The “Last Days” and the Kingdom
1. (a) What vital questions now arise? (b) What do the Scriptures say about last days [i] for our earth, [ii] for those ruining it?
ARE we now living in “the last days”? What do “the last days” mean? Happily, there will be no “last days” for the earth itself. For the Bible assures us: “The earth . . . will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.” In line with Jehovah’s original purpose, human and animal life will be perpetuated here for all time. (Psalm 104:5-24; 119:89, 90; Genesis 1:27, 28; 8:21, 22) However, there definitely are “last days” for those wicked nations and individuals that are ruining God’s earth. It is the ‘coming’ of the Kingdom that brings ruin to those ruinous ones.—2 Peter 3:3-7; James 5:1-4; Revelation 11:15-18.
2. What specifically did Paul foretell for our “terrible times”?
2 Could we now be living in those “last days”? Just take any translation of the Bible and read what the apostle Paul was inspired by God to predict for the “last days,” at Second Timothy chapter 3, verses 1 to 5. Then ask yourself, Is this what the world of mankind looks like today? Here, the apostle forecasts “terrible times,” and adds:
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”—New International Version.
3. Why must Paul have been referring to “last days” far more momentous than those of the Jewish system?
3 In writing the above, the apostle was not referring to the “last days” of the Jewish system of things. That could not have been so, for Paul penned those words about the year 65 C.E., when over 30 years of those “last days” had already run their course, and only five years remained until Jerusalem’s devastation. Nor had this apostate condition developed yet among professing Christians. Those “last days” of the Jewish system had been bad enough, but they would be far eclipsed by happenings during the “last days” of Satan’s entire world system of things, when Jesus would come again to set up his kingdom.
A TWOFOLD FULFILLMENT
4. What led up to the disciples’ asking the question at Matthew 24:3?
4 In his parables, Jesus had spoken of the “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 13:39, 40, 49) Naturally, this aroused his disciples’ interest, and especially as the common people were suffering so much, even then, from the harsh rule of Rome and of the Jewish religious leaders. They hoped that God’s kingdom would bring relief. Hence, three days before Jesus was put to death, four of his disciples approached him as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, and asked him: “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?”—Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:3, 4.
5. How would Jesus’ words in reply be fulfilled?
5 Though Jesus’ disciples were thinking only of the immediate future, Jesus’ reply on that occasion was to have a twofold application: first, during the “last days” of the Jewish system, and, much later, during the “last days” of Satan’s world system that embraces the entire inhabited earth.
6, 7. (a) How did Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:7-22 have a miniature fulfillment? (b) What grim reminder of this remains till now?
6 What Jesus said to those disciples, as recorded at Matthew 24, verses 7 to 22, described the course of events that some of them would observe in a miniature way during the next 37 years down to 70 C.E. For the Jews of Jesus’ generation, it was to be a turbulent period of wars, food shortages, earthquakes, hatred of Christians and appearances of false Messiahs. Yet “this good news of the kingdom” would be preached in all creation as a witness. Finally, that “disgusting thing,” the pagan Roman army, did indeed invade the “holy place” of Jerusalem’s temple. After a brief respite, during which Jesus’ disciples were able to obey his prophetic command by fleeing to the mountains for safety, the Romans came again under General Titus. They dashed Jerusalem and its children to the ground and demolished its temple, not leaving a stone upon a stone.—See also Luke 19:43, 44; Colossians 1:23.
7 In fulfillment of Jesus’ “sign,” this accumulation of troubles came to afflict the Jews, and was climaxed by Jerusalem’s fiery destruction in 70 C.E. More than a million Jews perished with their city, and the survivors were carried off captive. Titus’ victory arch stands in Rome to this day as a grim reminder of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. However, was Jesus’ “sign” recorded and preserved in writing as a warning only to persons living in the first century? Is it merely ‘dead history’ today? The answer must be, No!
A GLOBAL APPLICATION
8. (a) What effect should the miniature fulfillment of Jesus’ words have on us today? (b) What prophetic pattern of greater things does this provide?
