Six Signs of the End Times
(The Judgment of Jerusalem)
by Rev. William Patton, D.D.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression. As a well pours out its water, so she pours out her wickedness. Violence and destruction resound in her; her sickness and wounds are ever before me. Take warning, O Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it." This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Let them glean the remnant of Israel as thoroughly as a vine; pass your hand over the branches again, like one gathering grapes." To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. But I am full of the wrath of the LORD, and I cannot hold it in. "Pour it out on the children in the street and on the young men gathered together; both husband and wife will be caught in it, and the old, those weighed down with years. Their houses will be turned over to others, together with their fields and their wives, when I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land," declares the LORD. "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD. This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' I appointed watchmen over you and said, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But you said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, O nations; observe, O witnesses, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. Jeremiah 6:6-19
The saying goes that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. God made it quite plain how the history of the “chosen people” would end. But the chosen people would not listen to the true prophets of God – they gave heed to false prophets and false Messiahs.
The following is chapter 5 of the book “THE JUDGMENT OF JERUSALEM, Predicted in Scripture, Fulfilled in History” by Rev. William Patton, D.D. published in 1876.
Jesus warned his disciples that the end of the world--that is, the Jewish world-- the end of the Mosaic Law, was near, right at the door. When John, the apostle, wrote his letters he said he was writing in the “last hour.” Surely, the early disciples fully expected the “ends of the world” to come in their time. What was it they were expecting? Did all come to pass? Were Jesus’ prophesies in Matthew chapter 23 and 24 fulfilled in the first century? That is what the subject of this book is all about. A word of caution to Christians reading this material: there are thousands of men and women in the earth today writing books, producing television and radio shows telling us the end of the world is near AND telling us how to be prepared for it. Are they the true prophets of God? Or are they of the same spirit of the prophets that seduced Israel in the first century? How can one tell whether they are hearing God or hearing anti-Christs? The Tentmaker Ministries Site has much material on that subject. Now then, here is chapter 5, “The Six Signs.” The entire book may be found at http://www.tentmaker.org. We urge you to pay attention, so that you and your family are prepared for the things to come. --Gary Amirault
The Six Signs
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars, and rumours of wars...There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places...Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one anothe... And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold...And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place. (whoso readeth let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains." Matt. 24:4-16.
" And fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." Luke 21:2.
It will be noticed that our blessed Lord not only predicts the utter destruction of the temple, but points out six specific signs which were to precede that event. He refers to the prophecy of Daniel, which was having its fulfilment in Himself as the promised Messiah, and as also fixing the time of the destruction of the city in perfect harmony with His own prophetic words.
(1) The first sign: false Christs. -Josephus calls Daniel the greatest of prophets, because he fixed the time of the fulfilment of his predictions. "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression." "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks... And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." In prophetic language a day stands for a year; and the seventy weeks determined would equal 490 years. The command to rebuild was in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, or 457 B.C. Add to this the 33 for the earthly life of Christ, and it completes the 490 years. It is a well-authenticated fact that, guided by this and other accredited prophecies, learned men were expecting the appearance of the promised Messiah at the very time that our Lord made His appearance: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king. behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him." Herod demanded of the chief priests and scribes where Christ should be born. “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of ]udea: for thus it is written by the prophet." Just here the testimony of Josephus is very explicit: "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the Divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."
