Chapter 7:

The Kingdom of God Is Near!

"Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!" was the theme of Jesus’ ministry (Matt 4:17, 10:7, Luke 10:9). But peace on earth did not come then, and it still isn’t here 2000 years later. What did Jesus mean? How was God’s Kingdom near then? What has become of it since then?

There were several ways in which the Kingdom had come "near" at that time. Matters involving the Kingdom were advancing: the Christ, the one chosen by God to be King, had come. Kingdom prophecies were being fulfilled. The opportunity was opening up for those with faith to be selected as kings!

But only those with spiritual vision could see it. The Pharisees, who rejected Jesus, once asked him when the kingdom of God was coming. He answered them: "The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness. For, look! the kingdom of God is in your midst!" (Luke 17:20, 21) Yes, in effect, it was standing right in front of them in the person of Jesus Christ, yet they could not see it.*

But of course, many Kingdom prophecies were not fulfilled in those days. Remember, the disciples were eager to see the wicked nations destroyed, and for their beloved Christ to reign in glorious power. How near was that? Well, one day, while they were admiring the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said that the whole place would be destroyed, levelled to the ground. (Matt 24:1, 2) That must have puzzled them very much, since they expected Jerusalem to dominate the world, and soon. So later that evening, they asked Jesus about it. We read at Matthew 24:3: "While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: "Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?"

After asking about the temple, notice that they also asked, "What will be the sign of your presence?" (Many Bibles here read "the sign of your coming".) He was right there in front of them, and at that time they did not yet understand that he would be going away. So what did they mean by his "presence" or "coming"? Obviously, they had a particular kind of presence in mind; they were asking what would signal the begin of his glorious reign, which they hoped was very soon. —Lu 19:11, 18:32-34.

Also, they wanted to know what would be the sign of "the end of the world." (AV) Remember, as Jews they believed in the paradise earth to come; they did not yet understand that anyone would go to heaven. So they were not asking about the end of planet Earth. Actually, the word they used (aionos) means "age". Certainly when the Kingdom arrived and swept away the system of things as we know it, bringing in a peaceful new world, that would be the "end of an age."

Why would they ask for a sign? Who could not notice that the world was ending? Clearly, the sign would come before the end; they wanted to know what would signal that the conclusion was about to begin. Did Jesus say that there was no way of knowing, that it would come without any warning? No, Jesus gave them what they asked for: signs! Then he said: "When you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors." "When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near." Yes, according to Jesus, these are things that can be known, not merely guessed at or assumed. —Matt 24:33, Luke 21:31.

In his answer, Jesus described events of sweeping scale: great wars, famines, lawlessness, persecution of Christians, false Christs. Despite the troubles, he said the "good news of the Kingdom" would be preached all over the world. Then, "the end will come." —read Matt 24:4-14.

All of these things would take some time. It might seem that the Kingdom was long in coming. But Jesus reassured them: "Truly I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur." —verse 34.

"But," you may say, "that generation is long gone and the end is not yet. What did he mean?" Well, remember their first question? Much of what he said applied directly to their generation, to the Jewish nation. For example, he mentioned a prophecy of Daniel concerning desolation on Judea (verses 15-22; see also Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:20-24). Those were very distressing times for the Jews, and the Christian congregation did preach the good news throughout the known world of that time, particularly among the Jewish diaspora (Col 1:23). And Jesus was "present" (invisibly, sitting at God’s right hand in heaven) as King of the Christian congregation. (Matt 28:20, Col 1:13) Finally, the end of the Jewish nation came, exactly as foretold, when the Romans desolated Judea in the year 70 C.E. When his words came true, no doubt those opposers "saw" (mentally) Jesus "coming on the clouds of heaven"; they were forced to admit that he had been raised up and glorified. —Matt 24:30; compare 26:64.

But that is not what the disciples had in mind when they asked Jesus about his "presence" and the "end of the age." The fulfillment in their time did not involve "all the tribes of the earth", nor did Christ’s reign subdue all his enemies earthwide, bringing peace to all mankind. We can be sure that just as his prophecy about Jerusalem came true, so those other things too must occur. But what "generation" of mankind will see it?

