How is the increase of the world's population related to 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 passed the staggering mark of 6 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 1 billion to 2 billion population. Yet it took only 33 years to reach the 3 billion mark and 14 years to arrive at the 4 billion level. Next it took only 13 years to reach 5 billion, and just 11 years later we crossed the 6 billion mark.
From now on, it is estimated, a 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 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 95 percent of population growth will occur in the 130 poorest countries. Already a fourth of the earth's inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day. Yet this is where population growth is greatest. Two countries and one region—China (1.3 billion people), India (1.1 billion) and Africa (800 million)—contain half the world's population.
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 2001 UN statistics, Tokyo was the world's most populous city, with 26 million. But the UN calculates that in the next 15 years the world's largest cities will be Bombay (Mumbai), India, with 26 million; Lagos, Nigeria, with 23 million; Dhaka, Bangladesh, with 21 million; São Paulo, Brazil, with 20 million; Karachi, Pakistan, and Mexico City with 19 million; and Jakarta, Indonesia, and Calcutta and Delhi, India, with 17 million. Can these nations, many of them impoverished, 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 to field 200 million able-bodied soldiers. Until the latter part of the 20th century, the nations in this area 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.