Will You Heed God’s Warning?
PEOPLE often ignore lifesaving warnings. Most of the inhabitants of Pompeii chose to ignore the angry sounds of Mount Vesuvius. In a similar fashion, most people today are ignoring the warnings of a coming global catastrophe. But to those who are willing to face the facts, the warning is as real as the flashes of lightning and fire that emanated from Mount Vesuvius back in the first century. Two world wars, hundreds of smaller armed conflicts, famines, great earthquakes, pestilences, wave after wave of crime and violence, and a worldwide preaching campaign all together constitute a dramatic warning that human society is rapidly approaching a cataclysmic crisis.
The Bible makes this sobering prediction: “There will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21) As was the case in the disaster at Pompeii, there will be those who escape—“a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” will survive, that is, “come out of the great tribulation.”—Revelation 7:9, 14.
The question is, When will this destruction come? There is compelling reason to believe that the tribulation is imminent. Apparently with time in mind, Jesus’ disciples asked: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) Note the answer Jesus Christ gave.
War—Prominent Feature of the Composite Sign
Jesus did not predict simply one outstanding event. Rather, he spoke of a series of events that, taken as a whole, would constitute a divine warning—a composite sign of the conclusion of the system of things. The first event predicted is described at Matthew 24:7: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” In a parallel prophecy at Revelation 6:4, the Bible predicted that ‘peace would be taken away from the earth.’ This meant war on an unprecedented scale.
History tells us that this prophecy of global war has seen its fulfillment since the memorable year 1914. The book American Adventures says regarding the years before 1914: “Many Americans had entered the new century full of hope. These were the ‘good years’ and they lasted into the century’s second decade. . . . Then, on July 28, 1914, this mood was shaken by one word: war.” Thus began World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918 and was designated by some as the “war to end all wars.” Twenty-eight countries were directly involved in it. And if you include the lands that served as their dependencies, the warring nations represented almost 90 percent of the world’s population at that time.
World War I also saw the use of new and exceedingly deadly instruments of warfare, such as the machine gun, poison gas, flamethrowers, tanks, airplanes, and submarines. Almost ten million soldiers were killed—more than all the soldiers in all the major wars fought during the preceding 100 years! About 21 million were wounded. Truly, it was a global war, marking 1914 as the beginning of “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1) However, war was just one feature of Jesus’ sign.
Other Features of the Sign
Jesus added: “There will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matthew 24:7, 8) Luke 21:11 adds “pestilences” to that list. Before World War I ended, the Spanish influenza epidemic began sweeping the earth. Eventually, it killed over 20 million people, more than all those who had died in the war.
During and after the war, millions of others died from starvation. Earthquakes also took a high toll. In 1915 over 30,000 were killed in Italy; in 1920 about 200,000 perished in China; in 1923 almost 143,000 died in Japan. Still, as Jesus indicated, all of this was just a beginning of pangs of distress. One dictionary defines “pang” as a “brief piercing spasm of pain.” This world has been reeling from one spasm of pain to the next with ever-increasing intensity and frequency since 1914. For example, just 21 years after World War I came the second world war, which claimed 50 million victims and ushered mankind into the nuclear age.
In recent years much has been said about yet another cause of distress: man’s destruction of the environment. Although Jesus did not specifically mention this in his prophecy, Revelation 11:18 indicates that prior to the coming destruction, man would be “ruining the earth.” The evidence that this ruining is taking place is abundant. Quoted in the book State of the World 1988, environmental consultant Norman Myers gives this frightening message: “No generation in the past has faced the prospect of mass extinction within its lifetime. No generation in the future will ever face a similar challenge: if this present generation fails to get to grips with the task, the damage will have been done and there will be no ‘second try.’”
Consider the report in the February 17, 1992, issue of Newsweek magazine on the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere. Greenpeace ozone specialist Alexandra Allen was quoted as warning that ozone loss “now amounts to a threat to the future of all life on earth.”—See the box on this page for further evidence of environmental ruining of the earth.
Space does not permit a detailed discussion of all aspects of Jesus’ prophecy. (See the chart on page 5 for an overview of other prophetic features.) One feature that cannot be overlooked, though, is described at Matthew 24:14: “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.” There is little question as to who is carrying on this global preaching work. Jehovah’s Witnesses in 229 lands spent over one billion hours in this work in the year 1992 alone. Their work thus constitutes one of the most visible proofs that we are living in the last days.