Remember, Jesus had said, "When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near." This means that the same kind of signs that told them long ago that Jerusalem’s end was near, would serve again later to alert us to the nearness of the end of the entire system of things.

In every generation since Christ’s time, many have tried to identify events of their day with these signs. Yet the end has not come. It has been so long that most have become tired of being watchful. But if the Bible is true and Jesus is Christ, there would finally come a generation in whose time the signs would truly be fulfilled. Jesus said: "Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is." —Mark 13:33.

We should obey that instruction. So let us look closely at events of our generation. Do they fulfill the sign?

Do We See the Sign?

Civilization's nuclear sunset
Civilization's Sunset

WAR: In the past 100 years, since 1914, we have seen two wars so great that they came to be called "World Wars". World War I surpassed in destructiveness the sum of all the wars of the preceding 2,400 years! Then World War II was four times more destructive than World War I! It ended with the nuclear annihilation of two cities. After that the world has been in dread of any instability that could trigger a third world war, which could easily cause the end of civilization. Towards that end, the nations have spent trillions of dollars arming themselves with the most fiendish and destructive of weapons imaginable: biological, chemical and ‘smart’ bombs, multi-megaton nuclear bombs, intercontinental missiles, anti-personnel mines by the millions. Dead Iraqi in GW II At the same time the political stability of some of the most powerful of nations has become highly questionable. Fanatic nationalism is on the rise, old ethnic and religious animosities are flaring up. In fact, the situation worldwide is similar now to the conditions that triggered World War I and II. In 1994 Rwanda, a small nation in Africa, proved how tensions can suddenly explode; church-going neighbors turned on one another with genocidal fury, and about 800,000 were slaughtered in just a few weeks! Even women and children that took refuge in churches were hacked to death by machete.* Grief in DarfurThe following multinational war in Africa has claimed perhaps 2,500,000 lives, yet it has been almost completely ignored by western news media. After all, what is newsworthy anymore about African misery? India and Pakistan have been exchanging angry threats backed by nuclear missiles recently. The Great Recession of 2009 lingers as economic instability. The corruption and selfishness that caused it still exists, and leaders fear that the next collapse could be even worse. Millions have fled Syria, while hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict. Shia and Sunni antagonism and jostling for hegemony are making the Middle East very tense. This we can say for sure: Jesus’ words have come true in our time!

FAMINE: War usually causes famine by disrupting farming. Following World War I came the greatest famine in all history. During the worldwide Depression of the 1930’s Stalin engineered death by starvation for millions of his own countrymen. After the second World War, it is said, a fourth of the world was starving. More recently, corruption and war has starved millions in Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, and North Korea. Zimbabwe, once a "breadbasket" of Africa, had a corrupt and brutally racist regime that shut down its most prosperous farms, deliberately creating a food crisis. Food aid poured in from the West, but the regime directed it only to those willing to sing its praises, using selective starvation to crush dissent. Totalitarian cruelty causes starvation in N Korea In all these places wealthy nations are having "compassion fatigue," tiring of the unending need for aid. Now sometimes the news media just ignore situations until hundreds of thousands are already dead. In other places, the problem has been not war but grotesque inequality: the markets of the rich are sumptuously stocked, while just across town the poor cannot afford even a sustenance diet. All too frequently the poor in so-called "developing" lands have to stand by watching with empty hands and empty stomachs while bumper harvests are exported for hard cash— which is then used to buy weapons to strengthen the government against its own people, and to give a few morally bankrupt persons a life of leisure. The World Health Organization estimates that over 5 million children die each year from malnutrition. At the same time in more prosperous countries, many children are grossly obese.* How long can this go on?

PESTILENCE (epidemic disease): After World War I came the Spanish Flu, the greatest epidemic of all history. Some 21 million people died in just a few months! Since then, there have been amazing advances of medical science. One would think that this would have stopped this feature of the sign cold. Not so: some killers of the past have been pushed down, but others have popped up in their place. War, poverty, and irresponsible behavior have fed epidemics of malaria, cholera, venereal disease, heart failure and cancer. Homosexuality established AIDS, which is slowly tightening its grip on the world because of heedless promiscuity. By 2006 AIDS had become a pestilence of truly Biblical proportions: it had killed more people than all the wars and natural disasters in history combined. Drug addiction has even revived tuberculosis in a new form, resistant to antibiotics. Tobacco and other forms of pollution are causing an ever-increasing incidence of cancer and heart disease. Strange new diseases pop up briefly, causing serious concern because antibiotics sometimes can’t touch them. Some, like ebola, are so aggressively virulent that only extreme measures can beat them back. Yet some nations research such pathogens, not for cures, but for use in war. What next?

