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Some people think that talk about the end of the world is so much tabloid sensationalism. And in a sense, it is. Every now and then, as I wait in line at a grocery store checkout, I see a headline blaring that the world is about to end. If the line happens to be on the long side, I’ll sometimes pick up the tabloid and flip through it till I find the article in question. Usually it’ll quote some psychic or an obscure expert in religion who proclaims that doomsday is surely just around the corner.

But there’s a serious side to the end of the world. Several years ago a cover story on Newsweek announced, “Doomsday Science: New Theories About Comets, Asteroids, and How the World Might End.” By “how the world might end,” scientists mean the extinction of the human species or, in the best-case scenario, a throwback to the Stone Age for the few of us lucky enough to survive.

Few people take the tabloids seriously. More of us may worry a bit about comets, asteroids, and meteorites. But the probability of an actual earth shattering impact in our lifetime or that of our children and grandchildren seems so remote that it’s probably safe to say nobody loses any sleep over it.

However, I’d like to share some information with you about the end of the world from another source—the Bible. For the Bible makes it very clear that the world will end someday. In this article we’ll be asking what the Bible says not only about the actual end of the world but also about the period of earth’s history leading up to it.

A spiritual conflict

Casting its prophecies in symbolic imagery, Revelation makes it clear that the final months and perhaps years of human history will be marked by a terrible conflict. Revelation 13 opens with a fearful-looking beast rising out of the sea. Most people on earth will welcome this sea beast (verses 3, 4). However, one small part of the human race will refuse to submit to its authority. Revelation says that the beast will “make war” against them and “conquer them” (verse 7).

And the story doesn’t end there. A second beast power—this one rising from the land (verse 11)—will attempt to force the entire human race to worship the first beast, threatening anyone who refuses to do so with death (verse 15).

There’s nothing new, of course, about world-class powers persecuting innocent people. It’s probably safe to say that more persecution of innocent people by world-class powers occurred in the 20th century than in any other single hundred-year period in history. And if life on our planet continues uninterrupted for another hundred years, who knows what kind of inhumanity future world-class powers may inflict on our race by the end of the 21st century.

But there’s much more going on in Revelation 13 than the persecution of a few innocent people by a couple of world-class powers. The book of Revelation, particularly the last half, por-trays in symbolic language the final conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil on our planet. Earth is, in a real sense, the theater of the universe.

The conflict began with Satan’s rebellion against God in heaven. God eventually cast Satan down to planet Earth, where he has continued his rebellion (Revelation 12:7–9). And his purpose is still to defeat God, at least on this earth. However, Satan has rarely presented himself to any human being as Satan. He works, rather, through evil humans to achieve his purposes. So what is in reality a conflict between powerful spiritual forces throughout the entire universe appears to us as a conflict between the human forces of good and evil on our earth.

Revelation draws back the curtain and allows us to see the big picture: God is about to wrap up human history and put an end to the conflict between good and evil on our planet, and Satan doesn’t like that. This is his last chance to win in his battle against God, and he’s going to “pull out all the stops.” He’s going to marshal every evil human power on earth, and this grand armada will devote its vast power to achieve one purpose: the total elimination of God’s people from the face of the earth.

Natural disasters

The Bible also makes it clear that the years just before the end of the world will be marked by terrible natural disasters, probably coinciding with the period of spiritual conflict that we just glanced at. Let’s begin with the first three verses of Revelation 7:

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ ”

Many Bible interpreters understand these verses to describe the final events of earth’s history. Revelation says that when the winds do finally blow, they will harm the earth, the sea, and the trees—that is, the world of nature, what we often refer to as the environment. In other words, God will allow terrible natural disasters to afflict our planet at the very end of time, wreaking terrible havoc on the earth.

