Is “the End of the World” Near?
“ARE You Ready for the End of the World?” asked the Toronto Star. That question would make some persons think of reports such as this one:
“Sydney, Australia—Out in the Australian bush, a group of 100 city dwellers who have fled their homes and forsaken the luxuries of present-day life are preparing for what they believe to be the imminent ‘end of the world.’”
2 Yet many persons today worry that “the end” could well result from nuclear war, pollution or other real dangers. For example:
“Science writer Isaac Asimov has counted some 20 ways in which life could become extinct on earth, ranging from the sun dying to famine.”—Toronto Star.
3 We have, though, a more serious reason for concern based on the reliable Word of God. Many have read in the Bible about “the end of the world.” (Matthew 13:39, 40; 24:3, Authorized Version, New American Bible) Knowing that whatever God promises will occur, we should want to see what the Bible says about this and how it can affect our lives now and in the future.
AN END—OF WHAT, AND WHEN?
4 The Scriptures assure us that God will annihilate those who promote evil and suffering. (Psalm 37:28; 145:20) Both Jesus Christ and the apostle Peter compared this coming execution of judgment to the selective destruction of people that God brought to pass in Noah’s time. The earth itself was not destroyed. But the wicked were executed by a global flood. God preserved Noah and his family; they formed a righteous earthly society on a cleansed globe. After referring to that, Peter was inspired by God to foretell the coming of “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” That will be followed by a “new heavens and a new earth” in which “righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Peter 3:5-7, 13; Ecclesiastes 1:4; Isaiah 45:18.
5 Naturally, we want to know when that destructive end of the present system of things will come. Jesus said that only the Father knows “that day and hour.” (Matthew 24:36) But does that leave us completely in the dark? No, for God kindly put in his Word information so that his worshipers could know when the time was close.—Compare Amos 3:7.
6 The Bible gives us reason for confidence in God’s ability to forecast future developments. For example, in Daniel 9:24-27 he recorded a prophecy to indicate when the Messiah, or Christ, would arrive. First-century physician Luke relates that in 29 C.E. the Jews, knowing of Daniel’s prophecy, were awaiting the Messiah. (Luke 3:1, 2, 15) Jewish scholar Abba Hillel Silver agrees, writing: “The Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the first century C.E.” Jesus was baptized and became the Christ in 29 C.E., the very year indicated by Daniel’s prophecy.
7 The same prophecy in Daniel foretold that after the Messiah’s death, ‘the city and the holy place would be brought to ruin.’ Yes, God told in advance that Jerusalem and its holy temple were to be destroyed, ending the existing Jewish system of things.—Daniel 9:26.
8 Shortly before his death in 33 C.E., Jesus elaborated on this. He said that God was abandoning Jerusalem and her temple. Also, he said that he was going away, to return later. (Matthew 23:37–24:2) But his disciples asked:
“Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things [or, ‘end of the world’]?”—Matthew 24:3.
9 His answer would have life-or-death importance to first-century Christians. It is just as important for us, because, as we will see, Jesus’ reply had meaning beyond what the apostles asked about or could understand.—John 16:4, 12, 13.
10 Jesus referred to Daniel’s prophecy. (Matthew 24:15) That had not pinpointed the year for Jerusalem’s desolation, and neither would Jesus. But he described events to form a “sign” that the Jewish system was in its last days. You can read his words in Matthew 24:4-21 and Luke 21:10-24. He foretold false Messiahs (Christs), wars, food shortages, earthquakes, pestilences, persecution of Christians and an extensive preaching campaign. History bears out that those things occurred within the generation that survived until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
FALSE CHRISTS: Josephus, a first-century historian, mentions three professed Messiahs
WARS: There were Parthian wars in southwest Asia; revolts in Gaul and Spain; uprisings of Jews in parts of the Empire; Syrian and Samaritan uprisings against the Jews
FAMINE: Famines occurred in Rome, Greece and Judea, one of which is reported on in Acts 11:28
EARTHQUAKES: These happened on Crete, in Smyrna, Hierapolis, Colossae, Chios, Miletus, Samos, Rome and Judea
11 Because Christians trusted Jesus’ prophecy they could take lifesaving action. Christ had warned: ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, flee.’ (Luke 21:20-24) As foretold, the Romans under General Gallus encircled Jerusalem in October of 66 C.E. How could Christians flee? Unexpectedly the armies withdrew. Christians, acting on Jesus’ warning, fled the city. In 70 C.E., the Romans under General Titus returned. They desolated the city, killing over a million Jews. If you visit Rome, you can see a memorial of this carved on the Arch of Titus.
