The World on Fire

BACK in the early 1930’s, when the radio as a means of communication was coming into its own, a famous preacher by the name of Samuel Parkes Cadman conducted a question meeting over the radio on Sunday evenings, where he was known as the Radio Voice of America. One of the questions asked him was, “Do you think that the end of the world is near?” This was in the dark days of the Great Depression, and the outlook for mankind was indeed quite gloomy. Reverend Cadman’s reply to that question was, “Don’t worry. The end of the world won’t come for fifty million years yet.”

By this reply the good preacher hoped to comfort those who were fearful of the end of the world. The answer reflects an erroneous viewpoint of the end of the world, a viewpoint which at that time was held by essentially all who had any thoughts on the subject, and it is still the same today. This traditional and erroneous view of the end of the world came down to us from the Dark Ages. The view is that at some time this earth upon which we live will take fire, be reduced to a cinder, and its wicked inhabitants transferred to a hell of torment, and its righteous inhabitants whisked off to heaven. This viewpoint was so unrealistic to human thought that millions of people gave no serious consideration to it, except to allow it to keep them away from the Bible and from the study of its prophecies. They reasoned, and properly so, that if human experience is all to end in this calamitous way, it is just as well not to know too much about it or to become too interested in when and how it will occur.

If the teachings of the creeds on this subject were true, the Reverend Cadman was quite correct in his approach by endeavoring to assure the people that they had nothing to fear, that they would be long gone from the earthly scene before the end of the world came.

The Earth Abides Forever

Before we examine what the Bible really does teach concerning the end of the world we would like to call attention to the scriptural testimony assuring us that so far as this planet Earth upon which we live is concerned, it will never come to an end. In Ecclesiastes 1:4 we read, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.” Isaiah 45:18 reads, “For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.”

Here we are given the assurance that the Lord did not create this earth in vain. He formed it to be inhabited by man. It is man’s home, his eternal home, and while he forfeited temporarily the right to live here, the Scriptures assure us that God in his love provided redemption through Christ Jesus, and that the dying race will, in God’s due time, be restored to life on this planet which God prepared for them.

Quoting further from this same chapter in the prophecy of Isaiah, we read, “Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”—Isa. 45:21-23

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul quotes this prophecy and applies its fulfillment to Jesus. Writing concerning Jesus, who gave his life for the salvation of the world, Paul tells us that in his death he made himself of no reputation, having taken upon himself the form of a servant, and having been made in the likeness of men: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”—Philippians 2:7-11

In other words, what the great Jehovah of the Old Testament foretold he would do, the Apostle Paul explains, is actually accomplished by Jesus through his death, resurrection, and exaltation. And the purpose behind all this is that the whole world of mankind, instead of being annihilated by the burning up of the earth, will find, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold, that God created the earth not in vain, but formed it to be inhabited, and that through obedience to the laws of the kingdom of God they will have the opportunity to gain salvation and to live here as humans forever.

A Social Order

The word world in the Bible is often a translation of a Greek word which simply means social order and has no reference at all to the planet Earth upon which we live. This is the world, according to the Bible, which comes to an end. The Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (I John 2:15-17) In other words, it is the world that is characterized by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life that is to pass away. When we think of these evil characteristics of what the Bible calls “this present evil world,” we cannot help being glad that it will pass away. Indeed, every true Christian who understands this point should pray for the end of the world.

In the prophecies of the Bible pertaining to the end of the world very vivid symbolic expressions are used, among them fire. But this does not mean that literal fire will one day devour this planet upon which we live. It simply means what the President of the United States said near the beginning of the First World War. His observation was, “The world is on fire,” meaning by this that the passions of men and of women were so stirred up that there was no controlling them any more, and that almost anything could happen—even the destruction of the present social order.

And indeed, the social order that existed just prior to that First World War has been almost completely destroyed—destroyed by the devastation of war and other social upheavals. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (I Pet. 4:12,13) Here the trying experiences of the Christian in this world of sin are symbolized by fire. It is these fiery experiences that burn away the dross of Christian character and make the follower of Jesus worthy to share with him in his kingdom.

The Earth Devoured

One of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the end of the world is found in Zephaniah 3:8, which reads, “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” A clearer translation here would be “the fire of my zeal.” (Young) Here the earth is used as a symbol of a selfish social order (the one in which we are living today), which is to be devoured by fire—not ordinary fire, but the fire of God’s zeal. This does not mean literal fire at all, for the Scriptures indicate that the earth is devoured in other ways than by tire.

