He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16: 2, 3.)
In other words, in the Savior’s mind it should have been as easy to discern the signs of the times as it was to predict the weather. Since predicting the weather has been a popular pastime of the human race since Adam, and continues to preoccupy us even today, the Savior’s recrimination is particularly stinging.
Implied in the Savior’s response was the accusation that the very sign of the times they asked for had already been given; it stood before them in his own person, since he was the promised Messiah they awaited. In effect, he was saying that the answer was as plain as the nose on their face.
Meteorology has come a very long way since the Savior uttered those words approximately 2,000 years ago. We have dramatically improved our ability to prognosticate the weather, thanks to remarkable technological advances. Yet, sadly, the confusion and controversy that seems to abound among modern Christians, and Saints in particular, regarding the signs of our times, betrays a woeful ignorance that may equal that of the contemptible Pharisees and Sadducees.
The implication of the Savior’s reply for us is that we should be able to foresee his second coming as easily as one predicts the weather—that the answer is as plain as the nose on our face.
Yet, the Saints seem to struggle with this issue. More lamentable is the fact that most Saints seem to have adopted popular views on the interpretation of prophecy held by most Christians—like those of Hal Lindsay, for example—which are most surely misguided because they lack the inspiration of latter-day prophets from Joseph Smith to the present.
When Latter-day Saints ponder the clues to the Savior’s second advent, they would do well to note that we should be more discerning of his coming than the Jews were, else we risk making a fatal error similar to theirs. We should look to the words of modern prophets for guidance in this matter, not to contemporary Christianity.
Joseph Smith gave us the clue needed to answer the question, but we have systematically ignored it because it seemed extravagant in that it flew in the face of accepted scientific dogma. During a sermon given by the Prophet in the General Conference “convened on the floor of the (Nauvoo) Temple” of April 6th, 1843, he read from Revelation and Hosea, prophecies of the last days. He then said, “The coming of the Son of Man never will be—never can be—till the judgments spoken of for this hour are poured out.” (History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 336.) That makes clear the subject of this sermon: the second coming; it also sets forth the order of events: first the judgments or natural disasters, then the Savior appears—the same order noted in the Book of Mormon for his coming to the Nephites, which may turn out to be a prophetic model for events yet to occur in our time.
Joseph went on to quote Paul, “Ye are the children of the light, and not of the darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief in the night,” meaning that the Saints should be far more aware of and prepared for the Savior’s coming than the rest of the world. Put in the Savior’s terms, we Saints should be able to discern the signs of the times as readily as we can predict the weather.
The Prophet then went on to explain himself more precisely in an unequivocal statement as to what the signs of the second coming will be so there might be no room for confusion on the part of the Saints.
It is not the design of the Almighty to come upon the earth and crush it and grind it to powder, but he will reveal it to His servants the prophets.
Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple, &c.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make His appearance. There will be wars and rumors of wars, signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, the sun turned into darkness and the moon to blood, earthquakes in divers places, the seas heaving beyond their bounds; then will appear one grand sign of the Son of Man in heaven. But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, &c. But the Son of Man will come as the sign of the coming of the Son of Man, which will be as the light of the morning cometh out of the east. (History of the Church, Vol. 5, pp. 336-7; italics added.)
This statement is highly informative as to what we might expect to see occur prior to the second coming. Most of it is self-explanatory. However, part of it deserves further commentary.
Joseph’s reference to the “grand sign” as a planet or comet is often misconstrued to mean that the sign is not a comet or a planet. However, a careful reading of the text says otherwise. Indeed, the Prophet meant that the world’s assessment would be a correct one, that the sign would, indeed, be “a comet, a planet,” but that the Saints should see it as a “grand sign”—perhaps the same sign referred to in a revelation from the Lord that says, “And immediately there shall appear a great sign in heaven, and all people shall see it together.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:93.) Joseph’s addendum that the sign would come out of the east “as the light of the morning” reinforces the idea that it will be all three: a planet that looks and behaves as a comet, yet is also a sign from the Creator.
Connected to both the Savior’s statement and that of Joseph Smith is one made by Elder LeGrand Richards in a 1951 General Conference address on the subject of the last days. “The newspapers might announce some great phenomenon in the heavens, misplacement of planets, that have caused consternation, and scientists will have their explanation to make of it, and unless they have faith in the living God, unless as Jesus said, they can read the signs of the time, they may not know anything about what is (actually) going on in the world.” (Conference Report, April, 1951, pp. 40-1; italics added.)
This statement puts a lock on it. Elder Richards specifically refers to the Savior’s statement and alludes to that made by Joseph Smith on the subject of the grand sign, then brings them together in a modern context. Though such pronouncements are admittedly rare, the latter-day prophets are on the record with unmistakably lucid statements as to what the signs of the last days, prior to the second coming, will be. It appears, from the above statements, that a planet-sized body that will look and behave like a comet will threaten us—that is, it will be brilliant, have a great tail and move on an elliptical path that will bring it dangerously close.
These declarations are particularly noteworthy given the recent scientific revelations that cometary impacts, such as that which destroyed the dinosaurs, can cause all the natural disasters listed by Joseph Smith—who directly connects them, and accurately so, to the appearance of the comet/planet/sign—earthquakes all over the world at once (“earthquakes in divers places”), a dust or soot filled atmosphere causing darkness nearly worldwide (“the sun turned into darkness”), tsunamis of epic proportions that will inundate and destroy thousands of miles of coastlines where there are large population concentrations (“the seas heaving beyond their bounds”), a spectacularly illuminated moon (“the moon to blood”) and numerous other catastrophic manifestations in the heavens and here on the earth (“signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”). We can surmise that the effects exerted by a planet passing close by the Earth would be even more pronounced than those of a mere comet. Of course, the distance and size of the body would be the determining factors.
Once again, the inspiration and vision of latter-day prophets of God have anticipated scientific discoveries while revealing remarkable truth. Latter-day Saints should no longer be in doubt about this subject nor should they fall victim to the misleading interpretations of prophecy offered by our Christian cousins. We have our own, inspired view, given by revelation, which should allow us to predict the events of the second coming with considerable accuracy—as easily as we predict the weather.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2002