If you ever doubt that our planet could be devastated by a collision with a killer asteroid, go outside some evening and look up at the moon. It should change your thinking.
Even with the naked eye, massive scars from such collisions are clearly visible. With a telescope or binoculars, the number of impact craters is too great to count. You'll see newer craters within older ones, and larger ones that have no doubt obliterated dozens if not hundreds of smaller ones. It looks as if someone or something has used our planetary neighbor for cosmic target practice.
Keep in mind that the moon is a much smaller target than planet earth. Our world has no doubt seen its own share of devastating collisions, but erosion (because earth has an atmosphere with water and weather and the moon doesn't) has erased most of the damage. However, a few notable scars, like Arizona's Meteor Crater, are still plainly visible.
In recent years scientists have begun to discover previously hidden impact craters on our planet. The sheer vastness of some defies the imagination. For example, the Chicxulub crater, remnants of which are buried deep below the surface of the Yucatan Peninsula and beneath sediments in the Gulf of Mexico, is estimated to be more than 110 miles across.
The devastation such an impact could cause is nearly unimaginable. The event that formed the Chicxulub crater—an asteroid or comet that slammed into earth-is commonly thought to have been responsible for the extinction of most of the dinosaurs.
Would the result be any different today? "Some researchers forecast that as many as a quarter of the world's population could succumb to a deteriorating climate following an [asteroid] impact in the 1-1.5 kilometre size range," writes Bill McGuire, an expert on geological hazards and professor of geohazards at University College, London. "Anything bigger and photosynthesis stops completely. Once this happens the issue is not how many people will die but whether the human race will survive" (A Guide to the End of the World, 2002, pp. 164-165, emphasis added).
But could it—and will it—happen again? Although the biblical writers didn't have the scientific background or terminology to talk about comets, meteors and asteroids, many Bible prophecies of the end time appear to describe a scenario at one time considered unthinkable—a meteor storm striking the earth.
Stars fall to earth
The book of Revelation, in a time described as "the great day of [God's] wrath" because of mankind's continuing rebellion against Him (Revelation 6:17), describes a series of unimaginably destructive events that will devastate the planet before Jesus Christ's return. One, recorded in Revelation 6:13, is quite specific: "And the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind" (New International Version unless otherwise noted, emphasis added throughout).
This clearly appears to be a description of a cosmic meteor storm. Several times a year the earth, in its orbit around the sun, passes through bands of cosmic debris—particles of dust and ice left in the trails of comets many eons ago. This produces the annual Perseid, Leonid and Geminid meteor showers in August, November and December. Occasionally these generate spectacular streaks and fireballs, with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of meteors visible each hour.
But the prophesied storm of the book of Revelation is different. Rather than small particles that burn up harmlessly from friction as they enter earth's atmosphere, these are large enough to fall to earth, striking it with a frequency compared to fruit falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The event is so frightening that earth's inhabitants flee into caves, rocks and mountains, crying and pleading for shelter from the terror and devastation raining from the sky (verses 15-17).
Meteor storms and asteroid strikes?
But this is only the beginning of terrors. Another series of horrifying events, known as the seven trumpet plagues, quickly follows. Notice the description of the first of these plagues:
"The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up" (Revelation 8:7).
No human being in historical times has witnessed and recorded such an event, so we have to turn to our imaginations or the fantasies of Hollywood filmmakers to visualize such an occurrence. Certainly a meteor storm would appear to a first-century writer like "hail and fire." The reference to blood here may be an attempt to describe the colored smoke trails that meteors leave as they flame through the atmosphere.
The temperatures they generate—hot enough to incinerate the stone and metal of which most meteoroids are composed—would certainly start massive fires. With enough meteors, falling as if in a hellish hailstorm of flame, great conflagrations could indeed erupt to destroy a third of the planet's vegetation.
Notice the description of the next plague: "The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed" (Revelation 8:8-9).
This sounds very much like an expansion of the previous disaster. "A huge mountain, all ablaze," is a perfect first-century description of an enormous asteroid entering earth's atmosphere.
The effects described in this passage are also consistent with an asteroid strike. Its heat would vaporize millions of tons of seawater (and every living thing in it) while the force of its impact would stir up ocean sediments over much of the world and choke off aquatic life, disrupting the planetary ecology. Massive tsunamis—tidal waves miles in height—would drown ships, boats and coastlands the world over.
"A great star, blazing like a torch"
But that's not all. The next plague appears to describe yet another disastrous collision with a body from outer space. "The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter" (Revelation 8:10-12).
The falling of "a great star, blazing like a torch," appears to be a description of another asteroid or comet impact, and the result—the poisoning of a third of the planet's freshwater—is consistent with the massive ecological damage that would result from such a strike. Huge amounts of ash, pulverized soil, rock and debris would first be lifted into the atmosphere, then settle on lakes, rivers and streams, rendering many of them undrinkable.
The reference to "wormwood" can be confusing until we understand that the original Greek word used here, apsinthos, refers to the absinthe plant, which is "both bitter and deleterious" and "figuratively suggestive of 'calamity' . . ." (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "Wormwood").
The last part of Revelation 8:11, "many people died from the waters that had become bitter," emphasizes that this catastrophe makes much of the earth's freshwater bitter and poisonous, killing those who drink it.
The devastating aftermath
The descriptions in Revelation 8:12 are consistent with the aftermath of such devastating meteor impacts. "The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, 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 turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night."
