How Long Will the Present System Last?
1. Regarding the Bible’s promises, what have many of us asked?
IT IS only natural to want to know how long it will be until the events so vividly described in the Bible and that culminate in Armageddon take place. When will the present wicked system be destroyed? Will we live to see the earth become a place where lovers of righteousness can enjoy complete peace and security?
2. (a) What similar question did Jesus’ apostles ask? (b) Do we know exactly when the present wicked system will end? (c) But what very helpful information did Jesus provide?
2 Jesus Christ provided remarkable details that answer those questions. He did so when his apostles asked: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” With regard to the actual destruction of the present wicked system, Jesus plainly said: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:3, 36) Yet he did describe in considerable detail the generation that would see “the conclusion [Greek: syn·teʹlei·a] of the system of things,” the time period leading up to “the end [Greek: teʹlos].” Read it for yourself in your Bible at Matthew 24:3–25:46, also in the parallel accounts at Mark 13:4-37 and Luke 21:7-36.
3. How do we know that Jesus’ answer was not merely describing first-century events?
3 As you read these accounts, you will realize that, only in part, Jesus was describing events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. It is evident that he also had something more far-reaching in mind. Why? Because at Matthew 24:21 he speaks of “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” That calls for much more than the destruction of one city and the people trapped in it. And at Luke 21:31 the events described are said to point to the coming of the long-awaited “kingdom of God.” What is the noteworthy “sign” for which Jesus said to watch?
A COMPOSITE SIGN
4. What is “the sign” that Jesus gave?
4 He foretold wars, food shortages, widespread pestilences, great earthquakes, and a loveless spirit during a time of increasing lawlessness, but no one of these alone is “the sign.” All the features foretold must be fulfilled in the lifetime of one generation for the picture to be complete. Included, too, would be “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear” because of events taking place in the heavens above and in the seas around them. (Luke 21:10, 11, 25-32; Matthew 24:12; compare 2 Timothy 3:1-5.) In contrast to all of this, but as part of the sign, Jesus foretold a global preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom despite international persecution of his followers. (Mark 13:9-13) Does that composite description specifically fit the time in which we are living?
5. What would make these events more than a repetition of history?
5 Ridiculers may scoff, saying that there have been wars, famines, earthquakes, and so forth, repeatedly in human history. But such events take on special significance when they all appear together, not merely in a few isolated places, but on a global scale over an extended period of time that begins with a year foretold long in advance.
6, 7. What events and conditions of the 20th century definitely match that composite sign? (When answering, use your Bible and show which portions of Jesus’ prophecy you are discussing.)
6 Consider these facts: The war that broke out in 1914 was of such proportions that it came to be known as the first world war, and since then peace has never truly returned to the earth. Following World War I came one of the greatest famines that mankind has ever experienced, and even today some 40 million persons a year are dying from food shortages. The Spanish flu of 1918 claimed lives at a rate unparalleled in the history of disease, and despite scientific research, tens of millions of persons are even now plagued with cancer, heart disease, loathsome venereal diseases, malaria, snail fever and river blindness. The frequency of major earthquakes has increased to about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914. Fear and anguish on a global scale afflict people of all ages. Among the reasons are economic turmoil, violent crime and the threat of annihilation in nuclear war with weapons launched from submarines or streaking down from the heavens—something never possible before the 20th century.
7 Amid all of this an extraordinary worldwide proclamation of the good news of God’s Kingdom is being made, as Jesus foretold. In upwards of 200 lands and islands of the seas, Jehovah’s Witnesses devote hundreds of millions of hours each year, free of charge, to help people from all walks of life to understand the meaning of these world events in the light of God’s Word. Earnestly the Witnesses point people to the way of survival through the “great tribulation” as subjects of the Kingdom of God. And the Witnesses do this despite the fact that, as one Canadian news report observed, they “probably endure more persecution for less offence than any other religious group in the world.”
8. What time period was also included in this prophecy?
8 We must also take into consideration that, as part of his prophecy, Jesus pointed to the expiration of a specific time period, saying: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) Have those “appointed times” ended?
“THE APPOINTED TIMES OF THE NATIONS”
9. (a) What is the “Jerusalem” that was “trampled on” by the nations? (b) When did that ‘trampling’ begin?
