Are These Really the Last Days?
YOU are in the bow of a canoe as it enters a rough stretch of river. Huge boulders loom up through cascades of foam and spray. You try to fend them off. The person behind you is supposed to help steer the craft, but he has little experience. Worse yet, you have no map, so you have no idea whether these rapids will end in a calm pool or in a waterfall.
Not a pleasant scenario, is it? So let us change it. Imagine that you have an experienced guide with you, one who knows this river’s every rock, every bend. He knew far ahead that this white water was approaching, he knows how it will end, and he knows how to negotiate his way through it. Would you not feel far more secure?
Really, all of us are in a similar predicament. We find ourselves, through no fault of our own, in a rough stretch of human history. Most people have no idea how long things will be this way, whether conditions will improve, or how best to survive in the meanwhile. But we do not have to feel lost or helpless. Our Creator has provided us with a guide—one that foretold this dark period of history, predicts how it will end, and offers us the guidance we need in order to survive. That guide is a book, the Bible. Its Author, Jehovah God, calls himself the Grand Instructor, and through Isaiah he says reassuringly: “Your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people,’ in case you people should go to the right or in case you should go to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20, 21) Would you welcome such guidance? Then let us consider if the Bible really foretold what our days would be like.
Jesus’ Followers Ask a Meaningful Question
Jesus’ followers must have been amazed. Jesus had just told them, in no uncertain terms, that Jerusalem’s impressive temple buildings would be completely destroyed! Such a prediction was astonishing. Shortly afterward, as they sat upon the Mount of Olives, four of the disciples asked Jesus: “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 13:1-4) Whether they realized it or not, Jesus’ answer would have a multiple application.
The destruction of Jerusalem’s temple and the end of the Jewish system of things were not the same as the time of Christ’s presence and of the conclusion of the whole world system of things. Nonetheless, in his lengthy answer, Jesus artfully addressed all these aspects of the question. He told them what things would be like before Jerusalem’s destruction; he also told them what to expect the world to be like during his presence, when he would be ruling as King in heaven and would be on the verge of bringing the entire world system of things to its end.
The End of Jerusalem
Consider first what Jesus said about Jerusalem and its temple. Over three decades in advance, he foretold a time of terrible hardships for one of the greatest cities in the world. Notice in particular his words recorded at Luke 21:20, 21: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.” If Jerusalem was to be surrounded, encircled by encamped armies, how could “those in the midst of her” simply “withdraw,” as Jesus had commanded? Clearly, Jesus was implying that a window of opportunity would open up. Did it?
In 66 C.E., the Roman armies under the command of Cestius Gallus had beaten the Jewish rebel forces back to Jerusalem and had them pinned within the city. The Romans even made a thrust into the city itself and reached as far as the temple wall. But then Gallus directed his armies to do something truly baffling. He ordered them to retreat! Elated Jewish soldiers set out in pursuit and inflicted damage on their fleeing Roman enemies. Thus, Jesus’ foretold window of opportunity opened. True Christians heeded his warning and got out of Jerusalem. Wisely so, for just four years later, the Roman armies were back, with General Titus leading them. This time no escape was possible.
The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem again; they built a fortification of pointed stakes around it. Jesus had prophesied regarding Jerusalem: “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build around you a fortification with pointed stakes and will encircle you and distress you from every side.”a (Luke 19:43) Before long, Jerusalem fell; its glorious temple was reduced to smoldering ruins. Jesus’ words were fulfilled in every detail!
Jesus had far more in mind, though, than that destruction of Jerusalem. His disciples had also asked him about the sign of his presence. They did not then know it, but this referred to a time when he would be installed to reign as King in heaven. What did he foretell?
War in the Last Days
If you read Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21, you will see unmistakable evidence that Jesus was talking about our own age. He foretold a time of wars—not just the “wars and reports of wars” that have always marred human history but wars involving ‘nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom’—yes, great international wars.—Matthew 24:6-8.
Think for a moment about how warfare has changed in our century. When war meant merely the clash of armies representing two opposing nations, slashing with sabers or even firing guns at one another on a battlefield, it was terrible enough. But in 1914 the Great War broke out. Nation followed nation into the conflagration in a domino effect—the first global war. Automatic weapons were designed to kill more and more people and from greater distances. Machine guns spat bullets with grim efficiency; mustard gas burned, tormented, maimed, and killed soldiers by the thousands; tanks rumbled mercilessly through enemy lines, their great guns blazing. The airplane and the submarine also came into play—mere harbingers of what they were to become.
World War II did the unimaginable—it actually dwarfed its predecessor, killing scores of millions of people. Huge aircraft carriers, virtual floating cities, plied the seas and unleashed warplanes to rain death from the skies upon enemy targets. Submarines torpedoed and sank enemy vessels. And atom bombs were dropped, claiming thousands of lives in each crushing blow! Just as Jesus prophesied, there have indeed been “fearful sights” to mark this warring age.—Luke 21:11.
