Matt 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus was a teacher but he didn’t just come to give a series of lectures or to tell religious stories. Jesus was a healer but he didn’t just come on a healing campaign. Jesus was the baptiser in the Holy Spirit but he didn’t just come to give people exciting experiences. Jesus was a founder of the church but he didn’t come just to encourage people to be religious. No, primarily his message was that the rule of God had drawn near in his presence. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). His rule is an everlasting rule (Dan 7:27) of righteousness, justice and peace to be established over the whole earth (Isa 32:1; Mic 5:2; Zech 9:10; Rom 15:12). So Jesus’ message was an eschatological message of his coming rule on earth. He was and is calling individuals to submit to that divine rule now and we need to proclaim the same message. What we see of the rule of God now is a foretaste of what we shall see in the future.
On the 4th August the Manchester Evening News reported that Councillor Pat Karney Manchester’s “city centre chief” said that street preachers do not have the right to speak about morality. I’d be the first to say that insensitive, condemnatory street preaching hinders the gospel. But if Mr Karney thinks preachers should not preach about sin (i.e. morality) he doesn’t know much about Christianity. Christianity is about Jesus dying for our sins but we don’t appreciate that if we don’t know we’re sinners! Of course preachers must be free to preach about morality – sensitively, lovingly and in the context of God’s mercy and forgiveness. If people who are ignorant about the faith are allowed to control the expression of faith that will lead to oppression and ultimately persecution. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/thousands-goods-seized-during-council-9787370
No, I don’t believe the (ultimate) Antichrist predicted in the New Testament has been revealed. But I do believe that many Christians (and others) do live under antichrist rule today. In fact, around a quarter of the world’s population does.
John writes: “You have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come … whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ … is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son … every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world … many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).
In the days when John wrote Rome, which persecuted Christians, would have been seen as an antichrist power. Others through history have been in the same tradition. And today there are many antichrists in the world including those who persecute Christians.
Persecution of Christians has greatly increased
A report presented in March 2015 to the United Nations in Geneva by the World Evangelical Fellowship, a global network of 160 million Evangelical Christians, estimated that over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
The Pew Research Center found that Christians face harassment and persecution in 102 countries – more than any other religion. Pope Francis commented: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” John Pontifex, a leader in Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic campaign group monitoring persecution said: “The persecution of Christians is at a level we’ve not seen for many, many years and the main impact is the migration of Christian people. There are huge swaths of the world which are now experiencing a very sharp decline in the number of Christians.” For example, The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, has said that “if the war continues, as seems likely . . . all the Christians will leave Syria.”
Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland said that in general, persecution of Christians is increasing, “and the rate of increase is accelerating.” She added that the nature of persecution has changed: “It used to mean several years in a forced labour camp. Now it means watching your loved ones being beheaded.”
The Pew Research Center concluded: “Restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39 percent of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76 percent in 2012 and 68 percent as of 2007.”
The 10 countries who are the worst persecutors
The 10 most dangerous countries for Christians are
• Laos where the government is openly hostile to Christians.
• Uzbekistan where there are raids on churches.
• Iraq where attacks on Christians are growing.
• Yemen which practises Sharia law.
• Maldives where all citizens must be Muslims.
• Somalia which has no effective central government and Christians are in particular danger.
• Saudi Arabia which has no religious freedom. Public non-Muslim worship is banned and conversion to
Christianity is punishable by death.
• North Korea where being a Christian is one of the worst crimes possible.
A 2014 Aid to the Church in Need report stated that conditions had deteriorated in 55 countries, and significantly so in six countries: Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.
Lord Alton of Liverpool said we will see at least half of the 12 million Christians in the Middle East either gone or killed by 2020.
Persecution in China
Persecution of Christians is at an all-time high in China. One of the reasons is that there are 100 million Christians in China and only 87 million members of the Communist Party. In 1947 there were only 4 million Christians and under Mao tse Tung 500,000 Christians were martyred. Yet the Christian community has grown phenomenally. Since China has a one-child policy for families, this growth has almost all happened as a result of conversions. This seriously worries the Communist government. By 2030 China will have the largest number of Christians of any country in the world.
