Nuclear Weapons in the End Times
Does the Bible predict a nuclear holocaust?
"And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him..." (Revelation 6:8)
On August 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay's bombardier Tom Ferebee sighted Hiroshima's Aioi Bridge, he knew the moment had arrived. Squeezing the trigger on his Norden bombsight, he became the first man in history to drop a nuclear weapon upon a populated city. Tail gunner Bob Caron, after being temporarily blinded, described what he saw on the ground below: "It's like bubbling molasses down there... the mushroom is spreading out... fires are springing up everywhere... it's like a peep into hell."
The people of Hiroshima within half a mile of the explosion were seared to bundles of smoking char in a fraction of a second. Thousands of these small black bundles could be seen stuck to streets, bridges, and sidewalks. Birds ignited in midair, and 70,000 buildings were obliterated. Mankind had entered the atomic age, the end of which was too terrifying to contemplate.
The Nature of Armageddon
Since the beginning of the atomic age, nuclear weapons and the term "Armageddon" have been frequently linked together. Billy Graham rose to prominence in the 1950's proclaiming that the nuclear "sword of Damocles" was hanging over all the nations, and that only Christ was a sure foundation in such perilous days. Hal Lindsey"s mega best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), made a strong case for a nuclear holocaust scenario in the days of tribulation predicted in the book of Revelation.
Even secular sources took up the theme. The June 12, 1981 Toronto Globe and Mail noted that the decision to go ahead with the neutron bomb was the biggest step taken toward Armageddon since 1961. In San Francisco today you can call a number and get a recorded message by the Doom Society for Secular Armageddonism, who, in melodramatic tones, tell you that we are living in the end times and that the coming end of the world is a fait accompli. They are quick to deny that God might have anything to do with this, however, and insist that the coming end of the world will be strictly do-it-yourself, as a result of such things as nuclear proliferation, racism, ultra nationalism, and (you might have guessed) religious fundamentalism.
The First Bombs
Many Americans associate nuclear weapons with Armageddon, because, of all man's discoveries and inventions, they alone contain the capacity to wipe out all human life on the earth within a few short hours. Let us consider the awesome power in the first primitive atomic bombs.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, called "Little Boy," was flown there in a B-29 bomber and aimed with a bombsight. It weighed nearly ten thousand pounds and had the explosive power of 12,500 tons of TNT. At ground zero, the point immediately beneath the weapon, the temperature reached above 3,000 degrees centigrade. Within seconds, what had been a thriving city became a wasteland. No part of the city was left untouched. Eighty thousand people died instantly, many burning into black bundles while in mid step. A six hour firestorm began. An eyewitness — a college professor — described it thus:
"I climbed Hikiyama Hill and looked down. I saw that Hiroshima had disappeared... I was shocked by the sight... I saw many dreadful scenes after that — but that experience, looking down and finding nothing left of Hiroshima was so shocking that I simply can't express what I felt... Hiroshima didn't exist — that was mainly what I saw — Hiroshima just didn't exist."
50 Years Later
After the end of World War II, Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos project which had given birth to this terrible weapon, was asked whether there were any significant limitations in the future of nuclear weapons. He replied, "If you are asking, 'Can we make them more terrible?' the answer is yes. If you are asking, 'Can we make lots more of them?' the answer is yes. If you are asking, 'Can we make them terribly more terrible?' the answer is, probably." Today, some fifty years later, that probably has turned into a certainty. We have made them terribly more terrible.
Considering the horrific devastation caused by those first bombs dropped upon Japan, it would be reasonable to suggest that if we merely doubled their destructive power we would have created a monster of mind boggling dimensions. To triple or quadruple such a bomb would be worse still. If one such bomb can create such total destruction to a major city, what could a bomb four times that size do? But we have not merely created weapons three or four times as deadly. While the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" bombs were measured in kilotons, today's bombs are measured in megatons. A one megaton bomb contains the explosive power of eighty Hiroshimas. Bombs have been tested which are 4,000 times as powerful as those dropped upon Japan. The only thing merciful about these bombs is that you wouldn't have to worry so much about horrible injuries to survivors — there wouldn't be any survivors!
