When will the world end? Every war, famine and earthquake seems to trigger another thought among Christians that the end is near. We are justified in thinking these things because of Jesus’ prophetic words, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8).
But how close is the end of the world, really? Closer than you might think. First, it’s important to understand that we have been living in the last days for centuries now. When Peter addresses the crowd on the day the Holy Spirit birthed the church, he used as explanation a prophecy from the Old Testament and stated that we are now in the last days, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17). So if we’ve technically been in the last days for the past 2000 years of human history, why has God tarried so long? Look to the Old Testament story of Israel for explanation. God warned the Israelites for hundreds of years about the coming judgment on them as a nation, but He allowed them ample time to repent and change their ways. Ultimately, judgment came at the hands of foreign nations. So when God is warning judgment not just on a nation but on an entire planet and species, it makes sense that God would allow mankind ample time to repent and change our ways, even if that is thousands of years.
But just because God has delayed this long, we should not delude ourselves into thinking the end of the world is far off in the distant future. When the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age in Matthew 24, here are five signs Jesus gave them that are being fulfilled today.
1. The rising persecution of Christians.
When talking with His disciples about the end times, Jesus forewarned that before the end of the world “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death” (Matthew 24:9). 2016 saw yet another increase in the persecution of Christians, with Fox News reporting that “nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016 and that as many as 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death.” Just because the physical persecution of Christians is not happening in America does not mean that it is not a problem worldwide. The imprisonment, torture and even death of Christians continues to rise throughout the world at record levels. Jesus forewarned that this would happen. The rising persecution of Christians points to the truth that the end of the world is closer than we think.
2. Christians will be hated by all nations.
Immediately after Jesus tells His disciples about coming persecution in the last days, He states that “you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). This sign is more difficult to gauge because there is not a hatred index that we can use to determine how much the world hates Christians. But we can look at evidence of rising hatred in two of the areas of the world where Christianity used to dominate: America and Europe. For centuries these two centers of human civilization were the breadbasket of the Christian religion. But over the past several decades these have become a wasteland of Christian support, Europe more so with America following closely behind. Laws and regulations are stripping back Christian influences in places where we once flourished. Christianity is not celebrated anymore in many nations; rather it is suppressed. Jesus forewarned that before the end of the world that we would be hated by all nations because of our allegiance to Jesus.
3. Many will turn away from the faith.
A third sign Jesus gave his disciples to signal the end of the world is, “At that time many will turn away from the faith” (Matthew 24:10). Pew Research recently reported on the rapid rise of the “nones,” those in America who self-identify as not being affiliated with any religion or denomination. From 2007 to 2015 this number increased from 16 percent to 23 percent while self-identifying Christians dropped from 78 percent to 71 percent. While the number of Christians still predominates, what is most alarming trend is that the majority of ‘nones’ are in the younger generations, meaning that American Christians are failing to passing on their faith to their children, and Christianity (in this country at least) is one to two generations from a tipping point crisis. Whatever that ends up looking like, it should not surprise us. Jesus forwarned us two thousand years ago that before the end of the world many would turn away from the faith.
4. The love of most will grow cold.
Because the end of the world is such a momentous event, Jesus gave His disciples several signs to look for to mark its arrival. The fourth indication Jesus gave in Matthew 24 is, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Like the second sign (Christians will be hated by all nations), this one is difficult to gauge because there is not a way to scientifically gauge how hot or cold our love is, but we can sense an increase in wickedness all around us. Look at where our morals are as a nation. Look at our views on ethics, morality, and sexuality. We’re living in a new moral age, one that is increasingly wicked. Because of that, the love even of Christians has grown cold. Look at the lifeless, empty, dying churches that dot the landscape. Jesus forewarned that this would be a sign of the coming of the end of the world.
5. The gospel will be preached in all nations.
The final sign Jesus gave His disciples was a positive one, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Not all the news out there is bad news. In spite of rising persecution, Christianity is proving resilient as Jesus continues to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Missionaries are being sent out from nations far and wide to provide a witness to all nations and all peoples. The International Mission Board has identified 3,203 remaining people groups in the world that have not heard of the gospel of Jesus. We know who they are and where they live. As missionaries continue to go and reach the unreached, Jesus’ final prediction of what must happen before the end of the world is quickly becoming a reality.
How close is the end of the world? A lot closer than we might think. Just because 2000 years have passed since Jesus’ prophecy, do not allow that to lull us into a false sense of complacency. Jesus told us that although his coming would be like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43), there are several signs to look for. These signs are being fulfilled before our eyes. The end of the world is a lot closer than we think.