Recent history has shown that the rich continue to get richer while the poor keep getting poorer. Our world suffers from incredible disparities of wealth: 1 per cent of the world possesses 40 per cent of its wealth. In fact, the wealth of some individuals is almost equal to that of some sovereign countries! The numbers on poverty vary depending on how it’s measured and the availability of statistics, but regardless, the majority of poverty-stricken countries are African.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire) is a huge and resource-rich nation, but it was ranked poorest by the International Monetary Fund in its 2011 list of the world’s poor countries (it was replaced by the Central African Republic last year). A reporter writing in Newsflavor said, “The Congo has diamonds, uranium, cobalt, tantalum, copper and other valuable minerals. The wars, besides being caused by ethnic hatred, are inspired by control of the nation’s wealth. . . . As a kleptocracy (corrupt nation), whatever can be appropriated by the government and its agents, is.”
Lovers of money
As we enter the final days of earth’s history, economic disparity, which is most often caused by exploitation of the poor by the rich, will worsen. The apostle James wrote, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days” (James 5:1–3, italics added).* And James went on to explain that these rich people had gained their wealth by keeping back the wages of those who had mowed their fields (verse 4).
Don’t misunderstand. The Bible isn’t opposed to wealth or rich people, but it does teach against hoarding and not assisting those who are in need. The biblical prophet Moses instructed the Israelites to help the poor and needy. He said, “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from [him]” (Deuteronomy 15:7).
Jesus said, “You have the poor with you always” (Matthew 26:11) and when a wealthy young man asked Him how to be saved, Jesus told him to “sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).
Continuing this advice, the apostle Paul said, “I have shown you in every way . . . that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ” (Acts 20:35).
Unfortunately, Paul said that this advice would not be heeded in earth’s final days. Writing to his young associate pastor he said, “In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud . . . unloving, unforgiving, . . . despisers of good, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–4, italics added). This description of social conditions in the last days of earth’s history emphasises the selfish qualities of our human nature. For Paul, these “lovers of money” will be a sign, and maybe even the cause, of the terrible times ahead. That isn’t hard to understand. After all, hatred and violence, revolution and war, are often incited by economic disparity.
Root of all evil
Describing it in broad brush strokes, Jesus gave His disciples a picture of the world at the end of time, both the natural world and the society. He said that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). In other words, as people become hardened in sin and wickedness, they will grow callous and indifferent toward the needs of others. And one of the main ways we express this is through our indifference toward the economic hardship of our fellow humans. That’s why Paul warned that people “who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10).
Remember, it’s important to note that the Bible doesn’t speak about wealth as bad. Rather, it speaks about the evil of greed, exploitation and miserliness—and these traits, when displayed to excess, become one of the signs of the end of time.
One leader of a very rich nation, speaking about the economic disparity in the world, said, “There are millions of us, and billions of them, and they want what we got, and we’re not going to give it to them!” No, but the poor might just decide to come and take it, which is one way the turmoil of the last days could play out.
The Greek insurance windfall
The economic crash of 2008 delivered terrible financial losses across the economic spectrum—but not to everyone. Many rich people became richer and some did so by manipulating the market while others cashed in on its downward spiral, greedily lining their pockets at the expense of everyday, hardworking people and their pension funds.
And when in March 2012 Greece reached an agreement with private sector creditors to restructure its €172 billion worth of Greek bonds—the largest restructuring of sovereign debt in history—insurers scooped up a cool €2.5 billion in insurance, turning some individuals into billionaires as others were wiped out.
How apt, then, was the apostle James’ warning to the greedy of our time?
Jesus Himself, warning about what was coming in the last days, said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built. . . . Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26–28, 30). There’s nothing wrong with eating, drinking, selling and building. The problem in the time of both Sodom and Noah was that these things were done in a context of evil, exploitation, greed and self-indulgence, just as we see today.
How we relate to wealth will become an issue as the final events of earth’s history unfold. The book of Revelation predicts that an economic boycott will be imposed against those who refuse to obey the orders of an end-time religio-political power that dominates the world. This great power will cause “as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:15–17).
This is one of the very last great signs of the end. It heralds a terrible time for Christ’s followers before He comes. This great power, sometimes depicted as “Babylon” in the New Testament, will seek to force people into a false form of worship, the penalty for which will be death: “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Revelation 13:15). This power uses economic leverage to coerce people into obedience. Yes, money will have a major role in bringing about earth’s last days!
However, Revelation is clear that before Jesus returns, Babylon’s wealth will crumble: “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. . . . And all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you” (Revelation 18:11–14).
While the Bible uses imagery from ancient times, the context is unmistakably the last days, in which Babylon will collapse, bringing economic ruin everywhere. So either way, you lose your wealth and your income. And you might as well lose it for a good reason as a bad, for included in the cargo of Babylon are the “souls of men”.
So when you see the economic systems of the world beginning to crumble, don’t despair. Rather, “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
* All Bible texts in this article are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.