Is This What John Saw?
Nearly two thousand years ago, an elderly Christian leader was banished to an island as a punishment for sharing his faith in Christ. There, as he communed with the Lord on the island, he had a series of visions which described things which would take place in the last days. The man's name was John and the visions he saw were recorded and are now known as the book of Revelation.
Many have tried to defuse the book by turning it into a giant parable in which nothing can be definitely known except that in the end Christ will triumph and all will be well. But such an interpretation makes all the details of the visions meaningless. Some have dared to suggest that John's visions may have been more literal than most have supposed. This more literalistic interpretation just might make sense if John was seeing the terrible results of a nuclear holocaust just before Christ's coming to claim planet earth.
In his book There's A New World Coming (1973), Hal Lindsey writes:
"Although it is possible for God to supernaturally pull off every miracle in the Book of Revelation and use totally unheard of means to do it, I personally believe that all the enormous ecological catastrophes described in this chapter (Revelation 8) are the direct result of nuclear weapons. In actuality, man inflicts these judgments on himself. God simply steps back and removes His restraining influence from man, allowing him to do what comes naturally out of his sinful nature. In fact, if the Book of Revelation had never been written, we might well predict these very catastrophes within fifty years or less!"
End Time Prophecies
Throughout the Scriptures, terrible times are forecast for the end of this present age. Isaiah describes the earth "empty and wasted" (Isaiah 24:1). In the book of Revelation we read of an "hour of trial" which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10). The Lord Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew, warns us of a "great tribulation" which shall threaten the survival of all life on earth (Matthew 24:21,22). The apostle Paul speaks of sudden destruction that shall come just when men are saying "peace and safety" (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
As these verses indicate, the Scriptures (along with current events) make it plain that world conditions will be characterized by chaos, destruction, and death just before our Lord returns to take control of planet earth. In the book of Revelation we read of the poisoning of the oceans, the burning up of the grass and the trees, and the sun scorching people with great heat. The book also tells us that horrible plagues will afflict mankind, that there will be widespread wars and famines, and that the atmosphere will become so polluted as to reduce visibility by one third. In the midst of all this devastation, the earth's population will flee to the caves, as people cry to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Revelation 6:16).
What will bring about such universal carnage on the earth? Is the Bible describing a nuclear holocaust?
Actually there are three possible sources of the death and devastation so pointedly predicted by Scripture. First, it could be that the great and terrible destructions predicted will be brought about supernaturally by God Himself without any other possible explanation. Until the nuclear age this was the primary view, as it was hard to see how such a scenario could be brought about by natural human means. In the Old Testament we find God killing 185,000 of Israel's enemies by one angel, without any natural explanation. If one angel can wipe out that many people, it should not be too much trouble for all the hosts of God's angelic armies to destroy three quarters of the earth's population.
Secondly, some of the judgments predicted could possibly come from the cosmic disturbances created by a comet whose path leads it uncomfortably close to the earth. Global earthquakes and tidal waves, resulting in famines on an unprecedented scale would almost certainly be the result. Some, but probably not all, of these judgments could be brought about this way.
The third, and in my mind, the most likely explanation for the terrible judgments which will empty the earth, has to do with nuclear weapons. Since the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have been proliferating all over the globe. At first limited to the United States, then produced by the Soviet Union, they are now in the hands of all sorts of second and third rate powers. It seems almost every year that new nations are added to the list of those countries with nuclear capabilities. Our capacity to destroy all life on earth has multiplied many times over. The fact that we have not yet seen a nuclear war since 1945 can be attributed only to the restraining hand of Almighty God! Surely it is His hand that has prevented us from destroying one another up until this point. How long that hand will continue to restrain us, only God knows.
