Definition: The Bible uses the expression “last days” to refer to the concluding time period leading up to a divinely appointed execution that marks the end of a system of things. The Jewish system with its worship built around the temple in Jerusalem experienced its last days from 33 to 70 C.E. What occurred then was pictorial of what would be experienced in a greatly intensified way and on a global scale at a time when all nations would be facing the execution of judgment decreed by God. The present wicked system of things, which extends worldwide, entered its last days in 1914, and some of the generation alive then will also be on hand to witness its complete end in the “great tribulation.”
What indicates that we today are living in “the last days”?
The Bible describes events and conditions that mark this significant time period. “The sign” is a composite one made up of many evidences; thus its fulfillment requires that all aspects of the sign be clearly in evidence during one generation. The various aspects of the sign are recorded at Matthew chapters 24, 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21; there are further details at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Peter 3:3, 4, and Revelation 6:1-8. By way of illustration, we will consider a few outstanding portions of the sign.
“Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:7)
War has marred life on the earth for thousands of years. International wars and wars within nations have been fought. But beginning in 1914 the first world war was fought. This was not merely a conflict between two armies on the battlefield. For the first time, all the major powers were at war. Entire nations—including civilian populations—were mobilized to support the war effort. It is estimated that by the end of the war 93 percent of the population of the world was involved. (Regarding the historical significance of 1914, see pages 239, 240.)
As foretold at Revelation 6:4, ‘peace was taken away from the earth.’ Thus the world has continued to be in a state of upheaval ever since 1914. World War II was fought from 1939 to 1945. According to retired Admiral Gene La Rocque, as of 1982 there had been another 270 wars since 1945. Upwards of 100 million persons have been slaughtered in warfare during this century. Also, according to the 1982 edition of World Military and Social Expenditures, there were in that year 100 million people engaged directly or indirectly in military activities.
Is more required in order to fulfill this aspect of the prophecy? There are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons deployed for immediate use. Leading scientists have said that if the nations were to use even a fraction of their nuclear arsenals, civilization and possibly the entire human species would be destroyed. But that is not the outcome to which Bible prophecy points.
“There will be food shortages . . . in one place after another” (Matt. 24:7)
There have been many famines in human history. To what extent has the 20th century been afflicted by them? World war led to widespread starvation in Europe and Asia. Africa has been stricken by drought, resulting in extensive food shortages. Late in 1980 the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 450 million people were hungry to the point of starvation, and up to a billion did not have enough to eat. Of these, some 40 million a year actually die—in some years as many as 50 million—because of the shortage of food.
Is anything different about these food shortages? Revelation 6:6 indicated that a small quantity of such staples as wheat or barley would be selling for a day’s wage (a denarius; see Matthew 20:2) but that supplies of such items as olive oil and wine used by people who are well-to-do would not be harmed. So apparently many would suffer shortage while others could still get what they wanted. This situation is no longer local, but global. In 1981 The New York Times reported: “The improvement in living standards and the growing demand for food around the world have put pressure on food prices, making it harder for the poorest countries to import their food needs.” In many lands the production of food, even with the aid of modern science, has not been able to keep pace with the increase in total population. Modern food experts see no real solution to the problem.
“There will be great earthquakes” (Luke 21:11)
It is true that there were major quakes in centuries past; furthermore, with their sensitive equipment scientists now detect more than a million quakes a year. But no special instruments are needed for people to know when there is a great earthquake.
Has there actually been a significant number of major earthquakes since 1914? With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, supplemented by a number of standard reference works, a tabulation was made in 1984 that included only earthquakes that measured 7.5 or more on the Richter scale, or that resulted in destruction of five million dollars (U.S.) or more in property, or that caused 100 or more deaths. It was calculated that there had been 856 of such earthquakes during the 2,000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 69 years following 1914 there were 605 of such quakes. That means that, in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914.
“In one place after another pestilences” (Luke 21:11)
At the close of the first world war the Spanish flu swept around the globe, claiming upwards of 20 million lives and at a rate unparalleled in the history of disease. Despite advances in medical science, a heavy toll is exacted every year by cancer, heart disease, numerous sexually transmitted diseases, multiple sclerosis, malaria, river blindness, and Chagas’ disease.
