What Is the Bible’s View?
“The End of the World”—Should You Fear It?
SHORTLY before the close of his earthly ministry, certain disciples of Jesus asked him: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”—Matt. 24:3, Authorized Version.
Does “the end of the world” refer to fiery destruction of the earth and humankind? Many believe so. They feel that support for this view can be found in the apostle Peter’s words: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”—2 Pet. 3:10, AV.
Do these texts really indicate that the planet Earth will one day come to a fiery end? You will find the Bible’s view of this matter enlightening.
Regarding how long the earth will remain in existence, we read at Psalm 104:5: “He [God] has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.” (Compare Psalm 78:69; 119:90.) According to the Scriptures, the earth, with humans to inhabit it, will remain forever.—Isa. 45:18.
In view of this, what do the Scriptures mean by the end of the world? It will be helpful to consider how Bible translators of modern times have rendered this expression. Some examples are: “the end of the age” (Today’s English Version), “the close of the age” (Revised Standard Version), “the consummation of the age” (Wuest), “the conclusion of the age” (Rotherham), “the conclusion of the system of things” (New World Translation). What actually comes to an end is an “age” or “system of things” (Greek, aion, from which we get the English word “aeon”), not the literal earth and its inhabitants.
Revealing too is the fact that at Matthew 24:3 modern translators have replaced “end” with words such as “close,” “consummation” and “conclusion.” The conclusion of an era is usually no sudden event. Rather, it can extend for quite some time and merge with the beginning of a new era. Jesus stated that “the conclusion of the system of things” would be identifiable by means of a “sign” made up of many features. (Matt. 24:3) Among them would be notable wars, food shortages, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, and an “increasing of lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:7-12) Hence, according to Jesus, the end of the world is the conclusion or final part of the present era of human history. This teaching does not contradict the Scriptural assurance that the inhabited earth will remain forever.
But what about Peter’s statement that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, . . . the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up”? (2 Pet. 3:10, AV) One must understand Peter’s words in the context of the Bible as a whole. Consider, for example, how “earth” and “heavens” are used in the book of Isaiah:
“Let the earth and that which fills it listen, the productive land and all its produce. For Jehovah has indignation against all the nations, and rage against all their army. He must devote them to destruction; he must give them to the slaughter. And all those of the army of the heavens must rot away. And the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll.”—Isa. 34:1, 2, 4.
Clearly, “earth” in this passage refers, not to the planet, but to people who are able to “listen.” And did you note that a sword of execution would be drenched with blood “in the heavens”? Since the Bible states that persons of flesh and blood do not live in heaven, this term too must be a symbol of something in the human realm. (1 Cor. 15:50) In his commentary on Isaiah 34:4, Bible scholar Albert Barnes provides clarifying information: “The heavenly bodies often represent kings and princes. The sense is, that there should be great destruction; that the princes and nobles who had opposed God and his people would be destroyed.”—Compare Isaiah 14:12-14; Revelation 22:16.
When Peter wrote about the heavens and earth passing away, he meant the present system of human political rulers and their subjects. The Bible foretells that God’s kingdom “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms.” (Dan. 2:44) But the earth will survive and continue to be populated.
What will follow the present age of man rule? Peter writes: “But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) The “promise” to which the apostle refers is found at Isaiah 65:17, where we read: “For here I am creating new heavens and a new earth.” What does that mean?
Keep in mind what is said above about the Bible’s use of heavens and earth as symbols. Initially this prophecy in Isaiah dealt with the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. Upon arriving in their homeland, they became a “new earth,” or new society inhabiting the Promised Land. Ruling over them was a “new heavens,” namely, the governorship of Zerubbabel (a descendant of King David) aided by High Priest Joshua.—Hag. 1:1, 14.
However, the fact that Peter said Christians ‘are awaiting new heavens and a new earth’ points to a future fulfillment. The “new heavens” are God’s heavenly Kingdom government. Its obedient earthly subjects will constitute the “new earth.” The apostle John describes the blessings of that arrangement as follows:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth [the present earthly governments and their followers] had passed away, and the sea is no more. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’ And the One seated on the throne said: ‘Look! I am making all things new.’”—Rev. 21:1, 3-5.
The end of the world is a transitional period from the present era of wickedness and suffering into the delightful new order described by the apostle John. People alive today have seen the wars, food shortages, earthquakes, lawlessness and other features of the sign that mark the close of the present age. (Matt. 24:7-14) Rather than causing fear, the Biblical teaching about the end of the world should be a source of joy. Jesus admonished those who would see the foretold sign: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.