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,
"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
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
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
*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
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
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 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).
SIGNS OF THE SCRIPTURES
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
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
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
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.