Summary: But there’s much more going on in Revelation 13 than the persecution of a few innocent people by a couple of world-class powers. The book of Revelation, particularly the last half, por-trays in symbolic language the final conflict
Some people think that talk about the end of the world is so much tabloid sensationalism. And in a sense, it is. Every now and then, as I wait in line at a grocery store checkout, I see a headline blaring that the world is about to end. If the line happens to be on the long side, I’ll sometimes pick up the tabloid and flip through it till I find the article in question. Usually it’ll quote some psychic or an obscure expert in religion who proclaims that doomsday is surely just around the corner.
But there’s a serious side to the end of the world. Several years ago a cover story on Newsweek announced, “Doomsday Science: New Theories About Comets, Asteroids, and How the World Might End.” By “how the world might end,” scientists mean the extinction of the human species or, in the best-case scenario, a throwback to the Stone Age for the few of us lucky enough to survive.
Few people take the tabloids seriously. More of us may worry a bit about comets, asteroids, and meteorites. But the probability of an actual earth shattering impact in our lifetime or that of our children and grandchildren seems so remote that it’s probably safe to say nobody loses any sleep over it.
However, I’d like to share some information with you about the end of the world from another source—the Bible. For the Bible makes it very clear that the world will end someday. In this article we’ll be asking what the Bible says not only about the actual end of the world but also about the period of earth’s history leading up to it.
A spiritual conflict
Casting its prophecies in symbolic imagery, Revelation makes it clear that the final months and perhaps years of human history will be marked by a terrible conflict. Revelation 13 opens with a fearful-looking beast rising out of the sea. Most people on earth will welcome this sea beast (verses 3, 4). However, one small part of the human race will refuse to submit to its authority. Revelation says that the beast will “make war” against them and “conquer them” (verse 7).
And the story doesn’t end there. A second beast power—this one rising from the land (verse 11)—will attempt to force the entire human race to worship the first beast, threatening anyone who refuses to do so with death (verse 15).
There’s nothing new, of course, about world-class powers persecuting innocent people. It’s probably safe to say that more persecution of innocent people by world-class powers occurred in the 20th century than in any other single hundred-year period in history. And if life on our planet continues uninterrupted for another hundred years, who knows what kind of inhumanity future world-class powers may inflict on our race by the end of the 21st century.
But there’s much more going on in Revelation 13 than the persecution of a few innocent people by a couple of world-class powers. The book of Revelation, particularly the last half, por-trays in symbolic language the final conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil on our planet. Earth is, in a real sense, the theater of the universe.
The conflict began with Satan’s rebellion against God in heaven. God eventually cast Satan down to planet Earth, where he has continued his rebellion (Revelation 12:7–9). And his purpose is still to defeat God, at least on this earth. However, Satan has rarely presented himself to any human being as Satan. He works, rather, through evil humans to achieve his purposes. So what is in reality a conflict between powerful spiritual forces throughout the entire universe appears to us as a conflict between the human forces of good and evil on our earth.
Revelation draws back the curtain and allows us to see the big picture: God is about to wrap up human history and put an end to the conflict between good and evil on our planet, and Satan doesn’t like that. This is his last chance to win in his battle against God, and he’s going to “pull out all the stops.” He’s going to marshal every evil human power on earth, and this grand armada will devote its vast power to achieve one purpose: the total elimination of God’s people from the face of the earth.
The Bible also makes it clear that the years just before the end of the world will be marked by terrible natural disasters, probably coinciding with the period of spiritual conflict that we just glanced at. Let’s begin with the first three verses of Revelation 7:
“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ ”