Many Bible prophecies describe specific signs that will arise on the world scene as we approach the end of the age—the period of time just before Jesus Christ returns to this earth to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus told His disciples to watch for these, so they would recognize when His return was near (Matthew 24:32–44).
Many of these prophecies, written dozens of centuries ago, are coming alive right before our eyes! The Apostle Paul wrote that “in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud… unloving… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–5). Jesus Christ criticized those who make a false show of righteousness while privately seeking selfish gain. Speaking to one of the religious leaders of His day, Christ pointedly noted, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). How common is this attitude in business, politics and consumer culture today?
The Ten Commandments condemn covetousness (Exodus 20:17). Solomon, thousands of years ago, warned that wicked people were “greedy for gain” (Proverbs 1:10–19). Jesus rebuked religious leaders for hypocrisy, extortion and unbridled greed (Matthew 23:25). The prophets railed against selfish material acquisition: “Woe to those who devise iniquity… they covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them… Behold, against this family I am devising disaster” (Micah 2:1–3). The prophet Amos delivered God’s warning to the Israelites that, because of their rampant greed, godless materialism and exploitation of the less fortunate, “I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end” (Amos 2:6–7; 3:1, 14–15). Amos warned Israelite leaders, who lived in opulent splendor while many others existed on much less: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He [God] will take you away with fishhooks… and Israel shall surely be led away captive” (Amos 4:1–3; 5:27; 6:7; 7:11, 17). The Bible reveals that God has dealt severely with the godless and greedy in the past, and will do so again in the future!
Americans, like many others in the Western nations, are divided by the issue of greed. On the one hand, commentators like Bill Moyers and Michael Winship lament government’s failure to limit human greed: “Instead of acting as a brake on runaway corporate power and greed, government becomes their enabler” (“Enabling Greed Makes U.S. Sick,” BillMoyers.com, May 20, 2013). On the other hand, as economist Milton Friedman noted in his book Capitalism and Freedom, “What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy; it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.”
It is easy to point the finger at others, but harder to recognize greed in oneself. American culture has spread around the globe, exporting the culture of greed. American music, films and television incessantly promote consumer products and the philosophy that endless consumption brings happiness—and have spawned “a money-minded youth culture that demands instant gratification and thrives on audio-visual bombardment” (Why Do People Hate America? Sadar & Davies, p. 125). According to some, this “global projection of American influence… The McDonaldization of society… seems like a virus, a particularly pathological one… replicating itself in the rest of the world… infecting the cultural body of other nations” (ibid., pp. 117–118). The globalization of greedy, self-centered consumption emanating from America and other affluent countries is generating much global animosity as it undermines and destroys traditional values and cultures.
Cultural historian Morris Berman describes another worrisome trend: increasing inequality through which the rich continue to grow richer while the poor become poorer. Berman notes that in recent decades we have seen “an unprecedented redistribution of income toward the rich. In terms of wealth disparity, the United States leads all other major industrial nations” (The Twilight of American Culture, p. 21). Some executive salaries are now more than 400 times the wage of their companies’ workers. Once-respectable financial institutions now aggressively pursue leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers of companies, pocketing substantial fees as executives walk away with millions of dollars—while thousands of workers lose their jobs and their incomes (House of Morgan, Chernow, pp. 690–709).
Historian Jim Nelson Black points out that these same social and economic trends were present centuries ago, during the decline of the Roman Empire, as in the waning years of other powerful states. Ancient writers recorded that “greed and self-indulgence… preoccupation with luxury” hastened moral decay that sped the demise of the once-mighty Roman Empire (When Nations Die, p. 160). Historians Will and Ariel Durant saw a repeating pattern in the accumulation and redistribution of wealth over the centuries. Wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few, then when the impoverished masses can no longer abide the inequity, wealth is redistributed—either by peaceful legislation or by violent revolution. Writing several decades ago, the Durants saw that “the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is now greater than at any time since Imperial plutocratic Rome” and sensed that a correction would soon come (The Lessons of History, Durant, p. 55). More recently, French economist Jacques Attali warned that in the coming years we would see a growing, bitter and volatile divide between an increasingly rich core and an increasingly impoverished periphery, with the impoverished periphery eventually rising up against the rich core “in a war unlike any seen in modern times” (Millennium, Attali, pp. 14–15).
For centuries, economists have assumed that human reason can regulate world markets. Optimistic historians have feared for the worst, yet hoped for a peaceful redistribution of wealth when social forces bring about a change. The Bible, however, reveals that current trends will build toward a very different outcome at the culmination of mankind’s centuries of greed. Scripture reveals that God will allow our selfish, consumer-obsessed, materialistic societies to reap the regrettable consequences of what we have sown (Jeremiah 2:17–19).
Scripture tells of an end-time religio-political power that will bring short-lived prosperity to the world. At first, greedy businessmen will “become rich through the abundance of her luxury” (Revelation 18:3). But that prosperity will end, and the same greedy men who became rich through that power will “stand at a distance for fear of her torment” (v. 15).
Finally, Jesus Christ will return and intervene with a “strong hand” (Psalm 136:12; Revelation 11:17) to restore economic justice and end selfishness and greed. Centuries of human greed are building to a dramatic climax, revealing that Bible prophecy is coming alive!