Nearing the End?
Several earthquakes in recent years – one in South East Asia, another in Haiti and most recently in Japan – have seemed like the end of the world to people living in those regions. About half a million people died in these catastrophes. For those who died, it was quite literally the end. For the rest of us, life goes on. But for how long?
Our world is groaning under an already overwhelming burden of HIV-AIDS – the greatest humanitarian crisis in the history of mankind. Disasters like these make us query why the UN called the 1990’s, "The Decade for Disaster Reduction". Only three years after the new millennium began, thirty five percent more people in the world were suffering from natural disasters than a decade before. Moreover, at the close of 2003 there was a fivefold increase in the death toll from natural disasters over the previous year. A careful study of earthquakes measuring at least 7 on the Richter scale has shown that there is a marked increase in frequency and intensity. Are these coincidental or are they sign posts warning us that the end is drawing near?
Bill McGuire, an expert on global disasters, believes that the end may be closer than we'd like to admit. (‘A Guide to the End of the World’, 2002). This belief is not based on religion, neither does McGuire hint at any religious solution.
Long before McGuire researched his book, Jesus Christ foretold, "there will be war ... great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands." He said this would be a time of Divine wrath against increasing evil and he also warned that, "the stars will fall from the sky" – a danger from space which scientists have only recently come to grasp in all its magnitude.
In 1994, the world saw on TV an asteroid exploding into Jupiter with a force 15 billion times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. As a matter of fact, a small asteroid struck Siberia in 1908, laying waste 100 sq. km. of forest. One week before the epic quake hit South East Asia, CNN reported on a new asteroid, which has a higher chance of striking the earth than any of the thousands of other asteroids discovered so far. If this asteroid hits any of the oceans it will trigger a far greater tsunami than the one that struck in 2006.
A couple weeks after the tsunami hit, newspapers reported the launching of a space probe called "Deep Impact". Ironically, the 1998 movie by the same name depicts a desperate mission to stop a comet from colliding with earth. One part of the comet hits the Atlantic Ocean, causing tsunamis that destroy much of the eastern seaboard (USA). The movie accurately portrays how an asteroid or comet appears upon entering earth’s atmosphere – like a blazing mountain. Amazingly, this description corresponds with an oceanic catastrophe predicted by the apostle John; "something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea ... a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed." (Revelation 8:8,9 NIV) It is significant to note that the Greek word ‘aster’ is the basis for our English term ‘star’ (as found in Christ’s prophecy about falling ‘stars’).
Scientists and movie makers have graphically portrayed 'doomsday asteroids', giving us more reason to take seriously the warning of Jesus Christ – that in the last days “there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” (Matthew 24:21,22,29; Luke 21:10,11,22)
No matter how real these fiery asteroids are, the threat they pose seems somehow distant. But the threat of war is all too real and close at hand, as is evident from recent events in the Middle East.
World-War Near the End?
War is among the list of the end-time signs prophesied by Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Bible predicts that, in the last days, the Middle East will be the arena of a global conflict. Israel will come under attack by a massive international army.
The prophets foretold Israel will experience a time of unprecedented trouble in the last days. God will allow Israel's enemies to attack her, as a way of disciplining and punishing her. (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1) However, when the onslaught becomes overwhelming and seemingly hopeless, God will intervene and rescue Israel after she turns to him in repentance. The prophet Zechariah describes the circumstances leading up to this conflict, saying, "I will make Jerusalem and Judah like an intoxicating drink that makes the nearby nations stagger when they send their armies to besiege Jerusalem and Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock. All the nations will gather against it to try to move it, but they will only hurt themselves." (Zechariah 12:2,3) Are we seeing the stage being set for the fulfillment of these prophecies?
Since 1948, countless UN resolutions – most of them condemning Israel – have tried to resolve the ongoing dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite all these efforts, and the passing of Arafat, the conflict persists. There is deepening resentment against Israel among the 57 Islamic nations, and indeed, generally in the United Nations.
This growing anti-Semitism in the wider world has emboldened Hamas to pursue with greater determination their stated mission of eradicating Israel. They took a decisive step in this direction when they took over Gaza in June 2007. Since then Hamas has received considerable weapons from Iran via dozens of tunnels along the border with Egypt. The recent Gaza war has dealt a severe blow to Hamas but it has not prevented the ongoing smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Nor have the Gazans stopped firing rockets into Israel.
