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.
1) Supernaturally — 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.
2) Comet — 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.
3) Nuclear Weapons — 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.