One of the well-known entertainment franchises of recent years went by the name Mad Max—a series of four dystopian movies that made the American-Australian actor Mel Gibson a familiar name. It imagines a world destroyed by nuclear war, leaving a wild, uncivilised desert planet whose inhabitants have, ironically, managed to preserve lots of fast cars, motorcycles and trucks and, apparently, a nearly endless supply of petrol. The movies feature bizarre vehicle chases, vast desert landscapes (filmed in the Australian interior), violent vengeance and gladiatorial contests between grotesque, genetically deformed survivors.
Though it’s a work of fiction, it contains at least one lesson: more knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to a better civilisation. We rather carelessly suppose that civilisation always advances because we’re continually accumulating more information about the world. Often cited is the prophet Daniel’s prediction that “knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4, NKJV*), backed up by estimates that human knowledge is doubling roughly every 12 months.
It’s true that there’s an astonishing growth of understanding at the leading edges of science and medicine. Yet there’s more to knowledge than merely understanding how the world works. Our skill with advanced weaponry combined with our poor record of coexisting peacefully could in fact result in a post-nuclear world where the tools that human beings have depended upon to advance our species—education, rules, religion, law, science, cities—are dismantled.
Advanced knowledge expands our creative potential—but also our ability to destroy. In the end, it doesn’t matter that we can manipulate genes and split atoms if we’re unable to solve our problems in moral and nondestructive ways.
Believe it or not, Mad Max does in fact reflect a biblical theme, for the Bible says that a post-apocalyptic world is inevitable. Yet it will not happen by nuclear war; it will happen by divine judgement. The apostle John reveals a series of plagues that God will visit upon the earth that parallel the plagues He brought on the ancient nation of Egypt, except that these end-time plagues will be worldwide and far more devastating.
Revelation anticipates storms, earthquakes and huge hailstones. The seas will turn to blood and drinking water will be poisoned. Darkness will fall on the earth. A global earthquake will destroy the entire planet. These plagues will demonstrate that the wicked refuse to repent. And, like the Egyptian plagues, the result will be salvation for God’s people. Yet by the time these plagues are finished, the earth will be in ruins.
But that’s not all. It’s also at this time that Jesus will return to earth, which is Christianity’s most highly anticipated event. At His return, Jesus will rescue His people and at the same time devastate the earth, destroying all the wicked. What’s left will be a lifeless ball of rock floating in the cosmos—as it was at the beginning, “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2). It becomes what the Bible calls an abyss: a place of endless emptiness. Doesn’t that sound like the set of Mad Max or one of the other numerous post-apocalyptic shows out there?
And just like all the post-apocalyptic shows, there will be survivors—in the person of Satan. Revelation says that an angel comes for him with a great chain, lock and key. He will grab the devil, or Satan, and bind him for a thousand years. He will throw him into an abyss and lock and seal it over him (Revelation 20:2, 3).
One thousand years later God will destroy the world with a blazing fire. “The heavens will disappear with a roar,” writes the apostle Peter. “The elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).
You will rightly object that Satan is a spiritual being, not the kind of creature that can be chained up like a mad dog. We know, of course, that prophecy uses metaphors and the key to this metaphor is that this action will “keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years . . . [are] ended” (Revelation 20:3).
By this time God’s people will have been “caught up together . . . in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and will be safely in heaven. The wicked who were alive when Jesus returned will be destroyed “by the splendour of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Satan and his evil angels will be left utterly alone.
Since the only purpose of Satan’s life is to deceive and destroy, what happens when there are no human beings to deceive? That will be Satan’s prison. He and his evil angel companions will be left alone with nothing but their memories for a thousand years.
No-one supposes Satan to be a fool. As a spiritual being, he knows far more than all of humanity put together. And according to the Bible, he even believes in God! (James 2:19). But left on his own, even with all his knowledge and power, he will be helpless. His knowledge cannot make him good or moral. In short, he will be unrepentant. And he’ll have a chance to prove that.
The question of justice
Meanwhile, something very important will be happening in heaven. Suppose you arrive in heaven and look around and don’t see someone who was very important to you: a grandparent, a spouse, a child. “But he was such a good person!” you may say to yourself. “Why isn’t he here?” The Bible says that one of the activities of God’s people during this thousand years will be to review God’s judgement of the wicked. “Judgement was given to the saints of the most High,” says Daniel 7:22 (KJV), and the apostle Paul adds, “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? . . . Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:2, 3). It will be a busy thousand years!
Precisely here is where this end-time story takes its most bizarre turn. The Bible says that after the thousand years, the holy city, the New Jerusalem will literally descend from the skies and land on the earth (Revelation 21:2) like a massive space ship. Best of all, from Satan’s point of view, he will get his followers back because just as the holy city returns to earth, all wicked people, including those destroyed at Jesus’ return, will be raised back to life.
“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth . . . and to gather them for battle” (Revelation 20:7, 8). Satan, it seems, hasn’t learned much, even from a thousand years of solitary confinement!
If you’re imagining a ragtag bunch with pitchforks and sticks, think again! Satan is a brilliant technologist and he’ll be surrounded by the great scientists and engineers from all of history. If they’re serious about destroying the Holy City, they’re going to have to manufacture instruments of war, including tanks, missiles and nuclear warheads. Satan will add to his arsenal, as all warring nations do, psychological propaganda. Imagine Satan broadcasting in our direction (by methods we can’t imagine) pictures of people on his side who look innocent and harmless, sweet grandmas and handsome young people, saying, “Really, is God fair to destroy these wonderful people?”
Here will be the most stark contrast ever seen spread across one canvas. Inside the city are God’s people, now fully satisfied that God is just and good in all His judgements and punishments. Outside is spread the whole world—a violent, warring, post-apocalyptic dystopia—and Mad Max is probably not a bad imagining of some scenes from it.
Satan should know, were he not so arrogant, that God is both too powerful for him and completely fair and just. Satan and all his most powerful weapons cannot touch this city. And after a thousand years of studying God’s records of humanity you, standing in that holy city looking at the chaos outside, will realise it, too.
The Bible says simply that “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (verse 9). And that will be the end of evil in the universe. (The notion of an ever-burning hell torturing souls for eternity isn’t in the Bible.) Immediately God will turn His attention to recreating “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). We can speculate about what beauty, what delightful activities, we will enjoy for the rest of eternity, but here are the points that will mean the most to us: God will “wipe every tear from . . . [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (verse 4).
The apocalyptic dystopia, thank God, can’t last: because when God at last rules the universe, we’ll be happy forever!
* Scripture marked NKJV is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.