Israel is learning that it cannot trust other nations to secure the Egyptian/Gaza border in the same way that they've not bee able to trust the UN peace keeping force in Lebanon which has failed to prevent Hizbollah from importing weapons after the war of 2006, as per mandate NSCR 1701. This is a crucial question, especially when you consider the failure of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon to uphold mandate NSCR 1701. In fact, during this period Hezbollah rearmed itself with three times more rockets than before!
Of course, many people are holding out hope that Israel will now be able to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority (controlled by Fatah). But is this realistic? Fatah, like Hamas, has the long term goal of eradicating Israel. The main difference between these two groups is tactical. Hamas want to press the battle against the Zionist enemy, whereas Fatah/PA sometimes appear willing to talk about making peace, knowing all the while that their demands are unrealistic. Then they point to Israel's failure to compromise and use this as a pretext for resuming their fight to regain all of Palestine.
Another key factor in the build up towards a major war in the Middle East (as prophesied in the Bible) is Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map. Indeed, he has repeatedly made these threats with impunity while developing the nuclear capabilities to carry them out! It is no secret that the Iranian regime has been aggressively arming Hamas and Hezbollah. In conclusion the prospects for peace in the Middle East look very bleak.
One Muslim, Ruslan Tokchukov sounds a warning to his fellow Muslims. He analyses world history, noting the "brutal end" that befell "all those once-powerful enemies of the Jewish people: the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Roman Empire, the Inquisitor Spain, the Russian Tsarist Empire, the Nazi Reich." He concludes his careful study by mentioning, "a part of the Christian Bible about God cursing those who curse the Jewish people, and the entire world history seems to confirm it. Now, whether you are religious or not, whether you call it God's law or the law of history, you have to agree that not one nation that persecuted Jews had escaped very bad consequences. I don't think this law has an exception for the Arabs or any other Muslims."1 Arab nations should pay attention to Ruslan's warning and stop their fanatical hatred towards Israel otherwise they will suffer severe consequences.
It is acknowledged that the 'Holy Land' is the greatest threat to world peace. How ironic, therefore, that Israel is predicted to be the epi-centre from which peace will radiate worldwide under the Messiah's reign. Many skeptics scoff at this ‘utopian’ vision. They prefer to hold out hope that the United Nations will somehow be able to bring peace. As unrealistic as this hope is, history shows us how susceptible people are to being deceived when it comes to making peace agreements. The Bible foretells exactly this kind of scenario in the end times. A detailed online article by Joel Richardson explaining how Muslims legitimate deception also lists many Bible verses regarding deception in the end times.
Many unbelievers justify their skepticism of the Bible, noting that so-called God-fearing people in the Holy Land have failed to show the pathway to peace. All three faith communities who claim to follow the God of Abraham – Jews, Christians and Muslims – should, indeed, work to bridge the gap between themselves – a gap that seems to be widening more than ever.
One thing is clear: We shouldn’t gloss over serious differences of understanding about the Messiah. On the other hand, neither should we allow discussion about our differences to degenerate into anger and violence. Instead, let us begin by discussing things we agree on, in a spirit of mutual respect. (see appendix)
A thought-provoking question
Some who read this article may wonder, "How can a good and peace-loving God allow innocent people to suffer? If he controls everything why does he allow war and natural disasters to destroy thousands of people, including innocent women and children?"
Originally the world was good but this idyllic, peaceful condition was shattered when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. All their descendants have sinned, and the whole world has been affected by man's sin (Romans 5:12; 8:18-22). Ultimately suffering, war, disease, natural disasters and death have resulted from our sin. It is only because God is forbearing and merciful that any of us is not quickly destroyed. This is the first step towards understanding why God allows suffering. This corrects a basic misunderstanding that some people are fundamentally 'innocent'.
The fact of the matter is: All people are guilty of sin. Furthermore, God punishes sin with death as we read in Romans 6:23. God would be within his rights to kill everyone in an instant but he restrains his anger, as it is written, "I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away – all the souls I have made." (Isaiah 57:16, cf. Matthew 24:21,22; cf. Lamentations chapter 3 especially verse 22) Incidentally, Muslim readers may be interested to note that the Qur’an seems to agree with this statement of the prophet Isaiah. Surah 16:61 says, “If God were to punish men for their wrong doing he would not leave on the (earth) a single living creature; but He gives them respite for a stated Term...”
Perhaps an analogy will help to explain this. Suppose a father prohibits his children from playing with matches. Somehow his children manage to find some matches and, while playing with them, they inadvertently start a fire that gets out of control. Is the father responsible for this disaster that threatens to kill them all? Will he intervene and try to save them? Of course he will.
