Discerning The Times We Are Living In (Matthew 16:1-4)
We are living in one of the most strategic times in the course of human history. The Bible has much to say about the times of the end. We are living closer to the end of the age than any other generation before us. In fact, the last days or end times is one of the most discussed subjects in Scripture. The Bible speaks more about that period of time than any other period in human history.
If the Bible places so much emphasis on the last days and possibly our generation, we as God’s people need to ask ourselves some very important questions concerning this:
- How should we then live?
- What should our focus & priorities be at this time?
- How should we direct our energy and resources?
- Are we properly discerning the importance of our day and hour?
Unless we truly understand that we have been placed on the earth for a time such as this and for His purposes, we will struggle to fully engage in the Kingdom life. It is vitally important that you see yourself as a strategic role player in what God wants to do. To discern the importance of our role and of the hour we are living in is imperative if we are to fulfill our redemptive calling and reach a lost world. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus criticized the religious leaders for their inability to discern God’s actions and timing in their generation. Let’s take a closer look at Matthew 16:1-4.
Background concerning the Pharisees and Sadducees
The Pharisees & Sadducees mentioned in verse 1 did not get along at all. They held contradicting doctrinal extremes and the mere fact that they came together for a unified purpose is actually an exception to the rule. Here are the main doctrinal differences that divided them:
- Sadducees: They denied and did not believe in spirits, angels and they also denied the afterlife.
- Pharisees: They believed in spirits, angels as well as the afterlife.
Although they were at odds with each other, they came together against Jesus. They tracked him from Decapolis (East side of Galilee) to Magdala (West side of Galilee).
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus in order to tempt (test) Him to show them a sign from heaven. They wanted to see Jesus attempt to perform a miracle. This would then strengthen their case against Jesus, proving that He is not who He claimed to be.
Their hearts were hard and they expected Him to fail in giving them a sign from heaven. They had made up their minds not to believe. If you give someone a test your goal is not to learn anything from the person or situation, and this was their attitude. They did not want to learn anything from Jesus neither did they want to see the truth. Even though Jesus had already performed hundreds of amazing miracles such as multiplying the bread and fish to feed the multitude, open blind eyes, healed the lame and drove out many demons from people, their hearts remained untouched by this and they did not consider these signs as authoritative enough.
Maybe they wanted Jesus to perform a sign like:
- Samuel who caused it to thunder and rain (1 Samuel 12:16-18)
- Moses who had the manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4, John 6:31)
- Elijah who called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-12)
The point is this, they did not really want to see a miracle whatsoever, they simply wanted to discredit Jesus and gather evidence against Him. Because of the hardness of their hearts and their unbelief, the Pharisees & Sadducees were unable to properly discern the times they were living in. Because they refused to look at Jesus, they were unable to look at anything else in the right way. They were spiritually blind. They failed to recognize and discern the purposes of God because their hearts were far from God. They embraced a form of religion and pronounced it with their lips, but their hearts and focus were in the wrong place.
The world is filled with examples of spiritually blind people. There are 2 types of spiritually blind people. Firstly, there are those that will always remain blind and they will never be able to see spiritually because they will never make the decision to accept the gift of spiritual life from Jesus. Secondly, there are those who are blind, but their blindness is not permanent. Their spiritual blindness will be cured because they choose Christ.
Jesus’ response to their request for a miracle
Jesus responded to their request (verse 2-4) for a sign by exposing the actual problem, namely their unbelief and inability to discern the times. God had already given the signs, but they did not see it. Their spiritual discernment was erroneous and non-existent because their hearts were hard.
2 But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?
What does it mean to discern?
The Greek word for the word discern (Diakrino - Dee-ak-ree’-no) means to “separate thoroughly” and to “make a distinction” between things. Simply put, it implies that you recognize and distinguish between right and wrong, telling the difference and discerning between things, what is important and what is not important.
