As events unfold in the third millennium, many of us can't help but wonder what the future holds for us and our planet. Are we on the threshold of a brave New World Order, with "peace and plenty for all"? Or are we tottering on the brink of unprecedented chaos and disaster?
Biblical prophets foretold many specifics about today's world. Their predictions, now two to three thousand years old, accurately depict conditions and events that have either already taken place or will soon—quite possibly during our lifetime.
Among those prophecies are descriptions of modern rapid transportation systems, today's unprecedented increase in world travel, the present explosion in knowledge of all kinds, technological advances such as electronic banking, a soon-to-be-implemented global financial and identification system, the effects of global warming, and outbreaks of lethal epidemics.
Awareness of these predictions will give you a new perspective on the radical transformation the world is currently undergoing, as well as prepare you for the cataclysmic changes to come.
The big question
Throughout the ages a number of seers have received special insight into the future. A discourse that is regarded by many as the most profound and comprehensive of its kind was given 2,000 years ago on a hillside outside the ancient city of Jerusalem. There a small band of truth-seekers gathered around their teacher—a carpenter-turned-preacher, known as Jesus of Nazareth. The question they asked Him prompted a response that reaches across the centuries to the days in which we are now living.
As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).
What His followers were asking Him about is often referred to as "the Second Coming," the dramatic return of Christ prior to His taking over the world and establishing the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus answered their question by revealing not one sign of "the end," but many.
A world at war
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8).
Wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes were nothing new in Jesus' time, of course. War has been a scourge of mankind since time immemorial, but no period in history has witnessed a greater number of wars or greater destruction brought about by them than has the last hundred years.
Prior to 1914, war had never been universal, but in both World War I and World War II global war was waged. In the latter, all but 12 small nations of the world were militarily or technically involved, and 93 million people served in the armed forces of both sides. Of these, 25 million died. Civilian casualties were unprecedented: In the Soviet Union alone, over 20 million civilians died as a result of the war.
Ethnic cleansing and tribal terror
The Greek word for "nation" originally used in this prophecy—"nation shall rise against nation"—is ethnos, which is more accurately translated "a race" or "a tribe." In other words, Jesus was saying that ethnic groups would rise against each other. This has been tragically fulfilled in recent times.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger (1917-2007) warned: The 20th century [was] a century of the warfare of ideologies: democracy vs. fascism, democracy vs. communism. But the end of the Cold War has released long-buried national, racial, ethnic, and linguistic antagonisms around the world. … The 21st century promises to be a century of the warfare of ethnicities.1
Citing Stalin's purges, Mao's Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's killing fields, the so-called ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the horrors of Rwanda, etc., the Associated Press (AP) reports that during the 20th century the murders perpetrated by nations against their own people exceeded the deaths caused by wars with rivals outside their borders—170 million lives, by one estimate. That was the century that coined the term "genocide."2
Although the outlook may appear bleak, the day is soon coming when God Himself will intervene in this violent world, and war shall be forever abolished (Isaiah 2:4).
"And there will be famines..." (Matthew 24:7)
Extreme poverty remains a daily reality for more than 1 billion people; hunger and malnutrition are almost equally pervasive: More than 800 million people have too little to eat to meet their daily energy needs.3 World population has more than doubled in the last 50 years and is expected to reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030. As the number of people increases, per capita availability of water and arable land decreases. The control of water resources is predicted to become a major cause of armed conflict in the future.4
A plagued planet
"And there will be pestilences..."
The severity and frequency with which "pestilences" (epidemics of highly infectious diseases) now strike is also alarming. Viral killers like AIDS and Ebola are occurring more frequently than ever, and the threat from influenza might be the most dangerous of all. The influenza virus has developed the ability to circumvent the human body's main defense against the disease, raising the prospect of a deadly new global outbreak, scientists have discovered.
