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Human beings want to know what's going to happen, if for no other reason than their personal protection, but the real purpose of prophecy is to help us evaluate our personal conduct in light of God's Word—before the prophesied circumstances come to pass.
God is merciful and loving, and His Word is full of warnings to get sinful human beings to turn from sin and avoid its painful and inevitable consequences. God derives no pleasure from the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).
Many Bible stories validate the purpose of prophecy, but few highlight it better than the story of Judah and Babylon. For many years God warned the kingdom of Judah not to follow the ways of the neighbouring kingdom of Israel. Because of their many sins and refusal to turn from their wicked ways, God had let the ten tribes of Israel be conquered by Assyria and carried away from their homeland in two massive deportations—in 733 and 722 B.C.
Nearly a century later, God allowed the righteous king Josiah to reign over Judah in a last-ditch effort to save the Jewish nation from imminent captivity (2 Chronicles 34:1, 26-28). He also sent the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Habakkuk to warn them, but after Josiah's untimely death the people of Judah quickly returned to their sinful ways and, like Israel, they too were invaded and taken into captivity.
God has used the same approach in our modern world. Jesus Christ gave an overview of end-time prophecy shortly before His crucifixion to warn those living just before His return to this earth to change their ways and turn from sinful, indulgent ways of life.
These prophecies are recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, and correspond to the seals of the book of Revelation, which once opened remain in place until Christ's return.
First seal: Revelation 6:2 (corresponding to Matthew 24:4-5) tells of the spread of false Christianity, which began shortly after Jesus' resurrection and the founding of the New Testament Church. This false Christianity is a religious mixture derived partly from the Bible and partly from non-biblical beliefs and traditions originating in ancient pagan religions.
A number of New Testament writers spoke of this counterfeit Christianity (2 Corinthians 13-15; Jude 3-4; 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1), which the apostle Paul labelled "the mystery of lawlessness." It will play a major role in end-time deception leading up to Christ's return.
Second seal: Revelation 6:3-4 and Matthew 24:6-7 tell of "wars and rumors of wars." There have always been wars and rumours of wars and Jesus said they would continue to the end, escalating into a final bloodbath that will take the lives of no less than a third of mankind (Revelation 9:15-16).
Third seal: Revelation 6:5-6 and Matthew 24:7 show the earth will be plagued with major famines, starvation and hunger. While there have always been famines, as time goes on they will grow worse and worse. Famines follow hard on the heels of war, and millions will die from starvation.
Fourth seal: Revelation 6:7-8 and Matthew 24:7 reveal the world will be plagued by deadly diseases and terrible disasters. Famine leads to diseases and both flow from man-made carnage and natural catastrophes. Widespread pandemics will decimate large populations, as the bubonic plague did in the 14th century, when it killed a third of the population of Europe, Russia, China, and cities on associated trade routes. Currently the world is struggling with the COVID19 virus.
Fifth seal: Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 24:9-12 tell of great persecution and the martyrdom of God's faithful servants. As Jesus Himself said, "A servant is not greater than his master, if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). Paul similarly wrote, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
This increased persecution of those who follow the true God and His teachings introduces the time of the Great Tribulation. Other passages reveal that the intensifying persecution will extend to not just Christians, but to the physical descendants of ancient Israel. (See our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy).
Sixth seal: Revelation 6:12-17 and Matthew 24:29 describe terrifying signs in the sky—the sun and the moon darkened—and what appears to be a meteor striking the earth. These events introduce the time of God's wrath (Revelation 16:1; 19:15), which Scripture calls "the day of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Malachi 4:5), and leads directly into Jesus Christ's climactic second coming.
Not all prophecies are understandable today, but God has revealed a few other end-time conditions that must be in place before Christ Jesus returns, which have only been met within the last century:
Since 1945 and the detonation of the first atomic bombs, followed by even more destructive hydrogen bombs, humanity now has the ability to destroy all human life many times over. Jesus said of the time of the end: "It will be a time of great distress; there has never been such a time from the beginning of the world until now, and will never be again. If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22).
This has only been possible since 1948, when the modern state of Israel was born. Jesus prophesied as the end time approached, the Jews would once again control Jerusalem and the "holy place." Later Jesus said the holy place would be desecrated with the abomination of desolation, as the prophet Daniel had earlier described (Matthew 24:15-16). The prophesied conditions are now partially in place, but more must change before other prophesied events can proceed.
At the end time it is prophesied 10 "kings" or rulers will align themselves in a final world superpower Scripture calls "the beast," led by a powerful dictator also called the Beast (Revelation 17:12-13). Indications are that this development will take place in Europe and its influence will extend to the whole world. The time setting of this prophecy is clear from the fact that these 10 rulers “will make war with the Lamb"—the returning Jesus Christ—"and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings" (verse 14).
For a more detailed guide to the major end-time prophecies, download or request our free booklets The Book of Revelation Unveiled, You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, The Middle East in Bible Prophecy and Are We Living in the Time of the End?
The Good News Magazine