Signs of the Scriptures

by John H. Essex

Part 1

That signs play an important part in God's methods of revelation must be evident from the frequency of their use in the Scriptures. There are many instances of signs being asked for and granted. Moses, Gideon and Hezekiah, for example, were all men of God, who asked for signs from the Almighty and received therefrom assurances of His presence. In other instances signs were given without even ever being asked for. But this we should always bear in mind when studying "Signs of the Scriptures"—every sign, given of God, either direct or through His servants, conveys a definite message. It is never given aimlessly, and it is this fact which makes our consideration of this subject worth while.

Again, signs are never simply a means of identification; they are always far more than that. For instance, when the angel told the shepherds, "This is the sign to you; you will be finding a Babe, swaddled and lying in a manger," he was not just telling them how they should recognize the Child. Rather, he was offering confirmation, by means of a sign, of the message he had just been proclaiming, namely, that to them had been brought forth a Saviour. As we shall see presently, it was just because Jesus was the Saviour that He was laid in a manger, and not in an ordinary cradle.

The sign of the manger is one of five special signs given in connection with our Lord's visit to earth. They are:—

1. The sign of His birth.
2. The sign of His mission.
3. The sign of His death.
4. The sign of His entombment and resurrection.
5. The sign of His ascension.

As these signs are of vital importance to all, we propose to take them in order, and learn what messages they have to convey. (We shall examine the first two in this article, and deal with the remainder in two subsequent articles).

1. The Sign of His birth. This was given (in Isaiah 8:14) to Ahaz King of Judah, at a time when his kingdom was threatened by a confederacy between Syria and Ephraim. "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin* shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name, Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."

Now this prophesy was fulfilled in the very next chapter, for a child was born to a prophetess, and before the child had knowledge enough to cry, "My Father and my Mother," the riches of Damascus, capital of Syria, and the spoil of Samaria, capital of Ephraim, were taken before the king of Assyria.

We might be excused for thinking that this was to be the sole fulfillment of the sign, were it not for verses 6 and 7 of Isaiah 9, which evidently point us to something far beyond any local event in the prophet's time. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even for ever (Heb. "olam"—for the eon). The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this."

The whole matter is settled for us by Matthew 1:18-23. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was thus: His mother, Mary, being espoused to Joseph, ere their coming together was found pregnant by holy spirit. Now Joseph, her husband, being just, and not willing to hold her up to infamy intended to dismiss her covertly. Now at his brooding over these things, lo! a messenger of the Lord appeared to him in a trance, saying, " Joseph, son of David, you should not be afraid to accept Mary, your wife, for that which is being generated in her is of holy spirit. Now she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall be calling His name, JESUS, for He shall be saving His people from their sins." Now, the whole of this has occurred that that which is declared by the Lord through the prophet may be fulfilled, saying,

"Lo, a virgin will be pregnant, and will bring forth a Son,
 And they will be calling His name 'Emmanuel,'
 Which is construed, 'God with us.'"

Yes, God with us. The whole world was beset by a confederacy of sin and death, and could by no means escape from these two evils unless God came to the rescue. In all the inhabitants of the earth, there was none righteous, no not one; none able to redeem his brother. But God, by causing the Lord to be born of a virgin, and supplying the life-germ through His holy spirit, ensured that the child Himself should be holy, without spot or blemish, worthy and able to be our Deliverer. The sigh of the virgin birth gives forth the message unmistakably that God had taken a hand in directing earth's affairs; it was God Who gave His only begotten Son, not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Yes undoubtedly, God was with us.

2. The sign of His mission. This is found in Luke 2:10-12, the message to the shepherds. " Fear not [said the messenger] for lo, I am bringing you an evangel of great joy, which will be for the entire people, seeing that today was brought forth to you a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this is the sign to you: you will be finding the Babe, swaddled and lying in a manger."

As we said earlier, the manger was not merely a means of identification. A manger is a feeding trough, and what is laid therein is normally consumed by the animals that feed there. Jesus later described Himself as "The bread of life," and said of Himself that " the bread of God is He who is descending out of heaven and giving life to the world" (John 6:33,48). In John 6, 52-55, He told the Jews that unless they ate of His flesh and drank His blood, they had no life in them, and in the ceremony of the Lord's supper, he embodies the same great truths. How were they to do this? In John 6:47, He says, "Verily, verily I am saying to you, he who is believing into Me has eonian life."

