When Will the Foretold World Destruction Come?
1. What grand purpose does God have for mankind?
WHAT a relief it would be to see war, crime, and pollution of the earth brought to an end! How pleasant it would be to live under a truly righteous administration, where there could be full security for oneself and one’s family! The Bible shows that God will make these things a reality. But when?
2. (a) When “Jehovah’s day” comes, who will be caught by surprise? (b) How can we avoid having that happen to us?
2 Regarding the world destruction that clears the way for God’s New Order, the apostle Paul says: “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night.” He adds: “But you, brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4) So when “Jehovah’s day” arrives, those who fail to heed the warnings will be like animals caught suddenly in a snare. But that does not have to happen to you. As the scripture states, there are people who “are not in darkness.” This is because they investigate and take to heart what God’s Word says about our day.—Luke 21:34-36.
3, 4. (a) Where is the full significance of the events of the 20th century explained? (b) What five main points set out in Bible prophecy are we going to examine?
3 The Bible clearly describes events of this 20th century. But it did this some two thousand years in advance! While many of the events themselves are common knowledge, only the Bible points out their full significance.
4 Prophetic information in the Bible about our day details the following: (1) The specific year when God would give “the kingdom of mankind” to “the one whom he wants to.” (2) Significant events that would take place during the period known as “the conclusion of the system of things.” (3) Noteworthy religious developments at that time. (4) The survival of at least some of the generation that saw the beginning of “the conclusion of the system of things.” (5) A striking development in world affairs as a final signal that world destruction is imminent. Let us examine these points.
(1) The Marked Year—1914 C.E.
5. At how early a date did Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that the Bible pointed to 1914 C.E. as a significant year?
5 As far back as 1876, Jehovah’s Witnesses realized that Bible prophecy marked the year 1914 C.E. as a time when major events would take place that would have far-reaching effects on human affairs. They gave the reason for this fact wide publicity.
6 If you open your Bible to Daniel chapter 4, you will find a prophecy that reveals God’s purpose with regard to sovereignty over the earth. The purpose behind that prophecy’s fulfillment is stated to be “that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that to the one whom he wants to, he gives it.” (Da 4 Verses 2, 3, 17) This “one” to whom the Most High gives “the kingdom” is Christ Jesus. And the last book of the Bible tells of the time when “the kingdom of the world” is given to him as heavenly King. (Revelation 11:15; 12:10) This means, then, that Daniel’s prophecy deals with the time when God would intervene in human affairs by giving “the kingdom of the world” to Jesus Christ. When does the prophecy indicate that would be?
7. (a) What prophetic dream is described at Daniel 4:10-16? (b) How did it apply to King Nebuchadnezzar?
7 The prophetic dream in Daniel describes a huge tree that was chopped down and banded with iron and copper until “seven times” passed over it. During that time, “the heart of a beast” would be given to it. (Daniel 4:10-16) What did this mean? God caused Daniel to explain: Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, would lose his sanity and be removed from his throne and driven from among men to live as a beast. After seven years the king’s sanity would return. This actually happened to the king, and he was restored to his throne as one who acknowledged the superiority of God’s rulership. (Daniel 4:20-37) All of this had a greater meaning, however, and for that reason it is recorded in the Bible.
8. (a) The greater meaning of the prophecy relates to what kingdom? (b) In the greater fulfillment, what is represented by the cutting down of the tree, and how was ‘the heart of a beast given to it’?
8 The greater meaning relates to a mightier rulership that would benefit all living things on earth. From it, the prophecy says, there would be “food for all” and protection for even animals and birds. (Daniel 4:12) The only rulership that can truly provide these benefits is the Kingdom of God. This government’s righteous principles were demonstrated by the history of Judah, with its kings in Jerusalem. But because of unfaithfulness, Jehovah let Judah be conquered by Babylon in 607 B.C.E. It was as if the tree in the dream had been cut down and bands of restraint put around the stump. Without divine interference, national governments have exercised world domination since then. Since these national kingdoms are represented in the Bible as “beasts,” it was as if an angel from heaven had announced: “Let the heart of a beast be given to it, and let seven times pass over it.” (Daniel 4:16; 8:1-8, 20-22) But eventually, those “seven times” of rulership by beastlike governments would expire. Then the ‘bands’ would be removed, and the “tree” would again grow as world domination began to be exercised by the one to whom Jehovah would give “the kingdom of the world.”
