Does the Bible Foretell the End of the Earth?
THE END OF THE WORLD—five words that have struck terror into many hearts throughout the centuries of human history. Today they have lost much of their impact, since religious belief is on the wane. Yet predictions of world catastrophe are not limited to the field of religion. Scientists in several branches of human learning warn of calamity for the human race.
Astronomers have listed at least four threats to continued life on earth. Under the heading “The Four Cosmic Catastrophes That Threaten the Earth,” the French scientific magazine Science et Vie enumerated these as the explosion of a supernova, a giant solar flare, the fall of a giant meteorite or the entry of the entire solar system into a cloud of cosmic dust that would absorb so much of the sun’s heat that the earth would be frozen.
At the same time, ecologists are increasingly sounding an alarm concerning the dangers of pollution through the use and the abuse of unnatural substances that endanger the health and even the life of humankind and wildlife. Yes, pollution is poisoning the air we breathe, the land and the food it produces, and the seas together with the fish we eat. Unwise and selfish deforestation has brought about both disastrous flooding and man-made deserts.
Taken individually, these environmental threats would doubtless be insufficient to put an end to life on earth. But compounded, they add up to a formidable danger. In an interview with Paris’ newsweekly L’Express, Maurice Strong, former secretary-general of the World Environment Conference, recently stated: “If man continues to adopt such an arrogant attitude toward nature, although I hate to say it, he will eventually disappear.”
However, the most immediate threat to life on earth—the one that has been referred to as “The Final Holocaust or Apocalypse” and misnamed “Armageddon”—is the very real possibility of total nuclear war. The militarized nations of the world have stockpiled nuclear weapons with an explosive power equal to several tons of TNT for every man, woman and child on earth. No wonder the nuclear threat is spoken of in end-of-world terms!
WHAT DO THE CHURCHES TEACH?
For hundreds of millions of Catholics and many Protestants such expressions as “Doomsday,” “Judgment Day” or “the end of the world” conjure up visions of a final reckoning and the destruction of the earth. Under the heading “End of the World,” the authoritative Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique states: “The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the present world, as God made it and as it is, will not last forever. All the visible creatures made by God throughout the ages . . . will cease to exist and will be transformed into a new creation.”
Christendom’s churches teach that the ultimate destiny of man is either eternal bliss in heaven or everlasting punishment in “hell.” According to them, the earth has no permanent role in God’s purpose. Yet Catholic and Protestant theologians know quite well that the Bible speaks of the coming of God’s kingdom in order for God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matt. 6:10) They know that this is one of the essential things for which Christians are to pray. They are also very familiar with the Bible promise of “a new earth” wherein righteousness is to dwell. (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4) But Catholic and Protestant theology on these scriptures and many others that speak of the earth in God’s purpose is vague, even evasive.
On the other hand, having sent all the good to heaven and the wicked to “hell,” many of Christendom’s theologians are quick to quote such scriptures as “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt. 24:35) to ‘prove’ that the earth will be destroyed. They are only too happy to rid themselves of the earth, for which they find no place in their theology. They very conveniently interpret what some Bible translations call “the end of the world” as meaning the end of the earth.—Matt. 24:3.
THE BIBLE VIEW
What, then, does the Bible mean by “the end of the world”? It should first be noted that what some versions translate as “end of the world,” others render “close of the age” (Revised Standard Version, both Protestant and Catholic editions), “completion of the age” (Marshall—The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament) or “conclusion of the system of things” (New World Translation). The words “close,” “completion” or “conclusion” are more precise translations of the Greek word synteʹleia, as distinct from telos (end or complete end; compare Matthew 24:6, 14). Likewise, “age” and “system of things” are more accurate translations of ai·onʹ, as distinct from koʹsmos, which generally designates the world of mankind.
Interestingly, the word koʹsmos appears in none of the scriptures containing the words sometimes mistranslated “end of the world.” So that expression does not mean the end of humanity. It refers to the conclusion of a wicked system of things, the close of an era (ai·onʹ) characterized by the bad doings of “ungodly men.”—Compare 2 Peter 3:7.
Far from foretelling the end of the earth, the Bible holds out the promise of a wonderful future for our beautiful planet. But first the earth must be wiped clean of the present wicked system. The end of this system is therefore something to hope for, as the following article will show.