Tsunami roars in on village. APTN

EARTHQUAKES: This is the only part of the sign that isn’t directly caused by human activity, as far as we know, except that the increase of human population has ensured that any quake will be noticeable. Records indicate that indeed the years since 1914 have been unusual in the frequency and severity of earthquakes. Just to name some recent examples, a great quake devastated northern China in 1976, killing up to perhaps 300,000. In early 2001, a severe earthquake hit Bhuj, India, killing perhaps 20,000. Then Bam: 32,000 in Iran in late 2003. Then a disaster such as has not been seen in generations hit the coastlines of the Indian Ocean in late 2004. Whole towns were swept away by the tsunami. The Sichuan quake of 2008 made 5,000,000 people homeless and killed about 90,000, with much of the damage worsened by corrupt building practices. The great Haitian quake of 2010 snuffed out perhaps 300,000 lives, again much of it due to the extreme poverty and delinquent government. The most recent as of this writing is the great tsunami in northern Japan. Besides these great temblors there have been too many lesser ones to count. God is not causing this destruction, but he did forewarn us of it.

The Greek word for "earthquakes" (seismoi) literally means "a shaking." Besides shaking of the ground itself, there have been tremendous upheavals in societies and governments in the past century. Mighty empires have been broken up, and great divisions have split nations along ethnic and religious lines. (The partition of India in 1947 is one example.) In fact, Jesus’ words have been fulfilled more dramatically in this figurative sense than literally. In 2008 there was a near-collapse of the world economy due to greedy financial manipulation. In early 2011 we saw major political shaking in the despotic Islamic states of the Middle East. And now we are again seeing rumblings of deep economic instability, caused by national debts so enormous that few seriously believe they will ever be repaid. Like a fault line long locked but with mounting tension and ready to break, something will have to give way, and it appears that will be soon.

LAWLESSNESS: Do you leave your doors unlocked when you leave home or go to bed? In many places, people put two, three or even more locks on their doors, plus heavy steel bars over their windows. Yes, today the honest people are in "jail," while criminals roam the streets. Yet the courts have set confessed rapists and murderers free again and again, because of "technical errors" in the prosecution, such as sound evidence of guilt ruled inadmissible because it was obtained in a less than perfect manner. Just as lawless are the prosecutors found framing false evidence and obtaining "confessions" by baldfaced lying and wearing a targeted innocent down by unrelenting hours of interrogation. Yet those "confessions" are admissible despite the grotesquely unjust manner they were obtained!

Out on the street, children mustn’t talk to strangers. Women should not walk alone. In the homes, infidelity is common, and couples often live together without marriage. Casual sex by teenagers is considered normal, so condoms are handed out in schools. In some places 80% of all children are born to single mothers; sometimes she can’t even guess who the father might be. Sex crimes, even real murders, are committed before cameras and the video distributed to millions of eagerly waiting customers. Many semi-slave laborers, often very young, work for nearly nothing in extremely dangerous conditions, producing pretty toys for the children of wealthier lands. Poisons are poured out into rivers while people downstream have no choice but to drink the water. Large multinational corporations hide their trail of unjust profits in a legal jungle of contracts. Government officials turn a blind eye for a price. How much longer can this stand?

adapted from www.populationinstituteofcanada.ca
exponential population growth since 1700

Another reason to expect an end is near is the exponential rise in the human population in our time. It is quickly approaching an unsustainable level as more people adopt modern lifestyles of consumption and pollution. True, the rise has been enabled by some improvement of sanitation, nutrition, and medicine (not for everyone, of course), so that many more infants have been surviving to reproductive age. Not everything in the last days is negative. But there is a wall ahead: the earth is finite. Futurists have been predicting imminent calamity for some time, but their predictions have not come true yet, causing some to scoff. Technology seems to have put off the inevitable day of reckoning, but it cannot do so for much longer. Conflicts are increasing over essential resources, especially water and energy. Many are sounding alarms about accelerating climate change, which they believe is caused by man's ever-rising consumption of fossil fuels. Political and economic instability plus nuclear weapons does not a hopeful equation make. In other words, the population may suddenly become self-limiting, "solving" the problem, but not in a happy manner. That is not the end foretold in the Bible, but it does underscore the fact that we urgently need God to act. If he did not, we would do the job ourselves, and as usual, not very well (James 1:20).

