Is our planet in peril? Is our universe doomed to a finite end? What is the point of our present physical existence, if it will all come to an end someday? You may be amazed to learn the truth of the matter!
Human beings have a natural desire to know the origin and future of the universe. We would love to reach out to its farthest limits. But we also realize that there are dangers facing our planet. Will life on Earth survive? Will the universe itself survive? Is there hope for our future?
Ancient King David marveled at his place in the cosmos. As a shepherd boy, he saw the glory of the heavens night after night. He asked the same questions many philosophers have considered through the millennia: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" (Psalm 8:3–4).
Have you ever considered your place in the universe—now, and in the future? You should! When you look out at the night sky, what do you see? If you live in a large city, you might see only a handful of stars. If you live in the countryside, where it is darker at night, you may see hundreds or thousands of stars. But those stars are only a tiny few of the billions in our Milky Way galaxy. Scientists estimate that our galaxy contains more than 200 billion stars—some more than 13 billion years old! Astronomers say there are at least 50 billion potentially visible galaxies in our universe, with several times that many not visible to our best telescopes.
Can we even begin to comprehend such immense numbers, and such a vast scale, in our universe? We can thank science for the glimpse it can give us of these amazing facts. Yet science remains powerless to answer the great questions of life. What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is the ultimate future for humanity? As a reader of Tomorrow's World, you know that we look to the Bible for those answers.
Does science support—or even demand—the conclusion that God did not create the universe? No! Countless honest scientists, whether or not they consider themselves Christians, agree that scientific truth can be reconciled with the idea of a Creator God. Many share the perspective of Harvard University Ph.D. Patrick Glynn, who in his important book, God: The Evidence, observed: "The most basic explanation for the universe is that it seems to be a process orchestrated to achieve the end or goal of creating human beings."
Ancient King David went a step further, recognizing the Orchestrator and Creator of the universe. Marveling at the cosmos, he appreciated it as God's handiwork, and recognized mankind's place in it. He wrote: "For You have made him [mankind] a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:5–9).
God gave human beings dominion over Earth and its creatures. We are supposed to be learning how to manage, govern and serve as faithful stewards. If we cannot be responsible stewards over this planet, how can we expect to be responsible stewards over the Moon, Mars, or any other part of the universe?
As human beings, we recognize that we are very limited by time and space. But we have an insatiable desire to explore our universe. That desire led to the Apollo space exploration missions in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of you older readers will still remember how amazing it felt to see Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walking on the moon on July 20, 1969. They spent 21 hours on the moon's surface, and returned to Earth with 46 pounds of lunar rocks.
Five more Apollo missions would go on to land on the moon. In December 1972, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the last of twelve Americans to set foot on its mysterious surface. Since then, no one has been back.
Scientists see space as a field of exploration; military and political leaders often look to it as a base for war. As U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee, told reporters, "You always want the [strategic] high ground" (Reuters, January 15, 2004).
Military goals were even a key part of the 1960s "space race" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Mankind has a history of war, and we should not be surprised to see that warring nature look to space.
Just how warlike is the human race? Historians Will and Ariel Durant researched that question, and concluded: "In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war" (The Lessons of History, p. 81). Futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler have made a similar point, observing: "In fact, in the 2,340 weeks that passed between 1945 and 1990, the earth enjoyed a grand total of only three that were truly war-free. To call the years from 1945 to the present the 'postwar' era, therefore, is to compound tragedy with irony" (War and Anti-War, p. 14).
Concerned about the dangers of global nuclear war, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has for more than 50 years maintained what it calls the "Doomsday Clock," measuring how close we have come to worldwide nuclear destruction. Less than 18 months ago, on January 17, 2007, the Bulletin moved the clock two minutes forward, to five minutes before midnight. Their news release stated: "The major new step reflects growing concerns about a 'Second Nuclear Age' marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing 'launch-ready' status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks."
Yes, we live in a dangerous world. This is one reason why human beings look outward to the cosmos. We hope we can escape our Earth-bound problems. But will we merely bring Earth's problems to the universe?
The Hubble telescope has given us amazing views of galaxies and supernovae. Most scientists estimate that our Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter, and 1,000 light years "thick" from top to bottom. Can we even conceive of that vast expanse of space? And can we conceive of the speeds at which the galaxies are moving? Astronomers have demonstrated that some galaxies are moving further out into space at about 100 million miles per hour!
Most of us have heard of the "Big Bang" theory, which scientists use to explain the universe's present expansion. But is it possible that the universe might someday reverse its expansion, or simply expand outward and fall apart? Cosmologists have proposed scenarios with exotic names like the "Big Freeze" and the "Big Crunch." The "Big Freeze" theory suggests that as the universe expands, its dissipation will lead to reduced temperatures, too cold to sustain life. The "Big Crunch" suggests that the universe's expansion will reverse, and that it will eventually implode upon itself. Others expect a scenario of "Heat Death" in which all the universe's energy will eventually turn into heat. Another possibility is called the "Big Crackup." In this scenario, the universe expands at an accelerating rate until all its matter becomes diffuse and dark.
As a Stanford University physicist told New Scientist magazine, "A few years ago, nobody would even think seriously about the end of the world within the next 10 to 20 billion years, especially since we learned that the Universe's expansion is accelerating… Now we see it is a real possibility" (September 6, 2002).
Not all researchers offer such bleak scenarios. Dr. Ruth A. Daly, author of a Princeton University study, looked at the maximum size of distant radio galaxies and concluded: "We can say, with 95 percent confidence, that the universe is open and will continue to expand forever."
