by any means, but I'll let others deal with potential conspiracy theories), plus that isn't the point of this post. For a relatively reasonable view (and no, I do not "endorse" this site) of potential conspiracies and very pertinent information regarding the Swine Flu, see:
this web site: the flu case.
Given that, however, the Swine Flu IS very newsworthy. I assume close to 100% of the U.S. population is aware of the Swine Flu. For this reason, it is most definitely a "sign" of pestilences for our day. One cannot watch the news for more than 10 minutes without seeing an ominous story on the threat that Swine Flu poses.
Now there is a new pestilence (virus) emerging and this one might be real. It is just starting to hit the news:
"40,000 contract serious virus in Ukraine, kills 30".
"Number of victims to unknown virus growing. State of emergency to be imposed in Ukraine?".
Apparently, this new virus was just recognized clinically in late October - and it begins as a "normal" flu for about a week, then significantly worsens. Testing to identify the exact virus will be completed in two weeks, according to the second article linked above:
"According to the doctors, now in Chernivtsi, unidentified viral infection is being observed. The first results of virological studies that will identify the virus will be ready only in two weeks."
This new virus hits the respiratory system hard. There have already been 30-40 deaths from this "new" virus, and it was only recognized a couple of weeks ago. Approximately 40,000 Ukrainians have already experienced this new virus:
"Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports 40,000 Ukrainians have contracted the disease and at least 100 are in the hospital. Tests are currently being conducted and all is known is that it is not the H1N1 Swine Flu."
This new virus seems quite ominous. Only time will tell. But for watching prophetic fulfillments - the very fact that this new virus is emerging as a news story, and coupled with the fact that the Swine Flu has absolutely dominated the news cycle (not even mentioning the other "pestilence" stories for our generation - HIV/AIDS, ebola, the bird flu, drug-resistant TB, etc etc.), we can easily see how "pestilences" are most certainly a sign of our times.
A simple question for prophecy watchers here will suffice.
Are pestilences in the news? Are pestilences in the news now more than ever?
Extend that thought:
Are earthquakes in the news?
Is the revived Roman Empire in the news?
Is Israel and Jerusalem in the news?
Is Jerusalem the focus of the various peace plans?
Is Jerusalem being fought over?
Are "the nations" aligned against Israel?
Is "War and rumor of war" in the news?
Is Russia and Iran, and their alliance in the news?
Are threats against Israel in the news?
Is world famine in the news?
Is a world economy - world finance in the news?
Is Middle-East conflict in the news?
Is a "peace plan" for the Middle-East (specifically Israel et al) in the news?
Yes? Of course they are. One cannot open a daily newspaper without seeing at least one story on each of the above questions. Each of these signs is very much a part of television news shows, internet sites, daily newspapers, magazines. These stories fill the news. And all of them are part of the "signs" that were seen by God's prophets and Jesus - signs that we have all been warned about through the prophetic scriptures.
To deny these signs, and to deny that we are in the season that Jesus informed us about, represents an extreme form of intentional denial or complete ignorance of the news.
The simple fact is - Jesus will return in this generation. Twice technically. Once to gather (rapture) His bride (aka "The Church") and again at the very end of the Tribulation - a little over seven years following the rapture - He will come to earth, for judgment of those still on earth at that time, and to begin His rule on earth for 1,000 years.
Its coming, and its coming soon. The signs are all around us - abundantly. It is time to be prepared and ready. We've been warned.