Is the Foretold End of the World Near?
THE Detroit Free Press Magazine of February 6, 1994, noted: “Apocalyptic dreams became an obsession with the dawn of the nuclear age. After the incineration of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, it was obvious to everyone: Now the world really could end!”
Last December, Charles B. Strozier, a New York psychoanalyst and professor of history, said: “We no longer need poets to tell us it could all end with a bang, or a whimper, or in the agony of AIDS.” In fact, he added: “It now takes an active imagination not to think about human endings.”
Since Jesus Christ taught that the world would end, can we determine from his teachings whether the end is really near?
Jesus’ disciples asked him for a “sign” to identify when this world, or system of things, would end. “When will these things be,” they inquired, “and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) You can check “the sign” Jesus gave in answer to this question. It is recorded in the Bible in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21. Some of the major events making up that sign are as follows:
GREAT WARS: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7) We have certainly seen this part of the sign fulfilled. “The First World War [beginning in 1914] was the first ‘total’ war,” noted one historian. Yet, World War II was many times worse, claiming some 50 million victims. And war continues to ravage the earth.
FOOD SHORTAGES: “There will be food shortages.” (Matthew 24:7) World War I was followed by terrible famine, and since then famine has continued to run rampant in many parts of the earth. Even in wealthier nations, hunger and malnutrition are widespread.
GREAT EARTHQUAKES: “There will be great earthquakes.” (Luke 21:11) Consider only a few major ones: 1920, China, 200,000 killed; 1923, Japan, 143,000 lives lost; 1970, Peru, 66,800 killed; and 1976, China, 240,000 (some say 800,000) casualties. A specialist in earthquake-proof engineering called the 1976 China quake “the greatest earthquake disaster in the history of mankind.”
DISEASE: “In one place after another pestilences.” (Luke 21:11) Right after World War I, some 21 million people died of the Spanish flu. Science Digest reported: “In all history there had been no sterner, swifter visitation of death.” Since then, heart disease, cancer, AIDS, and many other maladies have killed hundreds of millions.
CRIME: “Increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) In many lands crime is out of control. Murder, robbery, rape, terrorism, corruption— daily we hear about such crimes or we experience them ourselves.
Other Bible prophecies also foretold conditions that would exist in the last days. For example, in the book of Revelation, there is the vision of the ride of four horsemen. (Revelation 6:1-8) The first horseman pictures Jesus himself as conquering King. The other riders with their steeds picture happenings on earth that mark the beginning of Jesus’ reign: war, famine, and untimely death through various means.
Still other Bible prophecies describe attitudes and situations that would be prevalent during “the final age of this world.” Consider what an apostle of Jesus wrote. When you read this prophecy, ask yourself: Does this not describe exactly the troubled times of today?
“The final age of this world,” the apostle wrote, “is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self; they will be arrogant, boastful, and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affection; they will be implacable in their hatreds, scandal-mongers, intemperate and fierce, strangers to all goodness, traitors, adventurers, swollen with self-importance. They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God, men who preserve the outward form of religion, but are a standing denial of its reality.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5, The New English Bible.
Another important prophecy regarding the world’s end is the one that promises that God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) Humans in previous generations never had the technological capacity to ruin the earth, but they do now. And today new technologies are playing a major part in polluting the environment. In November 1992, newspapers carried headlines like this: “Top Scientists Warn of Earth’s Destruction.”
Recognize True Prophecy
There can be no question about it. All the things that the Bible foretold would happen during “the final age,” or “the conclusion of the system of things,” are occurring right now. We are seeing true prophecy in the course of fulfillment, and it is vital that we give heed to it. Jesus showed this in describing the situation in the days of Noah, “a preacher of righteousness,” shortly before the world of that time ended.—2 Peter 2:5.
Jesus explained: “As they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (Matthew 24:38, 39) When true prophecy is ignored, the consequences are disastrous.
Perhaps you say, ‘Yes, I believe these Bible prophecies; the end will come someday, but it’s quite some time off.’ Yet, are you sure? Should you not heed the warning now?
Warnings That Should Be Heeded
Obviously, some warnings are without basis, and it would be foolish to heed them. But others are not. Just because many, including prominent members of a community, belittle a warning, that is no reason to ignore it. Consider an example.
It was March 1902, and on the beautiful Caribbean island of Martinique, volcanic Mount Pelée became active. By April, smoke, ash, and bits of rock belched forth along with acrid fumes. The citizens of St. Pierre, located about five miles [8 km] away, became apprehensive. “The city is covered with ashes,” one resident wrote. “Many of the people are obliged to wear wet handkerchiefs to protect themselves from the strong fumes.”
Early in May the volcanic activity increased. The local newspaper said: “The rain of ashes never ceases . . . The passing of carriages is no longer heard in the streets. The wheels are muffled.” The heat was suffocating.
Then, on May 5, the volcano sent forth a flow of scalding material that killed dozens of people in its path. But what did city leaders say?
The sugarcane harvest was approaching, and businessmen assured the people that there was no great danger. The politicians too, concerned with the upcoming election on May 10, did not want the people to flee. So they also tried to squelch the people’s fears. Moreover, the clergy cooperated with the business and political groups and persuaded their parishioners not to leave.
Then it happened. On May 8, shortly before 8:00 a.m., Mount Pelée exploded with a stupendous roar. Gigantic, superheated black clouds raced with unbelievable speed down toward St. Pierre. The hot gas quickly extinguished thousands of lives. Practically everyone in St. Pierre died—some 30,000 or more persons. The lone person to survive was a young prisoner in a dungeon at the bottom of the prison.
The Situation Today
Similarly today, there are many who belittle the evidence that Bible prophecies are in the course of fulfillment. They refuse to heed evidence that should be convincing to any reasonable person that the end of this system is near. Yet, the Bible even foretold their attitude, saying: “In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’”—2 Peter 3:3, 4.
But today’s ridiculers are mistaken. The fact is, things have changed. Bible prophecies are being fulfilled. The evidence that the end is near is overwhelming.
Wisely, you should not put off lifesaving action. But what do you need to do?
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U.S. National Archives photo
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WHO photo by W. Cutting