‘Increased lawlessness accompanied by a cooling off of love on the part of the greater number’ (Matt. 24:11, 12)
A leading criminologist says: “The one thing that hits you in the eye when you look at crime on the world scale is a pervasive and persistent increase everywhere. Such exceptions as there are stand out in splendid isolation, and may soon be swamped in the rising tide.” (The Growth of Crime, New York, 1977, Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Joan King, pp. 4, 5) The increase is real; it is not merely a matter of better reporting. It is true, past generations had criminals too, but never before has crime been as pervasive as it is now. Persons who are up in years know that from personal experience.
The lawlessness referred to in the prophecy includes contempt for the known laws of God, a placing of self instead of God at the center of one’s life. As a result of this attitude, divorce rates are skyrocketing, sex outside of marriage and homosexuality are widely accepted, and tens of millions of abortions are performed every year. Such lawlessness is associated (in Matthew 24:11, 12) with the influence of false prophets, those who set aside God’s Word in favor of their own teachings. Heeding their philosophies instead of holding to the Bible contributes toward a loveless world. (1 John 4:8) Read the description of it at 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
“Men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth” (Luke 21:25, 26)
“The fact is that today the biggest single emotion which dominates our lives is fear,” said U.S. News & World Report. (October 11, 1965, p. 144) “Never before has mankind been as fearful as at present,” reported the German magazine Hörzu.—No. 25, June 20, 1980, p. 22.
Many factors contribute to this global atmosphere of fear: violent crime, unemployment, economic instability because so many nations are hopelessly in debt, worldwide pollution of the environment, lack of strong and loving family ties, and the overwhelming feeling that mankind is in imminent danger of nuclear annihilation. Luke 21:25 mentions ‘signs in sun, moon, and stars, and roaring of the seas’ in connection with the anguish felt by the nations. The rising of the sun often causes, not happy anticipation, but fear of what the day may bring; when the moon and stars shine, fear of crime makes people stay behind locked doors. In the 20th century, but not before, planes and missiles have been used to send destruction streaking down from the heavens. Submarines carrying deadly loads of missiles prowl the seas, just one such submarine being equipped to annihilate 160 cities. No wonder the nations are in anguish!
‘Christ’s true followers to be objects of hatred by all nations on account of his name’ (Matt. 24:9)
This persecution is not because of political meddling but ‘on account of the name of Jesus Christ,’ because his followers adhere to him as Jehovah’s Messianic King, because of their obeying Christ ahead of any earthly ruler, because of their loyally adhering to his Kingdom and not becoming involved in the affairs of human governments. As modern-day history testifies, that has been the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses in all parts of the earth.
‘This good news of the kingdom preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness’ (Matt. 24:14)
The message that would be preached is that God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ has begun to rule in the heavens, that soon it will put an end to the entire wicked system of things, that under its rule mankind will be brought to perfection and earth will become a paradise. That good news is being preached today in over 200 lands and island groups, to the most distant parts of the earth. Jehovah’s Witnesses devote hundreds of millions of hours to this activity each year, making repeated house-to-house visits so that everyone possible is given the opportunity to hear.
To what do all these events of “the last days” point?
Luke 21:31, 32: “When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near [that is, the time when it will destroy the present wicked world and itself take full charge of earth’s affairs]. Truly I say to you, This generation will by no means pass away until all things occur.” (The “generation” that was alive at the beginning of fulfillment of the sign in 1914 is now well along in years. The time remaining must be very short. World conditions give every indication that this is the case.)
Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses say that it was in 1914 that “the last days” began?
The year 1914 is marked by Bible prophecy. For details regarding the chronology, see pages 95-97, under the main heading “Dates.” The correctness of the date is shown by the fact that world conditions foretold to mark this time period have come to pass since 1914 exactly as foretold. The facts set out above illustrate this.
How do secular historians view the year 1914?
“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), Edmond Taylor, p. 16.
