Before you say, “I don’t believe.” Chapter 16
In view of all the fulfilled prophecies, have you considered what the Bible says about how the world will end?
A newspaper cartoon depicted a horse race. The riders on the horses were skeleton-like horsemen each carrying a sword and scythe. The horses were labelled ‘Floods’, ‘War’, and ‘Famine’. The caption read, ‘Photo finish.’
The well-respected science writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote the best-seller, ‘A Choice of Catastrophes’, in which he says that he expects humanity to destroy itself sooner or later, but thinks it will probably be sooner!
Unless, we are blinkered to what is going on in our world, we know that the whole of creation is groaning from conflict, sin and disease. There is suffering and pain, like in the pains of childbirth. Newspaper headlines can be quite depressing; there are too many people suffering, and our hearts go out to millions who live in dire poverty. Then there are issues of global warming and diminishing resources. We wonder what is going on; we ask ourselves if our world can continue like this, whether God is interested, or has lost control. At times there is a shiver down our spines.
My thoughts and ideas are of no greater value than anyone else’s; I have no special insights into what will happen in the future, or how the world will end. This book is not about what I think, but it examines what the Bible, God’s message to all humanity, has to say on the subject … and it says a lot!
Repeatedly, the Bible, which contains much prophecy (as well as history, poetry, letters, biography and law), describes what will happen in the build up to and climax of the world coming to an end. You don’t have to turn to the end of the Bible to see how everything will end. Throughout the Bible, as well as in its last book (the Book of Revelation) we are told the graphic story. Bible prophecies are not to be sneered at. They are neither vague guesses, nor the deliberately optimistic guesses of fortune-tellers (have you ever wondered why they don’t win the lottery?). Rather, there are very specific announcements about what will happen. God is outside of time, seeing the past, the present and the future. It is He who has spoken to reveal details of what will happen. They are there in black and white for us to read.
Jesus’ coming to earth at Bethlehem, and His life, death and resurrection, were all prophesied in detail centuries before His birth. The prophets told how He would be born, where He would be born, how He would be taken to Egypt, yet grow up in Nazareth. They described His life, teaching, influence and miraculous powers. And long before crucifixion was even introduced to the world, they describe in detail His death and resurrection. They explained that He would die to pay the price of our sin, to provide forgiveness for all who will trust Him. They prophesied that Jesus would rise from the dead, and that eventually there will come a day when Jesus will return to this earth as Lord and King.
The prophets, as well as Jesus Himself, told us what will happen in the lead up to His Second Coming. They describe how Jesus will bring to an end the affairs of this world, and then how He will rule over the earth. Bible-believing Christians agree on the basic beliefs about Jesus’ Second Coming, though there are intriguing and fascinating differences about some of the details of interpretation concerning the events surrounding that great event. However, every real Christian looks forward to the return of Jesus. Chapter 24 of Matthew’s Gospel, is a record of what Jesus taught about the end of the world.
In ‘The Gathering Storm’, the first volume of his memoirs on World War II, Sir Winston Churchill recalled how people laughed in the 1930s when he warned them of the coming war. The Bible teaches that people will mock the idea of Jesus returning, but at the right time He will come back to this world, not as a baby in a manger but as the Lord, the King, the Ruler over all.
This biblical truth, is found in many Christian hymns, as well in the Creeds. When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he laid the crown on her head with the sure pronouncement, “I give thee, O sovereign lady, this crown to wear until He who reserves the right to wear it shall return.” The belief in the return of Jesus has given and still gives great encouragement to Christian people. Nobody knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ Second Coming – and those who have predicted times only make themselves look foolish – but Christians look forward to the time when Christ will return.
What will happen?
The Bible tells how God created a wonderful world where everything was good, but which was ruined by human rebellion. It describes a deteriorating situation in human behaviour and also natural occurrences on planet earth. Despite all that is going on, the Bible says that many will feel that their lives are peaceable and acceptable.
Events in the world will build up until a moment when the Lord Jesus will come down from Heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. He will come to earth with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgement on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of the Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord God and His power. Christians of the past, who have died, will rise from the graves and together with Christians who are still living at that time will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
In a bloody battle scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘Apocalypse Now’, a messenger wanders into the front-line, looks at the chaos, and asks, “Who’s in charge here?” No one answered the question. There are people today, looking at the chaos and evil in our world, asking the same question. However, in all that is going on, God is watching, and the world is working to His timetable. He has His eye on the clock; He knows the final chapters of world history, and nothing ever takes God by surprise.