8 The miniature fulfillment of Jesus’ words during the “last days” of the Jewish system of things should serve to strengthen our belief in the power of divine prophecy. However, those first-century events provide also a striking prophetic pattern of what is to take place on a far wider scale with regard to Satan’s global system of things. This must be so, for the execution of God’s judgment on Jerusalem in 70 C.E. was not the greatest tribulation up to that time, nor has it been the last. Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:21, 22 await their full-scale fulfillment:
“For then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”
9. How do we know that Jesus’ words point to a worldwide day of reckoning?
9 The continuing words of Jesus’ prophecy, at Matthew 24:23–25:46, indicate also the global scope of “the conclusion of the system of things.” When, at the climax of that period of distress, the “Son of man,” as God’s enthroned king, executes judgment on Satan’s world, “all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.” That will embrace all mankind that rejects Jesus’ kingship. It is not a judgment involving just one nation and its city, but a worldwide day of reckoning.—Matthew 24:30.
10. (a) As illustrated in Jesus’ prophecy, how will the destiny of those who ‘do their own thing’ differ from that of those ‘seeking first God’s kingdom’? (b) Why must this be on a global scale?
10 Again indicating the global extent of God’s judgment, Jesus’ prophecy goes on to compare “the conclusion of the system of things” to the period just preceding the flood of Noah’s day, saying:
“For 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.”
Even as the Flood of that time wiped out an entire world of godless people, so the fiery tribulation that climaxes Messiah’s “presence” will rid our globe of those who ignore the Kingdom in favor of ‘doing their own thing.’ Happily, many who have ‘sought first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’ will survive to inherit everlasting life in a paradise earth. Will you be one of these?—Matthew 6:33; 24:37-39; 25:31-46.
11. What other prophecies show that all nations are involved, and that there will be survivors?
11 Numerous prophecies of the Bible show that the coming “great tribulation” will affect “all the nations” on earth. (Psalm 2:2-9; Isaiah 34:1, 2; Jeremiah 25:31-33; Ezekiel 38:23; Joel 3:12-16; Micah 5:15; Habakkuk 3:1, 12, 13) But there will be survivors!—Isaiah 26:20, 21; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:31, 32.
THE KING’S PRESENCE IN HEAVENLY GLORY
12. (a) Why is a “sign” of Jesus’ presence necessary? (b) Why does he not need to appear again in a fleshly body?
12 Jesus’ great prophecy on “the sign” of his presence tells us that “when the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31) Since the brilliance of that glory would be damaging to mere human eyes, the King must remain invisible to mankind. (Compare Exodus 33:17-20; Hebrews 12:2.) That is why a ‘sign of his presence’ is needed. At Messiah’s second coming it is no longer necessary for him to give up heavenly spirit life in order to appear on earth in a fleshly body, to be used as a “sin offering.” Having provided his human sacrifice “once for all time,” he comes “the second time . . . apart from sin” as an invisible heavenly king.—Hebrews 7:26, 27; 9:27, 28; 10:8-10; 1 Peter 3:18.
13. What does Luke 19:11-27 indicate as to the time of Jesus’ return and his acceptance among the nations?
13 On his last night with his intimate disciples, Jesus had told them: “I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself.” (John 14:2, 3) In line with this, Jesus’ illustration at Luke 19:11-27 describes him as “a certain man of noble birth [who] traveled to a distant land to secure kingly power for himself and to return.” This would take considerable time. But “his citizens hated him and sent out a body of ambassadors after him, to say, ‘We do not want this man to become king over us.’” Similarly, there are persons today who claim to be Christian, but who reject “the King of kings” in favor of perpetuating their own imperfect human rulerships. (Revelation 19:16) Like the “citizens” of Jesus’ illustration, these will be severely punished.
