Chapter 1

THE SIGN OF THE END OF THE AGE

Most people have their share of trouble and sorrow. Many seem to have more than their share. And most people at some time or other have sighed and wished for better things. Some have tried to imagine what that would be like.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever tried to answer the question, "What would it be like to live in a perfect world?"

That is a pretty hard question to answer. Perhaps no two of us would have exactly the same opinions and ideas on the subject. But I believe most of us would agree on these things: In a perfect world there would be no wars, no injustice, no crime, no poverty, no sickness, no anti-Semitism, no racial hatred.

To emphasize the positive aspect, in a perfect world men, women and children everywhere would enjoy peace, righteousness, prosperity, health and brotherly love.

What a wonderful world that would be to live in! Yet that is no idealist's dream. That is what God has planned for the human family to enjoy, and to enjoy to the full. That is the kind of world people are going to live in some day, perhaps not too far in the future.

The Bible Tells of the Wonderful World of the Future

This truth is set forth in the Word of God, the Bible, in which God has been pleased to reveal His plans and purposes for the human family. Without the Bible we would have no way of knowing what the future holds in store.

God revealed future events to His Hebrew prophets at various times down through the centuries. God, the Holy Spirit, took the prophets in vision from their native situation and surroundings, transported them across the centuries, and let them become eyewitnesses of the character or characters, circumstances, incidents, or era being presented upon the stage of eternity which God purposed to reveal. The prophets' visions, or prophecies are recorded in the Bible. Many of these prophecies have been fulfilled.

The Holy Spirit transported Isaiah, the prophet, across the centuries in vision and let him see the perfect world that is to come. God's Chosen People, Israel, are to play a large part in that world of the future. Therefore, Isaiah saw the Lord in Jerusalem ruling over the whole earth as King of kings. He saw Israel as the head of the nations, bringing glory and praise to their God and King. He saw people from all nations of the world coming up to Jerusalem in that day to learn the law of the Lord and to see the beauty of the King. He saw the desert blooming as the rose. He saw lions as tame as kittens. He saw justice, peace prosperity throughout the earth in the new age to come—the Golden Era.

Following is one of Isaiah's prophecies about the glorious Golden Era:

2 And it shall come to pass in the later days, that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 3 and many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem. 4 And he will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:2-4).


The Bible Warns of a Time of Trouble in the Future

Although the Word of God presents this bright view of the future, it also reveals that there is to be a period of darkness, trouble and distress just before the Golden Era.

Beginning with Moses, every Hebrew prophet who predicted the great era of peace and prosperity, the Golden Era, wrote that a period of suffering or tribulation would come first.



The Reason for the Time of Trouble—Man's Wickedness

"Why," you may ask, must a period of suffering come before the Golden Era?

There is but one answer: Because man is so wicked and deceitful. The pages of history are full of the deceitful dealings of man with man and nation with nation; of man's inhumane treatment of his fellowmen; of wars and rumors of wars. Before God can bring in the Golden Era, therefore, He will have to intervene in the affairs of man, destroy the wicked, put a stop to wars and completely renovate this old world.

Man did not have a wicked, deceitful nature when God created him. He was perfect in every respect. When he rebelled against God and fell, however, a power, or force corrupted his nature. The Bible calls this power sin. Furthermore, the Bible says that every member of the human family is affected by this power. Sin contaminates the flesh of every person. Sin in the flesh causes man to do things which he would not otherwise do, and to refrain from doing things which his better nature would lead him to do. It causes him to demonstrate what some call delinquent behavior. A very good pronouncement of man's natural tendency toward delinquent behavior is set forth in a report issued by the Minnesota Crime Commission. The report says: What we call delinquent behavior is as old and universal as man. It is not something to which only an evil or moronic segment of humanity, different from the rest of us, is liable. It must be remembered that no infant is born a finished product. On the contrary, every baby starts life as a little savage; is equipped, among other things, with organs and muscles over which he has not control, with an urge for self preservation, with aggressive drives and emotions like anger, fear, and love over which, likewise, he has practically no control. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it—his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmate's toy, his uncle's watch. And deny him those wants and he seethes with rage and aggression which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. What this means, of course, is that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent and, if permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, killer, rapist. And in the processes of growing up, it is normal for every child to be dirty, to fight, to grab, to steal, to tear things apart, to talk back, to disobey, to evade. Every child has to grow out of delinquent behavior.