12 What occurred during the last days of the Jewish system proves the absolute reliability of the “sign” Jesus gave. This is important to us because Jesus’ prophecy about “the conclusion of the system of things” has even greater meaning today.
ANOTHER FULFILLMENT OF JESUS’ PROPHECY
13 What Jesus foretold about false Christs, wars, famines and earthquakes, and persecution of Christians, found fulfillment before 70 C.E. However, he predicted additional things that clearly were to come at a later time. He said that “all the tribes of the earth” would be forced to recognize his presence in heavenly glory. (Matthew 24:30) Also, he foretold that peoples would be separated as “sheep from the goats,” and the sheeplike persons would enter into everlasting life. (Matthew 25:32, 46) Those things did not occur before or in 70 C.E.
14 Over 25 years after Jerusalem’s fall, God moved the apostle John to write in Revelation about future events. In the sixth chapter, John foresaw “horsemen” who would bring disastrous things to the earth. You will see in reading Revelation 6:3-8 that John foretold (1) warfare, (2) “food shortage” and (3) “deadly plague.” These are some of the very things Jesus had predicted in the “sign.” Thus we have added proof that there was to be a second or larger fulfillment of what Jesus had foretold. Professor A. T. Robertson says on this:
“It is sufficient for our purpose to think of Jesus as using the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem which did happen in that generation in A.D. 70, as also a symbol of his own second coming and of the end of the world or consummation of the age.”—Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1, page 188.
15 ‘But,’ some say, ‘there have always been wars, famines and pestilences. So how does one recognize the second fulfillment of the “sign”?’
16 Obviously, it would have to be something outstanding, different from a local war, an isolated pestilence or a single earthquake. Note that Revelation 6:4 says that the warfare would “take peace away [not from one nation or region, but] from the earth.” In addition, Jesus showed that it would be a composite sign. So, along with widespread war, there would be noteworthy famines, earthquakes and plagues, to name a few. These would all come upon one generation. (Matthew 24:32-34) Appreciating this, and looking over human history, many persons discern clearly that the ‘sign of the conclusion of the system of things’ has now appeared.
THE “SIGN” IN OUR TIME
17 Revelation 6:4 indicated that there would be earth-wide war. Has there been? Yes, beginning with the war of 1914-1918. Columnist Sydney J. Harris writes that ‘World War I involved countries comprising more than 90 percent of the world’s population.’ According to the Encyclopedia Americana, over 8,000,000 soldiers were killed in World War I and more than 12,000,000 civilians died by massacre, starvation or exposure.
18 Some try to dismiss this by saying that previously men just did not have the transportation and technology for world war. But that emphasizes the uniqueness of World War I.
“As time has passed since the days of August, 1914, it has become increasingly clear that the outbreak of the First World War meant the end of an age.”—The Norton History of Modern Europe.
“World War I—simply The Great War to its survivors—remains the watershed of modern history in men’s minds. . . . There is a kind of truth in the unconscious belief most people hold that Modern times began with World War I. It was the time when we lost our innocence.”—Montreal Gazette.
“Nineteen-eighteen did not usher in the millennium, it ushered in a half century of conflict—turbulence, war, revolution, desolation, and ruin on a scale never before seen or even imagined.”—Professor H. S. Commager.
19 Yes, ‘war was ushered in on a scale never imagined,’ just as the Bible had indicated. Soon there was a second world war costing between “35,000,000 and 60,000,000” lives.
“World War II spread death and devastation throughout most of the world to an extent never before experienced. . . . an attempt to express the value of property and livelihoods destroyed in terms of money is futile: the resulting sums reach astronomical figures.”—Encyclopedia Americana.
And you know that aside from the many wars since 1945, we now have the threat of nuclear war.
20 Unprecedented disease is another evidence that the major fulfillment of the “sign” began with World War I. (Luke 21:11) After acknowledging that earlier plagues killed large numbers over a period of decades, the magazine Science Digest showed how vastly greater was the Spanish influenza of 1918:
“The war had killed over 21 million people in four years of dogged conflict; the influenza epidemic took approximately the same toll in about four months. In all history there had been no sterner, swifter visitation of death. . . . One doctor called it the medical catastrophe of all time.”
