When Will the World End?

No man knows the day or hour, but we can know when it is near.

A sensationalist news story swept the nation this past spring when preacher Harold Camping proclaimed that May 21 would commence the rapture of true believers and set off the beginning of the end of the world. His followers abandoned their careers and sold all their earthly belongings in preparation, while scoffers held “end of the world” parties as the declared deadline came and went without incident.

According to Camping, “God’s wrath was supposed to begin in New Zealand and then race across the globe, leaving millions of bodies wherever the clock struck 6 p.m.,” the Los Angeles Times wrote. “But the hours ticked by, and New Zealand survived. Time zone by time zone, the apocalypse failed to materialize” (May 22).

Camping made a similar prediction in 1994, but it received little publicity and was hardly the media furor that erupted this year. This time, the story headlined newspapers around the globe. Why?

Well, have a look at our world. It’s plagued with wars and rumors of wars. The Middle East is in turmoil, Western nations are in the throes of massive debt crises and the entire globe is being pummeled in an unprecedented wave of natural disasters. “History making” and “record breaking” seem like commonplace phrases these days.

In a world spinning further and further out of control, perhaps the idea of “the end of the world”—or that people would look for a way off this sinking ship—isn’t so crazy after all.

Critics of Mr. Camping have rightfully pointed to Matthew 25:13, where it says we cannot know the exact day or hour of Christ’s return—only the Father knows that. But does this mean we should ignore Bible prophecy altogether and just focus on principles of Christian living, simply because of the failed prediction of a man?

In Matthew 24:3, Christ’s disciples asked Him for signs of His coming and of the “end of the world”—meaning the end of the age of man’s rule over man. The disciples understood that Jesus was about to leave for heaven. They also knew He would come again, as He promised in John 14:3, to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, headquartered in Jerusalem. They just didn’t yet know all the details of the events leading up to His return—so they asked Him for signs.

Notice! Jesus didn’t ridicule them for asking about the end of the world, like so many theologians undoubtedly would today. Instead, He gave them specific signs pointing to His return! He warned about widespread religious deception first—people who would come preaching that Jesus is Christ and would deceive many with that message.

“Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not,” He said in verse 23 of Matthew 24. This statement alone reveals how confused religious leaders are about where Christ is. The Bible warns against blindly accepting what men say about Christ or His return. It’s what the Bible says that matters.

Notice verse 26: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.” Some people today believe Christ is already here—that He returned secretly. Others, like Camping’s followers, believe in a secret rapture, when true believers are whisked away secretly while everyone else is left behind to suffer through the plagues of the Great Tribulation.

Jesus said don’t you believe it! When He comes, as it says in Revelation 1:7, every eye shall see Him! Matthew continued, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (verse 27).

In Mark’s Gospel, we are admonished to learn the parable of the fig tree—in that when it brings forth leaves, you know summer is near. “So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors” (Mark 13:29). No man can know the day or the hour. But we can know—we will know—when it is near, if we are prayerfully watching world events.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (verse 33). Because we don’t know the day or hour, don’t bother watching. That’s what men say. God says it’s precisely because we don’t know the day or hour that we watch and pray! Bring God into your watching, in other words.

“Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping” (verses 35-36). The word watch means to be awake, vigilant! It means to pay attention and be active.

How could we do this without a proper grasp of prophetic events? Why would Jesus give so many different signs pointing to His return if He didn’t intend for us to balance our spiritual diets with a healthy portion of biblical prophecy?

No one needs to be confused or in doubt about the chronology of end-time events: It is clearly spelled out for those who are willing to let the Bible interpret itself (2 Peter 1:19-21).

God doesn’t want us to stop doing the work so we can set dates. But neither does He want us to ignore prophecy or say in our hearts, “My lord delayeth his coming” (Matthew 24:48).

The pace of prophetic events marches on inexorably and without delay. Mankind’s experiment with self-government is about over. How do we know? Because the events Jesus Himself prophesied to be a sign of the end of the age and His soon-coming return are now coming to pass—exactly as He said they would.