9, 10. (a) In figuring the length of the “seven times,” how long does each “time” prove to be, and how does the Bible indicate this? (b) When did the “seven times” begin, how many years do they cover, and when do they end?
9 How long were those “seven times”? Far more than seven years, because centuries later Jesus Christ indicated that these “appointed times of the nations” were still continuing. They had held world domination since Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and would continue to do so for some time yet.—Luke 21:24.
10 Notice for yourself how the Bible refers to prophetic “times.” Revelation 11:2, 3 shows that 1,260 days comprise 42 months, or three and a half years. Revelation 12:6, 14 mentions the same number of days (1,260) but refers to them as “a time  and times  and half a time,” or three and a half “times.” Each of those “times” is 360 days (3 1/2 × 360 = 1,260). Each day of these prophetic “times” stands for a whole year according to the principle, “a day for a year.” (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6) Thus the “seven times” equals 2,520 years (7 × 360). Counting from the autumn of 607 B.C.E., when God’s typical kingdom in Judah was brought low by Babylon, 2,520 years bring us to the autumn of 1914 C.E. (606 1/4 + 1913 3/4 = 2,520) That is the year when “the kingdom of the world” was due to be entrusted to Jesus Christ.
11. What do historians say as to the significance of the year 1914?
11 After going on record that the Bible pointed to 1914, Jehovah’s Witnesses had to wait for several decades before they saw the outcome. Early in 1914 the peacefulness of the world made it appear to many that nothing was going to happen. But before the summer was over, the Witnesses’ confidence was justified when the world plunged into a war that was without precedent. In a review of the book 1914, historian A. L. Rowse wrote: “If ever there was a year that marked the end of an era and the beginning of another, it was 1914. That year brought to an end the old world with its sense of security and began the modern age, characteristic of which is the insecurity that is our daily portion.”44 A report about British statesman Winston Churchill noted: “The shot which was fired on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, had shattered the world of security and creative reason . . . The world has never been the same place since. . . . It was a turning point, and the wonderful, calm, attractive world of yesterday had vanished, never again to appear.”45 That year, marked by Bible prophecy centuries earlier, indeed proved to be a turning point in history.
12. What was the reason for the great upheaval in human affairs in 1914 and thereafter?
12 It may at first seem strange that the enthronement of Christ would be marked by unprecedented war on earth. But do not forget that “the ruler of the world” is Satan the Devil. (John 14:30) He did not want to see God’s Kingdom in control of earth’s affairs. To divert attention from the Kingdom, he maneuvered men into a war to uphold their own claims to sovereignty. Furthermore, the Bible shows that Satan and his demons endeavored to devour the Kingdom government at its birth. With what result? “War broke out in heaven . . . Down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” Since only “a short period of time” remained for Satan, his anger was great. (Revelation 12:3-12) Nineteen centuries in advance the Bible provided an accurate description of the result.
(2) Events With Special Significance
13. What led up to Jesus’ stating ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things’?
13 In the year 33 C.E., Jesus described in detail ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.’ This is recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. While with a group of his disciples in Jerusalem, Jesus had foretold the destruction of the temple there. Then 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?”—Matthew 24:1-3.
14. Name some of the significant events that Jesus included in “the sign.”
14 In answer Jesus said: “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” As Luke 21:11 shows, he also mentioned ‘pestilences in one place after another.’ He warned of “the increasing of lawlessness.” And because of this, he said that “the love of the greater number will cool off.” Also, significantly, he foretold: “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 24:4-14.
15, 16. (a) Were any of Jesus’ prophecies fulfilled before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E.? (b) How do we know that there must also be another fulfillment, an even more important one?
15 But the question may be asked: ‘Were not some of those prophecies fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 C.E.?’ Yes, some were. But more was to come, as the prophecies themselves show. True, Jesus was answering a question of immediate concern to his disciples. But he used the opportunity to provide long-range information about the time when “the Son of man” would come “with power and great glory” and when “the kingdom of God” would be near.—Luke 21:27, 31.