As the men then in authority expected a conquering king to deliver them from the Roman yoke, and to elevate their nation to the highest place; and as Christ made no pretensions to civil authority, but was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," He was therefore to them "as a root out of a dry ground," and "having no comeliness nor beauty that they should desire Him," they rejected and crucified Him. This expectation made it the more easy for false Christs to impose themselves upon the people. The fulfilment of this sign commenced soon after the crucifixion. Josephus makes mention that "Theudas, about twelve years after the death of Christ, being a sorcerer, deceived many. He persuaded a great multitude to bring their goods and follow him to the river Jordan, promising that he would divide the waters. Whilst on his way he and his followers were taken by the forces of Fadus and destroyed." This case is referred to by Gamaliel in Acts v. 36. Josephus further tells us that about ten years after, when Felix was governor of Judea, these impostors drew great multitudes after them into the wilderness, promising to work great signs and wonders before them. He makes particular mention of the Egyptian prophet, who came to Jerusalem and persuaded the people to follow him to Mount Olivet, declaring that from thence they should see the walls of Jerusalem fall. Felix sent his soldiers, slew many, and dispersed the rest. He informs us that, three years later, when Festus Portius was procurator, an impostor appeared who deceived great multitudes with promises of deliverance from the Roman oppression, if they would only follow him into the wilderness. But Festus sent forth his army and destroyed this impostor, with most of his company.
It is worthy of notice that the language employed by Josephus, in setting forth the claims and conduct of these impostors, is the very same which our Saviour used in the prediction that they would arise and "deceive many." "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not." In view of this prophecy and the facts fulfilling it, how striking that saying of Jesus Christ when He was rejected of the Jews: "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
(2) The second sign is wars and rumours of wars and commotions. By reason of the violent struggles among the competitors for the imperial throne, the whole Roman empire was thrown into the greatest commotion. The conflicts were sudden, frequent, and severe, and were attended with a vast expenditure of blood and treasure. It was literally a period of wars and rumours of wars, for no less than four emperors (Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) suffered violent deaths in the short space of eighteen months. The very foundations of the civil structure were shaken when the Emperor Caligula commanded his statue to be placed in the temple at Jerusalem. The Jews. with unflinching steadfastness, refused to comply, and to every threat of invasion and destruction replied that they were ready to be slain rather than witness the setting up of this statue in the holy place. Being in constant expectation of assault, they were in such consternation, the historian informs us, that they neglected the tilling of their lands. The "Nation shall rise up against nation." This, says Grotius, means "that the Jews and the people of other nations, dwelling in the same cities, should kill one another." This was fulfilled at Caesarea, where the Jews and Syrians contended about the right of the city, and more than 20,000 Jews were slain, and the city entirely cleared of them. This exasperated the whole nation, and, forming themselves into companies, they burnt and plundered the cities and villages of the Syrians, and slaughtered great numbers of the inhabitants. The Syrians, in return, slaughtered great numbers of the Jews, at Scythopolis, 13,000; at Ascalon, 2,500; at Damascus, 10,000; and at Alexandria, 50,000. So desperate was the hostility that Josephus says "every city was divided into two armies."
It is added, "kingdom against kingdom." This found its fulfilment in the wars of the tetrarchate and the provinces against one another; in the wars of the Jews in Perea against the people of Philadelphia; in that of the Jews and Galileans against the Samaritans, occasioned by the murder of some Galileans going to the feast at Jerusalem; and especially in that of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans. The language of Josephus is, "There was not only sedition and civil war throughout Judea, but likewise in Italy: Otho and Vitellius contending for the empire." It will be borne in mind that when Christ uttered His prediction the temple of Janus was shut, because there was peace all over the Roman empire. The wars which for ages had been waged had come to a close. The Roman legions were victorious, and Rome was the acknowledged mistress of the world. It would seem that the various kingdoms would seek repose, and not soon plunge again into the exhausting horrors of war. Contrary to these probabilities, wars, and rumours of wars, and dire commotions soon extensively prevailed.
(3) The third sign: famine and pestilence and earthquakes. During the reign of Claudius there was an extensive and distressing famine in Judea. It is spoken of in Acts xi. 28. It was to relieve the saints at Jerusalem, suffering from this famine, that Paul urges the Christians to make contributions on their behalf. Suetonius and other writers refer to this famine. Josephus says that it was so severe at Jerusalem that many perished, and that Queen Helena sent to Alexandria and Cyprus, and bought a great quantity of corn and dried figs, and thus saved the lives of many. Connected with the famine was pestilence. Scarcity and bad provision invariably produce some fatal sickness. But in this case the pestilence came first, and was aggravated by the famine and the want of attention to the sick and dying. Josephus writes: "Being assembled together from all parts to the feast of unleavened bread, presently, and on a sudden, they were environed with war. And first of all a plague fell among them, and immediately a famine worse than it. The dead lay unburied, and, the air becoming loaded with the exhalations from the putrid bodies, added great virulence to the pestilence."
The prediction says, "And earthquakes in divers places." History fully confirms this. Philostratus tells of an earthquake in Crete in the reign of Claudius. Also of earthquakes at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, and Samos. Tacitus describes the great earthquake which happened at Rome in the days of Nero; also at Laodicea, at Hierapolis, and Colosse, which cities were overthrown. Seneca mentions that the celebrated city of Pompeii, in Campania, was almost demolished by an earthquake. Suetonius tells of another earthquake at Rome in the reign of Galba. Josephus declares that in Judea there were terrible earthquakes and commotions. His language is peculiar and emphatic: "For by night there broke out a most dreadful tempest and violent strong winds, with the most vehement showers and continual lightning, and horrid thunderings and amazing concussions, and prodigious bellowings of the shaken earth; and it was manifest that the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of man; and anyone might easily conjecture that these things portended no common calamity. All these convulsions of the solid earth," he adds, occurred "in rapid succession, and but a short time before the destruction of the sacred city."
(4) The fourth sign: "fearful sights and great signs from heaven." In his preface to the Jewish Wars, Josephus says: "Nor shall I omit to mention how the temple was burnt; the destruction also of the entire city, with the signs and wonders that went before it." Accordingly, in the fifth chapter of his sixth book, we have a full and circumstantial account of seven distinct prodigies which, he says, were indeed fearful and portending evil. He tells of a strange light at midnight: "Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus (Nisan), and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright daytime, which lasted for half an hour... Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner court of the temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the solid floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord, about the sixth hour of the night." It was not without great difficulty that the captain of the temple, with his men, were able again to shut the gate. He tells us that the vulgar interpreted this as a sign that God would throw open the way of deliverance; whilst the learned understood it that "The security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies."
He tells of strange sights of chariots and armies in the heavens: "A few days after the feast, on the twenty-first of the month Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared...for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding cities." He tells us also of an unusual voice heard in the temple: "Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence!' "
He records the solemn, oft-repeated, and singular warning of a man named Jesus: "But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for everyone to make tabernacles to God in the temple, and began on a sudden to cry aloud, 'A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!' This was his cry, as he went about by day and night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the people had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did he not either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him; but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing that this was a kind of Divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator; where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet did he not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, 'Woe! woe to Jerusalem!'...During all the time that passed before the war began, he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, 'Woe! woe to Jerusalem!'...This cry of his was loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty...until the very time he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased. For as he was going round upon the wall he cried out with his utmost force, 'Woe! woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!' and just as he added at the last, 'Woe! woe to myself also!' there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately." “Thus," adds this historian, "the miserable people, persuaded by their deceivers, did not attend, nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretel their future desolations; but, like men infuriated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them."
These incidents are narrated by Josephus with great simplicity, with the consciousness of their truth, and that they were matters of public notoriety. They are confirmed by other writers. Tacitus, the Roman historian, in speaking of the remarkable things which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, says, "Prodigies fell out, armies were seen to engage in different parts of the sky,' glittering armies appeared, the temple shone by the sudden fire of the clouds, the doors of the temple were suddenly thrown wide open, a voice, more than human, was heard that the gods were departing, and at the same time a great motion as if departing."
(5) Fifth sign: the persecution of Christians and the apostacy of professed disciples. " But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake. "And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another...And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."
