Jesus makes it crystal clear that no one knows the day or the hour of His return, including Him. However, Jesus did give us several signs to watch for so we could know when the time was near.
First of all, Jesus said many would come in His name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and lead many astray (Matthew 24:5). An alternate rendering could also be that Jesus is saying, “Many will come in my name saying I am the Christ and lead many astray.” Depending on how this is translated, Jesus is either predicting false Christs, or He is predicting that Christians will actually lead people astray. Personally, I think the first rendering is more accurate, though I am not 100% sure (maybe someone who knows the Greek could advise me on the most accurate translation). However, the second translation would certainly fit Harold Camping and the May 21st rapture crowd.
The next sign is wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). We certainly can observe this sign today. The 20th century was by far the most violent era in recorded history, with two world wars, and an atomic bomb being dropped. Things do not seem to be improving in the 21st century. The United States alone is engaged in three separate conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya). Riots have recently erupted throughout the Middle-east.
The next sign mentioned by Jesus is famines and earthquakes in various places (Matthew 24:7). I was unable to find any hard data about famines worldwide, however we all know that famines are going on in various portions of the third world. I think that famines can only grow worse now that we are using food sources such as corn to make biofuels; in other words, we are burning up our own food supply. Also, the famine could potentially increase due to genetic meddling by mega-corporations such as Monsanto. Seeds cannot be harvested to plant the next year’s crops from genetically modified hybrids, as they can be with heirloom crops. Also Monsanto patents their genetically modified seeds and they are gaining more and more control over the world’s crops. If we keep allowing Monsanto to move in this direction, only those able to buy their seeds will be able to grow crops at all. This would certainly make famines in poverty stricken companies even worse. I know this sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, but I encourage you to study the subject for yourselves.
As for earthquakes, according to the USGS there are about 20,000 earthquakes per year. It seems, based on media reports, that large devastating earthquakes are on the rise, but in reality the number has remained relatively constant since earthquakes began to be measured around 1900. I have heard many sermons, and reviewed end time prophecy books and websites that claim earthquakes are on the rise, although this does not seem to be the reality. However, Jesus’s prediction was not that the frequency of earthquakes would increase. He predicted there would be earthquakes in various places. The statistics clearly show there are earthquakes occurring in various places.
USGS statistics can be found here:
These signs are described by Jesus as “the beginning of the birth pains.” These signs are all occurring today, but these are not all the signs that Jesus gives as signals that His coming is close at hand.