World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Tribulations At The Turn Of The Age

The prelude to the consummation of history and the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of tribulation and confusion. Many passages describe how in the Last Days wars, famines, plagues, and natural disasters will abound and civilization will reach its nadir. People will become engrossed in materialism and hedonism, and love will grow cold. Buddhist and Hindu texts affirm that when the consummation is nigh even the civilizations of the contemporary Kali age will plummet to their lowest point.

In some scriptures, the last tribulation will be the appearance of the Beast, the Antichrist, or the Dajjal, who will deny the reality of God and deceive millions with a counterfeit truth. Exactly who the Antichrist might be has been the subject of much speculation, most of it fruitless: it is always possible to view the troubles of one's own time as proof that the tribulations have come, and to identify the Antichrist as a church's favorite opponent.

A number of texts describe the tribulation at the end of the age as primarily due to the decline of religion, as the inspiration of the founder is gradually forgotten and his teachings are corrupted. We record two passages from major religions predicting such a decline, and follow with two passages from new religions which describe the confusion at the turn of the age as due to the ossified teachings the old religion(s) colliding with the inspiration coming with God's new dispensation.

In the evil age to come, living beings will decrease in good qualities and increase in utter arrogance, coveting gain and honors, developing their evil qualities, and being far removed from deliverance.

Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 13

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.

Christianity. 2 Timothy 3.1-5

Society will be engulfed by ravaging wars, overflowing with havoc and devastation. In the beginning the conquerors will feel very happy over their successes and booties gathered therein, but it will all have a very sad end. I warn you of the wars of the future, you have no idea of the enormity of evil which they will carry.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 141

Lotus Sutra 13: Nichiren, Japan's foremost exponent of the Lotus Sutra, believed his own time to be the Age of Degeneration of the Law (Jap. Mapp-o, Skt. Saddharma-vipralopa), which demands a restoration at its end. Hence many have expected the coming of the Maitreya, or restorer, who will inaugurate a new age. Some sects of Nichiren Buddhism such as Soka Gakkai and Risshoko Sekai identify Nichiren himself as the restorer. A tradition at Daisekiji speaks of a preserved tooth of Nichiren (compare the Tooth of Buddha Temple at Kandy in Sri Lanka), and the claim is that new flesh has grown around the tooth and hence the new age is dawning. 2 Timothy 3.1-5: Cf. Hadith of Tirmidhi, p. 386.

With the footprints [heralding] the Messiah, presumption shall increase and dearth reach its height; the vine shall yield its fruit but the wine shall be costly; and the empire shall fall into heresy and there shall be none to utter reproof. The academies shall be given to fornication, and... the wisdom of the scribes shall become insipid, and they that shun sin shall be deemed contemptible, and truth shall nowhere be found. Children shall shame the elders, and the elders shall rise up before the children. The face of this generation shall be [brazen] as the face of a dog, and the son will not be put to shame by his father. On whom can we stay ourselves? On our Father in heaven.

Judaism. Mishnah, Sota 9.15

The seed that was sown by a couple's fornication under the shade of a tree has now reached the season of harvest, and we find youth's immorality prevailing in all cities of the world.... [Adam and Eve's] fallen act sowed the seed of evil. They did it while they were still teenagers, at a premature stage: thus was the seed of evil sown. From this seed, the lineage of evil has come to prevail all throughout human society. Consequently, when the last days come, all youth throughout the world, like Adam and Eve, destroy the ethics of love. It has been forewarned in the Bible that the last days will be Satan's peak years. When this time comes, God's judgment will come with the rod of iron.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 3-30-90

As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" And Jesus answered them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come....

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates."

Christianity. Matthew 24.3-14, 32-33

There will come a time, brethren, when... immoral courses of action will flourish excessively; there will be no word for moral among humans--far less any moral agent. Among such humans, homage and praise will be given to them who lack filial and religious piety, and show no respect to the head of the clan; just as today homage and praise are given to the filial-minded, to the pious and to them who respect the heads of their clans.

Among such humans, there will be no such thoughts of reverence as are a bar to intermarriage with mother, or mother's sister, or teacher's wife, or father's sister-in-law. The world will fall into promiscuity, like goats and sheep, fowls and swine, dogs and jackals.

Among such humans, keen mutual enmity will become the rule, keen ill will, keen animosity, passionate thoughts even of killing, in a mother towards her child, in a child towards its mother, in a father towards his child and a child towards its father, in brother to brother, in brother to sister, in sister to brother. Just as a sportsman feels towards game that he sees, so will they feel.