Unfortunately, many individuals exhibit delinquent behavior throughout their lives. From birth to death they let the power of sin dominate them. Today the number of people who are letting the power of sin dominate their lives is increasing. The Bible teaches that, as the end of the age draws nearer, the number of criminals and wicked ones will continue to increase until a large proportion of the human race is incapable of right thoughts or actions.

Eventually the entire human race would come under the complete dominion of the power of sin unless God intervened. In other words, left to himself man would ultimately destroy the entire human race either spiritually or physically. Perhaps both. But God will not permit this to happen. He has intervened in world affairs in the past to overrule man's mistakes and wicked schemes, and to prevent his self-destruction. He is going to do so in the future.

God has tremendous benefits in store for "all the families of the earth," and He is going to see that they receive those benefits. He is going to carry out His plans and purposes for His own glory and for the benefit of mankind. One of the Hebrew psalmists has made it plain that God is behind the scenes, directing affairs here on earth, for he wrote: "Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all" (Psalm 103:19).

God Warns Men in Advance of Coming Judgments

When God must step in to right the wrongs and set things in order, He does not do so suddenly without warning and take men by surprise. He is just and fair in all His dealings with the human family, warning them well in advance before He steps in to judge the wicked and bring order out of chaos. The reason so many were overtaken by God's judgments in the past is that they did not listen to His prophets and heed His warnings.

During Old Testament times, God raised up Noah, Moses, Isaiah and other fearless prophets to foretell events so men could be prepared for what was going to happen.

For instance, God used His prophet Noah to warn the people of his day of the flood that was coming upon the world. Noah preached for years warning his generation that the coming flood would destroy them if they did not turn from their wicked ways.

Moses is another example. When God was ready to deliver His people out of Egypt, bring them into their own country, and place them under the Law, He raised up Moses to be His spokesman. Moses warned the Egyptians of the plagues they would have to endure if they did not let the Jewish people go. He let his own people know that God was leading them into a new era—the Age of the Law. He made it plain that God was going to deal with them as a nation as well as on an individual basis. He warned them that they were responsible as a nation to obey the laws God had given them. Obedience to God's laws would bring national blessings; disobedience national suffering and distress.

After the Israelites were settled comfortably in the land of Canaan, the majority turned away from God and refused to obey His commandments. God used Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and others to sound a warning to His people, the Israelites, that He was going to send them into captivity under the Assyrians and Babylonians if they continued to disobey His laws.

The Old Testament makes it very plain that God has not kept His movements a secret. He has always revealed His plans and purposes to and through His prophets throughout the history of mankind.

Looking far ahead into the future, God told His prophets of old that a terrible time of trouble was coming upon the world "in the latter days." These men wrote much about that period of trouble, or tribulation. Jeremiah called the period "the time of Jacob's trouble." Almost all of the prophets referred to that time as "the day of the Lord." Very often they referred to it by saying "in that day." In the New Testament it is spoken of as the Great Tribulation.

The Sign of the End of the Present Age

The Old Testament prophets wrote fully about the activities that will take place "in that day" and in the Golden Era which will follow it. Some of them wrote in general terms describing what will exist in the world immediately before that time of trouble and distress begins.

But the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the specific sign that would point to the approach of the Tribulation and the end of the age.

On the last day of Jesus' public ministry, Peter, James, John and Andrew went to Him privately and asked about the end days. While they were with Him they asked Him a double-barreled question, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]?" (Matthew 24:3)

Jesus answered them by first focusing their attention on the first phase of their question, "What shall be the sign of thy coming ...?" He said: "Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ [Messiah] and shall lead many astray" (Matthew 24:3-5).

Jesus warned His disciples of the false messiahs that will arise in Israel before He returns. He said many will come in His name—not in the name of Jesus of Nazareth but in the name of Messiah—saying, "I am the Messiah." These false messiahs will move upon the people through political power and persuasion and will lead many astray. A little later, Jesus made it plain that His coming will be dramatic and unmistakable. He said there will be signs in the heavens just before He comes, and He will come in power and great glory (Matthew 24:29,30).

Those who are interested in false messiahs should read Messianic Speculations in Israel, by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

After Jesus warned His disciples against false messiahs, He led them into the answer to the second phase of their question: "What shall be the sign ... of the end of the world [age]?" He began to speak about the period during which He would be absent from the world. He foretold that it would be characterized by wars and rumors of wars. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6).