The Bible describes, in the most cheering words, what society will be like when Jesus rules as Lord and King in His rightful position of honour and esteem.
The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4) All these things are gone forever.
During World War II, Albert Einstein helped bring a German photographer to the United States. They became friends, and the photographer took a number of pictures of Einstein. He had never liked photographs, and especially any picture of himself. One day he looked into the camera and started talking. He spoke of the despair that his formula, e=mc², and his letter to President Roosevelt, had made the atomic bomb possible, so that his mathematical revelations had contributed to the death of so many people. He grew silent. His eyes had a look of immense sadness.
At that very moment the cameraman released the shutter. Einstein looked up and the cameraman asked him, “So you don’t believe that there will ever be peace?”
“No,” he answered, “As long as there will be man, there will be wars.”
Clearly, Albert Einstein understood the complex, fallen nature of human beings. He understood that wars and fightings come from inside us. We are naturally rebellious against all that is right. We shake our fist in God’s face, and reap the consequences because we fight with our inward selves, and with others around us. The Bible, though, assures us that one day everything will be different. The prophet Isaiah, speaking 700 years before Jesus, told us about Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem, and then His increasing influence, and His return and reign:
The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. ‘For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of His ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!’ (Isaiah 9:6-7)
John Milton, author of ‘Paradise Lost’, yearned for ‘Paradise Regained.’ That longing will not be disappointed. The world will not end through an earthquake, flood, tsunami, war, or through a terrorist’s whim or dictator’s pride. This is God’s earth, and is under His control, and is ticking over according to His perfect timing.
Throughout the Bible we are given signs to look for, which will indicate that the Second Coming of Jesus is drawing near. An expectant mother knows approximately when her baby is due, but the sign that the birth is imminent is when she goes into labour. In a similar way, there will be tremendous trouble in the world in the time preceding the Second Coming of Christ. But when Jesus comes, He will reign with righteousness and justice. You will see that many of these signs are very familiar to people who watch world events unfolding. To those not looking for the signs Jesus will come completely unexpectedly, as a thief in the night, but for Christians there is an awareness of the signs which the Bible clearly spells out.
There will be signs in the world:
Jesus said that there would be an increase in wars as nations rise up against nations: “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from Heaven.” (Luke 21:10-11)
From the first genocide of the 20th century where 1,500,000 Armenians were massacred in just six months, to the Rwandan genocide in 1984 when 800,000 were killed in the course of just 100 days, millions have been butchered at the whim of others. The last century has been called, ‘A century of violence’. Between 8 and 9 million people died in World War I. The peace conditions imposed on Germany after that war created the conditions which brought Hitler to power in Germany in 1933 and so led to World War II.
We recall all too well the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, then the American-led coalition invading Afghanistan and Iraq in the ‘War on Terror.’
The late Soviet president and Communist Party chief, Leonid Brezhnev, once said, “Only he who has decided to commit suicide can start a nuclear war.” Today, we know there are thousands of people who have made that decision for themselves, even convincing themselves that their god will be pleased with them as they take the lives of others. So the prospect of a nuclear war is not altogether alien.
Wars result in a colossal theft of life, as well as a squandering of resources and energy. They bring untold suffering, disease, poverty and misery to millions. They are a sign that the Second Coming of Christ is approaching. One day Jesus will put an end to all wars.
Jesus said there would be an increasing number of famines, earthquakes and pestilences. These are His words: “There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from Heaven.” (Luke 21:11)
Then the Bible says there will be ‘a great earthquake – the worst since people were placed on the earth,’ as well as other pestilences. (Revelation 16:8, 12 and 18)We were all shocked by the tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004, yet many nations daily live in dread of earthquakes and tsunamis. As the time draws closer to when Jesus will return, we will find troubles and traumas will increase.
There will be signs in the people:
Jesus, in speaking about the signs that indicate the time of His Second Coming is drawing near, said there will be an increasing number of deceivers and false prophets. Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many….For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.” (Matthew 24:4-5 and 24 )
This is exactly what we have seen in recent years. New religious cults that either add to the Bible or take away from it, but always undermine the centrality and significance of Jesus, have peddled their religions across the world. We are familiar with people knocking on our doors and trying to entice us into their new ‘truth’. It is exactly as Jesus said it would be.