“The usual world figure is 21 million dead, but it is ‘probably a gross underestimation.’ That many may well have died on the Indian subcontinent alone; the mortality there in October of 1918 was ‘without parallel in the history of disease.’”—Scientific American.
Nor have scientists halted the harvest of death by disease. When one disease seems “conquered,” another gains. Men send rockets to the moon, but they have not overcome malaria, cancer and heart disease.
21 Jesus said that “earthquakes in one place after another” would also be part of the “sign.” (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:11) There have been earthquakes throughout history. But how does the period since World War I compare? In Il Piccolo, Geo Malagoli observes:
“Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as statistics show. In fact, during a period of 1,059 years (from 856 to 1914) reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes causing 1,973,000 deaths. However, [in] recent disasters, we find that 1,600,000 persons have died in only 63 years, as a result of 43 earthquakes which occurred from 1915 to 1978. This dramatic increase further goes to emphasize another accepted fact—our generation is an unfortunate one in many ways.”
22 Persons may say that the growing world population and the size of cities account for the higher earthquake death toll since World War I. Even if this is the reason, it does not change what has happened. This is also true of famine. Despite advances in food production, such as the Green Revolution, we read news reports like these:
“At least one out of every eight people on earth is still afflicted by some form of malnutrition.”
“The UN World Food Council convened in Ottawa this fall and confirmed that 50 million people starve to death each year.”
“World food agencies estimate that more than one billion people won’t get enough to eat this year.”
23 “Increasing of lawlessness” and a decline in love were also evidences to mark “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3, 12) You probably need no statistics on crime or terrorism to convince you that this is being fulfilled today. But, in this regard, read the prophetic description of the “last days” in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. See how accurately it fits what we face now.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
24 Jesus foretold that many persons would be distressed by the fulfillment of the “sign.” “Men [will] become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” However, it would be different with his followers. Christ told them: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:26, 28) We must not ignore what is happening, nor senselessly brush it aside as coincidental. Those in Jerusalem who ignored the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in their day lost their lives. Jesus tells us: “Keep awake . . . that you may succeed in escaping.”—Luke 21:34-36.
25 Yes, it is possible to survive the end of the present wicked system of things. No human knows the exact “day and hour” of the coming end, but what has occurred on earth in our lifetime proves that it is very near. However, more is asked of us than merely ‘keeping on the watch.’ (Matthew 24:36-42) It should have an effect on our thinking and conduct. Peter writes: “Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God, as you wait for the Day of God. . . . Do your best to be pure and faultless.”—2 Peter 3:11-14, Good News Bible.
26 As part of the “sign,” Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) To have our proper share in that activity, we need to know what that “kingdom” is and why it is so vital now since the end is near. Let us now examine this.
Why should we be interested in “the end of the world”? (1-3)
According to the Bible, what is going to end? (4)
Why can we be sure the “end” will come? (5, 6)
What did Jesus predict about the Jewish system of things? And what occurred? (7-10)
How important was it to understand the “sign”? (11, 12)
Why should we look for another fulfillment of the “sign,” and how would it differ from the first fulfillment? (13-16)
How has the foretold warfare come to pass in our time? (17-19)
What fulfillment has occurred as to pestilence? (20)
What other evidence could you point to, showing that the “sign” is being fulfilled? (21-23)
What bearing does the current fulfillment of the “sign” have on your life? (24-26)
[Box on page 140]
“Predictions concerning the end of the world have been made since ancient times. . . . Today, however, there are ominous portents that will not go away; ‘people problems’ that seem insoluble even by the most astute politicians; a lunatic fringe in a nuclear world and mankind’s termite-like destruction of his irreplaceable environment.”—“The Spectator,” Ontario, Canada.
[Box on page 147]
“War has never been easy to explain and World War I is perhaps the hardest of all. Beneath the dry accounts of rivalries and alliances which historians use to explain the war, there lies a sense of something far greater, a sense of restlessness troubling the world. . . . The war was hardly over when the world began preparing for the next.”—Barry Renfrew of Associated Press.
“The events set in motion on August 4, 1914 . . . destroyed a moral-cum-political order, broke up an international balance of power, ended Europe’s role as the world’s maker of events and killed, in the proceedings, several dozen million people. . . . in 1914 the world lost a coherence which it has not managed to recapture since.”—London, “The Economist.”
[Box on page 149]
(Estimation based on 1,122 years)
Up to 1914—1,800 a year
Since 1914—25,300 a year
[Picture on page 144]
Acting on Jesus’ warning, Christians fled Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it