When No One Would Survive

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
—Matthew 24:22, New International Version

ONE OF THE IMPORTANT signs of our Lord Jesus’ presence is the development of nuclear bombs that have the capability of annihilating all life upon earth many times over. Work on applying the energy holding chemical atoms together began after World War I, which war ended with an armistice in 1918.

This development became more feverish when World War II started, but only the United States of America was successful in developing, testing, and using a nuclear bomb. Such bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945, and were influential in bringing an end to World War II.

It was then that Albert Einstein said, “The annihilation of all life upon earth has now become a technical possibility.”


For a while the USA was the only nation possessing the capability of manufacturing such weapons. This did not last long. The newly formed United Nations in 1946 formulated disarmament plans and set up a UN Atomic Commission to make proposals for the peaceful use of atomic energy and for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

As the emerging cold war divided the Western nations and the Communist countries, the Commission in 1948 reported an impasse in creating an international agency to control all potentially dangerous atomic power. The situation became more acute when, in 1949, the Soviet Union became the second nuclear power in the world. Great Britain became the third in 1952, France the fourth in 1960, the People’s Republic of China the fifth in 1969, and India the sixth in 1974. Today it is estimated that there are 44 countries that have some degree of nuclear capability.


The “Cold War,” that began after World War II, was a term used to describe the shifting struggle for power between the Western nations and the Communist bloc of countries. After the cease-fire of World War II, Russia began an expansionist program, taking over countries in Europe such as East Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the smaller countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Likewise Yugoslavia and Bulgaria became a part of the Communist bloc.

Expansions in Asia resulted in resistance by the West and costly wars being fought—the Korean War and the Vietnamese War. In particular, Africa was ripe for Communist picking and skirmishes occurred all over the continent. It is noteworthy that nuclear weapons were not employed in any of these shooting wars, even though an arms race had begun by the two superpowers, the USA and USSR.

Both nations stockpiled huge quantities of nuclear weapons and had increased the firepower of the bomb manifold times with the advent of the hydrogen bomb. Advances continued and today the firepower of these bombs is measured in megatons. One megaton is equal to one million tons of TNT. In World War II days the blockbuster bomb had a striking force of one ton of TNT. How can we visualize a bomb that has the equivalency of millions of tons of TNT?


Although actual figures have never been published (and are kept secret by both nations), it is generally supposed that the United States has nuclear bombs equivalent to one hundred trillion tons of TNT and the Soviet Union has the equivalent of sixty trillion tons. These figures boggle the mind and the imagination.

If we could properly comprehend (as Einstein at the beginning was able to comprehend), we would be frightened at the contemplation of what would happen if the explosive power that these two nations have stockpiled was ever used in an all-out war. These materials far exceed the power necessary to destroy all life upon earth.


During this time of fierce competition for supremacy by the two superpowers, people became aware more and more of the possibility of quick execution of all life upon earth. This was the concern in the late 1940’s of many of the scientists who worked on the bomb. Their efforts and the UN efforts to ban nuclear weapons met with failure. When Stalin died in 1953 there was hope again, as Soviet policy relaxed, of working toward such a ban; but this, too, did not last long. In 1957 the Soviets launched their Sputnik, and demonstrated superior technology to that achieved by the USA. Both were working on ballistic missiles to deliver powerful warheads against specific targets. Both Khrushchev (successor to Stalin) and John Dulles (Secretary of State, USA) grimly threatened massive retaliation for any aggression by the other.

The original Commission formed by the UN in 1945 to promote disarmament of nuclear weapons did not succeed. A subcommittee was formed after test explosions were made by the USA on the hydrogen bomb in 1952 and by the USSR in 1953. The need for negotiations on disarmament took on a new urgency. The Committee included representatives from the USA and the USSR, plus those from Canada, Great Britain and France. The Committee met intermittently from 1954 to 1957, but instead of succeeding in their mission, more distrust emerged from this endeavor.

The hope of working towards disarmament received a severe blow in 1961 as the Soviet Union resumed testing of nuclear weapons. The only deterrent to the arms race was the use of satellites to spy on one another, and the delivery of rockets and war heads for missiles erected by the Soviets in Cuba brought about a tense confrontation between the two superpowers, USA and USSR, in 1962. The arms race resumed and people learned how to live in fear.


Meanwhile, the committee formed in 1953 was restructured several times, and from 1972 to 1974 opened talks on Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT I). The intent of SALT I was to stop the escalation and multiplication of arms and weapons that would be used specifically to carry nuclear warheads. For example, the treaty limited the United States to 1,054 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) and the Soviet Union to 1,607. Both countries equaled or exceeded these limitations. The treaty also said that the U.S. could increase its submarine missile total from 656 to 710, and the U.S.S.R. from 740 to 950, if they retired one land-based missile for every additional submarine missile. The Soviet Union exercised this option; the United States did not. But since SALT I limited the number of missiles delivering a single nuclear warhead, both sides proceeded to develop a missile carrying multiple warheads, each warhead capable of going to a separate target; and this, of course, made the treaty meaningless.

SALT II talks followed and added limitations in delivery systems for nuclear warheads such as ICBM’s and heavy bomber planes. The distrust that the two super powers had toward each other severely limited disarmament of any kind.


