Is It Later Than You Think?
THREE days before his death, Jesus had a very busy day in Jerusalem, a day that turned out to be of the utmost significance for Christians living now. He taught in the temple, turning back many trick questions with which the Jewish religious leaders tried to trap him. Finally, he leveled at the scribes and Pharisees a scathing denunciation that tagged them as hypocrites and vipers headed for Gehenna.—Matthew, chapters 22, 23.
As he was leaving the temple area, one of his disciples said to him: “Teacher, see! what sort of stones and what sort of buildings!” Jesus, unimpressed, said to him: “Do you behold these great buildings? By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1, 2) Jesus then left the temple for the last time, descended into the Kidron Valley, crossed over, and climbed the slopes of the Mount of Olives.
As he sat bathed in the late afternoon sunlight there on the mount, with the temple in view on Mount Moriah across the valley, Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately. Heavy on their minds were the words he had uttered about the temple’s being thrown down. They 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 24:3; Mark 13:3, 4) The answer he gave to their question that afternoon on the Mount of Olives is of vital importance to us. It can keep us from waiting too long before thinking about “the conclusion of the system of things.”
Their question was twofold. One part was about the end of the temple and the Jewish system; the other concerned Jesus’ future presence as King and the conclusion of this present system of things. Both of these questions were covered in Jesus’ answer, as given in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. (See also Revelation 6:1-8.) Regarding the conclusion of this present world, or system of things, Jesus described several features that, taken together, would be a composite sign identifying the last days. Is that composite sign being fulfilled? Does it put us in the last days spoken of in the Bible? Does its fulfillment warn us that it may be later than we think?
One feature of Jesus’ composite sign is: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7) In 1914, World War I started. Jehovah’s Witnesses of that decade were immediately on the alert. And why? In December 1879, some 35 years earlier, the Watch Tower magazine had said, based on Bible chronology, that 1914 would be a pivotal year in human history. Could this war, the first war on a truly worldwide scale, in which 28 nations were eventually involved and 14 million persons were killed, be the beginning of events fulfilling Jesus’ composite sign of the end? Would the other features of the sign follow?
In “a revelation by Jesus Christ,” this same bloodbath is foretold. Here a fiery-colored horse and its rider “take peace away from the earth.” (Revelation 1:1; 6:4) That certainly happened from 1914 to 1918. And World War I was only the beginning. In 1939, World War II followed. Fifty-nine nations were sucked into that conflict, and some 50 million people were killed. During the 45 years following World War II, more than 125 wars have been fought, killing more than 20 million people.
Another feature of the sign is: “There will be food shortages.” (Matthew 24:7) There was widespread famine during and after World War I. One report lists more than 60 major famines since 1914, costing many millions of lives. Moreover, even now 40,000 children die each day from malnutrition and preventable diseases.
“There will be great earthquakes.” (Luke 21:11) They shook the earth after World War I began. In 1915 an earthquake took 32,610 lives in Italy; in 1920 another one killed 200,000 in China; in 1923 in Japan, 99,300 died; in 1935 in what is now Pakistan, 25,000 lost their lives; in 1939 in Turkey, 32,700 perished; in 1970 in Peru, 66,800 were killed; in 1976 in China, 240,000 (some say 800,000) died; in 1988 in Armenia, 25,000 lost their lives. Certainly, there have been great earthquakes since 1914!
“In one place after another pestilences.” (Luke 21:11) During 1918 and 1919, some 1,000,000,000 people were sick with Spanish influenza, and more than 20,000,000 died. But that was only the beginning. In the developing world, malaria, snail fever, river blindness, acute diarrhea, and other ailments continue to cripple and kill hundreds of millions. In addition, heart disease and cancer claim millions more lives. Sexually transmitted diseases are ravaging mankind. Striking terror into hearts today is the deadly scourge of AIDS, estimated to be infecting a new victim every minute, with no cure in sight.
“Increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) Lawlessness has run wild ever since 1914, and today it is explosive. Murders, rapes, robberies, gang wars—they make newspaper headlines and radio and television newscasts. Pointless violence rages on unchecked. In the United States, a gunman sprays a hundred rounds from a rapid-fire assault rifle into a crowd of schoolchildren—5 dead, 29 wounded. In England a crazed man slaughters 16 people with an AK-47 assault rifle. In Canada a man who hates women goes to Montreal University and kills 14 of them. Such people are like wolves, lions, wild beasts, unreasoning animals born to be caught and destroyed. —Compare Ezekiel 22:27; Zephaniah 3:3; 2 Peter 2:12.
