As I have continued to study both the Bible and the news, I am becoming more and
more convinced that though the most profound and catastrophic events will come to pass on Earth only after the seven year tribulation begins. Yet I believe the precursors of most of them are already well under way, involving the political, economic, religious, and natural realms. In short, they are now evident everywhere but still ignored by the secular world and even by most of organized religion, the latter no doubt a topic of lengthy discussion in itself.
Last year, I presented an article called "Signs from Above," which focused on the possible things we can expect to see in the heavens as the end of this age approaches (http://www.raptureready.com/soap/wood7.html). Terry James and I have kept in touch concerning a wide variety of prophecy-related topics over the years and he suggested it might be helpful to revisit this subject at this time. I agree!
Jesus himself has told us that immediately before his Second Coming that there would be profound signs in the moon, sun, stars, including an inexplicable darkness in the skies (Matthew 24:29). There are mentions of similar darkness’s in the Old Testament (Exodus 10:21-23 - localized darkness in Egypt prior to the Exodus; Isaiah 13:10 and Joel 3:15 - the darkness also referred to by Jesus preceding his coming).
Particularly notable as well is that which occurred for at least three hours on the day that the Lord was crucified (Luke 32:44-45).
So let's take a look skyward once more and see if we can make some educated guesses as to what we might expect to see very soon, but bearing always in mind that God might very well intervene in ways to produce these signs that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
THE SUN - A REVIEW AND STATUS REPORT
Virtually all the stars in the night sky ranging from small red dwarves up through blue super giants are nuclear furnaces converting hydrogen into helium and releasing incredible amounts of energy in the process. While the biggest may consume their fuel in a matter of a few million years, the smallest dole it out in a Scrooge-like manner allowing them to last many tens of billions of years.
Now there is the unresolved argument concerning the age of our Earth and universe among sincere and faithful Christians and plenty of arguments on both sides in which we have a 6000 year old creation or one of 13.7 billion years in age, with the Earth and its Solar System being around 4.6 billion years old. Even so, how long this took really is moot since there is no specific upper limit in Scripture as to how long everything could last, but we will look at this topic next.
Based on current science, our sun has some 5 billion more years to go before undergoing drastic changes, but once again, we cannot preclude actively stepping in and changing this whole estimate. In fact, the Bible suggests strongly that he will because it speaks of these signs in the heavens occurring while human beings are still on this planet. The odds are prohibitively against us lasting long enough for our sun to make Earth uninhabitable, something which will likely occur not in 5 billion years but a mere 100 million as its energy output rises with age slowly turning the world into a scorched waterless desert.
An even more time-limiting factor is the longevity of Israel as a nation itself which the Bible says will one day accept Jesus as the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7). Even the most cursory look at the Middle East today suggests that if conditions continue as they are, Israel's survival as a nation for an extended length of time is unlikely barring Divine Intervention. (Which, of course, is exactly what the Bible says will happen.)
Additionally, Jesus indicated that the generation (defined as 70 years in Psalm 90:10) which sees the signs BEGIN to come to pass, likely starting with the restoration of Israel to its native land in 1948 will be the one to experience ALL of them (Matthew 24:32-24; Luke 21:28). In this case, it would appear that the time must be very soon and it would be very wise for us to remain vigilant, as Jesus himself had said (Mark 13:34-35).
In the past few years the sun has undergone a time of greatly diminished activity, unusual even for being in a minimal part of its eleven year cycle. Most of 2008 had no visible sunspots at all and Earth temperatures likewise reflected this decline. Though it is impossible to know with certainty, many astronomers are conjecturing that the next maximum may be extreme in the opposite direction. Since the lead-in to active years is a gradual one, then indications of elevated activity should be showing up at any time. As of this writing (Mid-February 2011) there has been one small but significant burst of activity.
Though I covered this topic briefly in my last essay on this subject, let's take a closer look at the effects of increased solar activity on our planet, chief of which are CME's (coronal mass ejections) in which ionized (charged) and magnetized gasses called plasma are blasted off the sun's surface into space. As expected, these increase during the sun's active phases. If one just happens to occur in our direction, it hits Earth's magnetic field which channels most of it down into our polar regions charging our upper atmosphere and intensifying auroral displays. A large enough one such as occurred in 1859 produced "Northern Lights" visible all the way down to the Dixie states in the U.S. (The southern hemisphere has its corresponding "Southern Lights" as well.)
In the same way that rotating or varying a magnetic field produces electricity in a generator or alternator, a CME's changing magnetic field can produce random and varying currents which can interfere with modern power grids, satellite operations, TV and radio communications. Back in 1859 the worst that happened was that the telegraph systems experienced electrical problems from these induced voltages, but as you can see the effects in this technological Twenty-First Century could be catastrophic.
As an added factor, there appears to be evidence that Earth's magnetic field may be weakening and perhaps even preparing for a reversal. If this were to occur over a short length of time, it is possible that this generation could experience a time when the Earth would be especially vulnerable to solar activity since this field does provide protection from plasma outbursts from the sun. Auroras would no longer be confined to the polar but would occur world-wide, being most powerful at the tropics where the sun's rays are the strongest and along with their the accompanying magnetic disturbances on our technology.
BACK TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
If you've ever experienced a power failure, you begin to quickly realize just how great your dependence is on your household's "gadgets." Generally, though, it is not much of an inconvenience if it is only a few hours in duration. After a day, the situation rapidly deteriorates. Food in the refrigerator starts to thaw, homes with wells no longer have water, and depending on the weather, a home could soon become uninhabitable since its heating/cooling systems no longer function. Unfortunately prolonged and widespread power outages also tend to bring out the worst in people, particularly in cities where the darkness is an invitation to the criminal element. Now imagine the power being cut off for months, something well within the range of possibilities should entire countries have their electrical infrastructures severely damaged due to solar outbursts. In a true "Catch-22" situation, without electricity, factories would not be able rebuild or construct replacements for the equipment needed to restore the electricity!