Under this general prediction, Christ specifies a series of particulars. He also points out the time of their fulfilment, saying, "Before all these;" that is, previously to and during the progress of the four preceding signs, "they shall lay hands on you, and persecute you." History records the fact that no small share of all their sufferings was in consequence of the pestilence, the famine, the earthquakes, and other calamities, which their enemies imagined were judgments sent upon them by the gods because of the existence of Christians among them. As the prediction is specific, so the fulfilment is specific. It is written that "Saul of Tarsus," after consenting to the stoning of Stephen, "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high-priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." In his defense before Agrippa he said, " I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison...And being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." When he became a Christian, the persecution turned against him. Its intensity and determined hostility is illustrated by the fact that forty persons bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.
The prediction is very specific. It says, "Delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons." We have this answering record: "And as they (Peter and John) spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them...And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold (or prison) unto the next day...On the morrow, their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high-priest, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high-priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them (Peter and John) in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? (healing the lame man)...And commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." When Peter and John continued to preach in the name of Jesus, "the high-priest rose up, and all they that were with him, and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison." Herod also "stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church," for when he had apprehended Peter he put him in prison. Thus the disciples were delivered up to councils and to prisons.
Still more specific is the prediction; for it says, "And in the synagogues shall ye be beaten." The answering record is, When the high-priest, with the council, and all the senate of the children of Israel, were assembled in the synagogue, having "called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus." Paul testifies: "I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed." Here was the infliction of stripes in the house of God. Of Paul and Silas it is recorded: "And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison." Paul's experience was, "in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned." It is probable that when five times he received of the Jews thirty-nine stripes, and thrice was beaten with rods, it was in the synagogues, as they found him there preaching in the name of Jesus. Another specification is: "Ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake." It is a fact that James and Peter were both of them brought before Herod; that Paul pleaded before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, and finally before Nero at Rome. It was for Christ's sake that Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin. Herod apprehended Peter that he might please the Jews. Festus declared unto Agrippa that Paul was charged by the Jews with no crime, but "certain questions of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive." Thus it was for Christ's name that they stood before rulers and kings.
(Each synagogue was a separate community, with its rulers (Mark 5:22). These could punish by beating (Matt. 10:17; Acts 26:2); or they could expel (John 9:34). The councils were local tribunals attached to the synagogue; their judges could punish by scourging (Acts 22:19)).
Still another item in the prediction is that special wisdom was to be given the saints. “Settle therefore in your hearts not to meditate what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." "For it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost." To this the record answers that when Peter and John stood arraigned before the Sanhedrim, they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and so spake that their accusers "could say nothing against it." Again, when certain of the synagogue of the Libertines and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputed with Stephen, who was full of the Holy Ghost, "they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake." Again, when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment, Felix trembled. When he pleaded before Agrippa, narrated the manner of his conversion, and manifested his unyielding devotion to Christ, Agrippa cried out, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Thus their defence, and the spirit with which it was made, confounded their adversaries, and demonstrated their innocence, and the truth of the religion for which they suffered. It also so impressed multitudes that from persecutors they became the open and staunch friends of Christ. The apostle assured his fellow saints that the things which happened unto him had fallen out unto the furtherance of the Gospel; because many of the brethren, waxing confident by his bonds, became much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Another item of the prediction was that they were to be hated of all nations for Christ's sake. That the apostles and primitive Christians were more hated and persecuted than any other religious sect is an evident fact of history, both sacred and profane. They were persecuted not because they opposed idolatry, for this the Jews did, but simply because of the name of Christ. The Jews united with the heathen in persecuting the Christians, so that "this sect was everywhere spoken against." Tertullian, speaking of the universality of this hostility, says, "It is a war against the very name." All that was asked of the martyr, to save himself from death, was to renounce the name of Christ. When Nero set fire to Rome, he turned away the indignation of the people from himself by charging it upon the Christians. The heathen historian Tacitus says, "But neither the emperor's donations, nor the atonements offered to the gods, could remove the scandal of this report, but it was still believed that the city had been burnt by his instigation. Nero, therefore, to put a stop to this rumour, charged the fact, and inflicted the severest punishment upon the Christians, as they were commonly called. Some who confessed themselves Christians were first apprehended, and a vast multitude afterwards upon their impeachment, who were condemned, not so much for burning the city, as for being the objects of universal hatred." Tertullian informs us "that though a man was kind and honest, and possessed every human virtue, yet it was crime enough to cast him forth to popular fury if he was a Christian." How true to the prediction were the words of Paul: "For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men... We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day."1
The apostacy of professed disciples is another part of this sign. Four items are particularly mentioned:
Abounding iniquity. The moral character of the heathen was, as appears from Rom. 1:23-32, low and degraded. Of the Jews, Josephus remarks, "they abounded with all manner of iniquity, so that none was left undone. Yea, though one endeavoured to invent some new villany, yet could he invent none that was not then practised." We learn from the Epistles that this iniquity extended even to the church itself.