16 Of course, these things did not take place by the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. The last book of the Bible, written about 96 C.E., shows that these events regarding the Kingdom were yet future. (Revelation 1:1; 11:15-18; 12:3-12) In symbolic language the Revelation shows that the wars, food shortages, and pestilences that Jesus foretold would be yet future events, and on an unusual scale. They would mark the time when Christ would begin and complete his conquest of all opposers of God’s Kingdom. (Revelation 6:1-8) The fact that some portions of Jesus’ prophecy did have a fulfillment in the first century stamped it as truthful, giving sound reason for confidence in everything else Jesus said would happen.
17. Are conditions in the world today very different from what they were before 1914?
17 Have these prophecies seen the greater, complete fulfillment in this 20th century? Uninformed persons less than 70 years of age may feel that our times are normal because they do not remember a time when things were different. But older persons, and also those who are informed on history, know otherwise. As one history book stated concerning the events of 1914: “Only fifteen countries did not get involved in the war . . . But among them there was no great country that would have had the power to act as peace mediator. This had never occurred in world history; no war had ever had such dimensions. The prophecy of the Holy Bible: ‘Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom,’ was literally fulfilled.”46
18. Why would we be wrong if we were to conclude that widespread war was all there was to “the sign”?
18 But such things were not the only part of what Jesus stated to be “the sign.” Using an illustration, he said: “Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, This generation will by no means pass away until all things occur.” (Luke 21:29-32) If you were to see just one tree putting forth leaves out of season, you would not think that summer was at hand. But when you see all the trees budding at the right time, you know what it means. Likewise, Jesus foretold that his “presence” and “the conclusion of the system of things” would be marked not just by war but by a number of things all taking place in the lifetime of one generation.
19. (a) As shown on the accompanying chart, how have the various features of “the sign” been fulfilled since 1914? (b) Why do earlier wars, food shortages, earthquakes, and so forth, not constitute “the sign” of which Jesus spoke?
19 Have those things occurred? As you examine the accompanying chart headed “What Will Be the Sign?” you may recall reading about wars of earlier centuries. But World War I stands out from all the others as distinctive, a turning point in history. You may recall, also, that food shortages, pestilences, earthquakes, times of lawlessness, and unusual efforts to promote peace and security have taken place before 1914. Yet, no other time in history has seen all these things come on one generation in such overwhelming measure. In all honesty, if the events since 1914 do not fulfill the sign, what more is required? Without a doubt, we live at the time of Jesus’ “presence” in Kingdom power.
20, 21. How did the events associated with World War I prove to be only “a beginning of pangs of distress,” as Jesus foretold?
20 The appearance of features of “the sign” did not mean that God’s Kingdom would immediately sweep wickedness from the earth. As Jesus foretold, “all these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matthew 24:8) Others were to follow. The World Book Encyclopedia states: “World War I and its aftermath led to the greatest economic depression in history during the early 1930’s. The consequences of the war and the problems of adjustment to peace led to unrest in almost every nation.”47 A few years later World War II erupted. It was many times more horrible than the first. Since then, disregard for life and property has grown, and fear of crime has become part of everyday life. Morals have been shoved aside. The population explosion poses problems that are not being solved. Pollution is spoiling the quality of life and even endangering it. And there is also the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
21 When did these “pangs of distress” begin? The London Star observed: “Some historian in the next century may well conclude that the day the world went mad was . . . [in] 1914.”48 That year, 1914, had long in advance been marked by Bible prophecy.
(3) Noteworthy Religious Developments
22. (a) With what did Jesus associate his forecast of increased lawlessness and the cooling off of love? (b) How have the teachings of the clergy contributed to this situation?
22 Also among the significant events that Jesus said would mark “the conclusion of the system of things” are the following: “Many false prophets will arise and mislead many; and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” (Matthew 24:11, 12) Jesus associated the increased lawlessness and the cooling off of love with the influence of false prophets—religious teachers who falsely claim to speak for God. Earlier, this book presented evidence that the clergy have backed the wars of the nations, belittled Bible standards of morality as being out of date, and labeled portions of the Bible as untrue. With what result? A ‘cooling off’ in love for God and his laws. This has been a major factor in the breakdown of morality, along with disregard for authority and lack of concern for one’s fellowman.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
23, 24. What has been happening to religion in recent years?
23 Because of such conditions, millions have left religious organizations. Some turn to the Bible and conform to its ways. Others withdraw in disappointment and disgust. Many are becoming enemies of religion. One columnist said: “One cannot but be struck by how much of the world’s trouble is rooted in religion. And few secular political rivalries ever generate the bloodthirsty fervor of religious war.” In view of this, he asked: “Why not abolish religion?”49
24 The decline of the major religions is well documented. For example, a report about Italy shows that while 95 percent of the people identify themselves as Catholics, “Sunday church attendance is estimated at less than 20 percent.”50 Another report reveals that the number of priests throughout the world declined by 25,000 in ten years.51 In the United States a church study predicted a further “shrinkage of up to 50 percent in the American Catholic priesthood by the year 2000.”52 U.S.News & World Report noted “a huge drop in the number of men entering Catholic seminaries” in the United States, from a peak of 48,992 to 11,262 in less than 20 years.53 The New York Times reported that worldwide “the number of nuns has fallen from 181,421 to 121,370” in 15 years.54 The situation is similar in most religions.
25. (a) In contrast, what does the Bible indicate would be taking place regarding true worship at this time? (b) Under whose direction is this gathering of worshipers of the true God done, and on what basis? (c) With what issue are people of all nations being confronted?
25 In contrast, the Bible indicates that “a great crowd” out of all nations would be drawn to the worship of Jehovah in this time of the end. Jesus foretold this gathering, saying that he would separate people one from another, either for preservation through “the great tribulation,” or “everlasting cutting-off.” (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14; Isaiah 2:2-4; Matthew 25:31-33, 46) What is it that separates people for survival? The Bible answers: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:17) And how would people know what God’s will is? By responding to the worldwide educational work Jesus foretold when he 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) This preaching confronts people of all nations with the issue: Are they for rulership by God? Or, in line with Satan’s urging in Eden, do they want independent rulership by men? Jehovah gives people the opportunity to choose.
26, 27. (a) To what extent has this witness work already been done? (b) Why is one’s response to the Kingdom message a serious matter?
26 A worldwide witness to the Kingdom is being given with increasing force. In over 200 lands, millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses visit people in their homes and offer to study the Bible with them, free of charge. The publications they use are by far the most widely circulated Bible publications on earth. In fact, they are among the most widely circulated publications of any type. And these are available in some 190 languages.
27 This separating work has been proceeding for many years. It is now near its conclusion. According to God’s Word, those who have rejected his Kingdom rule, as well as those who indifferently pass up the opportunity to learn of him, will be cut off. (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) For others who identify themselves as supporters of God’s Kingdom, this will mark a time of grand relief. But when will this judgment come?
(4) ‘This Generation Will Not Pass Away’
28. Within what time limit did Jesus say the foretold world destruction would come?
28 As to “that day and hour,” Jesus said, “nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” But Jesus did give a helpful time indicator when he said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:34, 36) Thus all the various features of “the sign,” as well as the “great tribulation,” must take place within the lifetime of one generation—the generation of 1914. This means that some persons who observed the events of 1914, when “the conclusion of the system of things” began, would still be alive to see its end when the “great tribulation” strikes. Those who remember the events of 1914 are getting up in years now. Most of their number have already died. But Jesus assured us that “this generation will by no means pass away” before destruction of this wicked system of things comes.—Matthew 24:21.
29. By allowing events since 1914 to develop to the point that they have, how has God made it easier for humans to make the right decision?
29 How patient God has been in providing this extended opportunity for repentance! (2 Peter 3:9) For the first time in history, one problem after another has reached gigantic proportions—war, pollution, overpopulation, and more. Any of them could bring complete ruin. By letting such evidence pile up, God has made it easier for people to see that man does not have the answers. At the same time, the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom” has helped honesthearted ones recognize that the Kingdom of God is the only hope for true peace and security. Thus God gives them time to identify themselves on his side of the great issue.