The Pharisees and Sadducees could not discern the “spiritual weather” of their time. They failed to separate thoroughly all the activities of their day and did not recognize that the Messiah was standing in their midst. They could not distinguish between everyday activities and that which was truly important and that demanded their full attention, namely Jesus. The whole of the Hebrew Scriptures pointed towards Jesus, yet they missed the time of their visitation because their focus was in the wrong place. Because they did not believe, they could not see.
We are all familiar with the saying, “seeing is believing.” Well, when it comes to the Kingdom of God it works the other way around, “we see because we believe.” Faith causes our spiritual eyes to see that which is important, to discern the purposes of God in our generation. As His people, we need to look at God’s signs and adjust our lives accordingly, without rejecting His signs and wanting God to come up with the signs we want to see before we believe. The Pharisees rejected God’s signs of the dead being raised, sick healed, blind seeing, etc., but instead they wanted to choose the sign and none was given them except the sign of Jonah.
Today there are many people who simply refuse to believe, they want proof that God is who He says He is but ironically, even if God reveals Himself to some of them, they would still choose not to believe.
The “signs of the times” and the seasons of God
In verse 4 Jesus speaks about those who “cannot discern the signs of the times” (verse 4).
“Signs” refer to the spiritual indications that God provided for them. The word for “times” that Jesus uses is not “chronos” which refers to minutes and hours and days and weeks. He uses the word “cairos” in Greek, referring to occasion, opportunities, eras, seasons, periods, movements. In Hebrew it is called the “Moadei Adonai”, the appointed moments of God. The Pharisees and Sadducees were unable to recognize God’s spiritual indications, His signs that they were in the season and era where the Messiah had come on the scene.
When you study the Bible you will discover that God has appointed certain seasons or times in which He fulfills certain aspects of His purposes here on earth. For every purpose under the heavens has its hour, and you and I can either partake with God in what He is doing and is about to do on the earth, or we can become an obstacle in bringing to fulfillment that which He has ordained. The end-time or end of the age is a very definite and appointed season. What is it that God wants to do in our generation? Are we seeing what God wants us to see? Are we busy with those things that God values highly or are we out of sync with what the Holy Spirit is busy doing? One of the greatest characteristics of God’s people in the last days will be their ability to properly discern the ways of God.
Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, we need to follow the example of the Biblical prophets, we need to be aware of the times we are living in.
Like the prophets, we need to be conscious of the following:
1. We need to be conscious of history, looking at the past to recollect what God has done in order to remind us of His faithfulness and ability. Aware
2. We need to be conscious of the now, times we are living in just like the sons of Issachar was.
1 Chronicles 12:32 "from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command;”
The sons of Issachar were a group of wise men who were able to look and understand beyond their circumstances. They sided with David, knowing that God's mantle of governance now rested on David and no longer on Saul. David’s character and passion demanded that he surround himself with men that would help him in the most effective way possible and that way, without a doubt, counsel came from the wisdom of God. The sons of Issachar lived in-between season of leadership in Israel, during a time of transition.
The world is in a major transition at this moment and we need to know where to establish our allegiance. Issachar means "he will bring a reward". God’s reward is always present with those who discern His ways.
3. We need to be conscious of the times to come. The prophets in the Bible saw how God was going to deal with various issues. In a similar way we need to be focused on His ways, living a disciplined lifestyle in the Lord, knowing that the future is in His hands.
The “sign of Jonah”
Jesus used Jonah's experience in the belly of the great fish as a typological metaphor for His future crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. God commanded the prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the people that He was going to destroy it because of its great wickedness. Jonah tried to run from his purpose in life. He took a boat and was headed for the city of Tarshish. The Lord sent a storm and the crew of the boat that Jonah was on threw him overboard. He was then swallowed by a great fish and he remained “three days and three nights” in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:15–17). After three days the Lord caused the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land (Jonah 2:10). He then went on to preach to the people of Nineveh and they repented after hearing Jonah’s message.