“A BEGINNING OF PANGS OF DISTRESS”
14. Despite protests to the contrary, what favors the year 1914 C.E. as the date for Christ’s return?
14 When does this mighty King, unwanted by the nations, start his reign over our earth? All the evidence points to the year 1914 C.E. But someone will protest, saying, ‘Rather than bring in Christ’s reign of peace, that year marked the beginning of an era of trouble for mankind!’ That is precisely the point! For, according to Bible prophecy, it is when ‘the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord Jehovah and of his Christ’ that the nations of earth become “wrathful.” (Revelation 11:15, 18) It is also the time when Jehovah sends forth his associate king, saying, “Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.” (Psalm 110:1, 2) But those enemies are not instantly destroyed.
15. How, appropriately, does Revelation 12 describe the Kingdom’s birth?
15 Revelation chapter 12 describes a breathtaking vision in which the apostle John saw in symbol the birth of God’s Messianic kingdom. Like a man-child, this is brought forth from God’s “woman”—his heavenly organization of angelic creatures. It is “caught away to God and to his throne,” for the Kingdom must be dependent on Jehovah and his sovereignty for its operation.—Revelation 12:1-5.
16, 17. (a) What accounts for the woes on earth since 1914? (b) How do Jesus’ words in Matthew and Luke describe the start of these distresses?
16 Next, there is war in heaven! The enthroned King and his angels battle with Satan and his demon hordes, and hurl these out of Jehovah’s heavens down to the vicinity of our earth. Hence, it is “woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:7-12) During that comparatively “short period,” the King gathers righteously inclined humans for salvation and sounds the warning of the impending execution of judgment on Satan’s world system of things.—Matthew 24:31-41; 25:31-33.
17 Today we perceive the fulfillment of Jesus’ “sign,” as set out in detail at Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21. Note that Jesus here describes “a beginning of pangs of distress,” in these words:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.” (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; Luke 21:10, 11)
Did such “pangs of distress” come to plague mankind from 1914 C.E. onward?
18. From 1914, how did war become utterly horrible?
18 It was in the year 1914 that the Great War (later called “World War I”) got under way, and with it came pestilence and famine. Writers have found it difficult to describe the utter horror that pervaded the battlefields, as millions perished in trench warfare during the carnage of 1914-1918. In the book Eye Deep in Hell, Paul Nash is quoted as saying of the European battleground: “No pen or drawing can convey this country—the normal setting of the battles taking place day and night, month after month. Evil and the incarnate fiend alone can be master of this war, and no glimmer of God’s hand is seen anywhere. . . . The shells never cease . . . annihilating, maiming, maddening, they plunge into the grave which is this land; one huge grave, and cast upon it the poor dead. It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless.”
19. What do statistics show as to an upsurge of earthquakes since 1914?
19 Also, “earthquakes” are included as part of the “sign.” An upsurge in earthquakes since 1914? This may sound surprising. But the statistics are even more surprising! As Geo Malagoli commented in Il Piccolo: “During a period of 1,059 years (from 856 to 1914) reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes.” His figures show that during those years an average of 1,800 persons died each year in earthquakes, whereas there have been 43 major earthquakes since 1915, and these have killed an average of 25,300 persons a year.
“FROM HEAVEN GREAT SIGNS”
20, 21. (a) What “fearful sights” have become apparent since 1914, and why? (b) What fulfillment of Luke 21:25, 26 do we see today? (c) How have ‘great signs from heaven’ come increasingly to attention?
20 Jesus prophesied also: “And there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.” (Luke 21:11) In World War I, the incessant barrages of artillery shells signified something new—total warfare. For the first time, the airship and then, more importantly, the airplane opened up the era of aerial warfare. True, in 1914-1918, it was only a beginning, but it would lead to the situation that Jesus describes further on in his prophecy, saying:
“Also, there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
21 Man’s so-called conquest of space has focused attention on “sun and moon and stars,” and there are ominous pointers that the Great Powers intend to use satellites for establishing military springboards. But already they have the know-how for raining down intercontinental ballistic missiles from outer space upon any target of their choice. The present arsenal of nuclear weapons, as stockpiled by opposing nations, is enough to annihilate mankind many times over, and it is estimated that by the turn of the century some 35 nations may be equipped with such weapons of mass destruction.
