Are we living in the age of the apocalypse? What does the Bible say about the signs of the end of the world—this evil age—and the beginning of God’s Kingdom?
What does the word apocalypse make you think of? There was a time when this word pointed everyone directly—and exclusively—to the Bible.
But today, while many are vaguely aware of a connection to something in the Bible, the word apocalypse in most people’s minds points more directly to end-of-the-world scenarios. Any connection it might have to the Bible in our modern culture is more in the context of ancient myth or legend, and as a literary pretext for the popular genre of apocalyptic literature.
In fact, thousands of apocalyptic-themed books and films have now been produced, with subgenres including doomsday fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction and apocalypticism. Apocalyptic visions have also become a fascination for many today.
The common thread in all these is the belief that civilization as we know it will screech to a halt—probably in our generation—due to some global catastrophe. Popular scenarios for the world’s demise include supervolcanoes, alien encounters, asteroid impacts, global pandemics, climate change or nuclear warfare, among other catastrophes.
What does apocalypse mean?
The term apocalypse comes from the last book of the Bible. To most people, the book of Revelation is the most mysterious book of the Bible, full of hidden meanings and prophecies shrouded in dark mysteries.
However, in the first verse of Revelation (originally written in Greek) is the word apokalupsis, which means “disclosure,” “unveiling” or “revelation.” This book is intended to reveal information, not conceal it!
Apocalypse is simply a form of the Greek word apokalupsis. The book begins, “The Revelation [Apocalypse] of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1, emphasis added throughout).
God has mercifully given us these signs to watch for so that we will not be caught by surprise, as the majority of the world will be.Upon reading the contents of this book, we see an escalation of end-time events, culminating in the destruction of the nations of this world and the return of Jesus Christ to begin a new world. And that new world will start with a 1,000-year period called the Millennium. So the reign of Christ on earth—1,000 years of literal utopia—is also part of this Apocalypse or Revelation!
But before Christ begins to reign, there are indeed some extremely sobering events that must take place, as revealed by God in this and other books of the Bible.
Our question now is, What will be the signs preceding those calamitous end-time events?
Jesus’ disciples asked the same question in what is known as the “Olivet Prophecy” or the “Olivet Discourse.” “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3).
Jesus’ reply to them actually included several signs, given through the rest of chapter 24. He said, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!” (Matthew 24:33). In other words, the sequential unraveling of these events are the signs by which we will know when the end—and Christ’s return—is near.
About six decades later, Christ (then in heaven) gave the same signs—in the same order—in His Revelation (Apocalypse), through the apostle John. He portrayed these signs as “seals” that will be opened in sequence, each one being another step closer to the end of this evil age.
The seventh seal is the Day of the Lord, which is when Jesus Christ directly intervenes to take control of this world away from Satan and the rebellious human rulers under him and to begin God’s Kingdom on earth. The first six seals are preliminary events leading up to the Day of the Lord, and they are all opened in Revelation 6.
Four horsemen of the Apocalypse
Christ also portrayed the first four seals as horsemen—a fitting description for destructive forces moving through time and covering vast distances. These are popularly known as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (or Revelation). These four speak of events that have been ongoing for most of man’s existence, but which will be greatly intensified in the end times when the seals are opened. These first four seals are religious deception, warfare, famine and pestilence.
In the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus added that earthquakes in various places will accompany these signs (Matthew 24:5-7).
God provides considerable details for each of these first four signs in numerous prophecies throughout the Bible. Those details are additional signs we should be watching for. For more information, see “What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?”
The fifth seal is also known as the Great Tribulation, and the opening of this seal will mark the final 3½ years of this age, before Christ returns and begins to reign.
The sixth seal will be the manifestation of dramatic signs in the sky (including meteor showers and darkening of the sun and moon), and it will signal that the Day of the Lord is about to commence. Again, there are also numerous details concerning these last three seals in other prophetic books and passages of the Bible. For these details, see “What Is the Day of the Lord?” and other articles in the Prophecy section of our website.
So, as we have seen, the signs of the apocalypse are actually the major end-time signs revealed in the book of Revelation. God has mercifully given us these signs to watch for so that we will not be caught by surprise, as the majority of the world will be.
As Jesus said in Luke’s account of the Olivet Prophecy, “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 21:36).