In Daniel 7:23 we read of a great beast which is described as being symbolic of a kingdom—“the fourth kingdom upon earth.” Students of the Bible are quite in agreement that this beast represents the Roman Empire. Concerning this beast the prophecy states that it shall be “diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.” Here we have the earth devoured and broken to pieces by a beast. So far as the planet Earth is concerned we know that it is still here. What that symbolic beast did would not imply at all that the earth itself would be devoured. Try to imagine what sort of beast would be capable of devouring the literal earth!

Nor do Zephaniah’s prophecies mean that the earth is devoured by fire. The earth’s being devoured by a beast simply denotes that this selfish government, or kingdom, appropriated to itself all the resources of the people and used them for its own selfish purposes. Being devoured by fire denotes trouble that would destroy Satan’s social order. This trouble is described in Daniel’s prophecy as “a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” We know that it does not involve the destruction of the planet Earth, because in the very next verse of Zephaniah’s prophecy we read, “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” Thus we see that after the “earth” is destroyed by the fire of God’s zeal the planet itself, which God created for man, is still here. People are living upon it, and they turn to the Lord to serve him “with one consent.”

A prophecy in the 46th Psalm concerning the end of the world furnishes an additional interesting illustration of God’s use of symbolic or pictorial language. The first verse of this prophecy reads, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The trouble here referred to seems clearly to be the great time of trouble foretold in the prophecy of Daniel, chapter 12—the trouble which, according to Jesus in his reference to it in the New Testament, will cause the hearts of the people to be filled with fear. But in the prophecy of the 46th Psalm the second verse reads, “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” It is interesting to examine this language more in detail. The Lord’s people do not fear, although the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Obviously, if the literal earth was removed there would be no mountains left to be carried into the sea, and no sea left into which the mountains could be carried.

“Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” Jesus said that one of the manifestations of this great time of trouble which would destroy the selfish social order would be that the sea and the waves would be roaring. Here we are reminded of this and still are not fearful even though this be true, even though the mountains—symbolic of the powerful kingdoms of the earth—shake with the swelling of the roaring waters.

An explanation of this symbolic language is contained in Isaiah 17:12,13: “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.” The thought here, obviously, is of the stirred-up, chaotic state of men and nations which makes the time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. When we get to the 6th verse of the prophecy in the 46th Psalm we find that it is not the literal mountains that are removed at all, nor the literal water that rages, for we read, “The heathen [Gentiles] raged, the kingdoms were moved [instead of mountains being removed, the kingdoms were removed]: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.”

Going on to the 8th verse of this prophecy in the 46th Psalm we read, “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.” (vss. 8,9) Then in the 10th verse we read, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”

In this total prophecy we have a remarkable sequence of thought. First we are told that the earth is removed, that the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea. We are told that God uttered his voice and the earth melted. But in the 10th verse we find that the earth—the literal earth, that is—is still here, and God’s name is exalted in it. Thus, we see that it is not the literal earth that is moved and melted, but the symbolic earth, the social order which exists upon the planet Earth, and that the purpose of this trouble is to destroy sin and selfishness that God’s name may be exalted on this planet which he created to be a home for man. This is why Isaiah could say with such assurance that God created the earth not in vain, but formed it to be inhabited.

In II Peter 3:3-6 there is introduced a very meaningful prophecy concerning the end of the world. First he mentions the fact that there would come in the last days “scoffers, walking after their own lusts,” or desires. These scoffers say, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” It is generally believed by students of the prophecies that the second coming of Christ and the end of the world are very closely related, and this is true. And Peter here mentions the promise of Christ’s coming, or presence.

Peter adds that these scoffers are willingly ignorant of the fact that according to the Word of God “the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” This is in keeping with Jesus’ own prophecy concerning what is described as the days of the Son of man, when he explained that one of the outstanding signs of this period would be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. In this prophecy by Peter he uses the destructive power of the Flood in Noah’s day as an illustration of this great time of trouble. Peter says that those who scoff are willingly ignorant—ignorant, that is, of the fact that Jesus himself likened the time of his second presence to Noah’s day when that flood destroyed the world. Peter indicates that the world which was destroyed in Noah’s day was made up of heavens and an earth. This also would have been symbolic, because the literal heavens were not destroyed in Noah’s day.

