But if it is true that the earth is not doomed to destruction or spoiling, what is meant by a term found in various versions of the Bible, at Matthew 24:3, “the end of the world”? What is the world that is said to be coming to an end? When is it to take place? Will there be any survivors? We invite you to consider the following article for answers to such probing questions.
THE Bible has much to say about the fact that “the world is passing away.” In many places it contains specific information about the time that it also calls “the conclusion of the system of things.” But when the Bible speaks about this “end of the world,” what does it mean? Does it mean that our home, planet Earth, is to be destroyed?—1 John 2:17; Matthew 24:3, King James Version.
God does not have to destroy the earth in order to eliminate the frightful conditions that are so prevalent on it. The earth is not causing the problems in human society today. People are responsible, especially people who have little or no regard for the Creator, Jehovah God, and his laws. They are the ones who are turning life on this earth into a nightmare for so many. But God does not have to destroy the earth to rid it of such ones.
Getting Rid of Offenders
For example, if you found your home infested with mice, how would you get rid of them? Would you burn down your house? No! Instead, you would likely find some other means such as traps; or perhaps you would get a cat. You would not destroy the house.
At times foxes are said to rid themselves of fleas in a manner that causes no injury to themselves. They gradually immerse themselves completely in water, with just the tip of their nose exposed for breathing, as they hold some object in their mouth at water level. The fleas travel upward from the fox’s body to escape drowning and eventually infest the object in his mouth. Then the canny fox releases it from his mouth, and the object floats away with its cargo of fleas. The fox is left intact.
Thus, it is not necessary to destroy the body that hosts the parasites in order to get rid of them.
Similarly, in Jesus’ illustration about the end of the world, he said that a farmer had sowed his field with wheat, but during the night his enemy came and sowed weeds there. The farmer did not burn his whole wheat field just to get rid of the weeds. Instead, when his workers wanted to pull out the weeds that had started to grow, the farmer said: “No, . . . you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles and burn them, and put the wheat in the barn.”
Then Jesus concluded: “Just as in this story the thistles are separated and burned, so shall it be at the end of the world: I will send my angels and they will separate out . . . all who are evil, and throw them into the furnace and burn them.”—Matthew 13:24-26, 29, 30, 40-42, The Living Bible.
Jesus also likened “the end of the world” to what happened at the time of the global Flood in Noah’s day. (Matthew 24:37-39) At that time it was not the earth itself that was destroyed. Rather, it was ungodly humans. Because of the shocking behavior of the people living back then, God said: “I am going to wipe men whom I have created off the surface of the ground.” (Genesis 6:7) Likewise, the apostle Peter spoke of the ancient “world of ungodly people” that was destroyed back in Noah’s time. It was not planet Earth that perished.—2 Peter 2:5.
Why, though, do many confuse the expression “the end of the world” with the destruction of planet Earth? One reason is the prevalence of such teaching in many of today’s religions.
Confusing Religious Teachings
Confusion has been caused by religious spokesmen who interpret “the end of the world” to mean the destruction of the earth itself and all living things on it. Arthur S. Maxwell is one who advocates this theory. In his book Time Running Out he rationalizes that nuclear power makes this possible for the first time in man’s history. He says: “How could the heavens disappear? How could the elements disintegrate in flames, and the whole earth be laid bare? Only now in the Nuclear Age has the full import of his dramatic message become crystal clear.”
A similar holocaust, but with some variation, is described by Henry M. Morris in Bibliotheca Sacra: “The basic materials of the earth’s structure will not be annihilated, but will undergo tremendous processes of disintegration, probably even atomic disintegration.” He adds: “The earth’s remaining waters will either disintegrate or instantaneously boil away. . . . Then, as the atoms of the former earth begin to fall together again after the holocaust, God will once more exercise His primeval creative power, and will ‘create’ and ‘make’ the new heavens and the new earth.”
A Roman Catholic publication, Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, under “End of the World,” says: “The Catholic church believes and teaches that the present world [the material universe], which God has formed, will not last forever. . . . It is Scriptural, the tradition of Catholic theology, and confirmed by modern science.” Also, the Catholic Dictionary of Biblical Theology first extols creation as “the goodness of God” and as “a true work of art” but then goes on to describe how the literal, physical elements will experience “a total reversal through a sudden return to chaos.”
Many other mainline religions and evangelical groups promote similar views. But are these correct?
Which World to Be Destroyed?
It was Jesus’ disciples who asked him a direct question about the end of the world. This is recorded at Matthew 24:3, according to the King James, or Authorized, Version of the Bible: “Tell us, . . . what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
Other Bible translations help us to understand that the Greek word for “world” (ai·onʹ) used in this text does not refer to the literal earth or to the material universe. Several Bible versions translate the expression as “end of the age,” or as “the final time.” The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures renders the verse: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”
So rather than forecasting a nuclear holocaust or similar disintegration of the material universe, including planet Earth, the Bible teaches us that it is the wicked system of things on earth that will be brought to a sudden end. This includes all forms of corruption, falsehood, and hypocrisy now existing, whether it is political, commercial, or religious. All degradation and immorality, all wickedness, and all godless humans existing on earth at that time will be forcibly removed.
Two clear statements found in the Bible, which need no interpreting, should remove any fear that the earth may be destroyed when the “world” comes to its end. The first is found at Ecclesiastes 1:4 (KJ): “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” The second appears at Isaiah 45:18 (KJ): “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.”
Thus the world that the Bible so definitely says will be destroyed is the world of mankind that is not doing the will of God. “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.” (Proverbs 2:22) “There is a controversy that Jehovah has with the nations. He must personally put himself in judgment with all flesh. As regards the wicked ones, he must give them to the sword . . . And those slain by Jehovah will certainly come to be in that day from one end of the earth clear to the other end of the earth.”—Jeremiah 25:31, 33.