Jesus Christ said that end-time events would be like those during the days of Noah. What were those conditions like, and why should we be concerned?
Discussing the time near His return to earth, Jesus declared, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).
It appears people thought they were living normal lives during the time Noah lived, just before the Flood. They were oblivious to the impending disaster. So what was Jesus talking about?
Who was Noah?
The Bible says that “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations” and that he “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Noah had three sons, who were named Shem, Ham and Japheth.
When God brought a universal flood upon the earth to destroy all mankind, only Noah and his family were spared. Peter states that God “did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5).
These eight people included Noah, his wife, their three sons and their sons’ wives (Genesis 6:18).
Widespread violence in the days of Noah
Since Jesus said that the last days would parallel the society of Noah’s day, we can look further into God’s Word to learn what He meant. The book of Genesis explains what conditions were like at that time.
Not long after God placed human beings on earth, mankind refused to follow the good and beneficial instructions of God that would have led to stable, happy lives. Instead, they quickly headed toward self-destruction.
Following Adam and Eve’s example of rejecting God’s instructions, humanity became increasingly hostile and corrupt. By the time of Noah, “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
Because of this, God said that He was “sorry” that He had created mankind (verse 6) and told Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (verse 13).
God’s grieving was not sorrow for making a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes. God gave His human creation the freedom to choose between right and wrong (Proverbs 1:29-31), and He was grieved in His heart to see how far humanity had fallen from what He originally intended.
What was the meaning of Jesus’ reference to the days of Noah?
Jesus referred to the days of Noah when He was describing what conditions would be like just prior to His return. His point was that people would be unaware of His return to judge mankind. Sadly, the vast majority of the earth’s inhabitants will be living ungodly lives in a world filled with violence when this monumental event occurs.
In His Olivet Discourse (Prophecy) found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus described what would be happening on earth before His second coming. The signs of the end of this age include lawlessness abounding, the gospel of the Kingdom being preached and Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (Matthew 24:12-14; Luke 21:20). For further study of Christ’s teaching about the signs of His return, see “Understanding the Olivet Prophecy.”
Noah lived in perilous times
During the days of Noah, it seems God gave humanity 120 years to change its evil ways. God said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3).
The 120 years of Genesis 6:3 refers to the time God’s longsuffering would continue with that generation (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible). During those 120 years, Noah preached a warning message, and God waited patiently for heartfelt reform (1 Peter 3:20).
Unfortunately, the people didn’t respond. They didn’t care. They continued to live their lives the way they pleased. They ignored God, and the longer they persisted, the more unsound their reasoning became and the harder it became for them to change.
Romans 1:21 documents this lamentable process: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Living in this evil society that refused to repent, Noah alone found favor in God’s sight as a “righteous” person (Genesis 7:1). We’re told that he was “moved with godly fear” and built an ark “for the saving of his household” as God had instructed him (Hebrews 11:7). “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch,” said God (Genesis 6:14).
Because of the widespread violence in the world at that time, God decided to repopulate the earth through this faithful man and his descendants (Genesis 6:17-18).
The apostle Paul confirmed that before Christ’s return the world would have perilous times, filled with pleasure-seeking, materialism, immorality, violence, idleness and a rejection of the things of God (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
A major reason for God’s bringing the great Flood was that the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:13).
Consider the age we live in. There’s been an alarming increase in global violence just in the past 100 years. Wars in the past 90 years killed more people than during the previous 500 years combined (“War and Conflict”). An estimated 203 million people were killed by wars just in the 20th century (Matthew White, Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, 2010, “Deaths by War”).
Between 170 and 360 million people were killed by governments in the 20th century, apart from war. Recently, more civilians have been dying in armed conflicts than combatants themselves, accounting for 90 percent of casualties since 1945. Just in the last decade, war has claimed the lives of an estimated 2 million children and has disabled another 4 to 5 million children.
A silent form of violence is perpetrated around the world by deliberate abortions of innocents. Each year about 44 million abortions are performed globally (“Global Abortion Rates, 2008”).