Persecution in Israel
Sadly, some Israeli extremists have also joined the ranks of persecutors. Benzi Gopstein leads an organisation called Lehava which means “[Organization for] Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land. Gopstein has called for the removal of churches from Israel. “We don’t have a place for churches here…. It’s Jewish law. This is what God told us.” He condemned “the state of Israel’s great sin of allowing idolatry – churches and monasteries abounding in the Land of Israel.” In June 2015 the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee was burnt. Sixteen religious Israeli Jewish students were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the arson.
Some Muslims also make life difficult for Christians in the West Bank and the Christian sector of the Old City of Jerusalem. Areas which previously had a majority of Christians now have a majority of Muslims and many Christians have emigrated, partly because of persecution.
We need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. What they are experiencing is a foretaste of what is to come, as Jesus predicted.
Matt 3:7-12 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? … ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”
John the Baptist prophetically summarises that Jesus’ ministry will be characterised by him baptising people in the Holy Spirit and judging the impenitent. We need to stress both of those aspects of his ministry not just the more acceptable message about baptism in the Spirit. The baptising in the Spirit is partly to empower believers to live holy (and penitent) lives in order to avoid judgment. How often do we hear that message?
There is a debate as to whether things are improving with respect to the incidence of war or not. In May 2014 Dan Smith, Professor of Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Manchester wrote a paper called “The conflict horizon.” He pointed out that since the end of the cold war the number of armed conflicts had declined. There were 50 in 1990 but 30 in 2010. There were 646 peace agreements between 1990 and 2007. However he added that “The growth of peace has slowed.” There were 37 armed conflicts in 2012 and 32 in 2012. He commented: “It’s too soon to talk about a new, negative trend but the old, positive one seems spent.”
He then began to refer to causes of war: inequality (“The 85 richest people in the world owned as much as the poorest 3.5 billion”), climate change etc., and concluded: “In short, the risk of violent conflict is elevated where there has recently been violent conflict, where there are deep and growing inequalities, where basic needs are not met (or where the prospects of continuing to meet them are weak), where authority is based on arbitrary power rather than the rule of law or where institutions to address conflicts fairly are weak or non-existent. Where all these factors apply, violent conflict is likely to be endemic—if not as civil war then predation by armed militias or oppressive governments or large-scale crime.”
People like Saddam Hussein and other Middle Eastern dictators have been removed but now we have Isis, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Then there is the Russian threat to Ukraine. We are facing the worst global refugee crisis ever. The UN reports that in 2014 60 million people have been displaced, more than any time since the Second World War. One in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The UNHCR estimates an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees every day in 2014 – a four-fold increase in just four years. 86% of these refugees are hosted by poor, developing countries. Other states are failing in their responsibility towards them.
The 2015 Global Peace Index listed the 10 most violent countries in the world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Pakistan and North Korea. Six of them are Muslim nations, two are nations where Muslims and Christians are in conflict, one is a nation with Christian tribal conflict and one is Communist.
Sir John Sawers who was chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014 stated recently that the modern world was “much more dangerous” than it had ever been, even during the Cold War. He added: “The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War – that is now changing,” he said. “It’s a much flatter world, a much more multi-polar world, and there are real dangers associated with that.”
The danger of nuclear war
Dr Seth Baum spoke at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014 and pointed out that whereas there were only two nuclear weapons during World War II, there are now 16,000. He said “If a nuclear war happens now, millions of people could die from the initial explosions, and potentially billions could die from the global nuclear famine that would follow … Nuclear deterrence works. The problem is, it does not always work. And when the consequences could be so severe, that’s a big problem … And then there is inadvertent nuclear war. This is when one side misinterprets a false alarm as a real attack and launches nuclear weapons in what it believes is a counterattack, but is in fact the first strike.”