9 To appreciate the answer, we must understand the significance of Jerusalem itself. The city with its royal residence on Mount Zion was spoken of as “the town of the grand King . . . the city of Jehovah.” (Psalm 48:2, 8; Matthew 5:34, 35) The kings of the royal house of David were said to sit “upon Jehovah’s throne.” Therefore Jerusalem was a visible symbol that Jehovah exercised rulership in the earth. (1 Chronicles 29:23) Thus when the Babylonian armies were permitted by God to destroy Jerusalem, take its king into exile and leave the land desolate, they were trampling upon God’s Kingdom as exercised through a royal descendant of King David. When that took place, in 607 B.C.E., it marked the beginning of “the appointed times of the [Gentile] nations.” Never since then has a descendant of David ruled as king in Jerusalem.
10. (a) What would the end of the ‘trampling’ mean? (b) From what “Jerusalem” would Jesus then rule, and why?
10 What, then, would the end of that ‘trampling on Jerusalem’ mean? That Jehovah had again enthroned a king of his own choice, a descendant of David, now to exercise authority, not merely among the Jews, but in the affairs of mankind as a whole. That one is the Lord Jesus Christ. (Luke 1:30-33) But from where would he rule? Would it be from the earthly city of Jerusalem? Jesus clearly stated that privileges in connection with the Kingdom of God were going to be taken away from fleshly Israel. (Matthew 21:43; see also 23:37, 38.) Thereafter, worshipers of the true God looked to “the Jerusalem above,” God’s heavenly organization of loyal spirit creatures, as their mother. (Galatians 4:26) It would be in that heavenly Jerusalem that Jesus would be enthroned, to exercise ruling authority toward the earth. (Psalm 110:1, 2) That would take place at the end of “the appointed times of the nations.” When would that be?
11, and chart (page 27). (a) How is the expiration of the “appointed times” calculated? (b) So, what began when those “appointed times” ended? (c) How do historians view 1914? (See page 29.)
11 Decades in advance it was known that this would come in 1914 at the end of the major fulfillment of the “seven times” of Daniel 4:10-17.* But full realization of its significance came gradually during the years that followed. Progressively Bible students saw unfolding before their eyes details of the composite sign that Jesus said would indicate his heavenly presence in Kingdom power. It became evident that they had, indeed, entered “the conclusion of the system of things,” that Christ had begun to rule as King in 1914 and that the end of this wicked world would come within the generation that saw the beginning of these things.
HOW SOUND ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
12 Some who are aware of these facts in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy find it difficult to accept the conclusion toward which these point. Why? Because they expect something else. They were taught that Christ’s second coming would be visible and would result in mass conversion of mankind. In the first century the Jews also had expectations that were not fulfilled. They hoped that Messiah’s coming would be with a display of power that would liberate them from Rome. Clinging to their wrong expectations, they rejected God’s own Son. How unwise it would be to repeat that error when Christ is present in Kingdom power! How much better to see what the Scriptures themselves really say!
13. What events does the Bible itself associate with Christ’s presence?
13 The Bible shows that it would be amid his enemies that Christ would begin to rule. (Psalm 110:1, 2) It tells of the ousting of Satan and his demons from heaven to the vicinity of the earth after Christ would be given Kingdom authority; so there would be a period of increased woe for the earth. (Revelation 12:7-12) During that time there would be intensified preaching of the Kingdom message, to give persons opportunity to take action with a view to survival. (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 12:17) But would that result in world conversion? On the contrary, the Bible shows that it would be followed by a destruction unequaled in human history. Though humans will never see the glorified Jesus Christ with their physical eyes, all who have not willingly accepted the facts regarding Christ’s royal presence will be forced to “see” that it is he who, as foretold, is bringing destruction upon them.—Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:30; compare 1 Timothy 6:15, 16; John 14:19.
14, 15. Why does not the passing of years since 1914 give reason to doubt that we really are in “the last days”?
