Jesus’ disciples asked Him for signs of “the end of the world.” Jesus didn’t give a date, but He did give prophetic signs we should watch to be ready. Is the end of the world near now?
There are many ideas about when the world will end, and even about what the end of the world and the end times mean.
For many, it’s a joke. Cartoonists draw a strange man wearing a sandwich board sign proclaiming “The End Is Nigh” to the unheeding crowds on a big city street.
But it’s not just kooks and religious people talking about the end of the world. Scientists and politicians throw around the phrase as well. Headlines discuss “Here’s How Stephen Hawking Predicted the World Will End” and “How Will the World End? Experts Reveal Nine Most Likely Ways Humans Will Be Wiped Out.”
The prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists annually updates its Doomsday Clock. As I write, it is set at 2 minutes till midnight, the closest it has ever been throughout the atomic age.
Existential threats and the end of the world
Human survival and the world as we know it are truly under threat. Many passionate and even desperate people are warning and trying to reverse whichever of the dangers to our existence seems most real to them. But there is little agreement and precious little action. The dangers grow worse, and most people do their best to put them out of their minds.
But is there a source that can give definitive answers about what is going to happen and when? Is there a real solution to prevent human extinction?
Why not consider the source that most likely gave us the term end of the world and see what it says?
Where the term end of the world came from
Before there was a scientific or political interest in the end of the world, there was a religious one, based on the wording of the most influential English translation of the Bible.
The venerable King James Version of 1611 uses the expression end of the world seven times. Four of these are in the book of Matthew, referring to the prophetic end times. (In Psalm 19:4 and Isaiah 62:11, “end of the world” instead has the connotation “to all parts of the world.”)
In the Bible, what does “end of the world” mean? And when did Jesus say it would come?
The disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world
Jesus had warned His disciples that the most magnificent structure of their nation and religion was going to be totally destroyed (Matthew 24:2). They were understandably concerned and wanted to know when this would take place. They connected His prediction of the destruction of the temple with other predictions that He would come again at the end time. So they approached Him.
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (verse 3, King James Version unless otherwise noted).
End of the world means end of the age
If you check other, more modern translations, including the New King James Version, you will see that most of them translate the last phrase as “end of the age.”
The Greek word used here is aion, which here means an age—specifically, the time of man’s misrule that will end when Jesus Christ returns.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says this about aion: “‘An age, a period of time,’ marked in the NT usage by spiritual or moral characteristics, is sometimes translated ‘world;’ the RV marg. always has ‘age.’ … The phrase ‘the end of the world’ should be rendered ‘the end of the age,’ in most places.”
The disciples were asking about the time when Jesus would return to end humanity’s age of destruction and begin the rule of the Kingdom of God over the earth.So the disciples were asking about the time when Jesus would return to end humanity’s age of destruction and begin the rule of the Kingdom of God over the earth.
What are the signs of the end of the world?
In Matthew 24 Jesus gave many signs that would lead up to His return, including His promise that the good news about God’s Kingdom would be shared around this world—a world steeped in bad news.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (verse 14).
The good news is that, though Jesus will come back during a time of unparalleled “great tribulation” when humanity is at the brink of self-annihilation, He will return and save humanity (verses 21-22).
Read more about this good news in our article “End of the World: Why It Is Good News.”
The signs Jesus gave include religious deception, wars and rumors of wars, famines, disease epidemics and much more. We encourage you to study more about the signs of Jesus Christ’s return in our articles “Discerning the Signs of the Times,” “Understanding the Olivet Prophecy,” “When Will Jesus Return?” and “Where Are We Now in Bible Prophecy?”
We can examine all of Jesus’ prophetic signs and know we are very close to the end, but Jesus said we won’t know the day or the hour (verse 36).
What does Jesus want us to do until the end of the world?
So what did Jesus tell us to do? At the end of Luke’s account of the same Olivet Prophecy, Jesus warned:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day 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 [Jesus Christ]” (Luke 21:34-36, NKJV).
Jesus compared the end times with the days of Noah, when most people ignored Noah’s warnings and were completely unprepared for the Flood. Study more about this and what we should do in our articles “The Return of Jesus Christ: As the Days of Noah Were” and “Five Prophetic Trends to Watch.”
Parable of the tares and the end of the world
The King James Version also quotes Jesus using the phrase end of the world twice and end of this world once in His parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds). This parable was about how God sows His truth in this world and prepares people for His Kingdom, while Satan sows lies that produce people who pretend to follow God but follow Satan instead.
“The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels” (Matthew 13:39; see also 40 and 49).
To be truly ready for Christ’s return, we must be sure we are living as He lived and doing what is pleasing to Him.This can also serve as a sober warning to Christians to not fool themselves into thinking they are okay just because they attend church or consider themselves Christians. Satan is the master of deception. To be truly ready for Christ’s return, we must be sure we are living as He lived and doing what is pleasing to Him.
Here again, in this parable of the tares, “world” is translated “age” in the New King James Version and other modern versions. From other passages that give more specifics about God’s times of judgment, it seems these passages are talking about judgment that will occur sometime after Jesus’ return. Study more about the various times of judgment in our article “Judgment of God: The Real Story.”
Jesus Christ’s words of reassurance about the end of the world
In what has come to be known as the great commission, Jesus gave His followers a job to do before His return, and He gave us encouragement as well.
Jesus said to go and teach all nations, baptizing them and “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20).
This mission trains His Church to do His work and to learn to care for the people He is calling now. Jesus promised to be with us in this effort to the end. He will never abandon us. His help—and His Kingdom—are sure.
World without end?
It is interesting to consider that, even though the King James Version talks about the end of the world, it also talks about “world without end”:
- “But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end” (Isaiah 45:17).
- “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
In both passages, the New King James Version translates “world without end” as “forever and ever.”
God’s plan is not just about an end. The end of this evil age will actually mark the beginning of something much better. The Kingdom of God is a joyous, peaceful and ever-increasing kingdom that will have no end.
You need to understand and prepare for this wonderful world of the future. We encourage you to start by downloading and studying our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.