In recent decades people from many walks of life have expressed concern about the possibility of the end of the world. Nuclear warfare, environmental disaster, planetary pollution, overpopulation, disease epidemics and a collision between earth and a killer asteroid are just some of the causes that have been cited.
When in Office, the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, expressed concern Armageddon might occur in our generation, and his defense secretary, Casper Weinberger, observed: “I believe the world is going to end—by an act of God, I hope—but every day I think time is running out” (quoted by Reginald Stackhouse, The End of the World, 1997, p. viii).
Experts generally agree that, of all possible means of destroying humanity, nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat, and there is general agreement that if certain terrorist groups got their hands on nuclear devices, they would use them. “The nuclear threat … constitutes not a temporary, but rather an irrevocable global threat. The actual possibility of an end to all life is now a constituent part of our reality” (The End of the World: A Theological Interpretation, 1995, pp. 229-230).
The Bible also contains prophecies about the end of the world as we know it. However, few understand that when Jesus’ disciples asked Him about “the end of the world,” they weren’t talking about “world” in the sense of our physical planet (Matthew 24:3). The Greek word translated “world” is aion, which means an age, epoch or era. Our present age of human rule on earth, under the deceptive sway of Satan, is described by the apostle Paul as “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
Paul and the apostles understood that, at the end of this age, man’s corrupt civilization will be swept away and a new era would begin with the return of Christ. This transition from man’s misrule to the Kingdom of God was at the core message of the prophets, as well as the Gospel message Jesus taught. The New Testament contains more than 300 verses referring to these events.
When describing the end of the age Jesus listed some warning signs (Matthew 24). The first would be massive religious deception promoting a counterfeit Christianity, claiming to represent Christ. He also prophesied wars and ethnic conflicts, as well famines, massive disease epidemics and earthquakes. The problem with trying to precisely predict when the end of this age will occur is that these trends and conditions have been with us in varying degrees from the first century until now.
Many believe the development of modern weaponry with the ability to annihilate human life is a sure sign of the last days. Jesus did say that “if that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive” (Matthew 24:22, Revised English Bible). But we are also assured in the same verse that God will intervene before it is too late.
The only wise action for anyone who understands what is coming is to turn to God with repentance and obedience (Acts 3:19). Indeed, “now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [i.e., Jesus Christ]” (Acts 17:30-31, NIV).
Our chief concern should not be when this present, evil age will end as Jesus said it would be impossible for men to precisely calculate this ahead of time (Matthew 24:36, 42). Instead, our main focus should be to seek God to be spiritually prepared for the times that are coming. “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44, NIV). We need to seek God in heartfelt repentance and faith and remain faithfully obedient while awaiting Jesus’ return. For “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
The Good News magazine