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya iii.71-72, Chakkavatti sihanada Suttantabe

Matthew 24.3-14, 32-33: Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5.2-6, pp. 638f.

Wealth and piety will decrease day by day, until the world will be totally depraved. Then property alone will confer rank; wealth will be the only source of devotion; passion will be the sole bond of union between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; and women will be objects merely of sensual gratification. Earth will be venerated but for its mineral treasures; the Brahmanical thread will constitute a brahmin; external types will be the only distinction of the several orders of life; dishonesty will be the universal means of subsistence; weakness will be the cause of dependence; menace and presumption will be substituted for learning; liberality will be devotion; simple ablutions will be purification; mutual assent will be marriage; fine clothes will be dignity; and water afar off will be esteemed a holy spring. Amidst all castes he who is the strongest will reign over a principality, thus vitiated by many faults. The people, unable to bear the heavy burdens imposed upon them by their avaricious sovereigns, will take refuge amongst the valleys of the mountains, and will be glad to feed upon wild honey, herbs, roots, fruits, flowers, and leaves: their only covering will be the bark of trees, and they will be exposed to the cold and wind and sun and rain. No man's life will exceed three and twenty years. Thus in the Kali age shall decay constantly proceed, until the human race approaches its annihilation.

Hinduism. Vishnu Purana 4.24

And when the Word is fulfilled against the unjust, We shall produce from the earth a Beast to face them: he will speak to them, because that mankind did not believe with assurance in Our signs.

Islam. Qur'an 27.82

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship.... The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Christianity. 2 Thessalonians 2.3-12

Digha Nikaya iii.71-72: The sutra faults the failures of early kings to establish the Dhamma as the root cause of humanity's decline; it goes on to state that this decline will be followed by a renewal and new golden age, see Digha Nikaya iii.74-75, p. 949, and the appearance of the Maitreya Buddha, see Digha Nikaya iii.76, p. 943. Vishnu Purana 4.24: Cf. Laws of Manu 1.81-86, p. 377; Bhagavad Gita 8.17-21, p. 112.

There is no prophet who has not warned his people about the one-eyed liar [the Antichrist]. I tell you that he is one-eyed, but your Lord is not one-eyed. On his forehead are the letters k, f, r (infidelity).

The Dajjal will come forth having with him water and fire, and what mankind see as water will be fire which burns and what they see as fire will be cold, sweet water. Any of you who live till that time must fall into what they see as fire, for it is sweet, fresh water.

Islam. Hadiths of Bukhari and Muslim

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth followed the beast with wonder. Men worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and the worshipped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?"

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain....

Also it caused all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.

Christianity. Revelation 13.1-8, 16-18

The time is near in which nothing will remain of Islam but its name, and of the Qur'an but its mere appearance, and the mosques of Muslims will be destitute of knowledge and worship; and the learned men will be the worst people under the heavens; and contention and strife will issue from them, and it will return upon themselves.

Islam. Hadith

[Before the comming of the Maitreya, the holy religion will decline.] How will it occur? After my decease, first will occur the five disappearances. And what are the five disappearances? The disappearance of the attainments, the disappearance of the method, the disappearance of learning, the disappearance of the symbols, the disappearance of the relics. These are the five disappearances that are to occur.

The attainments: Only for a thousand years from the time the Blessed One passes into Nirvana will the priests be able to acquire the analytical sciences. Then as time goes on my disciples will attain only to never-returning, to once returning, to conversion. As long as such exist the disappearance of the attainments will not yet have occurred. But with the death of the last disciple that has attained to conversion, the attainments will have disappeared. This, O Shariputta, is the disappearance of the attainments.

Disappearance of the method: My disciples being unable to realize the trances, the insights, the Paths, and the Fruits, will keep only the four purities of conduct. Then as time goes on they will keep only the commandments forbidding the four deadly sins. As long as there are a hundred or a thousand priests who keep the commandments forbidding the four deadly sins, the disappearance of the method will not have occurred. But when the last priest shall break the precepts, or shall die, the method will have disappeared. This, O Shariputta, is the disappearance of the method.

Disappearance of learning: As long as the text of the Three Baskets, which is the word of the Buddha, and as long as their commentaries are extant, the disappearance of learning will not have occurred. But as time goes on there will be irreligious kings of base extraction, and the courtiers and others in authority will be irreligious, and then the country people throughout the kingdom will be irreligious. On account of their irreligion the god will not rain in due season, and the crops will not flourish properly. And when the crops do not flourish, those who are wont to give the reliances to the congregation of the priests will be unable to do so any more. And the priests, not receiving the reliances, will not teach the novices, and as time goes on learning will disappear.... [and likewise with the disappearance of the symbols and the relics.]