The Apostle Paul wrote in the Bible, ‘You should know this … that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act in a religious way, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
The Bible speaks of a time of great unrest, with massive political and religious turmoil. Again Christians debate whether this the one called the Anti-Christ or ‘the beast’ in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 13), represents all anti-Christian forces or is an actual political leader who will rule across nations with an iron fist, just prior to the moment when Christ returns to wrap up the troubles of the world. It is dramatic, but terrible: ‘Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in Heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshipped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made—the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword.’ (Revelation 13:5-10)
There will be signs in the church:
Jesus warned His followers that there would be great persecution against true Christians: “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.” (Matthew 24:9) Some Christians believe that just as the Bible says that there will be an Anti-Christ figure (Revelation 17), there will be someone who will unite religions but will be opposed to Christ and His followers. He is called ‘the prostitute’ in the Book of Revelation. He will persecute the true church. Other Christians again, see this as symbolic of all anti-Christian seduction. However, alongside the false religious teachers, there will be the spread of the true gospel to every people and tribe across the world. (Matthew 24:14)
There will be signs in the Middle East:
After the ashes of the Holocaust, it must have seemed that all hope had gone for the Jewish nation and people. But Biblical prophecy taught differently. In 1947 the United Nations passed a resolution which was to lead to Israel becoming a great nation again. This was after nearly 2000 years of the Jews being dispersed around the world. Despite hostility between Israel and the nations around her, it has survived and flourished, just as the Bible said it would.
Just prior to His crucifixion Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people to the nations. (Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20-24) This happened forty years later, in 70 AD. He said that Jerusalem would be trampled by Gentiles until the time for them has been fulfilled. The prophet Ezekiel had said that the land of Israel would be desolate, but would become fertile again as the Jews returned there. (Ezekiel 36:8) And the prophet Isaiah said that the Jews would return to their land from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11-12, 43:5-6)
Ezekiel prophesied an attack on Israel by an alliance of countries which includes nations which today have made no secret of their desire to destroy the nation of Israel. (Ezekiel 38 & 39) Jesus spoke about a time of religious desecration and idolatry in Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:15)
There will also be signs in the sky:
So cataclysmic will be the moment of Jesus’ return that all people will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. When He died as our Substitute, paying for our sins on the cross, darkness covered the face of the world for three hours even though it was mid-day. When He returns, “there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the Heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)
One day it will happen. Jesus will return. Those who have never trusted Christ will be lost forever. Judgement for them will be an awful moment that leads to the verdict and sentence from God Himself: “Depart from me; I never knew you.” Those who have trusted Jesus as Lord will look to Him and see their dearest Saviour, knowing that they will be with Him for ever.
The classical story of the young man Damocles who used flattery to endear himself to Dionysius, the tyrant ruler of ancient Syracuse, illustrates how perilous our security is outside of God. To instruct and warn the ambitious youth, Dionysius invited the flatterer to a banquet and seated him under a sword suspended over his head by a single hair. Those who live but do not enjoy peace with God, are so poised before Jesus, the ultimate Judge of everyone.
The big question for each individual is to make sure that he or she is certain that their sins have been forgiven, and that they are in a right relationship with Christ. Our lives are each characterised by things that are not right: we think, speak and act in a way we shouldn’t. We sin against God by not keeping His commandments. We can never be good enough to earn our way to God.
He has taken the initiative, and come to rescue us. God became a man and dwelt among us. Jesus came with the purpose not only of teaching and healing, but to die on a cross. As He was crucified, He carried on Himself the sin and condemnation that should rest on us. He died in our place because He loved us. He was buried, and three days later conquered death by rising again.
Today, Jesus commands each one of us to turn from what is wrong in our lives. The Bible calls this repentance. Then, we are to believe and ask Jesus to forgive us and by His Holy Spirit to live in our lives. Jesus is to become our Lord and Saviour. He will help us to follow Him. One day He will take everyone who is trusting in Christ to be with Him for ever.
If a Christian dies before Jesus returns, he or she will go to be with Christ. Heaven is not a reward, it is a gift. If they are still alive at the time of His coming, no matter what they have endured, they will thrill with joy at seeing the returning Lord Jesus, whom they have followed and served.