22. (a) How has the literal “sea” taken on a new dimension since 1914? (b) What do knowledgeable persons warn concerning the threat to our globe?
22 The “sea,” which took on a fresh aspect with the introduction of submarine warfare in World War I, and which brought the United States into the war, is today even more foreboding. Nuclear submarines stand at the ready in the seas. No city on earth is out of range of nuclear missiles. The New York Times of August 30, 1980, quoted U.S. State Department expert Marshall D. Shulman as saying that the possibility of a nuclear war “is likely to increase rather than to diminish.” A full-page advertisement in the New York Times of March 2, 1980, sponsored by more than 600 professional men and women, stated: “Nuclear war, even a ‘limited’ one, would result in death, injury and disease on a scale that has no precedent in the history of human existence.” They added that “an all-out nuclear exchange could be complete in one hour, and could destroy most life in the northern hemisphere.” Said the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, in 1981: “I perceive the world to be more dangerous than it has ever been in its history.” But expenditure on armaments of mass destruction keeps on spiraling upward.
23. In fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, what stage in history does mankind appear to be reaching?
23 Mankind appears to be reaching the stage forecast some years ago by Nobel Prize-winner Harold C. Urey, who said: “We will eat fear, sleep fear, live in fear and die in fear.” Truly, there is “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”
24. Who knows the “way out,” and why should we pray earnestly for the ‘coming’ of the Kingdom?
24 Happily, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, who created this earth for his good purpose, does ‘know the way out,’ and he will provide that way through the kingdom of his Son. But before we examine in detail the “way out,” let us give further attention to Jesus’ prophecy, and note how remarkably his words about world war, famine and pestilence, as features of the “sign,” parallel a striking prophecy in Revelation. Remember, God’s kingdom by Messiah is the remedy—that kingdom for whose ‘coming’ we earnestly pray!
[Box on page 115]
WHAT WRITERS HAVE SAID ABOUT 1914
Even after a second world war, many refer back to 1914 as the great turning point in modern history:
“It is indeed the year 1914 rather than that of Hiroshima which marks the turning point in our time.”—Rene Albrecht-Carrie, “The Scientific Monthly,” July 1951
“Ever since 1914, everybody conscious of trends in the world has been deeply troubled by what has seemed like a fated and pre-determined march toward ever greater disaster. Many serious people have come to feel that nothing can be done to avert the plunge towards ruin. They see the human race, like the hero of a Greek tragedy, driven on by angry gods and no longer the master of fate.”—Bertrand Russell, New York “Times Magazine,” September 27, 1953
“The modern era . . . began in 1914, and no one knows when or how it will end. . . . It could end in mass annihilation.”—Editorial, “The Seattle Times,” January 1, 1959
“In 1914 the world, as it was known and accepted then, came to an end.”—James Cameron, “1914,” published in 1959
“The First World War was one of the great convulsions of history.”—Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August,” 1962
“Thoughts and pictures come to my mind, . . . thoughts from before the year 1914 when there was real peace, quiet and security on this earth—a time when we didn’t know fear. . . . Security and quiet have disappeared from the lives of men since 1914.”—German statesman Konrad Adenauer, 1965
“The whole world really blew up about World War I and we still don’t know why. . . . Utopia was in sight. There was peace and prosperity. Then everything blew up. We’ve been in a state of suspended animation ever since.”—Dr. Walker Percy, “American Medical News,” November 21, 1977
“In 1914 the world lost a coherence which it has not managed to recapture since. . . . This has been a time of extraordinary disorder and violence, both across national frontiers and within them.”—“The Economist,” London, August 4, 1979
“Civilization entered on a cruel and perhaps terminal illness in 1914.”—Frank Peters, St. Louis “Post-Dispatch,” January 27, 1980
“Everything would get better and better. This was the world I was born in. . . . Suddenly, unexpectedly, one morning in 1914 the whole thing came to an end.”—British statesman Harold Macmillan, New York “Times,” November 23, 1980