“Men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:26) Shortly after the explosion of the first atom bomb, atomic scientist Harold C. Urey said of the future: “We will eat fear, sleep fear, live in fear and die in fear.” To the fear of nuclear war has been added fear of crime, famine, economic instability, moral collapse, family decay, pollution of the earth. In fact, the bad times paraded before us by daily newspapers and television newscasts spread fear everywhere.
The apostle Paul also wrote of the conditions to prevail in the last days of this system of things. Reading his words is like reading the day’s news. “But know this,” he wrote, “that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
All Things Continuing “as From Creation’s Beginning”?
The apostle Peter foretold another feature of the last days: “In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’”—2 Peter 3:3, 4.
Today, when the subject of the last days comes up, many people fulfill Peter’s prophetic words by scoffing and saying: ‘Oh, all those things have happened before. It’s just history repeating itself.’ So they dismiss the warnings and continue “proceeding according to their own desires.” It is “according to their wish” that they brush aside the fulfillment of prophecies that so clearly identify the last days.—2 Peter 3:5.
Nevertheless, the different features of the composite sign foretold by Jesus have never before been fulfilled all together in such a short period of time with such intensity and with such far-reaching consequences. (Review, for example, Matthew 24:3-12; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:10, 11, 25, 26.) And we would like to draw your attention especially to still another foretold feature of the last days, described in Revelation.
Let us turn to Revelation 11:18. It says that when Christ’s Kingdom begins to reign and the nations are angry and the time for judgment arrives, then Jehovah will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” Is not pollution ruining the environment today? True, men have always exploited the resources of the earth to enrich themselves. But in doing so, they have never been in a position to destroy it as a habitable planet. Now, because of the scientific technology developed since 1914, men do have that power, and by grabbing greedily for wealth, they are indeed ruining the earth, polluting the environment and endangering the earth’s ability to sustain life.
An avaricious, materialistic society is now doing this at an alarming rate. Here are some of the atrocities resulting: acid rain, global warming, holes in the ozone layer, garbage glut, toxic dumps, dangerous herbicides and pesticides, nuclear waste, oil spills, raw-sewage dumping, species endangerment, dead lakes, polluted groundwater, destroyed forests, polluted soil, lost topsoil, and smog causing damage to trees and crops as well as to human health.
Professor Barry Commoner says: “I believe that continued pollution of the earth, if unchecked, will eventually destroy the fitness of this planet as a place for human life. . . . The difficulty lay not in scientific ignorance, but in willful greed.” The book State of the World 1987 says on page 5: “The scale of human activities has begun to threaten the habitability of the earth itself.” A major series for public television aired in the United States in 1990 was entitled “Race to Save the Planet.”
Man will never stop the polluting; God will when he destroys those who are destroying the earth. God and his heavenly Field Marshal, Christ Jesus, will do this by executing judgment on the materialistic nations at the final war of Armageddon.—Revelation 16:14, 16; 19:11-21.
Finally, note the following outstanding feature of Jesus’ prophecy about the last days: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) This good news tells that God’s Kingdom is now reigning in the heavens and will soon act to destroy this wicked system and restore Paradise to earth. The gospel has been preached before but never covering the entire inhabited earth. Since 1914, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses have done that, in spite of the persecution Jesus foretold—government bans, mob violence, imprisonments, torture, and many deaths.
In 1919 there were 4,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching this good news. Their numbers have kept increasing, so that last year over 4,000,000 were preaching in 212 lands, in some 200 languages, distributing hundreds of millions of Bibles, books, and magazines, conducting millions of Bible studies in people’s homes, and holding conventions in large stadiums in all parts of the world. Never could this tremendous volume of gospel-preaching have been done prior to 1914. Its accomplishment on the scale that has been achieved required the modern high-speed printing presses, the travel facilities, the computers, the fax machines, and also the shipping and communications facilities that are uniquely available in our time.
The Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day was warned of its coming destruction; its inhabitants only scoffed, but it was later than they thought. Today, a much greater warning of Armageddon’s destruction is being sounded, with overwhelming supporting evidence. (Revelation 14:6, 7, 17-20) Millions turn a deaf ear. But time is running out; it is later than they think. Is it later than you think?
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In Jeremiah’s day it was later than they thought