An official statement from the Vienna Conference said: “Today, nine states are believed to possess nuclear weapons, but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth …. Nuclear weapons continue to pose an existential threat to all humankind. These risks are not abstract. They are real, more serious than previously known and can never be eliminated completely.
In its Report the conference stated: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, there remains the possibility of a nuclear weapon explosion. Even if the probability is considered low, given the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation, the risk is unacceptable. The risks of accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional use of nuclear weapons are evident due to the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to human error and cyber-attacks, the maintaining of nuclear arsenals on high levels of alert, forward deployment and their modernization. These risks increase over time. The dangers of access to nuclear weapons and related materials by non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, persists.”
In a final statement the conference said it was “aware that the risk of a nuclear weapon explosion is significantly greater than previously assumed and is indeed increasing with increased proliferation, the lowering of the technical threshold for nuclear weapon capability, the ongoing modernisation of nuclear weapon arsenals in nuclear weapon possessing states, and the role that is attributed to nuclear weapons in the nuclear doctrines of possessor states…”
In December 2014 ahead of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, over 120 senior military, political and diplomatic figures from around the world signed a letter saying: “Tensions between nuclear-armed states and alliances in the Euro-Atlantic area and in both South and East Asia remain ripe with the potential for military miscalculation and escalation. In a vestige of the Cold War, too many nuclear weapons in the world remain ready to launch on short notice, greatly increasing the chances of an accident. This fact gives leaders faced with an imminent potential threat an insufficient amount of time to communicate with each other and act with prudence.”
It is estimated 16,300 nuclear weapons, in nine countries, still exist in the world. Pakistan is one of these countries and it is a cause of deep concern that it has had three military coups since the late 1960s and four prime ministers toppled from power since the 1980s. It also has an extreme Islamist group which is determined to remove the government from power.
Another cause of concern is that there have also been examples of the danger of nuclear conflict being started by misunderstanding. In 1960 an American U2 spy plane accidentally strayed into Soviet air space and almost started a war. In 1962 Americans dropped depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface off the Cuban coast and two of the three officers in charge of the submarine voted to respond with nuclear missiles. So one man Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear war. In 1995 Russian radar picked up a scientific weather rocket off the northern coast of Norway and suspected it was a nuclear missile. President Yeltsin decided not to launch a nuclear retaliation.
Another aspect of the danger is that of attacks on satellites in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction from orbit round the earth. But the situation is now much more complex. Satellites are essential to military reconnaissance, communication and targeting. There is a danger that if a nation’s satellites were attacked or even struck by space debris this could lead to that nation assuming the worst and launching a pre-emptive attack. Some nations have tested anti-satellite weapons and others are thought to be capable of doing so.
The Russian threat
In November 2014 Mikhail Gorbachev, referring to the crisis in Ukraine, said “The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.” The President of Finland said that Europe is on the brink of “a new kind of cold war” and in February 2015 Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said a war between Russia and the west was now quite conceivable. David Cameron said Britain might need to accept a new cold war with Russia rather than do nothing about Russia’s actions.
General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Special Operations Command warned recently that, despite the Cold War being over, Russia continues to be a threat to the US. “Russia is looking to challenge us wherever they can,” he said. He pointed to the recent nuclear energy deals made this year with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as showing Moscow is seeking to expand its influence, particularly in the Middle East. He added that President Putin is seeking to divide the 28 members of NATO. “The intent is to create a situation where NATO can’t continue to thrive,” he said.
It is a cause of concern that both Russia and the West have been doing some nuclear “sabre-rattling.” Vladimir Putin said in June 2015 that Russia was buying 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. A NATO official commented: “The Russian leadership is rhetorically lowering the threshold when it comes to nuclear weapons and this is something which should not be done. It largely wasn’t done even during the cold war.” As a consequence NATO is preparing to re-evaluate its nuclear weapons strategy.
Lord Ashdown wrote an article in February 2015 saying the crisis with Russia is partly of our own making. He explained: “The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.”
