The Population Explosion and Prophecy
According to population experts, it took almost 1,900 years for the world to slowly rise from an estimated 250 million at the time of Christ to a billion and a half at the beginning of the 20th century. Then, in the 20th century alone, the earth's population has exploded as it quadrupled in size. It has reached the staggering mark of six billion people. In spite of advances in birth control, the world population still rapidly climbs.
A glimpse at the trend shows why many are concerned. According to the United Nations Population Division, it took 123 years to move from one billion to two billion population. Yet it took only 33 years to reach the three billion mark and 14 years to arrive at the four billion level. Next it took only 13 years to reach five billion, and now, just 11 years later, we have crossed the six billion mark.
From now on, it is estimated, one billion people will be added every 10 years. Provided this rate of growth—adding some 80 million new people per year—continues, the planet's population will double again in 50 years.
What does this all mean? Is the earth able to sustain this level of population growth without bringing on dire consequences?
Signs of global environmental fatigue
Already the earth is showing serious consequences from this rapid population increase combined with the excessive consumption of the earth's resources. In 1989 the fishing industry reported a dwindling of fish catches in oceans, and the decline has continued. Diminishing reserves of metals, fossil fuels, forests, arable lands, freshwater and wildlife are facts of life.
Pollution has reached a global scale, with hardly any part of the earth free from contaminated air, water and soil. This is not an extremist view, but what world organizations such as the UN and the Red Cross are regularly reporting.
Perhaps in the United States, Europe and Japan, where funds are available to curb the most damaging effects of the rise in population, there is not so much concern. But these nations comprise only a sixth, or a billion, of the world's inhabitants. The rest of the world is in a far worse condition.
More famines predicted
The dramatic increase in the world population has placed great strains on the political, military, economic and social systems around the planet. Some relief agencies already consider parts of Africa to be in a chronic state of hunger.
The population explosion is not only a problem of quantity, but of quality—because of varying living standards. While the birth rate in industrialized countries has plummeted, in backward regions it remains quite high.
It is estimated that more than 95 percent of population growth will take place in world's 130 poorest countries. Already one fourth of the earth's inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day. Yet this is part of the group that is dramatically multiplying. Half of the world's population is concentrated in China (1.2 billion), India (one billion) and Africa (800 million).
As the population grows, it strains the relations within cities and among nations. More crime, violence and disease will invariably appear as people are increasingly forced to live in cramped and unhealthy quarters.
According to 1990 UN statistics, Tokyo was the most populous city, with 25 million, followed by New York City's 16 million. But the UN calculates that in the next 15 years the largest cities will be in poor nations, such as Bombay, India, with 28 million; Lagos, Nigeria, with 24 million; Shanghai, China, with 23 million; and Mexico City and São Paulo, with 20 million. Can these impoverished nations continue to provide basic services and enforce the peace as their resources dry up?
Prophecy on the march
How is this related to prophecy? First, according to the end-time scenario described in the book of Revelation, a massive army from east of the Euphrates will cross the river and bring a disastrous world war. "And I heard a voice . . . saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.' So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million" (Revelation 9:13-16).
For this prophecy to come to pass, billions of people must exist on the planet for this region of Asia to field 200 million able-bodied soldiers. Until the latter part of the 20th century, Chinese and other Asian people could not muster even half that number. But now, for the first time in history, they can provide such a massive military force.
Also, as world population multiplied in the 20th century, so did the explosion of knowledge, made possible by improved communications, travel and technology. We can easily see the fulfillment of the prophecy God gave to Daniel: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4).
We take for granted such things as rapid international travel, computers, the Internet and the knowledge explosion, but these were widely available beginning only during the closing years of the 20th century.
Parallel to Noah's day
The prediction of a rapid increase in population is related to the conditions in Noah's time. Christ compared the society of Noah's day to the end time: "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24:37-39).
The people of Noah's day were not aware that God's judgment was being carried out because of an increase in their evil deeds. The Bible says the earth was full of violence and corruption, which was the reason God brought about the Flood (Genesis 6:5-12).
The New American Bible puts it this way:"In the eyes of God the earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth had become, since all mortals led depraved lives on earth, he said to Noah: 'I have decided to put an end to all mortals on earth; the earth is full of lawlessness because of them. So I will destroy them and all life on earth' " (Genesis 6:11-12).
Christ's prediction that end-time conditions would be similar to those of Noah's time does resemble the description of our day, although we don't know exactly how long God in His patience will permit time to go on before He intervenes. He prophesied He will eventually punish the earth's inhabitants for their evil, rebellious ways and establish His eternal Kingdom of peace. Peter reminds us, "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built" (1 Peter 3:20, New International Version).
The population explosion is a fact of life. But little have people realized that these circumstances are leading to the fulfillment of end-time prophecies—ultimately bringing the solutions to a troubled world that only God in His mercy can provide.
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