Quaint Terms for Modern Weapons
It was Hal Lindsey who first popularized the theory that the terrible plagues and judgments seen and described by John in the book of Revelation might be a First Century man's description of a thermonuclear war. In his book There's A New World Coming (1973), Lindsey refers to the fractional orbital bomb, and then goes on to cite nuclear passages in the book of Revelation:
"It [the bomb] consists of a dozen or so nuclear tipped missiles which can be fired simultaneously from an orbiting space platform. Because the missiles come straight down from the sky, they can strike several cities simultaneously and with virtually no warning. When these missiles streak through the air they'll look like meteors showering the atmosphere!"
(Possibly fulfilling Revelation 6:13: "the stars of heaven fell to the earth.")
The Apostle John's description of the sun becoming black as sack cloth and the moon becoming like blood perfectly describes the phenomena that would result from massive amounts of dust and debris blown into the sky by multiple nuclear bursts.
"And the atmosphere was pushed apart like a scroll when it is rolled together" (Revelation 6:14). Do you know what happens in a nuclear explosion? The atmosphere rolls back on itself! It's this tremendous rush of air back into the vacuum that causes much of the destruction of a nuclear explosion. John's words in this verse are a perfect picture of an all out nuclear exchange... The whole world will be literally shaken apart!
As we read the book of Revelation, we find John did not use terms like "nuclear weapons, ICBM's, or fractional orbital bombs." Instead we find him describing things like "hail and fire," "a great mountain burning with fire," and "a great star... burning like a torch." This is what we would expect of a First Century man, describing things he had no knowledge of in the only terms he knew to use. Could it be that what John was really witnessing in the Spirit, was an end of the age nuclear holocaust? The effects he describes certainly seem to bear this out.
The Nature of the Bomb
Let us consider the nature of a nuclear explosion. Nicholas Wade, in his book World Beyond Healing (1987), gives us a graphic picture:
"The explosion of a nuclear weapon is an event of immense power... Within a fraction of a millionth of a second, the nuclear materials and casing of a one megaton weapon are transformed into a packet of energy five times hotter than the center of the sun."
"Out of this mini-sun bursts a flash of Xrays so intense that the air for several feet around the weapon is heated into an incandescent ball."
"This little fireball, only a few millionths of a second old, contains the vaporized contents of the weapon, and a vast flux of energy created by the fission and fusion reactions of the nuclear explosion. So immense an amount of energy packed into a tiny space creates temperatures of 100 million degrees centigrade and pressures of millions of pounds per square inch. A violent expansion begins."
"In less than a thousandth of a second, the fireball of a one-megaton weapon has grown to 440 feet across. In ten seconds, the fireball is more than a mile in diameter."
It should be evident that what we are talking about is a weapon unparalleled in human history; a weapon with the capacity to obliterate huge cities in seconds. This is a scenario that perfectly fits with the kind of swift, mass destruction spoken of in the book of Revelation. Indeed, considering the widespread death predicted by John, it would be hard for us to imagine anything other than a nuclear holocaust which could come close to producing such carnage.
The poisoning of the waters (Revelation 8:11), the severe reduction in visibility (Revelation 8:12), the death of much of the earth's vegetation (Revelation 8:7), malignant sores (Revelation 16:2), the end of ocean life (Revelation 16:3), and the inability of the atmosphere to block out harmful ultraviolet rays, resulting in severe burns (Revelation 16:8) are all expected results of nuclear war. The implications of these prophecies is not pretty — this earth has an appointment with a devastation which shall be horrible beyond imagination.
Amazingly, predictions by secular writers parallel the horrific visions of John in nearly every major detail. Contrast the words (in regular print) of secular writer Jonathan Schell author of the book The Fate of the Earth (1970), with what the Bible says (in parenthesis) as he describes the consequences of a nuclear war:
"Bearing in mind that the possible consequences of the detonations of thousands of megatons of nuclear explosives include... the extinction of many ocean species, among them some at the base of the food chain..."
("And every living creature in the sea died" — Revelation 16:3)
"... the pollution of the whole ecosphere with oxides of nitrogen."