Buddhism. Anagata-vamsa

Revelation 13.1-18: The Beast represents human pretension to universal power, and imperial powers in every age have been identified as fulfilling this prophecy. Originally as written, the beast referred specifically to the Roman Empire. The pretensions of the Roman emperor to be a human god, whom all the world worshipped, were seen as a parody of Christ's true kingship. The 'seven heads' probably represent Rome with its seven hills; other features of the Beast: the ten horns, parts like a leopard, a bear, and a lion, resemble the four separate beasts in Daniel 7.2-7. Some scholars identify the miraculous healing of the wounded head to a legend which grew up around Emperor Nero, that he miraculously reappeared after his suicide in 68 <a.d. The number 666 is the total numerical value of the letters "Nero Caesar" in the Aramaic langugage. Unbelievers and lapsed Christians worshipped the emperor; thus they were marked with the number of the Beast.

Concerning His words--"The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" [Matthew 24.29]... is intended the divines of the former Dispensation, who live in the days of the subsequent Revelations, and who hold the reins of religion in their grasp. If these divines be illuminated by the light of the latter Revelation they will be acceptable to God, and will shine with a light everlasting. Otherwise, they will be declared as darkened, even though to outward seeming they be leaders of men, inasmuch as belief and unbelief, guidance and error, felicity and misery, light and darkness, are all dependent upon the sanction of Him who is the Day-star of Truth....

In another sense, by the terms "sun," "moon," and "stars" are meant such laws and teachings as have been established and proclaimed in every Dispensation, such as the laws of prayer and fasting. These have, according to the law of the Qur'an, been regarded, when the beauty of the Prophet Muhammad had passed beyond the veil, as the most fundamental and binding laws of His dispensation....

Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven" is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by [prior] divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God....

It is unquestionable that in every succeeding Revelation the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, laws, commandments, and prohibitions which have been established in the preceding Dispensation, and which have overshadowed the people of that age, become darkened, that is, are exhausted, and cease to exert their influence.

Baha'i Faith. Book of Certitude, 33-41

Anagata-vamsa: The Anagata-vamsa, or History of Future Events, is a post-canonical text of Theravada Buddhism, written in Pali. Book of Certitude, 33-41: In the Baha'i Faith, the Last Judgment is interpreted as the end of the old dispensations of religion and the beginning of the new dispensation centered on God's messenger Baha'u'llah. This is a typical understanding of many new religions--see also the following passage from the Unification Church--for which the last days are fulfilled not in cosmic cataclysm but in the coming of a new age, new truth, and new Messiah. This passage's teaching on the dimming of the authorities and teachings of the previous religions also parallels texts about traditional founders of religion as revealers of truth surpassing previous truths, such as Udana 73, p. 552, and 2 Corinthians 3.7-16, 552. Cf. Matthew 24.29-31, p. 940.

The providence of the new age does not start after the complete liquidation of the old age, but is born and grows in the circumstances of the period of consummation of the old age, always appearing to be in conflict with that age. Accordingly, this providence is not easily understood by those who are accustomed to the conventions of the old age. This is why the sages of history who came in charge of the providence of a new age all became victims of the old age. We can give the example of Jesus, who, coming at the close of the Old Testament Age as the center of the new providence of the New Testament Age, appeared to the believers of the Mosaic Law to be a heretic whom they could not understand. Finally, he was rejected because of their disbelief of him, and was crucified. This is why Jesus said, "New wine must be put into fresh wine skins" (Luke 5.38).

Christ will come again at the close of the New Testament Age as the center of the new providence to establish the new heaven and earth, and will give us new words for the building of the new age (Revelation 21.1-7). Therefore, he is apt to be rejected and persecuted by Christians at the time of the Second Advent just as Jesus was persecuted and derided by the Jews, who said he was possessed by Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons (Matthew 12.24). Therefore, Jesus predicted that first the Lord must suffer many things and be rejected by the generation at the time of the Second Advent (Luke 17.25). Therefore those who, in the transitional period of history, are tenaciously attached to the environment of the old age and comfortably entrenched in it will be judged along with the old age.

Unification Church. Divine Principle I.3.5.2

Divine Principle I.3.5.2: On the rejection of Christ at the First Advent, see John 1.9-11, p. 521; Mark 6.1-4, p. 521, and related passages. For similar sentiments warning people about confusion surrounding the advent of the Messiah, see Hadith of Muslim, p. 941; Tablets of Baha'u'llah Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, 231-32, p. 944. On the Lord's suffering, see God's Preparation for Our Church, and Its Early Days, pp. 528f.


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