Has war eased off since World War II? Hardly. Sometimes literally dozens of wars rage during a single year—even in this decade of the 1990’s—taking a death toll in the millions. And there has been a change in war’s primary victims. No longer are the dead mainly soldiers. Today, most casualties of war—in fact, over 90 percent of them—are civilians.
Other Features of the Sign
War is only one aspect of the sign Jesus mentioned. He also warned that there would be “food shortages.” (Matthew 24:7) And so it has been, though paradoxically the earth is producing more food than is needed to feed all mankind, though agricultural science is more advanced than ever in human history, though speedy and efficient transportation is available to transport food anywhere in the world. Despite all of that, about one fifth of this world’s population goes hungry every day.
Jesus also foretold that “in one place after another” there would be “pestilences.” (Luke 21:11) Again, our age has seen a strange paradox—better medical care than ever, technological breakthroughs, vaccines to prevent many common diseases; yet pestilential diseases have made unprecedented strides as well. The Spanish Influenza followed swiftly on the heels of World War I and claimed more lives than the war did. So contagious was this disease that in cities such as New York, people could be fined or jailed just for sneezing! Today, cancer and heart disease claim millions of lives each year—veritable pestilences. And AIDS continues to strike down lives, basically unchecked by medical science.
Whereas Jesus discussed the last days largely in terms of sweeping historical and political conditions, the apostle Paul put the focus more on social problems and prevalent attitudes. He wrote, in part: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, . . . disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Do those words strike a familiar chord with you? Consider just one aspect of social decay in today’s world—the disintegration of the family. The flood tide of broken homes, battered spouses, abused children, and maltreated elderly parents—how these show that people have “no natural affection,” are “fierce,” and even “betrayers,” “without love of goodness”! Yes, we see these traits on an epidemic level today.
Is Our Generation the One Foretold?
You may wonder, though, ‘Have not these conditions always plagued mankind? How do we know that our modern generation is the one foretold in these ancient prophecies?’ Let us consider three lines of evidence that prove that Jesus was talking about our time.
First, while there was a partial, early fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, Jesus’ words definitely pointed to the future beyond that day. About 30 years after the cataclysm that destroyed Jerusalem, Jesus gave the aged apostle John a vision showing that the prophesied conditions—war, famine, pestilence, and resultant death—were to arrive worldwide in the future. Yes, these distresses would embrace, not any one locality, but “the earth” as a whole.—Revelation 6:2-8.
Second, in this century some features of Jesus’ sign are being fulfilled in what we might call the ultimate degree. For example, is there any room for wars to become much worse than they have been since 1914? If there was a World War III, with all of today’s nuclear powers deploying their weapons, the aftermath would likely find this earth a charred waste—and mankind as extinct as the dodo. Similarly, Revelation 11:18 foretold that in these days when the nations are “wrathful,” mankind would be “ruining the earth.” For the first time in history, pollution and degradation of the environment now threaten the very habitability of this planet! So this feature too is seeing fulfillment in or near its ultimate degree. Could wars and pollution simply continue to worsen until man has destroyed himself and this planet? No; for the Bible itself decrees that the earth will last forever, with righthearted humans living upon it.—Psalm 37:29; Matthew 5:5.
Third, the sign of the last days is especially convincing when taken as a whole. All told, when we take into account the features Jesus mentioned in the three Gospels, those in Paul’s writings, and those in Revelation, this sign has dozens of features. A person might quibble about them one at a time, arguing that other ages have seen similar problems, but when we consider all of them together, they point an unmistakable finger at only one age—our own.
What, though, does all of this mean? That the Bible simply paints our age as a desperate, hopeless time? Far from it!
One of the most noteworthy features of the sign of the last days is recorded 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.” In this century, Jehovah’s Witnesses have carried out a work unique in human history. They have taken the Bible’s message about Jehovah God’s Kingdom—what it is, how it rules, and what it will accomplish—and have spread that message all over the earth. They have published literature on this subject in well over 300 languages and have brought it to people in their homes or on the streets or at their places of business in virtually every land on earth.
In so doing, they have been fulfilling this prophecy. But they have also been spreading hope. Notice that Jesus called this “good news,” not bad news. How could that be in these dark times? Because the Bible’s central message is not about how bad things will be at the end of this old world. Its central message involves God’s Kingdom, and that Kingdom promises something dear to the hearts of every peace-loving human—deliverance.
Just what is that deliverance, and how can it be yours? Please consider the following articles on this subject.
a Titus held a decidedly winning hand here. Nonetheless, in two important respects, he did not get his way. He made offers for peaceful surrender, but the city leaders stubbornly, inexplicably, refused. And when the city walls were finally breached, he ordered that the temple be spared. Yet it was burned completely! Jesus’ prophecy had made it clear that Jerusalem would be devastated and that the temple would be completely demolished.—Mark 13:1, 2.
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People are seeking answers to such troubling questions as, Why are things so bad? Where is mankind heading?
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Today, over 90 percent of war casualties are civilians
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Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled in every detail