"New diseases are emerging at the historically unprecedented rate of one per year," the WHO's director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, said in an introduction to the 2007 World Health Report. "It would be extremely naïve and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola, or another SARS, sooner or later," the report said.
Considering today's high volume of high-speed international travel, an outbreak of a deadly disease in any part of the world is only a few hours away from becoming a dire threat elsewhere.5
The big shake-up
"And there will be earthquakes, in various places..."
A 1995 top-level meeting of geologists and seismologists warned that the rise of big cities along seismic fault lines will cause unprecedented catastrophes in the near future. "It's virtually certain there will be catastrophes in the coming decades, the likes of which we have never seen," Roger Bilham told an International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics meeting. "Fatality counts exceeding one million are not an unreasonable projection given that 50 percent of an urban population can be lost in a single earthquake."6
The energy released in the 2004 Asian tsunami was equivalent to the explosion of 475,000 kilotons of TNT, or 23,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. At least 226,000 were killed and over 500,000 were injured.7
The Bible's book of Revelation mentions five times that massive quakes will occur in the Last Days.
Our violent world
"As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24:37).
Another condition that Jesus indicated would be evident immediately prior to His return would be pervasive violence. How were things in "the days of Noah?" The book of Genesis tells us "the earth was corrupt before God, and was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11).
In the 20th century it is estimated that around 110 million people died as a result of wars, whereas over 170 million were killed in political violence during the same period.8
The "me generation"
"Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold" (Matthew 24:12 KJV).
This is how Jesus described the callous condition of people's hearts in the days before His return. In a related passage, the apostle Paul writes:
"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
Selfishness and cold-heartedness seem to be prevalent almost everywhere we look.
The good news goes global
"And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
Unlike wars, famine, plagues, and earthquakes, which Jesus called "the beginning of sorrows," He said that this particular sign—the Gospel being preached in all the world—was a specific sign that would indicate when the actual end of the age would be upon the world.
According to The Almanac of the Christian World, Christians and Christian churches now exist in every country of the world.9 Missiologists estimate that between 75 and 85 percent of the world's population have heard the Gospel at least once.10 Over 50 million Bibles are distributed every year, as well as nearly 80 million New Testaments. Four billion gospel tracts are also printed each year.
According to the United Bible Societies, the entire Bible or parts thereof are now available to about 98 percent of the world's population, having been translated partially or entirely into some 2,303 languages and dialects. Meanwhile an innumerable number of Christian websites, cyber churches, gospel webcasts and podcasts, and other Christian ministries evangelize, inform, and pastor via the Internet.
The story of Christ's sacrifice reached millions worldwide with Mel Gibson's retelling of The Passion of Christ (2004), but its viewing audience is dwarfed by the Jesus (1979) film. Shot on location in the Middle East, Jesus is a retelling of Luke's gospel. It has been translated into over 1,000 languages, and it has had an estimated combined viewing and listening audience of over 6 billion.11
Never in the course of history has the Gospel been preached in all the world to all nations as it is right now by every means possible.
For more articles from Activated Magazine, visit Activated.
1 "Unity, Multiculturalism and the American Creed," Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 18.2, 31 Oct 1994.
2 Arlene Levinson, "20th Century Awash in Blood," AP, 16 Sep 1995.
3 The Millennium Development Goals 2005 Report FAO.
4 "Water Wars: Climate change may spark conflict," The Independent, 9 Apr 2007.
5 "Diseases spreading faster with travel," AP, 23 Aug 2007.
6 "Deaths in quakes expected to rise as cities grow," Reuters, Boulder, Colorado, 3 Jul 1995.
7 "Facts and Figures: Asian Tsunami Disaster," New Scientist, 20 Jan 2005.
8 R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994.)
9 The Almanac of the Christian World (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990).
10 DAWN Fridayfax (2001 #2), http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn02.html.
11 The Jesus Film Project, https://www.jesusfilm.org/about/history.html. http://www.jesusfilm.org/progress/statistics.html, accessed 1 August 2008.