When Jesus was ministering on the earth, the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees frequently demanded that He show them a sign. They went so far as to ask, "What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?"
The narrative in John follows immediately on the heels of Jesus feeding thousands of people by multiplying five barley loaves and two fish. Matthew records this audacious demand after multiple miracles of healing and yet another miracle of feeding. Jesus was clearly exasperated that the supposed religious leaders could discern signs of weather and yet could not discern the signs of the times (Matthew 16:1-4).
What is the value of a sign that will not be seen or believed? Willful disbelief in the signs and wonders of God demonstrates a rejection of Him as God (Romans 1:18-20).
God has frequently utilized signs of nature to confirm His calling and His will, to warn, and to judge individuals and nations. Sometimes God's sovereignty over nature is manifest by His suppression of outcomes that would be entirely natural.
Taken as a whole, some of these signs might have naturalistic explanations. The world still experiences pestilence and locust infestations, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes and tsunamis, and droughts and fires. These and other natural disasters are inherent to the post-Fall curse placed upon the world, but often, they result from a specific judgment of God.
When King David sinned against God by commanding a census to ascertain the strength of his army, the LORD sent Gad to call him out. Gad relayed a heartbreaking message: David could choose one of three punishments for his faithlessness — a seven-year famine, a three-month onslaught by a foreign enemy, or a three-day outbreak of pestilence (or disease). David was in "great distress" over such a choice and yielded to the mercy of God. But he never doubted that God had the power and the right to inflict any of those judgments upon him and upon Israel (2 Samuel 24:1-14).
David's realization is at the heart of any understanding of the signs of nature. Nature is not an autonomous mechanism; in the words of Thomas Jefferson, it is subject to Nature's God.
Again, sometimes God works through natural processes to fulfill His will. But often, even those natural processes demonstrate a miracle of timing — and convey the almighty power of God.
Signs Of the Messiah
Clearly, the God of nature has authority over His creation. Through His prophets, He pronounced signs that would demonstrate His power and provision for His people. He also offered signs that would point to the ultimate demonstration of His mercy and grace: the Advent of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus also demonstrated His authority over nature. In Peter's first sermon, he affirmed that the divine nature of Jesus the Nazarene was "attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him" (Acts 2:22).
Clearly, Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament. He was the Word made flesh. Even at His crucifixion, God was offering signs of His divinity and role as Messiah: the earth shook and rocks were split, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, darkness fell over the earth for three hours as the sun hid its face, and many dead saints were raised and appeared to many (Matthew 27:51-53 and Luke 23:44-45).
Witnessing all this, the grizzled centurion that supervised His execution praised God and exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54 and Luke 23:47).
Signs Of Things to Come
Over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus' First Advent and earthly ministry — with 109 of them being unique. Many of those can be categorized as signs of nature.
More than 500 references in the Old Testament point to Jesus' glorious Second Coming. Jesus and the New Testament authors provide additional signs for us to discern in order to recognize the season of His return. Those that relate to signs of nature include:
- Famines and earthquakes (Matthew 24:7)
- Great earthquakes, plagues, famines, and terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11)
- Signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Luke 21:25)
- Roaring of the sea and the waves (Luke 21:25)
- Men will faint from fear when the powers of the heavens are shaken — thought by some to point to fear inspired by the threat of nuclear war (Luke 21:26)
Even after the Church is taken out of the world (raptured), natural signs will continue and multiply. Those left behind will experience:
- Darkness as the sun and moon do not give light and stars fall from the sky (Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-13)
- War-induced famine will lead to the death of 1/4 of the world's population (Revelation 6:1-8)
- A great earthquake will move every mountain and island (Revelation 6:12-14)
- Hail and fire will fall upon the earth and burn up 1/3 of the trees and green grass (Revelation 8:7)
- Something "like a great mountain" will fall into the sea, corrupting 1/3 of the water and killing 1/3 of the sea creatures (Revelation 8:8-9)
- Another "great star" will fall from the sky and poison 1/3 of the fresh water on the earth (Revelation 8:10-11)
- People who accept the Mark of the Beast will be inflicted with loathsome and malignant sores (Revelation 16:2)
- The sun will then flare and scorch mankind (Revelation 16:8)
This is by no means a complete list but merely representative of the signs of nature that await a rebellious world. Amazingly, those who are condemned to endure such punishment will recognize the Source of their suffering. The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man will seek refuge among the rocks of the mountains and say, "fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:15-16).
As John foresees the outpouring of six bowls of wrath, he records that men will "blaspheme the name of God who has the power over these plaques" (Revelation 16:9). Tragically, he foretells that "they [will] not repent so as to give Him glory" — and be saved.
Show Discernment and Take Warning
In the end, that is the lesson of the signs of nature. God is the God of nature and has power over all of His creation. He rightfully uses natural and supernatural mechanisms to accomplish His will.
By His Word, Signs of Nature are multiplying before our eyes. Just as the wise men were able to recognize and follow the Star of Bethlehem that heralded His birth, those who have studied His Word and are anticipating Him will discern the season of His return. Others will merely scoff and go about their lives. Like the people who mocked Noah's preaching, they will be swept away when pronouncements of warning transition to an outpouring of wrath.
Do not delay! Take refuge in the Savior Who will rescue those who belong to Him before the coming storm — Jesus Christ, God's only Way, Truth, and Life.