One of the most intriguing aspects about God is His choice to occasionally reveal to His followers what will happen in the future. He has very specific reasons for doing so: one is to give encouragement to those who are going through the trials (Daniel 12:12), and another is to exhort us to continue in His work (Matthew 25:29-30). The prophecies of the end times give an account of what will happen at the end of history on earth. They include the rapture of the church, wherein all believers are removed from the earth, the tribulation, a seven-year period of anguish as God judges the sin of humanity, and the millennial kingdom, where Christ will reign as King. The millennial kingdom begins shortly after the end of the tribulation. But the Bible also gives guidance as to the timing of the rapture and the tribulation.
The prophecies regarding the rapture do not tell us when it will happen, nor do they give us any sign to watch for. In fact, in Matthew 24:36, Jesus says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." Although signs of the coming tribulation may occur before the rapture (like the re-establishment of Israel), there is nothing that must occur before the rapture. All applicable references show the early church eagerly awaiting Christ's return (Matthew 24:33; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20-21), not eagerly awaiting the signs of Christ's return. Still, the promise of the rapture does fill God's purposes. It first exhorts believers to do the work before them (1 Peter 4:7). James said to be patient and strengthen our hearts because "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8). The prophecies also encourage us because they say believers will not suffer through the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
The prophecies regarding the tribulation are designed to both exhort (Matthew 25:1-30) and encourage (Matthew 24:22), but they also give specific signs to look for. Matthew 24:5-7 records a few: "For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places." But the section concludes with the warning that these signs are merely the "beginning of the birth pains" (Matthew 24:8). Although these are signs, we do not know exactly when the tribulation will occur. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 explains that the day of the Lord will come "like a thief in the night. … as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman."
"Wars and rumors of wars" have occurred for millennia. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes have repeatedly struck our world since long before we had the technology to record them. It is not possible to say if any particular natural disaster is a specific sign of the coming end times. There are political indications we can look for, however. The re-establishment of Israel is a powerful sign and one that few before the 1940s could not have imagined. It is a major first step in fulfilling God's promise to Abraham (Genesis 17:8) and the prophecy that in the end times, the temple will be rebuilt (Daniel 12:11). If a national leader from the West were to rise to power and take over three other countries, it could possibly be the "little horn" of Daniel 7:8 which is believed to be the antichrist. The Bible also gives spiritual signs to look for. Paul explained in 2 Timothy 3:1-9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the last days will be difficult because of the evil that people will cling to. And 1 Timothy 4:1 says, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons."
The signs of the end times are to encourage us that God has a plan and His plan is ultimately to glorify Himself. The signs will be fulfilled, and His plan will come to pass exactly as He has foreordained it for His perfect purpose and according to His good pleasure. "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please'" (Isaiah 46:10 NIV).
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