Then political changes began to take place in Russia. The new Prime Minister, Gorbachev, introduced glasnost to the people, intending to wipe out hate toward others and to develop good feelings toward fellow countrymen and outsiders. Revolutionary ideas began to emerge in the Communist bloc of countries. Strong feelings opposing Communism were developing in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Such feelings, when they emerged before, were quickly subdued by Red Army tanks and soldiers. Somehow Poland’s Solidarity movement under Lech Walesa survived and free elections held June 4, 1989 removed the Communists from power in that country. Other Communist bloc countries followed, having free elections as tabulated below:

Czechoslovakia  1990 
East Germany1990 


These changes from Communism to democratic forms of government seemed to spell the end of the struggle for nuclear weapon supremacy. However, the stockpiles of weapons accumulated over the last sixty years remain in storage. There has been less fear of nuclear warfare by men because of the political change in Russia, and the economic problems that have plagued Russia since the change. We know, however, that Russia continues as an important player in this suicidal game of nuclear arms. A recent news release demonstrates this quite well. An article in the April 21st “Newark Star Ledger” said under the caption, “Russia’s lower house to consider nuclear arms test ban treaty” The article continues:

“ASSOCIATED PRESS MOSCOW—The Russian parliament’s lower house takes up the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty today, just a week after it broke a year-long nuclear arms deadlock by ratifying the START II Treaty.

“The hearing in the State Duma, the lower house, is to be a closed session—a frequent move when issues involving classified information are discussed. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov were expected to give reports at the hearing.

“Dmitry Rogozin, chief of the chambers’ international affairs committee, predicted earlier this week that the treaty would receive overwhelming support.

“Even the Communists, who opposed START II, are expected to join in voting for the test ban treaty.

“The Interfax news agency reported yesterday that a majority of the Communists in the Duma would approve the treaty if an amendment is included to delay release of the ratification document until China and the United States ratify it.

“That amendment, if passed, apparently would be only a symbolic statement. The treaty will not go into effect unless it is ratified by all 44 countries considered to have some degree of nuclear capability.

“Besides the United States and China, other holdouts include Egypt, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

“The U.S. Senate rejected the treaty last year, with opponents arguing that it would undermine the country’s weapons program and that compliance by other countries could not be assured.

“Russia strongly criticized the vote, although at that time it had not ratified the pact. But under newly elected President Vladimir Putin* Russia appears to be trying to seize the initiative in pushing arms control issues.

* Putin, at his recent inauguration, said that he would seek to make Russia a first-class power again.

“The ratification of START II, which was completed on Wednesday with approval by the upper house, ended years of Russia obstructing the treaty and bounces the issue back to the United States, where the Senate must approve amendments worked out by U.S. and Russian negotiators after the Senate ratified the pact in 1996.

“START II ratification also cleared the way for talks to begin on further arms reductions under a proposed START III.

“Ivanov, the foreign minister, is to leave for the United States on Sunday for meetings on arms control issues, including the tense disagreement between Washington and Moscow over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.”

It is evident that Russia, with its stockpile of nuclear weapons, continues as an important player in the nuclear arms test ban and reduction treaties. At least we have progressed from SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation) which tried to place a limit on the increase for the stockpile, to START (Strategic Arms Reduction) which starts reducing the pile. But there has been no agreement reached yet.

Will any nuclear bombs be dropped again? On this question, no one has any certain knowledge.

We do know that those days (living with the threat of utter annihilation) will be shortened. Will this be brought about by the success of START II or START III? Mistrust and deception are the likely cause for failure of this approach. Will the shortening of the days come about because of the realization of the awful consequences of nuclear arms warfare, so that intelligent men will never employ such weapons? It only takes one demented person who has access to such firepower to set off that kind of warfare.


So then, what is meant by our Lord’s words, “But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened”? What is involved is the interpretation of the Greek word dia, which in this case has been translated ‘for the sake of.’ This Greek word is a preposition, and has been translated ‘for the sake of’ forty-five times in the New Testament, ‘because of’ twenty-nine times, ‘by’ two hundred forty-five times, and ‘for’ fifty-eight times. The predominant translation of this preposition is ‘by.’

When Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic, most likely he had in mind ‘by,’ saying, “But by the elect those days shall be shortened.” This would be in harmony with God’s purpose in selecting this “people for his name” (Acts 15:14), who also are called “the elect,” or “chosen,” and who, during the Gospel Age are being selected by God to be joint-heirs with Jesus and to live and reign with him a thousand years.—Rev. 20:4

We believe that these words of Jesus are not expressing that the days are to be shortened ‘on behalf of’ the elect. Rather, it is because the kingdom of Christ will take over in the affairs of men, putting an end to a possible disastrous and devastating war using these indescribably potent nuclear weapons. Our Lord’s words, then, are simply stated as saying “but by [or because of] the elect those days shall be shortened.” It is because the elect class (the church), pictured as the bride of Christ, “hath made herself ready.”—Rev. 19:7

Pictorially, the Book of Revelation appears to show the following sequence of events:

  1. The destruction of Babylon (false religion)—Rev. 18:21
  2. The marriage of the Lamb—Rev. 19:7
  3. The going forth of the Christ (Jesus and the glorified church) to conquer the forces of evil—Rev.19:11-15
  4. The conquest and destruction of the beast and the false prophet—Rev. 19:19-21
  5. The binding of Satan—Rev. 20:1-3

It is through the fulfillment of these symbolic events that the ‘days are shortened.’

As we contemplate God’s wonderful plan we can join the Psalmist David, and say with him, “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.”—Ps. 40:5

Likewise, we can echo the beautiful expressions of the Apostle Paul who has garnered the sentiments of several Old Testament tributes to God, saying, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”—Rom. 11:33-36

Dawn Bible Students Association
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