Do Not Be Fooled!
Some may argue, though, that all this talk of “the last days” is mere pessimism. ‘What about the recent demise of Communism in Eastern Europe?’ they ask, ‘or the efforts of the superpowers to make peace? Is this not evidence that things are getting better?’ No. Notice that Jesus did not say that the entire world would continuously be engulfed in wars, earthquakes, and famines during the last days. In order for the good news to be preached worldwide, there would have to be at least some periods of relative calm.
Recall, too, that Jesus compared the last days to the days before the Noachian Flood. At that time people were preoccupied with eating, drinking, and marrying—the normal activities of life. (Matthew 24:37-39) This would indicate that while conditions during the last days would be distressing, things would not degenerate to the point where the normal pursuits of life would be impossible. As in Noah’s day, the vast majority of humanity are so preoccupied with day-to-day affairs that they take no note of the seriousness of the times.
Therefore, it would be dangerous to lapse into indifference because of some seemingly favorable political developments. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:3.) The evidence is overwhelming that Jesus’ prophecy is undergoing fulfillment now—a warning that destruction is near!
The Glorious Aftermath
The destruction of Pompeii brought death and misery. However, the end of this present system will clear the way for eternal life on a beautiful paradise earth. (Revelation 21:3, 4) No more will divisive human governments ravage the earth with wars. No more will men tremble at the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Gone will be the factories that belch toxic chemicals into the environment.—Daniel 2:44.
At that time every person alive will be a lover of righteousness and a true friend, completely obedient to the rule of the Kingdom. (Psalm 37:10, 11) Hospitals, funeral parlors, and cemeteries will be things of the past. Divorce, separation, depression, and child abuse will likewise be no more.—Isaiah 25:8; 65:17.
Do you want to survive the last days and live to see God’s glorious new world? Then “keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.” (Mark 13:33) Nevertheless, world events make it evident that the appointed time is near—dangerously near for many. There is no time to lose. So take lifesaving action, and seek out those who are heeding the global sign of the last days. These are easily identifiable, for they alone are obeying Jesus’ command to preach the good news of the Kingdom worldwide. Along with such ones, may you take steps to align yourself with the King, Christ Jesus, of whom it is said: “In his name nations will hope.”—Matthew 12:18, 21.
[Box on page 5]
Twenty-Four Features of the Sign
5. Increasing lawlessness—Matthew 24:12
6. Ruining of the earth—Revelation 11:18
7. Love cooling off—Matthew 24:12
8. Fearful sights—Luke 21:11
9. Inordinate love of money—2 Timothy 3:2
10. Disobedience to parents—2 Timothy 3:2
11. Loving pleasures more than God—2 Timothy 3:4
12. Love of self dominates—2 Timothy 3:2
13. General lack of natural affection—2 Timothy 3:3
14. People not open to any agreement —2 Timothy 3:3
15. Self-control lacking at all levels of society—2 Timothy 3:3
16. Widespread loss of love of goodness —2 Timothy 3:3
17. Many hypocritically claiming to be Christian—2 Timothy 3:5
18. Excessive eating and drinking by some —Luke 21:34
19. Ridiculers reject the sign—2 Peter 3:3, 4
23. Cry of peace and security to climax the last
days—1 Thessalonians 5:3
24. People take no note of danger—Matthew 24:39
[Box on page 6]
Environmental Problems—A Sign of the Times
□ The protective ozone shield in heavily populated latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere is thinning twice as fast as scientists thought just a few years ago.
□ A minimum of 140 plant and animal species are going into extinction each day.
□ Atmospheric levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are now 26 percent higher than the preindustrial concentration, and they continue to climb.
□ The earth’s surface was warmer in 1990 than in any year since record keeping began in the mid-19th century; six of the seven warmest years on record have occurred since 1980.
□ Forests are vanishing at a rate of some 40,000,000 acres [17 million ha] per year, an area about half the size of Finland.
□ World population is growing by 92 million people annually—roughly equal to adding another Mexico each year; of this total, 88 million are being added in developing countries.
□ Some 1.2 billion people lack water that is safe to drink.
According to the book State of the World 1992, by Worldwatch Institute, pages 3, 4, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London.
[Picture on page 7]
After destruction will come God’s glorious new world