If the verses we've been examining are indeed descriptions of collisions with asteroids, these violent encounters will wreak unimaginable devastation. Millions of tons of earth will be blasted into the sky. Smoke, ash and soot will cover entire continents and encircle the earth. Huge swaths of the sky will be blotted out, just as verse 12 describes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the kind of scenario many scientists believe brought the demise of the dinosaurs. Collisions with asteroids, they reason, filled the sky with so much smoke and debris that a "nuclear winter" set in, blocking out the sun and turning much of the planet into a frozen wasteland on which only a few creatures could survive. This, they tell us, is how hundreds of species, unable to endure in such a devastated environment, became extinct.
Jesus Christ, in a prophecy of the same events, summarizes this terrifying time this way: "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26). Matthew's account of the same prophecy adds again that "the stars will fall from the sky . . ." (Matthew 24:29).
Earthquakes to shake the earth
Jesus said that another sign of the approaching end of man's age would be "earthquakes in various places" (Revelation 8:7). Other prophecies tell us that some of these earthquakes will surpass any others seen in human history.
In Revelation 6:12-14 the apostle John sees in vision a coming earthquake so powerful that "every mountain and island was removed from its place."
Several chapters later, we read in Revelation 16:18-20: "Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake . . . Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found."
Apparently, this quake will be so powerful that the location of the islands and mountains within the scope of John's vision will be drastically shifted—perhaps the world over. Clearly this is a period of great geologic upheaval. Some islands may simply disappear, swallowed by the ocean. Some mountains and even mountain ranges may likewise be laid low.
Deadly quakes a real possibility
Earthquakes can be incredibly deadly and destructive. The most deadly quake in history, in China in 1556, killed a staggering 830,000 people. The 20th century saw 10 devastating earthquakes that each killed more than 50,000 men, women and children. The worst was a 1976 catastrophe that took up to 655,000 lives, also in China. The other most-deadly temblors struck Japan, the Soviet Union, Italy, Peru, Pakistan and Iran.
Other devastating quakes in the last century hit India, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Armenia, the Philippines, Turkey, Taiwan, Mexico and the United States.
Earthquakes in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas are so common that they aren't considered unusual. Not so widely known is that many other major U.S. cities are at risk for major earthquake damage. A Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) study released in 2000 identified Anchorage, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Las Vegas, Reno, Salt Lake City,Albuquerque, St. Louis, Memphis, Atlanta, Charleston, New York, Newark and Boston as cities facing the greatest potential financial damage.
Since earthquakes generally occur along fractures in the earth's crust—known as fault lines—past tremors are a strong indicator of future earthquake activity. All of these areas are at risk for future devastation. And no doubt many more faults and tectonic stresses will be caused by the impacts mentioned earlier, some that may even tilt the earth off its present axis.
Consider Isaiah's description of how the earth will be rocked and laid waste during this coming time of great earthquakes: ". . . The foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken. The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls—never to rise again" (Isaiah 24:18-20).
Volcanic eruptions predicted?
The same fault lines that are the source for many earthquakes are also the location of some of the world's potentially most deadly volcanoes.
Early on the morning of May 18, 1980, a moderate earthquake below Washington's Mount St. Helens triggered an astounding series of events. The north side of the mountain, already bulging because of pressure from magma building up below it, began to collapse in a massive landslide that quickly covered 23 square miles.
The mountainside then exploded, expelling 600-degree ash and debris at speeds of more than 300 miles per hour, covering 230 square miles. Some eight billion tons of material blew out over the surrounding area and into the atmosphere. For miles around, the ash turned bright daylight to darkness. Dust from the eruption, blasted 80,000 feet into the stratosphere, encircled the planet twice.
Spectacular as this eruption was, it was only a shadow of supervolcanoes of the past. The volcanic explosion that formed the strange landscapes of Yellowstone National Park, for example, left behind a huge collapsed crater some 50 miles across and spewed ash that covered portions of 16 states.
"If this last cataclysm occurred today it would leave the United States and its economy in tatters and the global climate in dire straits," writes Professor McGuire. "The eruption scoured the surrounding countryside with hurricane—force blasts of molten magma and incandescent gases-known as pyroclastic flows—with a volume sufficient to cover the entire USA to a depth of 8 centimetres [3.15 inches]" (pp. 101-102).
Anyone who has visited the park and seen its hundreds of scalding hot pools, geysers and steam vents knows that the mighty forces that led to that unimaginable explosion are still at work underground—just as they are in many other places around the globe.
Will the earth experience major volcanic eruptions at the time of the end? The same internal stresses that produce earthquakes also create volcanic eruptions. If the earth is to be wracked by its greatest earthquakes ever as described in the prophecies we read earlier, it's hard to imagine that this won't trigger major volcanic eruptions across the globe.
While the biblical writers lacked the scientific background to understand volcanoes, they seem to be mentioned in several places in the Bible—including several prophecies—using other terminology. One that appears to describe volcanic events is in Joel 2:30-31: "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD."
Many other prophecies of the time of the end speak of fire, smoke and great darkness over the earth, which are characteristic of volcanic activity as well as the other cataclysmic events mentioned earlier.
What should you do?
For centuries people have read such passages in the Bible and concluded that, yes, the world as we know it will end. While not referring to the physical planet itself ending, the age of man—"this present evil age," as Paul calls it in Galatians 1:4—most assuredly will end, and in a series of catastrophes unparalleled in all of human history.
As Jesus described it, the culmination of man's age will be unlike anything the world has ever seen—a time of "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equaled again." He notes that, without God's intervention to cut short these events, "no one would survive" (Matthew 24:21-22).
God will finally intervene and at last establish an everlasting Kingdom of peace and safety, but only after mankind has learned through painful experience that it's not wise to live in ways that, in effect, thumb one's nose at our Creator.
Are you willing to learn that lesson now and receive protection from these coming disasters? At the end of Joel's prophecy of the time of the end are these encouraging words: "And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls" (Joel 2:32).
But you don't have to wait that long. Why not get serious about your relationship with your Creator now?