Revelation 16 describes seven terrible plagues that will fall upon the earth just before Christ’s second coming. Most of them consist of natural disasters:

  • First plague: Painful sores afflict human beings.
  • Second plague: The Sea turns to blood.
  • Third plague: Earth’s fresh water turns to blood.
  • Fourth plague: The sun scorches the human race with terrible heat.
  • Fifth plague: The headquarters of earth’s evil forces is plunged into darkness.
  • Sixth plague: Euphrates River is dried up (which may be symbolic rather than literal).
  • Seventh plague: A terrible earthquake is followed by huge hailstones

The eighteenth chapter of Revelation also gives us a snapshot of this period of earth’s history. In this chapter the forces of evil are symbolically portrayed as an evil city called Babylon, which will be destroyed just before Christ’s second coming. Notice how Revelation describes the destruction of Babylon and the reaction of the world’s political leaders to its destruction:

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her [Babylon] and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

‘Woe! Woe, O great city,
O Babylon, city of power!
In one hour your doom has come!’?” (verses 9, 10; emphasis added).

The reaction of the owners of the world’s transportation systems, which have delivered the products of earth’s factories to ports all over the world, will be similar to that of earth’s political leaders:

“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads, . . . with weeping and mourning” (verses 17–19; emphasis added).

Notice that in both of the preceding descriptions, the cause of Babylon’s destruction is fire. Revelation uses fire, which is one of nature’s most destructive forces, to symbolize all the natural disasters that will destroy the world at the time of the seven last plagues. This destruction will bring the world’s political and economic systems to a standstill. God will be saying to the world’s leaders, in effect, “You trusted that your wealth and your intricate political shenanigans would create a better world? I will bring all those systems to an end, and you will see that they are worthless.”

Christ’s second coming

Christ’s return to planet Earth at the end of this terrible season of conflict and calamity will have two important purposes. First, He will put an end to evil and suffering. Second, He will deliver His people from the forces of evil that have been trying so desperately to destroy them.

The Bible also suggests that the forces of nature will be turned upside down at Christ’s second coming. Revelation 16, for example, predicts an earthquake so severe that it will actually cause the mountains and islands to disappear from the face of the earth! (verses 18, 20). To create that kind of destruction, an earthquake would have to shake every tectonic plate on the planet.

Notice the reaction of the human race to Christ’s coming and the earthquake that accompanies it:

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’?” (Revelation 6:15–17).

What will be the ultimate fate of the human race when Christ returns?

God’s own people will fare very well. Shortly before He left the world, Jesus said to His disciples, “In my Father’s house [heaven] are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3).

Jesus has been in heaven ever since He left this earth nearly 2,000 years ago. So Jesus was telling His disciples that when He returns to our planet, He will take His people to be with Him in heaven.

The wicked, on the other hand, will be destroyed at Christ’s second coming. This is particularly clear from the descriptions given in Revelation 18:21–24 and 19:11–21. And 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8 says that “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels,” those who do not know God and who refuse to obey Him “will be punished with everlasting destruction.”

How the world will end

So is the world as we know it doomed to end someday?

Yes, but not the way the tabloids or the scientists predict. Human civilization will not end merely in a blaze of fire from some comet or asteroid that happens to intersect our slice of space. God will, of course, use the forces of nature as part of His plan to disrupt human history. Revelation leaves little doubt about that. But the primary cause of earth’s destruction will be the intervention of God Himself as He brings evil and suffering to an end and ushers His people into eternal life.

And now, please consider this with me: If Christ’s return to earth happens in the lifetime of most of those reading this magazine, which is entirely possible, then the issue is not whether we will experience this earth-shattering event and the disasters leading up to it. We won’t have any choice about that. Rather, each of us must face the profound question of whose side we’ll be on. If we wait till Christ returns to answer that question, we’ll have waited too long. Each of us must decide now.

And making that decision is so simple. We must choose to put ourselves on God’s side. We must ask Jesus to forgive the past evil in our lives and to break its present power in our hearts. And we must commit ourselves to follow Him during the rest of our life on earth.

Making this choice now will guarantee you a place on the right side the day the world ends. I invite you to join me in making it today.

How the World Will End

by Arnold Wheeler
From the February 2016 Signs