Globally, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has documented more than 125,000 violent terrorist attacks since 1970 (“2013 Terrorist Attacks”). Martha Crenshaw, a START board member, reported, “Sadly, it seems to be increasingly acceptable in certain belief systems to kill as many members of the other religious community as possible. Moral restraints seem to be eroding” (CNN.com).
Indeed, things are changing in the world. Jesus Christ said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). We are currently living in an age where these vices are becoming more commonplace.“We’ve seen a fairly steep upward trajectory in the total of terrorist attacks and fatalities worldwide,” said Gary LaFree, START’s director. “We are convinced that a big chunk of this is real change in the world.”
“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts”
Indeed, things are changing in the world. Jesus Christ said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). We are currently living in an age where these vices are becoming more commonplace.
Substantial research on our Western culture has demonstrated the correlation between media violence and youths exhibiting violent behavior in society. Studies show that in the United States a typical child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence, including 16,000 murders, on television before the age of 18. Television programs display 812 violent acts per hour. A recent study found that 15 percent of music videos contain interpersonal violence. Still another modern source of violent exposure is access to the Internet and video games (“The Impact of Media Violence”).
As the violence of this age increases, God’s message becomes more fitting: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away” (Hosea 4:1-3).
God taught respect for life in the days of Noah
After the Flood, human history began again through Noah’s family. God then reinforced the special significance and sanctity of human life.
Addressing Noah and his sons, God said, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:5-6).
Following this decree, God pointed to the rainbow as the sign of a covenant that He would never again destroy all the inhabitants of earth with a flood (verses 15-16).
Had God’s instructions to respect life been followed throughout history, it would have had the effect of upholding the sanctity of human life. Now, as in Noah’s day, we’re seeing a growing culture of flagrant disregard for human life demonstrated by unrestrained anger, disrespect for others, abortion, wars and governments killing their own citizens.
Examples for us
The Flood of Noah’s day, like the destroying fire of Lot’s day, became an enduring example of punishment for disobedience.
The apostle Peter echoed Jesus’ connection between these two events, explaining that God “did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5-6; compare Luke 17:26-30).
Throughout human history there have been many evils committed. Why, then, didn’t God punish every generation of humanity for its sinful behavior? One reason is that God is longsuffering and merciful to His creation (Exodus 34:6-7), not delighting in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). In His wisdom, sometimes God chooses to show mercy (Romans 9:15).
Even though all people have sinned and do sin (Romans 3:23), only God can determine when an entire society or nation has violated His laws to a critical point where He will tolerate no more. It was in God’s perfect judgment that He destroyed the world during the days of Noah, allowing it to serve as an example for all mankind to learn from.
To learn more about the similar societal conditions that led to the sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day, please read the article about Sodom and Gomorrah.
History often repeats
In Noah’s day, the time of punishment came when God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
A risk that people take when rejecting God’s merciful call to repentance is that their hearts can become hardened. God says, “In accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Romans 2:5-6).
The first time God brought His judgment on the earth, it was by a great flood of water. The next time God punishes the whole earth, it will be at Christ’s return, when He will “render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh” (Isaiah 66:15-16).
As a thief in the night
So Jesus Christ’s warning in Luke 17 was that when He returns in great power and majesty to save an unsuspecting world, the vast majority of people will still be eating and drinking, focusing on their everyday lives, unaware of the dangerous times they’re living in.
Just like the people in Noah’s day, people in the end times will be ignoring the warning messages and rejecting God’s righteous ways (Matthew 24:37-39, 44).
In that context Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verses 42-44).
Paul also warned that the Day of the Lord will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
Scoffers will come
Noah, the prophet of God, was very likely mocked and ridiculed for preaching “righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The Bible reveals that in the end times, prior to Christ’s return, people will also ignore warnings to repent. As Peter notes, “Scoffers will come in the last days, … saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Jesus added, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day [of Christ’s coming and God’s wrath] come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
Will God get our attention before that time? Will we repent of our sins and turn to God? And when Christ returns, “will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
The biblical record says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). God was merciful to this righteous man. Our hope is that you will likewise find favor with God when Jesus returns.
For more on how God first warns people before sending His punishment, and how people can survive God’s future wrath for mankind’s disobedience, see the articles “Purpose of Prophecy” and “The Wrath of God: How to Survive.”