(5) A Final Signal
30. What final signal of the closeness of world destruction does the Bible specify?
30 Yet one more event will come as an unmistakable signal that world destruction is imminent. Of this the apostle Paul wrote: “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them . . . and they will by no means escape.”—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Luke 21:34, 35.
31, 32. (a) Will the “peace and security” that political rulers proclaim be genuine? (b) Why would it be dangerous to be misled by it?
31 The world’s leaders know that a nuclear war means virtual extinction. Also, critical problems such as pollution, the population explosion, and domestic problems demand attention and money. So they want to relax the strained international relations. An evidence of this is the proclamation by the United Nations of 1986 as the ‘international year of peace and security.’ This, no doubt, is a step toward the fulfillment of Paul’s above-quoted words. Of course, political negotiations and treaties are not making any real changes in people to cause them to love one another. They are not putting a stop to crime, nor are they eliminating disease and death. Yet the prophecy shows that the time will come when the nations will declare that they have achieved a measure of “peace and security.” When that happens, then “sudden destruction” will come “instantly” upon those misleaders of mankind, along with all who put their trust in them.
32 But there will be survivors. Will you be one?
[Box on page 78, 79]
“What Will Be the Sign?”
“Nation Will Rise Against Nation”—
“World War I ushered in the century of Total War, of—in the first full sense of the term—global war. . . . Never before 1914-1918 had a war . . . covered so large a part of the earth. . . . Never had the slaughter been so comprehensive and indiscriminate.”—World War I, by H. Baldwin.
World War I killed 14 million combatants and civilians; World War II killed 55 million. Since World War II hundreds of coups, rebellions, and wars have taken the lives of some 35 million people.
Thus, since 1914 over 100 million lives have been lost to war!
“There Will Be Food Shortages”—
Food shortages ravaged many lands after World War I and World War II.
Now, despite years of scientific advance, almost a quarter of the world is hungry. An estimated 12 million children each year die before their first birthday due to malnutrition. Annually millions of others also die for the same reason.
No recorded pestilence has ever equaled the Spanish influenza of 1918-1919. It struck at least 500 million persons; over 20 million died.
Medical research has not been able to prevent such things as heart disease from reaching epidemic proportions. Cancer is a growing scourge. The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases has skyrocketed.
“Earthquakes” in Many Places—
Depending on the sources, estimates of casualties vary. But to give a few examples: 30,000 to 32,000 died in an earthquake in Italy in 1915; 100,000 to 200,000 in China in 1920; 95,000 to 150,000 in Japan in 1923; 25,000 to 60,000 in India in 1935; 12,000 to 20,000 in Iran in 1968; 54,000 to 70,000 in Peru in 1970; 20,000 to 23,000 in Guatemala in 1976; 100,000 to 800,000 in China in 1976. Since 1914 many thousands of others have died in hundreds of large earthquakes all over the earth.
Data from various sources shows that the average number of severe earthquakes each year since 1914 has been many times greater than the average number for the 2,000 preceding years.
“Increasing of Lawlessness”—
You know the facts. Rising crime affects every country on earth. Your own life has been affected. In your community, what has been happening in the schools? Is there illegal use of drugs in your area? What about dishonesty in business? How safe do you feel on the streets at night?
God’s Kingdom Preached Worldwide—
This work is regularly being done by millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in over 200 lands.
During just the past ten years, about four billion (thousand million) hours have been devoted by Jehovah’s Witnesses to public preaching of this message. In that same period they published, in some 190 languages, more than 5 billion pieces of literature pointing to God’s Kingdom as man’s only hope.
The Proclaiming of “Peace and Security”—
Leaders recognize the need for peace to avoid nuclear catastrophe and to address other growing problems. A step in this direction is the proclamation by the United Nations of 1986 as the year of “peace, international security and cooperation.”—General Assembly, Agenda item 32, 39th session.
Of what are all these things “the sign”? That we are living now in “the conclusion of the system of things.” That Christ has taken his heavenly throne and is separating out from people of all nations those who truly want to do the will of God. That the “great tribulation” is very near. For further details, read Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.