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond accused Putin of “acting like some mid-20th century tyrant.” President Obama said at the G7 summit in June 2015 that Putin was deliberately ruining Russia’s economy in order to “recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
The danger is that, after the conflict with Ukraine, Russia will act against other countries. Andrej Illarionov, who was Putin’s chief economic adviser, said that Putin will not stop trying to expand Russia until he has “conquered” Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland. He is trying to create “historical justice” with a return to the days of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said: “We can see that Russia is going in the direction of restoring the influence it had at the time of the Soviet Union.”
Isis and Jihad
Isis, in its propaganda, has spoken of the organisation soon having enough money to buy a nuclear device. It acknowledges that such a weapon being made available does not seem feasible at present but they say with their billions of dollars in the bank “it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.” Also UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, said in 2014 that Isis could become the world’s first “truly terrorist state” and she added “We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.” Rao Inderjit Sing, India’s Defence Minister, commented: “With the rise of Isis in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan. A senior United States official, commenting on an Isis attack on Kurdish forces in Iraq in August 2015, said “We have credible information that the agent used in the attack was mustard [gas].”
Australia’s Foreign Minister believes Isis is capable of building chemical weapons. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said: “It is very evident that Isis are putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
In November 2014 Isis and similar groups carried out 664 attacks, killing 5,042 people. In July 2015 a document, believed to be a genuine Isis paper, claims the group is planning attacks on India and also to create a united army with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. It says the organisation plans to create terror in the Middle East and South Asia in order to draw the US into an “apocalyptic” war.
Tensions are growing between China and the US over artificial islands in the middle of the South China Sea. They are called the Spratley Islands, a chain of seven semi-submerged reefs. One of them, Fiery Cross, once was only a metre above sea level. But now the Chinese have made it into about 500 acres (200 hectares) of reclaimed land with a 2 miles long airstrip and a large harbour. The US have detected artillery weapons. There is a dispute over maritime sovereignty over the islands between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. But China has taken them over. The Spratleys lie on a shipping route which is estimated to carry £3 trillion ($5 trillion) worth of trade per annum. They lie in a rich fishing area and near a major oil reserve. The surrounding sea is also very deep which is good for keeping Chinese submarines hidden.
However, what is happening in the Spratleys is symptomatic of a more serious trend. The US is perceived as retreating from its international role and China (like Russia and Iran) is seeking to fill the void left by the Americans.
China is seeking to dominate the world, as the US has in the past. Its economy has grown very quickly. Many of its neighbours seek US protection against China but are economically dependent on China. In particular, China is aiming at what it sees as rightful possession of almost the whole South China Sea, an area of 1.35 million square miles.
China is developing the largest submarine fleet in the world, including many with nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also building many aircraft carriers and battleships.
Like Russia, China is seeking to regain its place as a preeminent, top rank global power. It was robbed of this position by European imperialism followed by American dominance. It would seem that China’s actions in the Spratleys is aimed at curbing the freedom of the US navy.
China may well seek to achieve its aims as much as possible through diplomacy but some experts believe that confrontations are inevitable.
North Korea is thought to have up to 20 nuclear missiles and the ability to increase that number in the coming years. There is a real danger of nuclear accidents in this small, extremist regime. There is also the possibility of political turmoil or chaotic regime change which would make ensuring the safety of the nuclear weapons difficult. Even more serious, some experts have commented that if the leadership becomes financially desperate it could be tempted to sell nuclear assets even to terrorists.
N Korea has massively built up conventional weapons in the demilitarised zone between N and S Korea and it certainly has the ability to fire nuclear weapons into S Korea.
The nuclear attacks on Japan
The anniversary of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki focus attention on the horrors of nuclear war. Some 140,000 were killed Hiroshima – about 70,000 on the first day. Others followed. Bill Travers, the Born Free star, was amongst the first to visit Hiroshima and he wrote: “The place disintegrated; there were no holes. Bricks became dust. Trees became blackened stubs. Bottles melted and assumed grotesque shapes. Pieces of metal curled and folded like silk. “There were no rags or pieces of paper; those and wooden beams and planks had disappeared as completely as the flowers and human beings who lived there.”