People who are paying attention to the current situation are gravely concerned, even terrified, just as Jesus said (Luke 21:26). They are working hard to turn mankind's course aside. They will fail, but there may be some kind of hope-inspiring development, whether technical or political, that produces the last "sign" scripture tells us to watch for: a widespread feeling or announcement that "peace and security" is at hand or has been achieved. That joy will be quickly followed by the real terror as everything comes unglued. —1 Thess 5:3.

FALSE PROPHETS: Where is the clergy in all of this? Often being exposed as pedophiles, seducing or raping little boys and girls. Performing homosexual marriages. Turning a blind eye; again, for a price. You’re a big contributor? Then we won’t make a fuss about your adultery or your sharp business practices. Some clergy have taught "liberation theology," which supports violent resistance by oppressed peoples. Others have been part of the oppressive system that lives in luxury off the slavery of the poor. All the while they loudly proclaim their love for Jesus. False prophets indeed! —see Titus 1:16.

There have also been political "false prophets", such as Hitler and Lenin and Pol Pot, who misled millions into doing very wicked things. Besides those large examples, there have been many smaller ones. Some have used religion as part of their appeal. The current primary example is ISIS (aka ISIL or Daesh), although truth be known, those who win the war get to write the history. So there are highly lauded Western leaders who have only much later been exposed as cunning and cruel hypocrites.

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS: For many decades in communist lands, Christians spoke to others about their faith only at great risk to their lives. Even in the "free world," in times of war, inflamed nationalistic patriotism, often whipped to fever pitch by the clergy, has caused mistreatment of those who, like Christ, would be "no part of the world" and "learn war no more." More on this in chapter 11. —John 18:36, Isaiah 2:4.

THE KINGDOM PREACHED: At the same time, Christ foretold that the Kingdom would be preached "in all the world," so the persecution would be unable to stop Christians from spreading the Good News. In 2018, 8,500,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in 240 nations spent over two billion hours visiting people in their homes or in public places to teach them about God’s Kingdom. The Witnesses held private home Bible discussions with about 10,00,000 families to teach them how to serve God and survive the end of this system of things. Unlike other evangelical organizations, they did not teach political involvement and social programs as a solution, nor did they encourage revolution and civil disobedience. Like Christ, their message has been, "God’s Kingdom is near!"

Yes, we can be sure of it! These are the last days of this world! God’s Kingdom is near! Just how near is it? "This generation shall not pass away until all things take place." Jesus gave that promise to emphasize its nearness. Notice that the signs began with a bang with the sudden outbreak of World War I in 1914. Very few people alive today can remember that year; in fact not many people alive today have even met someone from that period.* How much longer can it be? The Bible warns that God’s day of reckoning could seem to be delaying, from our point of view. But it urges: "For the vision is yet for its appointed time, and it is rushing toward its end, and it will not lie. Even if it seems to delay, keep in expectation of it! for it will without fail come true. It will not be late!" —Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:3.

How God’s Kingdom is Near Now

Since our time is a greater parallel of the last days of the Jewish nation in the first century C.E., we can also expect that the Kingdom is "near" now in a sense similar to, but greater than, the way it was "near" then. Kingdom prophecies are being fulfilled, and Kingdom interests are advancing. The door of opportunity to enter that Kingdom is open wide, and millions, not just 144,000, are streaming into it. Notice how this fulfills a "last days" prophecy, at Micah 4:1-4. Are you one of those learning the ways of Jehovah?