14 But does not now the passing of 70 years since 1914 indicate that there may be some doubt about whether we really have been in “the last days” since that year and whether Christ’s coming as executioner is near? Not at all! Regarding those who would see the fulfillment of “the sign” from its beginning, starting with 1914, Jesus said: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Mark 13:30) Members of that generation are still here, though rapidly decreasing in number.
15 It is true that statistics indicate that the average life expectancy on a global basis is now only 60 years, but millions of persons live beyond that age. According to available statistics, in 1980 approximately 250,000,000 of those who were alive in 1914 were still living. That generation is not yet gone. Interestingly, however, of those born in 1900 or earlier, figures published by the United Nations indicate that only an estimated 35,316,000 were still alive in 1980. So the number drops quickly as individuals reach their seventies and eighties. When considered along with all the details of Jesus’ prophetic sign, these facts strongly indicate that the end is near.—Luke 21:28.
16. So, what should our attitude be?
16 Now is not the time to be apathetic. It is a time to act with urgency! As Jesus cautioned his disciples: “Prove yourselves ready, because at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man [Jesus Christ] is coming.”—Matthew 24:44.
[Box on page 29]
How Historians View 1914
For good reasons, the war that began in 1914 has been called the Great War and World War I. No war as devastating had ever been fought before. Wars since then have only continued what began in 1914. Consider these comments about the effects of that momentous year:
● “Not only had the war changed the map of Europe and set off revolutions that destroyed three empires, but its direct and indirect effects went far beyond that in almost every field. After the war both politicians and others tried to slow down or halt the evolution and bring things back to ‘normal’ again, to the world that had existed before 1914. But that was impossible. The earthquake had been so violent and so prolonged that the old world had been torn down to its foundation. There was no one that could rebuild it the way it had been, with its social systems, its world of ideas and its moral principles.
“. . . Not of least importance was the change of values that had taken place and which had established a completely new standard of values in so many fields. . . . It was not only the soldiers at the front that had become brutalized and careless with the neighbor’s property. Not only had many illusions, much prejudice and many false values been shattered but also many traditional standards for life and social behavior. Values were changing, everything seemed to be drifting, as if things no longer had any deep roots—so it was in the financial system as well as with sexual morality, with the political principles as well as the laws of art. . . .
“The fundamental insecurity that characterized the time was especially noticeable in the economic field. Here the war had brutally destroyed a complex, flexible and well-balanced system with strict laws and steady values. . . . Neither in this field was it possible to return to ‘the normal.’”—Världshistoria—Folkens liv och Kultur (Stockholm; 1958), Vol. VII, pages 421, 422.
● “Half a century has gone by, yet the mark that the tragedy of the Great War left on the body and soul of the nations has not faded . . . The physical and moral magnitude of this ordeal was such that nothing left was the same as before. Society in its entirety: systems of government, national borders, laws, armed forces, interstate relations, but also ideologies, family life, fortunes, positions, personal relations—everything was changed from top to bottom. . . . Humanity finally lost its balance, never to recover it to this day.”—General Charles de Gaulle, speaking in 1968 (Le Monde, November 12, 1968).
● “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.
● “Looking back from the vantage point of the present we see clearly today that the outbreak of World War I ushered in a twentieth-century ‘Time of Troubles’—in the expressive term of the British historian Arnold Toynbee—from which our civilization has by no means yet emerged. Directly or indirectly all the convulsions of the last half century stem back to 1914.”—The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order (New York; 1963), by Edmond Taylor, page 16.
But what accounts for such a world-shattering turn of events?
Only the Bible gives a satisfying explanation.
[Chart on page 27]
1914—A Year Marked by Bible Chronology and World Events
→ Bible foretold period of “seven times,”
after which God would give world
rulership to the one he chose
→ End of “seven times”: 1914 C.E.
Jesus Christ was then enthroned
in heaven, began to rule amid
his enemies (Psalm 110:1, 2)
Satan was ousted from heaven;
woe to mankind (Revelation 12:7-12)
Last days began (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Events Foretold to Mark Last Days
→ War (First world war began in 1914;
peace has never really returned)
→ Famine (Now claims some 40 million
lives per year)
→ Disease epidemics (Despite
advanced scientific research)
→ Earthquakes (On an average,
about 20 times as many major
ones since 1914)
→ Fear (Of crime, economic collapse,