A "famine" of hearing the truth occurs when the nations of Israel are taken over by a foreign power that prohibits the proclamation and practice of the true biblical faith. This happened around 720bc when Assyrians carried the northern 10 tribes of Israel into captivity. It will happen again during the Tribulation, when the modern descendants of ancient Israel are punished for their sins (Matthew 24:9; Hosea 5:5; Jeremiah 22:5–9).
The 21st century began with a global resurgence of religion that surprised secular leaders and scholars. Fundamentalist religious movements are spreading in Africa, China, Russia and South America. Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of "re-evangelizing" Europe. In North America, "back to-the-Bible" churches are thriving, while liberal "mainstream" churches are losing many members. Proponents of "intelligent design" are challenging evolutionary theory in classrooms and in the courts. All this excites many Bible-believers today, yet the Bible states that there will be a "famine of the hearing of the word" as we approach the end of this age. How can such a "famine" occur alongside a resurgence of religion? The answer is found in what the Bible reveals about religion at the end of the age—in prophecies that are coming alive today!
God inspired the prophet Amos to record: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it" (Amos 8:11–12). This prophecy refers to a time when "the end has come upon My people Israel" (Amos 8:2), and it has dual applications to both the ancient nation of Israel and to modern nations descended from ancient Israel. A "famine" of hearing the truth occurs when the nations of Israel are taken over by a foreign power that prohibits the proclamation and practice of the true biblical faith. This happened around 720bc when Assyrians carried the northern 10 tribes of Israel into captivity. It will happen again during the Tribulation, when the modern descendants of ancient Israel are punished for their sins (Matthew 24:9; Hosea 5:5; Jeremiah 22:5–9).
The prophet Daniel explains how this "famine" of hearing the truth will come about in the last days. In a vision, Daniel saw a "little horn" dominating the last seven revivals of the Roman Empire (the fourth beast; see Daniel 7:7–8, 19–20). This little horn will be a prominent religious figure (and his church), teaching blasphemous doctrines that contradict Scripture. This "horn" will work to change the calendar of religious observances, and will persecute those who follow Scripture (Daniel 7:21, 24–25).
History records that the bishops of Rome presided over councils that changed the weekly day of worship from the biblical Sabbath (the day observed by Jesus, His disciples and Christians in the apostolic era; see Luke 4:16; Acts 13:42–44; 16:11–13; 17:2) to Sunday. Pagan sun worshipers already observed Sunday; one rationale for the change was that it would make it easier for pagans to convert to this new form of "Christianity." In a similar manner, Easter was substituted for the biblical Passover, and winter solstice celebrations were "Christianized" to attract pagans into the fold. Roman law backed these ecclesiastical decisions to accept non-biblical doctrines and practices in the name of "Christianity." In recent years, the papacy has re-emphasized Sunday as a day of worship, and has urged the adoption of European laws enshrining Sunday as a holiday. Such laws could be used in the future to actively discourage observance of the biblical Sabbath and to promote conformity to Sunday observance.
Daniel saw a vision of another "little horn" that would cause the daily sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem to cease and would "cast truth down to the ground" (Daniel 8:8–14). This dual prophecy was initially fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes when he sacked Jerusalem in 168bc, set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and offered swine blood on the altar—a great offense to the Jewish people. Antiochus pressured Jewish priests to compromise their religious practices and to accept the process of Hellenization. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, in its comments on Daniel 8:11–12, states that Antiochus' actions foreshadow "a determined effort made by a ruthless dictator to completely suppress the biblical faith" at the end of the age, who will attempt to foster religious uniformity.
In yet another vision, Daniel prophesied that a powerful end-time leader, with links to a revived Roman system, will make a seven-year covenant that will at first permit the Jewish people to resume sacrifices, "but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering" (Daniel 9:26–27). This covenant will begin as a token of religious toleration, but after three-and-a-half years "all pretense of religious toleration will be dropped" as this ruler attempts to enforce conformity to a corrupt religion (Expositor's Bible Commentary). This influential end-time religious leader, and his efforts to stifle and obliterate true biblical religion, are clearly linked to the actions of false teachers at the end of the age (Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:3, 11, 15; Revelation 17:1–5).
The New Testament provides key insights about end-time events that will contribute to "a famine… of the hearing of the word of the Lord." Jesus said that in the years just preceding His return, "many will come in My name… and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:5). False teachers will preach about another Jesus and a different gospel, contradicting the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 11:1–4). Do not be fooled by this false Jesus and different gospel! Remember: Jesus, His apostles and the Church He founded kept a seventh-day Sabbath (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), and observed the annual biblical Holy Days. Historical sources and the biblical record show that Jesus was not born on December 25. The Bible states that no one but Jesus has gone to heaven (Acts 2:29, 34; John 3:13). Human beings were not created to go to heaven, sit on clouds and play harps, but rather to reign on this earth with Jesus Christ in the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; Daniel 2:44–45; 7:27). This factual biblical information will be suppressed at the end of the age, because it conflicts with traditional beliefs promoted by the religious system that will dominate the world.
The Bible indicates that as we approach the end of this age, militant religious activity will increase (Revelation 6:1–2). In the last days, people will have "a form of godliness," but it will not be based solidly on the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:1–5; 4:1–4). An influential religious figure will use supernatural powers to deceive people to believe lies, and will suppress the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:1–12). False teachers will "bring in destructive heresies" and will ridicule biblical doctrines and speak evil of the truth, while they twist Scripture to support their erroneous ideas (2 Peter 2:1–3; 3:1–18). This climate of public opinion, critical and dismissive of true biblical Christianity, is developing today, and will culminate in an attempt to stamp out true biblical teaching—an attempt led by a powerful religious figure linked with a revived Roman system in Europe. It is vital that we understand where world events are leading today, and that we "seek the Lord while he may be found" (Isaiah 55:6) because a period of darkness is coming (John 9:4)—and with it will come "a famine… of the hearing of the word of the Lord."