Between 20 and 22 percent of people in Argentina, Turkey, South Africa and the USA believe the world will end during their lifetime according to a poll for Reuters a decade ago. These countries’ anxiety levels are above average but “nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believed the world will end during their lifetime”.
“Whether they think it will come to an end through climate change, the hands of God, a natural disaster or political events, whatever the reason, one in seven thinks the end of the world is coming,” said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs which conducted the poll of 16,262 people in more than 20 countries for Reuters.
This fear is not an old wife’s tale because Gottfried also said that people under 35 years old, are more likely to believe in a judgement day during their lifetime, or have greater anxiety over the prospect.
It is true that the world has not ended on any of the many previous dates that various Christian sects have predicted throughout the tumultuous decades of the 20th century. But there also are many millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims who do believe that the Bible’s and the Quran’s war of Gog and Magog (Gog u-Magog in Hebrew and “Yajuj amd Majuj” in Arabic) is coming in the 21st century.
Many Muslims now have started to think of “Ya’juj and Ma’juj or Gog and Magog who are mentioned in the Qur’an in two places: in surat al-Kahf 18:94 and in surat al-Anbiya’ 21:96. Gog and Magog are also mentioned in the Biblical book of Prophet Ezekiel chapters 38-39. Many people believe that “Ya’juj and Ma’juj is a generic name for some unruly, barbaric, uncivilized and non-religious people who caused trouble in the past, and will cause vast mischief before the end of our world.
The world will then be saved from destruction by Divine intervention working through several of God’s Messianic agents. Abu Hurairah reported that Prophet Muhammad said,” By Him in whose hand my soul is, Mary’s son will descend among you as a judge. He will break crosses, kill swine and abolish the jizya (a tax paid by a non-Muslim community to a Muslim ruler), and wealth will pour forth to such an extent that no one will (need to) accept it.”
It is true that human society has changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last 150 years than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations are exploding in Africa and populations are declining in Europe. Technology produces both worldwide prosperity and worldwide pollution at the same time.
Should we look upon the future with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Is the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday? Or are both occurring almost concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?
Jews, whose biblical prophets were the ones who first wrote about a future Messianic Age, recognize that the birth of a Messianic Age must be preceded by its birth-pangs. But the prophets of Israel also emphasize the glories of a future world living in peace and prosperity with justice for all.
Ancient Jewish prophecies did proclaim that there would be an end to the world as we know it. But they did not prophesy that the world will come to an end, nor did the Prophets of Israel offer an exact date for the transition.
The advent of the Messianic Age is, unlike the Mayan date, not knowable because humans have free will and thus the exact time and manner of redemption cannot be determined in advance. Much depends on what we humans do.
The beginning of the Messianic Age marks a time of transition from one World Age into another. How we move through this transition, either with resistance or acceptance, will determine whether the transformation will happen through cataclysmic changes or by a gradual reform of human society; which will lead to a world filled with peace, prosperity and spiritual tranquility.
In most religious traditions, redemption is defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community.
This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age. The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah.
The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age.
But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation.
The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (together with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a human being, a descendant of King David, with great qualities of national leadership similar to Moses or Mohammed.
The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.
The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come.
For example, 2700 years ago the Prophet Isaiah predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be filled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (Isaiah 65:20) Before the mid 19th century the annual death rate for humans fluctuated from year to year but always remained high, between 30 and 50+ deaths per 1,000 individuals.
Those elevated, unstable rates were primarily caused by infectious and parasitic diseases. The toll from disease among the young was especially high. Almost 1/3 of the children born in any year died before their first birthday; in some subgroups, half died. Because childbirth was hazardous, mortality among pregnant women was also very high.
A century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one infant; now it happens to less than one out of two hundred.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone unnoticed and uncelebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long. The amazing rescue of 14,235 Ethiopian Jews in a 1991 airlift to Israel, lasting less than 40 hours, stirred and inspired people for a few weeks.
Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine. But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle.
If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.
In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:5-6)
Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget how bad things were in the past.
The news media focuses almost all its attention on possible dangers and threats. If people learned more about what the prophets of Israel really taught about the advent and outcome of the birth pangs of the Messianic Age they might be less anxious about predictions of future doomsdays.
The birth of the new child is more than worth the mother’s labor pains; and all our current wars could be brought to an end by inspired political leadership. Then the 2500 year old Biblical vision would be fulfilled in our generation:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)