Jesus was referring to this event when He spoke of the sign of Jonah. Jesus said that the only sign the Pharisees and Sadducees would still get was the sign of the prophet Jonah. As Jonah was 3 days confined in the belly of the fish, so Jesus will be 3 days in the heart of the earth after which He would come forth back to life. His final sign to them would be His death and resurrection three days later. This would be their final opportunity to be convinced.
In Matthew 12 we find that Jesus tells the Pharisees that the men of Nineveh will condemn them because the Pharisees refused to believe, even after having received all the signs. Jesus parallels the Pharisees and Sadducees with the sinful people of Nineveh during Jonah's days. Nineveh repented of their evil ways (Jonah 3:4–10) after they heard Jonah's message. The Pharisees and Sadducees received much more evidence to convince them to repent than Nineveh did because they saw the Messiah and all His miracles, yet they chose to remain in their hardened and sinful state. Remember that the people of Nineveh were not Jews, but gentiles, yet they repented.
“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).
We are living in a special time of grace
A couple of years ago the Lord spoke to me and said, “The church is in a special time of grace, do whatever you can to seek my presence.” I knew that the LORD is giving us a special time to mature in Him, to grow in our love relationship with Him and to give ourselves fully to His purposes. We cannot afford to live mediocre or lukewarm and we cannot live compromising lives as God’s people. No longer can we, as those confessing Christ, live our lives contrarily to our confession. We are not called to be mere carriers of the name “true worshippers of the Lord”, going through the motions of worship, but we are called to live the very nature corresponding to the name “true worshipper.”
The only way to mature spiritually and to remain balanced in life is to keep our eyes 100% on Jesus. We must consider Him first, above all else. Only then can we be truly spiritually alert in order to properly discern the hour we are living in. We are without a doubt in a major spiritual battle and where the battle is raging, is where the loyalty of the soldier is tested. We need to be fighting where the battle is and where we are needed. We often forget that there is a battle for the souls of man. Intimacy with the LORD is the key to overcoming.
Daniel 2:21 - "He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning."
We are called by God to discern the times correctly
Know that you belong here on earth right now and you have been placed here with a purpose. There has never been a time such as this, so seize the day, making the most of every opportunity to advance the Kingdom. We are called to live beyond ourselves for God's purposes! You can either read about end time Biblical prophecy or you can be a part of the fulfillment thereof. I want to be a game player, not just someone sitting on the sideline, being a spectator, but I want to be part of the team that partakes in all the action. In this day and hour we cannot afford to entertain sin or embrace the spirit of compromise. Compromise is spelled “DEFEAT”
Your life and my life are a part of the tapestry of God’s grand design, making it imperative that you and I seize every opportunity given to us by the Lord. To govern with Him, we need to know His will, meaning that we must spend sufficient time with Him in order to truly represent Him. We have seen some of the biggest global political, economic, social and religious changes happening in the past number of years. End time events are beginning to unfold themselves in rapid succession. Many governments, nations and people have lost their moral compass, unable to discern between the truth and the lie, not even to mention discerning the signs of the times.
Our love and devotion to the Lord must be greater than the world’s ability to draw us away from Him. He is our inheritance, our reward, and nothing this world can offer us can compare to truly knowing Him.
His presence is freely available to everyone, but He does not necessarily share His manifest presence with everyone. You have to hunger and thirst for it. The gospel is for free, but it will cost you everything you have to get it. It will cost you your life. The Lord is about to do unprecedented things in unprecedented ways, and if we do not truly know Him we might become offended by what He is about to do. We need discernment and understanding to rightly judge the coming world or age. To dwell and operate from within His presence forms part of our destiny.
The whole of creation is waiting with earnest expectation for the period when the children of God shall be manifested or made known in the glory prepared for them. Let us not grow weary in giving ourselves towards continued spiritual growth and discernment. It is God’s will that we properly discern the importance of the hour we are living in. The Body of Christ cannot function without having proper spiritual discernment. By not keeping our eyes on Jesus we run the risk of becoming just like the Pharisees and Sadducees who though they thought they were right, missed the mark by far. God bless you richly. How great is our God!