Christians were amongst the dead. Christianity had been banned in 1614 and all missionaries were expelled or killed. Many Christians were burnt to death or crucified. Then in 1868 religious freedom was established and 15,000 Christians emerged from the shadows. In 1914 a huge Gothic cathedral was consecrated in Nagasaki. It ceased to exist on the 9th August 1945 when the nuclear bomb exploded directly above it.
Kazumi Matsui, the Mayor of Hiroshima, recently called nuclear weapons “the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity” and criticised nuclear powers for keeping them as deterrents. But there was also criticism of the plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce the restrictions on the Japanese military which have been in place since 1945. Survivors of the Nagasaki blast said the new policy “will lead to war.”
We live in a world where there is increasing tension between the great powers: China, Russia, the EU/NATO and the US. There is also great instability in the Middle East, largely caused by extreme Islamists such as Isis. But there is a great deal of terrorist action elsewhere, in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there is the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, including of nuclear accidents and the possibility in the long term of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. We need to remember Jesus’ prophecies of wars and rumours of wars and to pray both for peace with justice and for those affected by war.
Mark Spencer, Tory MP for Sherwood, said that teachers could express their opinion that they didn’t agree with gay marriage but they are not allowed to teach that it is a sin because that would be “hate-speech.” He says that Christians disagree with gay marriage are “perfectly entitled to express their views” but says that it could constitute “hate speech” in some contexts. This is a disturbing development which indicates that persecution of Christians will eventually come to the West.
Tofik (not his real name) was taught to hate Christianity, beat Christians and attack churches. Then he was trained and became a prominent Imam in West Africa. However in 2002 he had a dream one night. “In the vision I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow him.” He started to attend church. But the local Muslim community set fire to his house, stole his cattle and beat him almost to death. Initially, he took legal action against those who had destroyed his house but then decided to forgive them. He now travels around preaching the Gospel. We must pray for more such conversions.
Matt 2:4-6 “When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Matthew, quoting Micah 5:2, is predicting that, as messiah, Jesus will restore the kingdom of David. He will rule over Israel. We don’t see that happening yet. That is the ‘high peak’ of the fulfilment of prophecy. But, as is common in climbing a mountain, a nearer peak obscured a valley between it and the high peak. In other words, Micah saw the two peaks: the first was the coming of messiah and the second his ruling over Israel. We now live in the ‘valley’ between the two. The Lord has redeemed us through the cross and resurrection but soon we shall reach the ‘high peak’ when Jesus returns.
It is interesting that the dangers secular scholars see as threatening the world or the survival of humanity are remarkably parallel to the dangers Jesus told us to take note of as reminders of his return. I regularly stress that these events are not to be regarded as signs of Jesus’ imminent return but as reminders that he is coming back.
Jesus spoke of earthquakes, war, famine, disease etc. He also mentioned “stars falling from the sky.” Dr Seth Baum, founder of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a secular organisation, lists various “Catastrophic Threats to Humanity :
• Environmental change: climate change, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows (interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global fresh water use, land use change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading.
• Emerging technologies: artificial intelligence (robots and intelligent computers), biotechnology (genetic manipulation), geoengineering (climate engineering), and nanotechnology for atomically precise manufacturing.
• Large-scale violence.
• Pandemics: Pandemics can be of natural or artificial origin, or both.
• Natural disasters: asteroid and comet impacts, supervolcano eruptions, solar storms, and gamma ray bursts from the sun. (He also mentions the very long-term issues of the gradual warming of the Sun, which will ultimately make Earth uninhabitable for humanity in a few billion years and the Milky Way collision with the Andromeda Galaxy)
• Physics experiments: This includes high energy particle physics experiments such as at the CERN Large Hadron Collider going wrong.