It would truly be a step back into the 1800's but with the added complication that the cities in the industrialized world are not capable of sustaining their respective populations at this level of technology.
In my personal opinion. I do not envision a universal crippling power failure in the Pre-Tribulation world. The reason for this is that the Antichrist will likely use and augment existing technology to help him consolidate his grip over the world. It is true that his "666" economic system might be supernaturally based, but it seems more likely he'll use the "tools at hand" built upon what we already have including e-commerce and banking, RFID technologies, and even TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation which even in its present stage can affect the way a person's brain functions including a person's ability to make moral judgments). Yet disruptions of a more limited scale are certainly possible and would in themselves contribute to a general unrest and provide the rationale for the invocation of governmental "emergency powers" which by their nature curtail individual liberties.
There is, however, an intriguing indication of a possible widespread collapse of technology by the end of the Tribulation which may be found in Revelation 19:17-21. Here John describes the gruesome aftermath of Armageddon in which the Antichrist's troops - and their horses - are consumed by carrion-eating birds. Was John trying to describe in familiar terms a mechanized army which would have been alien to him, or was he literally seeing the final end of a Calvary literally mounted on horses? If it is the latter, it would be a strong indication that due to either human or natural causes technology had failed sending the military to pre-technological times.
THE SKY IS FALLING
Revelation 8:8-9 describes something which to modern ears sounds very much like an asteroid or comet impact. Within the past couple of years an asteroid named Apophis has been discovered which will make at least two close passes to Earth in the 2030's with a slim but measurable chance of impact on its second encounter, based on what is known about its orbit at this time. In 1908 a small comet or meteor exploded over Russia knocking down vast stands of trees in the Tunguska Forest.
Arizona hosts the mile-wide Barringer Meteor Crater caused by a meteor estimated at only about 100 feet in diameter. In 1994 twenty-one fragments of Comet Shoemaker Levy struck Jupiter's atmosphere leaving blemishes so large that they could be seen even in a small amateur telescope, something I personally observed. Our own moon has ample evidence of countless impacts preserved on its surface due to its lack of atmosphere and the associated weathering processes we have on Earth. So we know that what the Bible described in Revelation is not fiction.
But as the Bible also shows a major planet-altering impact does not appear to be part of the picture for Pre-Trib times, but only for the Tribulation itself.
To those of you who might be wondering why I excluded the burning star of Revelation 8:10-12, this sounds much more descriptive of the detonation of a nuclear bomb and its aftermath than that of another meteor strike.
There are any number of conditions capable of turning a normally bright day into night, the most widely known astronomical cause being that of a solar eclipse in which the moon obstructs the sun's disk. These are quite rare and of limited range and duration, never covering more than about 150 miles in diameter or lasting much longer than about 5 minutes in any given place.
As such, this rules them out as producing the extended periods of darkness recorded in the Bible which we've already examined. There is certainly the possibility of some rogue planetary body drifting into a position to cause an extended eclipse, but this is exceedingly remote. But astronomical reasons are not the only ones which could bring this about as we will now see.
CLOSER TO HOME
If we put a thick enough layer of clouds, dust or smoke into the atmosphere, the darkening effects can be dramatic. There are numerous examples of the day being turned to night in the proximity of erupting volcanoes. Large dust storms can also greatly diminish the sun's light as can the fallout from a large asteroid impact or detonation of a nuclear bomb. At this point in time the escalation of seismic activity can easily increase volcanism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially in historically unstable regions, unfortunately making the latter an ever more greater possibility with every passing day. What other skyward-related signs might we expect?
The winter of 2009-2010 produced a continuous barrage of record-setting weather in both hemispheres. Whereas North America and Europe experienced uncommon cold and large amounts of snowfall, Australia, in what was its summer season, was beset with snow in New South Wales and record floods in Queensland. (I must take a moment here to pause and reflect on what would be considered unrelated but concurrent events; the U.S. and Canada [North America] have taken increasingly non-Christian directions in their politics and churches, the E.U. has adopted a charter which pretty much ignores its Christian heritage, and Australia has elected an atheistic Prime Minister. Coincidence? I wonder!)
As Luke 21:25-28 states, there will be in addition to the signs in the sun, moon, and stars the distress of the nations, the "sea and waves roaring." Earthquake-generated tsunamis might be part of this very thing along with the hurricanes which also appear to be ramping up, the devastation of both amplified due to the increase of urbanization in the world's coastal regions.
Though the debate continues as to whether "Global Warming" is a reality or not, and if it is, what part of it is due to human verses natural causes, it would appear that "something" is happening which is causing the world's weather to become more extreme and certainly should be included as we look to the heavens for indicators of the nearness of the end of this age.
The signs of the End Times have likened to "birth pangs" - starting out mildly and then increasing in severity and frequency. It is an apt analogy and one that accurately describes what is passing before our eyes across our planet in every aspect.
As I write here in the beginning of 2011, other signs include the Middle East undergoing a chain-reaction of civil unrest, Israel becoming increasingly isolated by its traditional friends who are seeking to keep the oil flowing by currying favor with Israel's adversaries which have done little but to openly by word and deed express contempt for freedom, much of the church falling into apostasy, and the intrusion of individual rights and privacy by the technology which is becoming more of the master rather than the servant. One wonders how long this can go on.
I believe the Bible is telling us in a loud and clear manner that the answer is "Not much longer." But it is also giving us another message that should fill all believers of Jesus with hope: That when these signs begin to come to pass, our redemption will be near (Luke 21:25-28).
"And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." (Mark 13:37 - from Jesus' Olivet Discourse)