Apocalyptic scenarios usually describe the extinction, or near extinction, of all life on earth. In many fantasy movies and literature the apocalypse leaves only a handful people left scattered around the world. Some believe the Bible predicts a worldwide catastrophe that will essentially wipe out humanity. The Bible’s description of the last years of the earth are truly apocalyptic, including earthquakes, war, famine and plagues, but does the Bible teach that human life will be wiped out?
The seven years before the return of Jesus is a time of intense judgment known as the Tribulation. Three of the judgments at the beginning of the Tribulation are death, famine and war. In later judgments the Bible begins to describe the death toll. In one judgment a third of all the ships on the seas are destroyed. This could result in the loss of as many as 1 million people. Then the waters of the earth are poisoned and “many men died of the waters.” (Revelation 8:11). Then a massive army of demons destroys one-third of the remaining world population. The death toll from this judgment alone could be as great as two billion people. Then there is a huge earthquake that shakes the whole earth and wipes out many cities of the world. When Jesus returns the armies of the world will unite in rebellion against him. These armies will be annihilated by the conquering Christ.
Though the Bibles does not give enough details to reach a definite number, the death toll during the tribulation could be as high as 3-5 billion people. The loss of human life during the tribulation will be horrific. Despite the massive loss of life there could still be between 2-4 billion people left on earth when Jesus returns. To put that in a little bit of perspective, the population of the earth was less than 1 billion people until the early 1800’s. In the mid-1920’s earth’s population reached 2 billion people. During the apocalypse the loss of life will be massive, but mankind will be far from extinct, or even endangered.
God’s plan for this time of terrible judgment is not the elimination of human life. God will work through the terrible events to establish righteousness on the earth. The events of Revelation are tragic on a level never seen since the flood of Noah’s day but there is a reason to hope. The events of the Tribulation are God’s judgment on sin and God’s final call to men to repent. During the tribulation God will send out 144,000 evangelists to preach the gospel to the whole world. He will also send two prophets from heaven to preach in the middle of Jerusalem. These two men gain the attention of the entire world. God will then send angels across the globe to call men to repentance. During the judgments God will also be actively working to bring men to repentance. The horrible cataclysms of the tribulation are a final wake-up call to rebellious humanity.
The judgments of the tribulation remind humanity, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” However, God says, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezekiel 33:11)