The End of the World?
13 May 2020
Is this the End of the World?
"Is this the end of the world?" a colleague asked me earlier this week. "We have the corona-virus, swarms of locust, and wars and fighting. Is the world ending?"
Early in 2020, the entire world was immersed in what public health officials have been calling a global pandemic. In a few short months, COVID-19 has drastically disrupted and altered the financial and social norms for the entire world. There is no country on the face of the earth that has not been affected with long-reaching, devastating consequences that cannot yet be measured.
In Mathew 24, Jesus' disciples asked Him three questions concluding with, "What will be the sign ... of the end of the age?"
Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.
Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
The Decline of the World
Jesus gave many signs and indications of world events that would occur before the end of the age or, in popular vernacular, the end of the world. There are many reports of false prophets and Antichrists in the world today. (1) (2) (3) And the false prophets are not just present on the African continent. (4) Concerning wars and rumors of wars, one must just think of Iran, China, and North Korea. Wars are being fought every single day. (5)
The number of hungry or undernourished people in the world continues to increase with an estimated 820 million people in 2019. COVID-19 and the locust swarms of 2020 in the Middle East and Eastern Africa will increase that number by an estimated 135 million people by the end of 2020. Reports indicate that a third wave of locusts could move into the Indo-Pakistan border and possibly into West Africa making a bad situation even worse. (6)(7)(8)(9)
In the last decade, 14 major earthquakes have struck around the world killing more than 350,000 people and causing nearly 500 billion dollars of damage and destruction. (10)(11) Christians continue to be persecuted in more than 140 countries around the world affecting 300 million people. These numbers are on the rise in the last decade. (12)
Lawlessness and sin are rampant in the 21st century. One can just look at the daily news. I would argue that sin and lawlessness are increasing as the world embraces ideas such as moral relativism and moral nihilism. Essentially, everyone does what is right in their own eyes, regardless of God's absolute standard of right and wrong. (13)(14)(15)
Are Things Really That bad?
So, things are
pretty really bad!
This is the end of the WORLD!
Or is it?
I would argue that every generation of Christians in the 2,000 years since Christ could have looked at world events (at least as much of the world that they were aware of) and made a case that the signs in Matthew were being fulfilled. What were believers in 1914 thinking when World War I started? What about in 1939 at the start of another world war? Or in 1945 just before the end of the bloodiest war in the history of the world? The level of death and destruction during World Word II was unprecedented with estimates of 60 million civilian and military casualties. (16)
Consider that John warned his readers in the first century that there were many false teachers and Antichrists. (1 John 4:1-3) There were at least 23 major battles in the first century. There was Roman civil war following the death of Nero in 68 AD and campaigns against the rebellious Jews in 70 AD. (17)(18) Christ stated that the poor would always be among us, (John 12:8, 19) so hunger and starvation are not new to the 21st Century. We still have records 2,000 years later of an earthquake that decimated many cities in Asia minor (modern day Turkey). An earthquake destroyed much of Pompeii, Italy in 62 AD which was followed by the complete destruction of the city by Mount Vesuvius' eruption in 79 AD. Multiple earthquakes were recorded in the four days leading up to the eruption. Mount Vesuvius ultimately released 100,000 times the thermal energy of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. (20)(21)(22)
Peter encourages his readers that they will suffer for doing good. (1 Peter 3:8-17, 4:16) The Roman Emperor Nero especially targeted Christians after the fire of Rome in 64 AD. (23) Paul described the first century as an evil age, (Galatians 1:4) and the author of Judges wrote 3,000 years ago that "each man did what he considered to be right." (Judges 17:6)
It is no wonder that the authors of the New Testament wrote as though they were living during the end of the world. The author of Hebrews wrote "in these last days" and "at the consummation of the ages." (Hebrews 1:1-2, 9:26) Peter wrote about "in these last times," (1 Peter 1:20) Paul wrote about "on whom the ends of the ages have come," (I Corinthians 10:11) and James wrote "it is in the last days." (James 5:1-3)
Yet Christ has tarried. The end of the world has not come (YET)!
Why would Jesus give signs to His disciples that could possibly be interpreted by every generation as the end of the world? I do not have a concrete answer from Scripture, but I have a guess.
Paul tells his readers:
Therefore consider carefully how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Two thousand years ago, Paul was telling believers to make the best use of the time that they have on this earth. He was telling them that the days are evil. Just like the businessman in James chapter four, we do not know how much time we will have left on this earth. (James 4:13-17)
Considering these verses, I believed that the evil in the world is a reminder that God has created us for good works that He wants us to complete. (Ephesians 2:10) Not good works unto salvation, (Ephesians 2:8-9) but good works to bring honor and glory to Him. (Revelation 4:11) Part of those good works is the Great Commission. The work that Christ gave to the church; "Make disciples!" (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, John 20:21, Acts 1:8).
The urgency of the end of the world should spur and urge believers on to good works, acts of love, because the days are evil to share the greatest gift of Love the world has ever known! (Romans 5:8)
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.