There are two problems with predicting the end of the world.
The most obvious is that you look rather silly if you are wrong. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were once fairly confident the world would end in 1975 — most likely in August. Yet here we still are!
The other problem is that the Lord Jesus himself told us it was literally unpredictable: “Concerning that day,” he said, “no one knows ...”
Despite the fact, therefore, that I’ve given dozens of talks, and even written a small commentary, on the book of Revelation (usually taken to be describing the end of the world), I’ve mostly avoided saying anything about how near the end might be.
Recently, however, I find my confidence in the ‘far-offness’ of the world’s end, if not shaken, certainly stirred.
First, and most obviously, there are our environmental difficulties. Who would have imagined even a century ago that the industrial revolution was about to threaten the very future of our planet? Who would have foreseen polluted seas or desecrated forests depleted of life?
The answer, oddly enough, is the Bible: “a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up ... a third of the sea became blood ... a third of the living creatures in the sea died” (Revelation 8:7-9).
Then there is the business of rising sea levels. Opinions differ on whether it will be by a few inches or several feet. Yet this certainly makes sense of an otherwise-odd biblical prediction: “There will be distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (Luke 21:26).
And what about global warming? Once again, the book of Revelation seems right on the nail: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat.” (Rev 16:8)
And then there are some recent social trends. Revelation describes a time when God’s people will not be able to engage in normal commerce — to buy or to sell (Revelation 13:17). So when I look at the Government’s proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations on the provision of goods and services, and their impact on Roman Catholic adoption agencies — something which again would have been unimaginable a century ago — I just find myself wondering.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not planning to cancel my summer holidays. Indeed, I can even take heart, for Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).
But I’m also reminded of his other words: “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13). So maybe there are a few things I need to get sorted before it’s too late.
Revd John Richardson