False prophets. These are not the same as the false Christs mentioned in the first sign,-these were false teachers. We know that Judaising teachers early entered the churches planted by Paul, and caused great trouble. He calls them "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ...which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts...And their word will eat as doth a canker, of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus, who overthrow the faith of some."
Many were to be offended, and the love of many to wax cold. Says the apostle John, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." "This thou knowest," saith Paul, "that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes." Again, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." Again, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil; of whom be thou ware also." "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me." A time of persecution is always a time of apostacy.
They were to betray one another unto death. This is one of the dreadful fruits of apostacy; for when a man through shame or fear denies the Lord who died for him, and sunders the bonds which bind him to his Saviour, he will also rupture all the ties of blood and relationship. Paul's experience says, " In perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren." The historian Tacitus says that in the persecution under Nero, "At first a few were laid hold of, who confessed; and by their evidence great multitudes were afterwards convicted...Their sufferings were heightened by mockery and derision. Some were enclosed in the skins of wild beasts, that they might be torn in pieces by the dogs; others were crucified; and others, being covered with inflammable matter, were lightened up as torches at the close of the day." So great was the fear and dread that parents gave up their children, and children their parents to such cruel deaths. Such deliberately led forth their own child, or their aged father, or their own mother, saying, "This one is a Christian!" To cheer and encourage the suffering disciples, the Lord assured them "he that shall endure to the end shall be saved." Both worlds are to be taken into the account. Eternal blessedness must be set over against temporary sufferings.
(6) The sixth sign: that the Gospel should be published among all nations. This was the most incredible of all the signs. Every circumstance seemed, with stern emphasis, to forbid it. The Founder was a Jew, despised of His own nation, and ignominiously put to death. His followers were few, and His apostles unlearned men. This religion did not claim a place among the other religions, but claimed to be the only true one. It called upon men to abandon their former modes or objects of worship. It made no appeals to worldly and selfish interests; it made no promises of ease and honour in this life, but required self-denial and daily cross-bearing, the enduring of hardness, and the forsaking of every form of sin; it required that this new religion should be openly professed, and that by a heavenly life its truth should be commended to every man's conscience. It made no appeal to arms, made no alliance with the state, but for its successful spread depended upon the preaching of this Gospel and the invisible agency of the Holy Ghost. Under these circumstances, to look for its rapid and wide diffusion, and that, too, when in the crucifixion of its Founder the enmity of the natural heart to it was illustrated, was indeed the most improbable of all the signs. Yet even this was so literally fulfilled that in a single generation it was preached in all the nations then known. We have two independent sources of evidence.
Sacred history. A few days after the ascension of Christ there were at Jerusalem one hundred and twenty disciples. About one week after, on the day of Pentecost, there were added to them three thousand souls. A few days after this, "the number of the men was about five thousand." It is written also "that multitudes of believers, both men and women, were added to the Lord;" "that the number of the disciples were multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith;" and that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." This rapid spread among the Jews took place within two years from the crucifixion. The many strangers and foreigners gathered at Jerusalem, and converted on the day of Pentecost, returning to their distant homes, carried with them and made known the Gospel. In the course of seven years the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles at Ceasarea. The next year at Antioch, where, under the preaching of Barnabas, "much people were added to the Lord." When Herod died, it is written, "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied."