“People of the World War II generation, my generation, will always think of their conflict as the great modern watershed of change. . . . We should be allowed our vanity, our personal rendezvous with history. But we should know that, in social terms, a far more decisive change came with World War I. It was then that political and social systems, centuries in the building, came apart—sometimes in a matter of weeks. And others were permanently transformed. It was in World War I that the age-old certainties were lost. . . . World War II continued, enlarged and affirmed this change. In social terms World War II was the last battle of World War I.”—The Age of Uncertainty (Boston, 1977), John K. Galbraith, p. 133.
“Half a century has gone by, yet the mark that the tragedy of the Great War [World War I, which started in 1914] 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, Nov. 12, 1968, p. 9).
Will anyone at all be alive on earth after the end of the present world system?
Definitely yes. The end of the present global system will come, not as a result of indiscriminate slaughter in nuclear war, but in a great tribulation that includes “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14, 16) That war will not destroy the earth, nor will it bring all mankind to ruin.
Matt. 24:21, 22: “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.” (So some “flesh,” some of humankind, will survive.)
Prov. 2:21, 22: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.”
Ps. 37:29, 34: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it. Hope in Jehovah and keep his way, and he will exalt you to take possession of the earth. When the wicked ones are cut off, you will see it.”
Why does God allow so much time to pass before destroying the wicked?
2 Pet. 3:9: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”
Mark 13:10: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first.”
Matt. 25:31, 32, 46: “When the Son of man [Jesus Christ] arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And these [who fail to recognize Christ’s spiritual brothers as representatives of the King himself] will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”
See also pages 363, 364 and 428-430.
If Someone Says—
‘Conditions are no worse today; there have always been wars, famines, earthquakes, crime’
You might reply: ‘I can understand why you feel that way. We were born into a world where these things are everyday news. But historians explain that there is something drastically different about the 20th century. (Read quotations on pages 239, 240.)’
Or you could say: ‘It is not merely the fact that there have been wars, famines, earthquakes, and crime that is significant. Did you realize that the sign Jesus gave was a composite one?’ Then perhaps add: ‘He did not say that any one event by itself would prove that we were in “the last days.” But when the entire sign is in evidence, that is significant—and especially when it appears on a global scale and beginning with a year that is fixed by Bible chronology.’ (See pages 234-239, also pages 95-97.)
‘How do you know that some future generation won’t fit the prophecy even better than this one?’
You might reply: ‘That’s an interesting question, and the answer highlights the fact that we really are living in “the last days.” How? Well, part of the sign given by Jesus involves war between nations and kingdoms. But what would happen today if fulfillment of the sign required that we wait until another all-out war were to break out between the superpowers? Such a war would leave few if any survivors. So, you see, God’s purpose that there be survivors indicates that we are now very close to the end of this old system.’
Or you could say: ‘Matching world events to this prophecy is like matching a fingerprint to its owner. There will not be someone else with the identical print. Likewise, the pattern of events that began in 1914 will not be repeated in some future generation.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘Everything that goes to make up the sign is clearly in evidence.’ (2) ‘Surely we do not want to be like the people in Noah’s day. (Matt. 24:37-39)’
‘We won’t see the end in our lifetime’
You might reply: ‘But you do believe that God is going to intervene at some time, don’t you?’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘The only way that any of us could know when that will be is if He made that information available to us. Now, Jesus stated plainly that no man knows the day or the hour, but he did describe in detail the things that would happen during the generation when it would occur.’ (2) ‘That description deals with events with which you personally are familiar. (If possible, discuss details of the sign, using the facts provided on the preceding pages.)’
‘I don’t worry about these things; I live just one day at a time’
You might reply: ‘It certainly is good not to be overly anxious about the future. But we all do try to plan our lives in such a way as to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Realistic planning is practical. The Bible shows that there are wonderful things ahead, and we are wise if we plan so as to benefit from them. (Prov. 1:33; 2 Pet. 3:13)’
‘I don’t dwell on all these bad conditions; I like to be optimistic about the future’
You might reply: ‘Interestingly, Jesus said that there would be good reason for his followers to be optimistic in our day. (Luke 21:28, 31)’ Then perhaps add: ‘But notice that he is not telling them to close their eyes to what is happening in the world and be happy. He is saying that their optimism would be well founded; it would be because they understood the meaning of world events and knew what the outcome would be.’