God sometimes allows us to suffer as a way of disciplining us for the purpose of healing us and restoring us to himself. This is true on a personal level (Hebrews 12:4-5) and also on a national level as was mentioned earlier, in relation to Israel.
Jeremiah was not the only prophet who preached about divine discipline. The prophet Hosea gives similar warnings. But notice God intended to use this painful discipline for a good purpose,
"I will be like a lion to Israel, I will tear them to pieces! I will carry them off, and no one will be left to rescue them. Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes they will search for me."
Come let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us, now he will bandage our wounds. (Hosea 5:14-6:1)
We often read in scripture how God used other nations to punish his disobedient people Israel. Sometimes God even allowed thousands to die in these calamities. But we must never forget God’s purpose was to eventually purge and restore his people. Speaking about the end times, God warned the Israelites, "I will discipline you; but with justice;I cannot let you go unpunished... I have wounded you cruelly as though I were your enemy ... I have had to punish you because your sins are many and your guilt is great... But ... I will give you back your health and heal your wounds." (Jeremiah 30:11-17)
Israel was not the only nation to experience national disaster. During the time of Moses God brought a series of disasters against Egypt when their leader hardened his heart. We must remember, however, that these plagues served a greater purpose than just punishing evil; they proved Moses’ God was the true God who alone is worthy of worship. Not only so, some Egyptians and foreigners were so impressed with the awesome signs God did through Moses that they decided to join the Israelites on their journey to freedom. A closer examination of these 10 plagues shows us a glimpse of God’s mercy.
Notice, after the 7th plague, God warned Pharaoh that worse disasters would befall Egypt. He declared, “by now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth.” (Exodus 9:15) Given such a horrific warning, we might expect that the death toll from the last three plagues would have been much worse. But God restrained himself from unleashing his entire wrath. He commanded the death angel to kill only the first-born son’s. This 10th and worst plague also revealed God’s mercy. Coupled with the plague, God provided a way to spare the eldest son’s from dying in the plague by sacrificing a Passover lamb.
In the same way that God was forbearing towards the Egyptians in Moses time, so in 2004 and 2010, he has shown restraint by not killing more people in the earthquakes in SE Asia and Haiti. John Piper, a widely respected pastor, explains why God allows catastrophes, saying, “Every deadly calamity is a merciful call from God for the living to repent. That was Jesus’ stunning statement to those who brought him news of calamity. The tower of Siloam had fallen, and 18 people were crushed. ‘What about this, Jesus?’ they asked. He answered, ‘Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” [Luke 13:4,5]
Piper continues: “The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent. Let your hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines, only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for 10,000 days of wrath withheld.”2
Piper appropriately cites a modern mocker who ridicules the idea of disasters as being a part of God’s purpose. David Hart, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says, “No Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mystery serves God’s good ends.” Mr. Hart’s ridiculing remarks prompt Piper to cite an example from the Bible of how people mocked God. He quotes Revelation 16 verse 9, which tells how people in the latter days will defy God in response to punishing plagues that befall the earth; “They cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”
Although God’s judgment will fall heavily on the earth in the last days, ultimately, his good purposes will prevail – God’s people, purged and pardoned from their sin, will inhabit a new heaven and new earth. Those who truly repent and believe in God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, will experience peace with God and harmony with each other. As it is written,
Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed in this way, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day he will set the heavens on fire ... but we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10-13)
Significant similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam
1. Calamitous end-time-signs are a common theme in the Bible and the Qur’an. These events are a fitting expression of wrath by a holy God against a world steeped in sin and rebellion against God.
2. If God were to immediately execute everyone for disobeying his law, he would be within his rights.
3. Thankfully, however, God is patient, forbearing and merciful.
4. The fourth similarity is the Exodus. This story tells how God delivered Moses’ people by signs and wonders, climaxing with an unprecedented pandemic. The meaning of the final sign/plague has intriguing similarities with the well-known ransom sacrifice that Abraham performed almost one thousand years earlier. This theme is explored in an article entitled, The Mystery of Abraham’s Sacrifice.
5. The fifth similarity pertains to the worldwide peace that will come to earth through the Messiah. This is confirmed in many prophecies. Readers who are interested in this theme are encouraged to read, Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah.
If I can be of any assistance please feel free to contact me.
May I recommend a book that gives a much more detailed answer to the question, “How a good, all powerful God permit so much evil and suffering, as seen in the recent earthquake in Haiti?” I suggest you read Randy Alcorn's book, If God is Good, published by Multnomah Books.
Unless otherwise indicated all scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 60188. All rights reserved.