When Paul was at Iconium, "a great multitude both of Jews and also Greeks believed." Sixteen years after the ascension, Paul found that the Gentile converts at Antioch, in Syria, and in Cilicia were "established in the faith and increasing in number daily."
In Thessalonica, "of the devout Greeks a great multitude believed." The very titles to the apostolical epistles show that the gospel had wonderfully spread. Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, Philippi, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Peter directs his letter to the elect scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Paul renders thanks to God because the faith of the Roman Christians" is spoken of throughout the whole world," and their "obedience is come abroad unto all men."
Profane history. Tacitus, the Roman historian, says, "This pestilent superstition spread itself not only through Judea, but even into the city of Rome, and vast multitudes of Christians were seized and put to death by the emperor" (Nero). Clement, who was contemporary with Paul, when speaking of him, says, "He was a preacher both to the East and the West; he taught the whole world righteousness, and travelled as far as the utmost borders of the west." The record of Eusebius is "that the apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the ocean to the Britannic isles." Theodoret declares "that the apostles had induced every nation and kind of men to embrace the Gospel;" and among the converted nations he records particularly the Britons. The wonderful spread of this religion was all accomplished in about thirty years. The testimony of Pliny the Younger, in his letter to the Emperor Trajan, though written a few years after the destruction of Jerusalem, demonstrates how rapid and extensive the publication of the Gospel must have been. We learn that during his pro-consulate in Pontus and Bithynia, the Christians abounded in these provinces; that information had been lodged against many on this account; and that he had made diligent inquiry, even by torture, into the nature of the charge against them; but could not discover any crime of which they were guilty besides an evil and excessive superstition. He says "that he thought it necessary to consult the emperor especially on account of the great number of persons who are in danger of suffering: for many of all ages and of every rank, of both sexes, are accused and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country." He adds, "the idol temples had been almost deserted, the sacred solemnities discontinued, and that the victims for sacrifice had met with but few purchasers."
Nothing but the unerring spirit of prophecy could so accurately have foretold so many and so improbable things as are contained in this prediction of Christ. A man well read in history and the principles of human nature may at times, with singular accuracy, forecast the general result of affairs then in progress; but it is beyond the reach of all human sagacity to foretell, in minute detail, what shall happen in the next thirty years. More especially is this impracticable if the events predicted were at the time improbable, and with causes then operating in the opposite direction.
Who but God, in Christ, could have foreseen and predicted that when the true Christ was crucified, false Christs would arise? and that there would be wars, and rumours of wars, and commotions, with famine, and pestilence, and earthquakes, and fearful sights from heaven? and that the followers of Christ should everywhere be persecuted? Who but Christ would have dared to predict the rapid and extended spread of this unpopular religion, under persecutions the most fierce and protracted? Yet all these Christ did predict; and the honest conviction must be that He had the spirit of prophecy. This He claimed as the evidence of His Divine mission; and when everything comes to pass exactly as He predicted, how can the evidence be resisted that He is what He claimed to be-the Son of God, the true Messiah?
In the rapid and extended spread of Christianity we have the evidence of its truth and power. The testimony of both sacred and profane history agrees that, in thirty years from the death of Christ, His religion was published over the then known world. That a work effecting such radical revolutions in prejudice, sentiment, interest, and habit should be accomplished in so short a time, under the most favourable circumstances, would be amazing. But when it had to push its way through fire, and blood, and persecution, the conviction is firm that this religion is true and from God. There is no parallel to this on the page of history. It stands alone, yet is it as certainly true and Divine as it is peculiar.
It cannot, then, be a matter of indifference whether or not men cordially receive this religion. It is the voice of God that speaks in it. The Jews would not receive this message from God by His beloved Son; they rejected both Christ and His Gospel of peace; and how sad, how unspeakably sad the result! This great fact lifts up its warning voice to men of every generation, lest, with the accumulated light which blazes around them, they also reject God, speaking by His Son. There is peril, fearful peril, in the habitual neglect of this Gospel. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost?" --Rev. William Patton, D.D.