What was destroyed in Noah’s day was a social order having two cardinal aspects, a spiritual and an earthly—the heavens and the earth. Just as the literal earth is influenced by the movement of the various heavenly bodies, so man in his social order is under the control of certain religious or spiritual powers, which Peter designated the heavens and the earth.

Then Peter adds that “the heavens and the earth which are now”—that is, making up our present social order—are “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” One of the characteristics of our present social order is that evil predominates. The Prophet Malachi wrote, “Now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” But this will not be true when the present social order has fully ended in the prophesied time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. This selfish, sinful social order will continue until the day of judgment, which will be a day of perdition, or destruction, of ungodly men.

Verse 10 of this prophecy reads, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” Notice that this prophecy states that in this ending of the world the heavens as well as the earth will be destroyed. If this were literal, it would imply the destruction of essentially the entire universe. Peter is informing us that just as there was a symbolic heavens and earth which ended at the Flood, so the present evil world that comes to an end is also composed of a symbolic heavens and earth, and that both of these are destroyed in what is called “the day of the Lord.” This is a reference to many Old Testament prophecies which indicate that it is the great Jehovah of the Old Testament who is responsible for this time of trouble which, according to Jesus, ere it is over will threaten the destruction of the whole human race.

Verses 11 and 12 read, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? The Apostle Paul also speaks of the elements of this world, using the same Greek word as does Peter, saying that Christians should not become entangled with the weak and beggarly elements of this world. He does not mean by this that we should not become entangled by the rocks and trees and other elements making up the literal earth, but that we should remain free from the various elements of this sinful, selfish social order. We are to overcome the world, not to succumb to its weak and beggarly elements.

To this the apostle adds, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Here the apostle mentions third heavens and a third earth which will succeed the heavens and the earth which are destroyed in the great time of trouble which brings the present social order to an end. In this new heaven and new earth righteousness will prevail. It will no longer be true that the proud will be called happy and that the wicked will be delivered. It will be a day of destruction for all those who persist in their ungodly ways. It will be the great judgment day of the Bible, when all mankind will be on probation and those who obey the Lord and his laws, accepting Christ as their Redeemer and Savior, will live forever.

In that new world Jesus and his true followers, exalted to the divine nature and reigning with him, will be the new heavens—the new spiritual ruling power. These will be represented in the earth by the ancient prophets and other faithful men and women of past ages, who will be restored to human perfection and will administer the laws of that glorious kingdom of God for which we pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) Peter explains that we look for this new heaven and new earth according to the promise of God. And a wonderful promise of God concerning this new heaven and new earth is found in the 65th chapter of Isaiah where, beginning with the 17th verse, we read, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”—Isa. 65:17-22

One of the points emphasized in this wonderful promise of a new heaven and a new earth is the great longevity of the people then as compared to now. We should note, also, that there is a new Jerusalem created in connection with the promise of the new heavens and the new earth. This is enlarged upon in Revelation 21. The Apostle John, in his vision on the Isle of Patmos, saw in symbol the fulfillment of this wonderful promise. He says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” The Greek word here translated “first” would be better translated “former” (TCNT), the former heaven and the former earth were passed away. John also sees this new heaven and new earth associated with the holy city, the new Jerusalem promised by Isaiah, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This is the bride of Christ associated with him in the new heaven, those who live and reign with him a thousand years.

Verse 3 reads, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”—vss. 3-5

This glorious consummation of the divine plan will be brought about through the thousand-year reign of Christ. It is during that reign that death will be destroyed—even those who have died being raised to life again. The Apostle Paul tells us about this in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians, where he, after promising the resurrection of the dead through Christ, says that Christ must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. No wonder the Apostle Peter could say with such assurance that we look for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness!

One of the glorious promises of the blessings to be showered upon the people at that time is recorded in Isaiah 25, where God’s kingdom of promise is likened to a mountain in which the Lord of hosts shall “make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord [Jehovah]; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isa. 25:6-9

And all this will reach the people through the new heavens and the new earth, after the present selfish social order ruled by Satan, the Devil, shall have been destroyed in the great time of trouble with which this world, or social order, comes to an end.

How true, indeed, is the Apostle Peter’s description of the new social order under Christ when he speaks of it as the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness! One of the blessed promises of this new world is found in Psalm 72. Concerning earth’s new and righteous King, we read, “He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.”—vs. 4

“He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.”—vss. 6-9

“Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.”—vss. 11-14

The psalm concludes, “His name shall endure forever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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