You may read another prophecy that is being fulfilled, at Matthew 25:31-46. Every one of us is being examined by the reigning King, Jesus Christ, who will soon "arrive" to pass judgment on all of us. (Compare Ps 96:10-13.) He is watching now to see how we respond when his "brothers", those who are anointed to lead his preaching work today, come calling with the Kingdom message. The parable says that these "brothers" have difficulties, even imprisonment. No, they are not popular or prominent in the world. Does that cause us to avoid them? —see Matt 28:18-20, 12:47-50.

In that final hour he will say to the "sheep": "Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you." To the "goats" he will say: "Be on your way from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels." The wicked ones are surprised and protest, but it does them no good. Which command will ring in your ears? —see also Matt 24:30, 7:21-23.

Why the Last Days Are So Bad

Why is the approach of the end marked by such terrible events on earth? Since the Kingdom preaching is at its greatest now, why is the majority of mankind more bent on wickedness than ever before? At Matthew 24:39 Jesus gave one reason. Comparing the last days to the time just before the Flood (Genesis 6-8), he said "they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away." People today are resisting the message being presented to them. They do not want to hear that their party is about over. They laugh at it, just like they laughed at Noah warning of the Flood. On the other hand, you and I want to take the warning seriously. —see also Prov 1:22-33.

There is another reason why the end times are very bad. Turn to Revelation 12 and read verses 7 through 12. Here we read of a war in heaven; Michael the archangel fights the dragon Satan and the angels that take his side, and hurls them out of heaven down to the earth. Then it says: "Be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time."

This defeat puts the Devil into a really foul mood. It spells "woe" (trouble, sorrows) for the earth. And he knows he has only a "short period" to vent his anger before he is put away for a very long time. This explains why the last days are filled with such wickedness. Satan says, "If I can’t have it, nobody can" and he tries to take everyone down into destruction with him. He wants you to die too, so it is very important to guard against any pressure to do wrong. —1 Pet 5:6-10.

Many believe that the Devil was cast out of heaven long ago, even before he tempted Eve. But a closer look at this passage proves otherwise. Notice that he is called the "dragon, the original serpent, who is misleading the entire earth." In other words, he was a serpent, but now he has grown into a great dragon. By the time he is cast down, there is a whole earth already deceived, not just two people. And notice that, before being hurled down, he had already been accusing "our brothers" before God, but those "brothers" had overcome the accusations by the "blood of the Lamb" and by the "word of their witnessing." The Lamb refers to Jesus in his role of sacrificial Savior, who gave his blood for the forgiveness of our sins (see chapter 5 of this book.) That blood was given, and the witnessing work begun, in the year 33 C.E. So, this casting out has to occur sometime after the Christian congregation is established, long enough for many to become martyrs, as it says, "they loved not their souls even in the face of death." Finally, Job 1:6, 7 shows Satan was able to visit heaven at will in Job’s day, about 1500 B.C.E., long after Eve’s time. That freedom of movement was at last removed by this war in Revelation 12:7.

When, then, did it happen? The event would be plainly detectable on earth by a sharp increase in woes. Jesus had already said that the signs of the end, most of which are woes, would stand out and be easily seen against the background of history, just like the budding of all the trees plainly mark the beginning of spring. We have no trouble identifying 1914 as the year it happened. —Luke 21:29, 30.

Looking back at Rev 12:10, notice the announcement made when the war was won: "Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers has been hurled down!"

The winning of this war was not the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Jesus himself said not long after he was raised up, "All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18, see link above.) It would be difficult to get any more than that. But this victory was certainly a major advancement of that Kingdom. In ancient times, whenever God performed a mighty act, the song of praise always arose: "Jehovah has become King!" (see Psalms 93:1, 2, 96:10-97:1) Of course, no one meant he had not been King before that. Likewise, when Christ defeated Satan’s hordes in heaven and threw them down, the song could be sung as never before: "Now have come the...kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ!" This victory deserved such a loud outcry of triumphant praise. This was a watershed event in the coming of God’s Kingdom. Christ was no longer "awaiting" the time for his enemies to be subdued, it was time to fight! —Hebrews 10:12, 13; compare Psalms 110:1, 2, 5, 6, Rev 6:1-8.

But this war is not over yet. There is one more great battle to come. We will be in the thick of this one, yes, we will see it with our own eyes. Whether or not we survive depends on our preparations now. Are you ready?

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