At first, few paid attention to a couple of Wall Street investment banking firms taking a nosedive. Most people shrugged it off, maybe even felt a little glee. So a few rich guys will have to pull their kids out of those $10,000 a month preschools in Manhattan! Boo hoo.
But then we heard more. Big names that had been part of the American financial landscape for as long as most of us could remember: Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citigroup, Wachovia, and others were all either hemorrhaging, on life support, or worse. Yet most Americans still weren’t all that concerned, because most worked on Main Street, not Wall Street.
But then the stock market plummeted, taking the kind of dives that NASA rockets used to do in the early days before scientists figured out how to put them into orbit. When college funds shrank, when retirement funds tanked, when banks themselves collapsed—the banks in which Main Street had its money—it became a whole new ball game. Talk of recession, of depression, of 1929 all over again, suddenly became front-page news. And then the whole world’s economy started going down!
It was called an epic crisis, one of “historic magnitude.” Some even referred to it as an event of biblical proportions.
Does the Bible really have something to say about the times we are living in and what we could be facing with this sudden economic turmoil?
The answer, many believe, is Yes— and here’s why.
The principle of prophecy
For starters, we’re not saying that if you scour the prophecies of Ezekiel or Daniel you’ll find predictions about the fall of Lehman Brothers and the like. That’s not what the Bible is about. Instead, the Bible, particularly prophecy, paints the future with wide brushstrokes. Though there can be some startlingly precise predictions in certain texts, many of the prophecies simply help us see how a book written thousands of years ago can depict the broad outline of the future, even the times that we are living in, and this helps build our confidence in it as the Word of God.
Jesus Himself expressed the principle best when He said, “ ‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He’ ” (John 13:19). In other words, when it happens you’ll know that I warned you about it. Thus, prophecy helps prepare us beforehand for what’s coming next.
Economic hard times predicted
There’s no question that, almost two thousand years ago, the book of Revelation predicted economic turmoil and collapse just before the return of Jesus. Revelation 18 describes a time of great moral and political apostasy and worldwide rebellion against God. In the book of Revelation itself, Babylon is a symbol for the religious and political powers that rule today. Babylon, you will recall, is the ancient empire that destroyed God’s holy city, Jerusalem, and took many of His people into captivity some 2,500 years ago.
Here’s how Revelation describes this great religious and political power: “ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! / She has become a home for demons / and a haunt for every evil spirit, / a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. / For all the nations have drunk / the maddening wine of her adulteries. / The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, / and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries’ ” (Revelation 18:2, 3).
These verses point to several things. First, Babylon is a corrupt political, religious, and moral system. In the Bible, the idea of nations or systems committing “adultery” is a symbol for turning away from the true faith and following after false beliefs. Secondly, the statement that Babylon commits adultery with “the kings of the earth” shows how truly worldwide Babylon’s reach is. This fits very well with today’s global economy. At the click of a mouse, money, information, and ideas spread around the world at the speed of light. The Internet and massive global communications have made all this so much more possible today than at the time of John the revelator, who wrote almost two thousand years ago. Third, these verses show how, in the midst of this corrupt system, many “merchants,” symbolic of business and commerce, will grow “rich from her excessive luxuries.” One has to think only of the multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses some of these executives have been making—even from companies that, under their direction, lost billions of dollars—to have an idea of the kind of greed that the prophecy is talking about.
So what is the fate of this system called Babylon? Revelation is very clear:
“ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power!
In one hour your doom has come!’
“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.
“They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment” (Revelation 18:10–15).
The details aren’t important; but the story they tell is: Babylon will face economic ruin. The whole system will come crashing down, and the riches and wealth that people and institutions had hoarded will vanish instantly. And it will all happen “in one hour”! If nothing else, this suggests how quickly financial ruin can happen. Indeed, as we have seen during some of Wall Street’s recent bad days, trillions of dollars can disappear into thin air overnight!
No man can buy or sell
And this isn’t all that Revelation has to say about the world’s economy in the last days. After warning about the false teachings of the world’s political and religious systems and their rebellion against God, it speaks of economic persecution against those who refuse to go along with the prevailing religious and political powers: “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16, 17).
Over the past couple of millenniums, there’s been a great deal of speculation about exactly what this means. One thing seems clear: There will be great economic pressure on everyone to conform to the politically correct religious system, and those who refuse will be persecuted. We don’t know just how and when all this will occur, but the Bible has warned us about it. Therefore, it’s in our best interest to study the Word of God for ourselves and learn what the issues are so that we can be prepared for what we’re told is coming upon the world.
Our only true security
As I write these words, it’s too early to tell where the current economic situation will lead. One lesson, though, is certain: the things of this world are fleeting, uncertain, and fragile. We’ve just seen fortunes vanish overnight. How true are the words of John: “For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16, 17).
Yes, the things of this world, be they money, position, power, even our health, all are fleeting, transitory, and pass away. The good news, however, is that the same Bible that warns of the fall of Babylon also tells of another city, the New Jerusalem. John said, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:2–4).
Thanks to Jesus and His death for us, every human being has a chance to live in this New Jerusalem, where the toils, trials, and tragedies of Babylon will forever be a thing of the past.
We don’t know where the present crisis will take us. But, according to the Bible, we know that Jesus is anxious to take us to His New Jerusalem, where all our economic woes will forever be gone. That’s one truth you can take to the bank—and be sure that it’s forever secure.