• Extraterrestrial encounter.
Let us examine some of these concerns:
There is considerable interest in the danger of a devastating asteroid strike on Earth. The world’s first Asteroid Day was held on 30th June 2015, the anniversary of the “The Tunguska Event” when an asteroid destroyed thousands of square miles of forest in Siberia on 30th June 1908.
Some 150,000 asteroids have been registered but there are many more. Some are about a mile in diameter and, if they impacted Earth they could destroy civilisation. It is not just the impact damage but the ensuing serious weather changes and starvation. Asteroids only 450 feet across could cause severe regional damage.
In September 2014 an asteroid the size of a house came within 25,000 miles of Earth. In August 2027 an asteroid 0.6 miles across could approach within 19,000 miles.
Paul Cox, technical and research director of the Slooh Space Telescope in the Canary Islands, commented: “We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids – sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth. We need to find them before they find us!”
One of his colleagues, Dr Bob Berman said: “On a practical level, a previously unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on 30 June 1908 and 15 February 2013 [The Chelyabinsk meteor which entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia].”
Scientists have reported that the first half of 2015 was the hottest since records began. June was the fourth month of the year to break a temperature record. The average June temperature across the world was 61.48°F, 0.22°F higher than the record temperature last year. Earth has broken monthly heat records 25 times since the year 2000 but hasn’t broken a monthly cold record since 1916.
The reduction in Arctic ice is an indicator of global warming. From 2010 it reduced by 14% but in 2013 it increased by 41%. Those sceptical about global warming seize on this as proof global warming isn’t happening. But scientists respond that there are occasional cold years, but they don’t alter the fact that overall the temperature is rising. In fact, they point out that the temperature in 2013 would have been considered normal in the 1990s but since then, with global warming, has become below normal. The melting trend resumed in 2014.
The sun’s activity (processes which produce heat) vary over a cycle of 10-12 years and some scientists are predicting that solar activity will fall by 60% between 2030 and 2040 causing a “mini ice age.” However, as on previous occasions, this will be a temporary reduction and won’t affect the overall warming of the earth.
Pope Francis has produced an encyclical about the problem of global warming. He refers to the earth as a sister who “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irre¬sponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” He adds that “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” He expresses particular concern for the poor who will face the worst consequences of global warming. He warns that the results of global warming could cause wars. He writes: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”
Johan Rockström is an internationally recognised expert on global sustainability who teaches natural resource management at Stockholm University. In January 2105 he wrote a paper in the Science journal about the damage humans have done to the environment in which he said that in order to keep the earth hospitable :
• We should keep carbon dioxide levels to less than 350ppm (parts per million) but the level reached 400ppm in March 2015.
• We should maintain 90% of biodiversity (variety of plants and animals) but it has dropped to 84% in parts of the world such as Africa.
• We should limit the addition of phosphorous, nitrogen, etc., to crops to 11 trillion grams of phosphorus and 62 trillion grams of nitrogen but we are adding some 22 trillion grams of phosphorus and 150 trillion grams of nitrogen.
• We should maintain 75% of the earth’s forests but the level is down to 62%.
• We should limit the emission of aerosols (which affect climate change and organisms) into the atmosphere to a technical level of 0.25 but it is up to 0.30 over S Asia.
Global warming is a major factor in various negative developments in the natural world:
• Large areas of the Atlantic Ocean, up to 100 miles long, are no longer able to sustain any animal life.
• We are producing the same amount of carbon dioxide as occurred in the Permian Era when ocean acidification led to a mass extinction not only of sea creatures but of some terrestrial life forms and forests. Prof Rachel Wood of Edinburgh University said: “The data is compelling and we really should be worried in terms of what is happening today.”