The sign of the manger was primarily for the Jews, but also, we think, for all mankind, teaching that the Child laid therein was destined to be their Saviour: that He would give His body, His flesh and His blood, for the sins of the world; and that, unless they believed into Him—unless they accepted this teaching, and assimilated it into their minds and hearts in the same way as they assimilated food into their bodies, they would have no life in them. Do we not also see how necessary it is for us constantly to remind ourselves of the fact that Jesus is our Saviour; that He came that we might have life; that His flesh and His blood were likewise given for us? If so, the manger has a meaning and a message for us, too.

*Note. The Hebrew word used by Isaiah is olme, meaning damsel, and not the usual word for virgin. Matthew, in quoting the passage, was, however, moved by the spirit to use the Greek word for virgin and, undoubtedly, in the fulfillment of the prophecy in his day, it was a virgin who conceived, and bore a Son, Who was immeasurably greater than the son born of a damsel in Isaiah's time.

Signs of the Scriptures
Part 2

In our first article, we examined two of the five special signs given in connection with our Lord's visit to earth. We now propose to deal with the sign of His death and the sign of His entombment and resurrection, leaving the sign of His ascension for a concluding article on the subject.

3. The Sign of His death. This is given in John 3:14,15; and John 12:32,33. " According as Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the son of Mankind be exalted, that every one who is believing on Him should not be perishing, but have eonian life". "And I, if I be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to Myself. Now this He said, signifying [as a sign of] what death He should die."

"As Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness". This is a reference to the events recorded in Numbers 21:4-9, which read, "And they [the Israelites] journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the red Sea, to compass the land of Edom; and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God and against Moses, "Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the Wilderness? For there is no bread." And the lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and much people of Israel died.

"Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the lord and against thee; pray unto the Lord that He take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said unto Moses, "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." And Moses make a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass that, if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."

As Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Mankind be exalted. Are you aware that this is the only occasion that Jesus is compared to a serpent? Why is this?

The serpent is a symbol of sin. A serpent was the agency through which sin first entered into the world. Our Lord had to be made sin, "He who knew no sin, for sin to be destroyed once and for all time. The people in the wilderness had to look to be healed, not upon a beautiful statue, or a messenger from heaven, but on a likeness of that which had bitten them. Thus, too, we, and all who wish to enjoy the blessings of god's salvation, must recognize Jesus, not only as the Son of God (which his virgin birth indicated), but also as the counterpart of the brazen serpent, the One Who was made sin, that our sins might be taken away.

The same lesson had previously been taught by other signs. Before Israel could be delivered from Egypt, Moses staff had been turned into a serpent, which had devoured all the serpents of the Egyptians, signifying that the Righteous Branch, which God would raise (as He later promised) unto David, would become as a serpent to take away all that the serpent stands for. Similarly, Moses hand, when plunged into his bosom, became leprous, and leprosy is always associated with sin and uncleanliness. He, Who was the Hand of God, by Whom God created all things, was plunged into the world, and became unclean for our sakes, that we might become clean. Like cures like. We cannot be healed by gazing upon that which is holy and pure and clean, but upon Him Who (for three dark hours upon the cross) threw aside His holiness, to take upon Himself our sins. Naaman could not be cleansed from his leprosy by bathing in the clean waters of Damascus: he had to wash himself in the dirty waters of Jordan. The principle is always the same.

4. The sign of His entombment and resurrection. This is given in Matt. 12:39-40 (and in other places). " A wicked and adulterous generation is seeking after a sign: and a sign will not be given to it except the sign of Jonah, the prophet. For even as Jonah was in the bowel of the sea monster three days and three nights, thus will the Son of Mankind be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights".

The story of Jonah has been one of the most criticized of biblical accounts. All kinds of doubt have been cast upon its truth by people who do not wish to admit that it was a miracle. But which is the harder to believe, the deliverance of a man after three days from the body of a specially prepared sea monster, or that which the sign typified, the resurrection of one from the dead? Jonah was three days in the tomb, and then, at the mighty word of God, the earth could not hold Him.

The number three is of special significance. According to Dr. Bullinger, who made a great study of "Numbers in scriptures", it stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete and entire". The first occurrence of the number is in Gen. 1:13. The third day was the one on which the earth was caused to rise up out of the water, symbolical of Christ's rising on the third day; symbolical also of that resurrection life which we have in Him, and in which alone we can worship, or serve, or do any "good works".

The number three is very closely connected with Jesus' death and resurrection. He was crucified at the third hour; for three hours He hung on the cross, despised and rejected of men, and then, for a further three hours, He hung there, abandoned even by God. With the light at the ninth hour (three times three) came the declaration, "It is finished." "So divinely finished" says Dr. Bullinger, "that now there is no such darkness for those who have died with Christ. Light, uninterrupted light, shines upon all who are risen with Him; uninterrupted sunshine, even the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Christ died for our sins. He was raised again for our justification. His rising on the third day signifies that our justification is solid, real, substantial, complete and entire. It signifies also that this resurrection process, begun in Him, will be complete and entire in its extension to all peoples of the earth. "For as in Adam all are dying, thus, in Christ also, all shall be made alive". (1Cor. 15:22).