Jesus cautioned His followers not to become disturbed by associating local wars with the end of the age. He declared that local wars would come and go: "for these things [wars and rumors of wars] must needs come to pass; but the end [end of the age] is not yet."

Then Jesus said, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be great earthquakes, and in divers places famines and pestilences" (Luke 21:10,11).

What is the significance of the expression, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom"? This expression is an Old Testament idiom. The prophets used this idiom to describe a war that would break out in one place and spread to another, then to another and another, until it involved all the territory which the individual prophet had in mind at the time he made his prophecy.

Isaiah used this idiom to prophesy a devastating civil war that would wreck the entire country of Egypt. He spoke for the Lord saying: "And I will stir up the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom" (Isaiah 19:2). Isaiah prophesied that in Egypt one individual would begin to fight another; neighbors would become involved in the issue; the whole cities would enter the conflict. Finally the conflict would spread until the entire country of Egypt would become involved.

It is obvious from the context in which Jesus' words are found that He had a world view in mind when He used the idiom, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Therefore, He used this expression to describe a war that would begin when one nation would rise up against another nation; the war would spread to other nations, and continue to spread until it involved all the nations and kingdoms of the world.

According to Jesus, famines, earthquakes in different places and pestilences would accompany this world war.

Since Jesus said that a world war accompanied by famines, pestilences and earthquakes in different places would be a sign of the end of the age, no one has any logical reason to expect the present age to begin to draw to a close until these things have occurred.

Has there been a period in history when there was a world war such as Jesus foretold? Yes. In 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia; Germany followed by declaring war on Russia, then on France. After Germany involved Belgium, England declared war on Germany. As time rolled along other nations were drawn into the struggle. In 1914, according to certain statisticians, there were 64 sovereign nations in the world. All but seven countries became involved in the war of 1914-1918 — Denmark, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. One or two of these seven were on the verge of entering when the war stopped, November 11, 1918. Without question all nations were affected by this first global conflict.

By common consent, we label the great war of 1914-18 as World War I. The war of 1939-45 is called World War II. Frequently we hear people talking about World War III, by which the world is often threatened. According to the sure word of prophecy, there will be three world wars during the Great Tribulation—the Time of Jacob's trouble. As to whether or not there will be another world war before the Tribulation begins, no one can say. Only the Lord knows.

Was World War I accompanied by famines, pestilences and earthquakes in different parts of the world? Yes.

Famines: About that time, there were famines on an unprecedented scale in eastern and central Europe, as well as in China and the Far east.

Almost immediately after World War I two terrible famines took millions of lives. They were the great Chinese famine of 1920 and the Russian famine of 1921. A famous scientist and explorer, Dr. Hansen, spoke of the Russian famine as "beyond doubt the most appalling that has ever happened in the recorded history of man."

Earthquakes: According to The Encyclopedia Americana, seven notable earthquakes occurred during the 20 year period around World War I. Most of these earthquakes were extremely severe, taking thousands of lives and causing extensive damage to property.

For example, in 1908 an earthquake in Italy took the lives of at least 85,000 people; in 1920 China was shaken by an earthquake which took a toll of 180,000 lives; and in 1923 the terrible Japanese earthquake took about 143,000 lives. Noel F. Busch in his book Two Minutes to Noon describes the earthquake which struck Japan in 1923 as the most destructive natural disaster in the recorded history of man.

The Encyclopedia Americana lists only 26 great earthquakes between 63 A.D. and 1896—a period of 1833 years. Therefore, for seven notable earthquakes to occur in the short span of 20 years about the time of World War I was quite remarkable.

Pestilences: In connection with World War I myriads of people were swept into untimely graves by cholera and typhus epidemics. According to some statisticians, the world-wide flu epidemic of 1918-19 caused the death of about 23 million people.

"But all these things are the beginning of travail (the first birth pain)," said Jesus. Thus He foretold that a world war accompanied by terrible disasters would be the sign notifying men that the terrible sufferings of the end of the age were coming upon the world. And he told His disciples that the generation that saw these things would not pass away until the end of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:34). (Some scholars teach that the Biblical generation—70-80 years—is given in Psalm 90:10: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore years.")