("And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night" — Revelation 8:12)
"... a significant decrease in photosynthesis in plants around the world; the scalding and killing of many crops..."
("And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up" — Revelation 8:7)
"... the increase in rates of cancer and mutation around the world..."
("... and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast" — Revelation 16:2)
"... the attendant risk of global epidemics..."
("And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences" — Luke 21:11)
"... the possible poisoning of all vertebrates by sharply increased levels of vitamin D in their skin as a result of increased ultraviolet light."
("the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat" — Revelation 16:8)
"... and the outright slaughter on all targeted continents of most human beings and other living things by the initial nuclear radiation, the fireballs, the thermal pulses, the blast waves, the mass fires, and the fall-out from the explosions."
("By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed — by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone" — Revelation 9:18).
"Considering that these consequences will all interact with one another in unguessable ways and, furthermore, are in all likelihood an incomplete list... one must conclude that a full-scale nuclear holocaust could lead to the extinction of mankind."
("And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" — Matthew 24:22).
The Nature of God's Wrath
Why would God allow such a terrible devastation upon the earth? Is He not the God of love and compassion? The God of all mercy? Certainly the Bible makes plain that God is all of that. Yet we also learn from the Bible that "Our God is a consuming fire," (Hebrews 12:29) and that He will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7).
It is interesting to note the way God judges sin in individuals and nations. We find that He almost never seems to bring immediate judgment for sin. He allows people to lead cruel and wicked lives for years while enjoying prosperity. This is the great stumbling block that has caused many to question either God's love or His involvement in human affairs. Job cried out, "The tents of robbers prosper, and those who provoke God are secure — in what God provides by His hand" (Job 12:6).
We find that sin has an accumulating effect. In the book of Revelation we read about Babylon: "Her sins have reached up unto heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:5). In Genesis, Abraham was told that his descendants would have to wait 400 years before they could take possession of the promised land, for "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Genesis 15:16). It appears that God lets sin "pile up" for years, or even generations before it provokes Him to act in swift decisive judgment and destruction. In Romans, Paul writes that sinners are "storing up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
If that is true for nations and individuals, could it not also be true for the entire planet? What if God has been restraining His judgment for thousands of years, while men have filled the earth with blood, hatred, war and immorality? Could it be that the terrible plagues and judgments in the book of Revelation are the accumulation of God's wrath over the history of mankind, stored up for that season of time which would immediately precede the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? This certainly appears to be the thought given in the sixth chapter of Revelation where the world's leaders, along with the rich and the poor of the earth cry out, "The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17).
Is There Any Hope?
Up to this point the picture seems grim and hopeless. And in a certain way it is. There is no hope for this present evil age. It is under a death sentence from Almighty God. The flood of hatred, violence, immorality, abortion, homosexuality, and the mockery of all that is good and holy will finally produce a response from heaven. God has decreed that this present evil age shall pass away in a flame of fire, death, and judgment. No amount of peace talks, goodwill conferences, or think tanks will be able to change that.
Likewise those who refuse to repent and turn to Christ are in a hopeless situation. There is no peace or security for those who determine to live life by their own rules. When God's wrath begins to fall, it will overtake the rich and the poor, the celebrities along with the unknown, the sophisticates with the simpletons. No hiding place on earth, no amount of wealth or prestige, no measure of cleverness or ingenuity will be able to spare people from the wrath to come.
The good news in all of this is that God has always provided a hiding place whenever He poured out His wrath. In Noah's flood, that safety was found in the ark. In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot was told to flee to the mountains. Rahab found safety from the destruction of her city by staying in her house with a scarlet cord tied to the window.
In these last days God's hiding place will be found, not in a cave in the mountains, not in a mammoth ark, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was on His Cross that Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself, in order that those who would put their trust in Him might be spared. The Scriptures tell us, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). For those whose godly lives reveal that they have truly placed their faith in Jesus, He will come and take them unto Himself.