Part 3

We now come to the last of the five special signs given concerning our Lord's visit to earth.

5. The sign of His ascension. Matthew 24:30, reads, "And then the signs of the son of Mankind shall be appearing in heaven."

This sign is usually associated with the second coming of the Lord, for the text we have quoted comes at the end of a long list of lesser signs immediately preceding that event. Also, the full text itself reads, "And then the sign of the son of Mankind shall be appearing in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land shall be grieving, and they shall be viewing the son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory."

Undoubtedly, the sign will appear at the Lord's future coming to earth, but we submit that it has already been seen once, if not twice. Note specially, the sign is not "the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory"—that event follows the sign in the account we have just read. The sign is simply, "the Son of Mankind in heaven."

The first manifestation of the sign is described in Acts 7:55-56. Speaking of Stephen, the record reads that, "possessing the fullness of faith and holy spirit, looking intently into heaven, he perceived God's glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said "lo, I am beholding the heavens opened up, and the Son of Mankind standing at the right hand of God."

What is the meaning of this sign? In a phrase, it signified that "this is an acceptable time". Had the Jews acknowledged Stephen's testimony, the kingdom might have been set up there and then. Jesus had predicted that the sign of the Son of Mankind in heaven would appear immediately prior to His return and Stephen testified that he saw that very sign. But the Jews rejected his declaration, and stoned the one who witnessed the sign. Thus they shut the doors of Jerusalem against the King who was ready and waiting to return to His capital. Stephen was the messenger sent to the Jews after the departed Nobleman with the message of the parable, "We do not want this man to reign over us." (Cf. Luke 19:14)

But the closing to the Jews of the door of the Kingdom gave opportunity to God to open another door, revealing the most glorious prospects beyond; and, as evidence that the time for entering this doorway was at hand, a further manifestation of the risen Lord was made to the one who was God's chosen vessel to open the door.

On Saul of Tarsus, bent upon his self-imposed mission of persecuting the ecclesia of God, there shone a brilliant illumination from heaven, which changed the whole course of his life. In Acts 9, it is described simply as a "light flashing about him," but in other accounts, notably in Acts 26, it is made quite clear that Saul actually saw a person. Besides, did he not himself say, when wishing to establish the proof of his apostleship, "Have I not seen the Lord (1Cor. 9:1)?

The phrase, "the Son of Mankind" does not appear after Acts 7; Stephen is the last to use it. It was "Jesus of Nazareth" Who appeared to Saul. This is significant, for the name "Jesus" means "Jehovah-Saviour", and is specially associated with the thought of salvation. "You shall be calling His name JESUS", the messenger had told Joseph, "for He shall be saving His people from their sins." It was appropriate that the risen Lord should appear to Saul as "Jesus of Nazareth", for Saul was the greatest sinner of all (see 1 Tim. 1:15), and therefore the one most in need of a saviour.

Saul was made a pattern of those who are about to be believing on Jesus Christ (1Tim. 1:16). We acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour; we have been saved "through faith for grace (Eph. 2:8)." The Jews, who listened to Stephen's testimony, had not the faith to believe in the manifestation of a sign which they could not see for themselves; they demanded to walk by sight and not by faith. As a result of their spiritual blindness, they must now wait until the next manifestation of the "Son of Mankind in heaven," which will be made visible to all the people, for it will coincide with the events described in Matthew 24:30 and Rev.1:7. The latter passage reads, "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will be viewing Him—those, also, who stab Him—and all the tribes of the land will be grieving over Him."

We, unlike the Jews, do not look for visible signs; we have something far more valuable, the gift of faith. We have faith to believe in the glorious message given to the one who saw the risen Jesus on the Damascus road; who testified, in 2 Cor. 6:2, that "now is a most acceptable time; now is a day of salvation." We do not have to wait for some future date to enjoy the blessings of the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus, which are revealed to us in the writings of Paul, but can, through faith, enjoy them now in full measure.

And how much more excellent are these blessings than those temporarily lost to the Jews through their rejection of the witness of Stephen! Yet we rejoice that their loss is only temporary, and that the sign will appear again, in a manner impossible to ignore, for it will be visible to them all, and will reopen the door of the kingdom; the Kingdom itself will come in power and much glory, and will inaugurate a period of blessing, which will ultimately extend to the whole world, and bring to all mankind the message of salvation.

©Grace and Truth

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