• Water shortage around the world is causing hardship, violence and political tension because 50% of the world’s water is transnational, i.e. flows across national boundaries. Thousands of rivers have disappeared. As the world population has tripled in the last century, water demand has increased sixfold. The UN’s recent annual World Water Development report predicts demand will increase by 55% by 2050 and if usage remains as now the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030. This could lead to crop failure, ecosystem breakdown, an increase in disease and poverty, violent conflicts and industry breakdown.
• A report in the journal Nature Climate Change says that heatwaves that previously occurred once every three years are now happening every 200 days due to global warming.
• It is true that there has been a dramatic growth in plant cover around the world in the last decade, including through a major tree-planting campaign in China and natural growth in grasslands and non-tropical forests in former Soviet States, Africa and Australia because of heavy rainfall and abandoned farms. However the problem is that the extra carbon being stored by this additional vegetation is only 7% of the 60 billion tonnes of carbon which has been emitted into the atmosphere during the same period. The remainder will stay in the atmosphere.
The Pew Research Center published its “Global Threats Report” in July 2015 which revealed that the majority of people in Latin America and Africa (19 out of 40 nations surveyed) regard global warming as the worst threat facing the world. Many people in Asia also regarded it as a big threat. (By comparison, Europe and the Middle East regard ISIS as the top threat).
The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created a symbolic clock which represents a countdown to a global catastrophe. In January 2015 the clock was advanced to three minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1987 during the Cold War. The scientists concerned warn of the risk of global warming and nuclear accidents. Since 2009 all nuclear powers are expanding nuclear reactors and weapons programmes. The West hopes that the Iranians will not develop nuclear weapons but others, especially the Israelis, do not expect them to keep their word, which is hardly an irrational fear, despite all the precautions. North Korea has nuclear weapons, as does Pakistan. The Saudi Arabians are speaking of the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons because of their fear of the Iranians. Many people are worried that terrorists will get hold of nuclear devices.
Bill McGuire, Professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London has recently written a book on how climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. He says: “We ignore volcanic threats at our peril.” He described how the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 produced pumice which clogged shipping routes for years and created a thick covering some 300 miles away. It also produced a sulphurous fog over eastern N America and Europe which reduced summer temperatures by 2 degrees centigrade, incessant rain and very powerful storms. This led to harvest failure and famine, causing disease and death on a large scale. If such an event were to happen now the effects on our interconnected world markets could lead to a collapse of food production.
Much larger eruptions in the past have produced hundreds of times more sulphur and volcanic winters lasting for years with one third of the Earth covered in ice and snow. The Yellowstone supervolcano in America is thought to be overdue for a major eruption. It is possible it could produce so much sulphur dioxide that it could block the sun for 5-6 years causing worldwide famine and even an end to civilisation.
Global warming will affect ice-covered volcanoes, facilitating eruptions.
The Lord wants us to take notice of all these things as reminders that he is returning to bring a transformation of nature and of human nature. But he also wants us to pray about them and the people affected or likely to be affected by them.
It is interesting that the dangers secular scholars see as threatening the world or the survival of humanity are remarkably parallel to the dangers Jesus told us to take note of as reminders of his return. They include earthquakes, war, disease and events that could perhaps describe asteroid strikes on earth. The scholars add volcanos, climate change etc. I regularly stress that these events are not to be regarded as signs of Jesus’ imminent return but as reminders that he is coming back. In Jewish tradition they are known as birth pangs of the Messiah.
The 3rd-4th century Jewish scholar Rabbah is asked in the Talmud why he doesn’t want to meet the Messiah. The questioner says: “Shall we say, because of the birth pangs [preceding the advent] of the Messiah? … What must a man do to be spared the pangs of the Messiah? Let him engage in study and benevolence.”
Esther Jungreis, a prominent contemporary Jewish teacher, writes of turbulent global events, natural disasters, war etc., and comments that God is bringing the world closer to a process called “chevlei Mashiach” – “the labor pains of the arrival of Messiah.” She added: “All our [sages] agree…they do not want to be present for the chevlei Mashiach, the birth pangs, because the birth pangs are going to be very painful.”