But even if the universe survives, what will be the future of Earth?
Our planet faces many threats. Which threat is the deadliest? Physicist Stephen Hawking gave his opinion to an interviewer from the ABC News program 20/20: "Nuclear war is still probably the greatest threat to humanity at the present time. Even after the end of the Cold War, there are still enough nuclear weapons stockpiled to kill us all several times over, and new nuclear nations will add to the instability. With time, the nuclear threat may decrease, but other threats will develop, so we must remain on our guard" (August 30, 2006).
What other deadly threats did the program offer? It warned of nuclear war. It explored gamma ray bursts from space that would destroy Earth's atmosphere and all life. It detailed the danger from supervolcanoes such as the caldera basin in Yellowstone National Park. It outlined the risks of disease plagues and climate change, and it noted the likelihood of an asteroid colliding with Earth.
An asteroid colliding with Earth is not just the stuff of a science fiction movie. As the BBC Two telecast Averting Armageddon reported in January 2003, an asteroid known as 1950DA is "expected to collide with, or come perilously close to the Earth in 2880. Its impact could kill hundreds of millions of people. It seems that in a mere 877 years, less than the blink of a cosmic eye, we have a date with Armageddon and we may not even have that long. Asteroid hunters estimate there could be up to 600 kilometre-sized asteroids still undiscovered near Earth and any one of these could be heading straight for us."
In 1962, the world came precariously close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States and the Soviet Union actually considered launching nuclear strikes. Thankfully, the Soviets finally removed their nuclear missiles from Cuba. But the Soviet Union continued to exercise its superpower status for many years afterward.
Do you know how, or if, Russia will be involved in end-time Bible prophecy? Scripture shows that nations east of the Euphrates River will invade the Middle East. We read: "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared" (Revelation 16:12).
The Asian forces will encounter a new superpower—called the "Beast"—at Megiddo in Israel. These powers will join in the climactic battle often called the "Battle of Armageddon." Evil forces, incited by the Beast and the False Prophet, will gather the kings of the earth at Megiddo, or Armageddon. The kings of the east will move westward across the Euphrates to join other forces. Look on any world map and see where the Euphrates River is located. It begins in Turkey, passes through Syria, then through Iraq to the Persian Gulf. And what nations lie east of the Euphrates? Those nations include Iran, India, and China.
Notice carefully where the kings of the earth gather. "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (v. 16). Just what is Armageddon? The word Armageddon is a transliteration of the original Hebrew har megiddo which means the "hill of Megiddo" or "the mountain of Megiddo."
Megiddo is located about 55 miles north of Jerusalem in Israel. In ancient times it guarded the main trade route between Egypt and Damascus. It also overlooks the largest plain in Israel, the Plain of Esdraelon (called the Valley of Jezreel in the Bible). Scripture records several major battles that took place there.
After the world's armies gather at Megiddo, they proceed south to fight at Jerusalem, in what Scripture calls "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14). Here is what Scripture tells us: "Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east" (Zechariah 14:1–4).
The Messiah, Jesus Christ, will return from heaven to destroy these armies. You can read about that in Revelation 19:19–21. Then the King of kings will reign on earth with the saints—faithful Christians—for a thousand years. We look forward to the millennium, tomorrow's world, when the world will experience genuine, lasting peace! Each of us needs to prepare for that glorious time. To learn more about it, write to the regional office nearest you (listed on page 30 of this magazine) for your free copy of our informative booklet, Armageddon and Beyond.
Yes, Bible prophecy reveals the ultimate end of this age. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, will bring peace to Earth. He is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). During the Millennium of His rule on Earth, the deserts will blossom like a rose (Isaiah 35). All nations will come up to Jerusalem to learn God's way of life (Micah 4; Isaiah 2). Animals' nature will turn from violence to peace (Isaiah 11:6–9; Isaiah 65:25).
At the end of the Millennium, God will resurrect the dead for what is called the Great White Throne Judgment. Billions of human beings, who lived and died without ever hearing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ—most of whom never even heard the name "Jesus Christ"—will have their first opportunity for salvation. You can read more about that judgment in Isaiah 65:17–25.
At the end of the White Throne Judgment, all the incorrigibly wicked will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14–15).
Then, God's plan of salvation will move into another phase. Notice: "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:2–4).
Yes, the Earth will be renewed, and the New Jerusalem will come to earth from heaven! You will want to be there. What an awesome inheritance Almighty God has planned for us!
And there is more! As we noted earlier, human beings have an innate desire to reach out into space. Our loving God has promised us that we can do exactly that, if we are faithful. Notice this amazing promise: "For in that He [God] put all in subjection under him [human beings], He left nothing that is not put under him" (Hebrews 2:8).
The Greek phrase for "all" in verse 8 is ta panta, which literally means "the all." As Greek lexicons explain, in the absolute sense, ta panta means "the universe." God wants to give His sons and daughters dominion not only over Earth, but also over the entire universe!
God calls His children heirs: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:16–17, KJV). But we will only be able to receive that dominion when we inherit eternal life—when we become God's immortal children.
What will we inherit? We will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). And we will inherit "all things." Christ is called the heir of "all things"—the universe. God has appointed Him "heir of the universe, as it was by him that he created the world" (Hebrews 1:2, Moffatt). As "joint heirs" with Christ, we will inherit the universe!
God has demonstrated His great love toward His children, and He confirms our inheritance: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things [Greek, ta panta]?" (Romans 8:32).
No, the universe will not end—and it is waiting for you and me!