The tales coming out of Siberia a century ago sounded like something out of science fiction—or the book of Revelation. A blast of unbelievable proportions— scientists today estimate it at between 20 and 30 million tons of TNT, perhaps fifteen thousand times as strong as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima— had occurred somewhere in remote Siberia. But the location was so remote that the details remained a mystery for years.
Seismographs around the world registered the event minutes after it happened, and more ominously, an actual shock wave swept across Europe, striking Berlin at 5:54 local time, and rolling into England moments later. What kind of explosion could be felt thousands of miles away! scientists wondered. When several “bright nights” followed, where the sky glowed all night long, everyone realized something extraordinary had happened. Some speculated about the end of the world. As eyewitness and newspaper accounts closer and closer to the blast site began to filter out, they did nothing to calm those fears.
Seismographs at the Irkutsk Magnetic and Meteorological Station, 500 miles from the blast, recorded its effect four minutes after the event. But witnesses were amazed when the blast wave traveled the same five hundred miles and arrived less than forty minutes later. Three hundred miles from the blast, witnesses reported “deafening bangs” accompanied by fiery clouds on the horizon. Witnesses one hundred miles from the epicenter reported seeing a fireball like the sun, and hearing loud thundering noises.
A newspaper account reported the experience of farmer Sergei Semenov. Sitting on the porch of the trading post in the village of Vanavara, Semenov saw the sky “split in two,” the entire northern half appearing to be on fire. Following that, a blast of air so hot that he felt as if his shirt had caught fire, catapulted Semenov some twenty feet. He regained consciousness to see that the blast had shattered windows and broken china throughout Vanavara, more than forty miles from the blast site!
And then came the story of Evenk tribesmen, the human witnesses who had been closest to the explosion’s epicenter. Akulina, an Evenki woman, related that a mighty wind had flattened the tent in which she and her husband, Ivan, had been sleeping. A brilliant burst of light blinded them, and she lost consciousness as a rising whirlwind lifted them off the ground.
Akulina and the rest of the Evenk camp awakened to a nightmare landscape of swirling smoke from the burning and fallen trees. The blast front had lifted Ivan up and slammed him into one of the few remaining upright trees, 130 feet from the ragged remnants of the tent he had slept in. Although conscious at first, he died after a few hours from shock and blood loss, the result of a compound fracture of his left arm. Investigators later determined that Akulina’s camp had been more than twenty miles from the blast’s epicenter.
Eager scientists wanted more information, but a revolution and a world war, combined with the remoteness of the location, delayed investigators for more than 20 years. The Evenk tribesmen who lived in the area had fled after the blast, which they attributed to Agdy, their god of thunder, and refused to return, making the task of the scientists even more difficult. Finally, Leonid Kulik convinced the Soviet government to fund an expedition in 1930. When Kulik’s expedition neared the blast site, a scene of apocalyptic devastation greeted them, even after two decades had passed. Before him lay the charred trunks of a flattened forest, later estimated at 80 million trees covering 830 square miles, immobile blackened compass needles pointing back to the epicenter of the blast that felled them.
Even now, a century later, scars still mark the landscape, and the effects linger. But with uncertainty about its cause, scientists simply call it the “Tunguska Event.” And the passage of ten decades has not dulled the interest of scientists. Despite years of inquiry, we still do not know the cause for certain. For example, a recent theory suggests that a tectonic event—a sort of super earthquake—combined with ball lightning or other atmospheric effects caused the explosion. Another recent study attributes the slight rise in global temperature to the injection of meteoric dust into the atmosphere as a result of the Tunguska Event. But most scientists believe that either an icy comet or a stony meteor about 165 feet in diameter exploded about five miles above the surface that day.
As we said, many who witnessed the effects of the Tunguska Event, even at a considerable distance, believed they were witnessing the end of the world. And scientists today warn that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery—that acollision with what they call a near- Earth object (NEO) might indeed end all life as we know it on this planet. Some believe a meteor strike is consistent with biblical descriptions of the end.
So What Does the Bible Say?
It does speak of a day which “ ‘will burn like a furnace,’ ” leaving only stubble behind (Malachi 4:1), and of a rain of flaming stone (Ezekiel 38:22; Isaiah 34:9; Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10). The Bible predicts “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zephaniah 1:15), “a day of battering down walls” (Isaiah 22:5). All of these texts are consistent with the effects of a meteor strike.
Scientists speak in probabilities. For example, they tell us that about one hundred fist-sized meteors fall to earth every day. Based on geological observations from the past, they calculate that an NEO 60 meters in diameter—slightly larger than the one that exploded over Siberia a century ago—will hit our planet every few hundred years and one larger than half a mile in diameter will strike the planet every few hundred thousand years. A half mile asteroid would have global consequences. Scientists also think that every hundred million years or so, an NEO four miles in diameter will collide with the earth and cause mass extinctions!
For scientists, it’s all a matter of chance.
The Bible, on the other hand, tells a very different story. It tells of a loving Intelligence, a divine Creator, who created a planet suitable for life. Supplying light for energy, an atmosphere, dry land, and freshwater to support the life of vegetation and animals. Finally, He created human beings to enjoy—and to maintain—this perfect ecosphere. Nothing in this account resulted from chance.
It is true that not everything went according to God’s plan. He did not intend for sin and death to arise and mar His beautiful creation. But even sin and death did not come about as a result of chance. Not at all! Sin came about as the result of a deliberate choice—a foolish choice, a mistaken choice, a destructive choice— but still an intentional decision by Adam and Eve to abandon the roles God had given them. And death followed, the inevitable consequence of separating themselves from God’s will. Devastating decisions, terrible consequences, but not the result of chance.
We’ve already seen that for science, chance begins and ends this world. But since the Bible declares that the world began as the result of God’s actions, we should expect the biblical account to predict that it will end the same way. And so it does.
The Bible makes it clear that God will bring the world to an end—not foolish men, not aliens, and not random events. Isaiah 2:12 declares, “The Lord Almighty has a day in store / for all the proud and lofty, / for all that is exalted / (and they will be humbled).” Isaiah 13:6 warns, “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; / it will come like destruction from the Almighty.” In his second letter, the apostle Peter told us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).
Even though that sounds a little like the Tunguska Event, the Bible insists that the end of the world will not come as the result of a meteor strike. Instead, the One who created the earth—who “was with God in the beginning,” and “through [whom] all things were made” (John 1:2, 3a)—will finish what He started. “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will return to bring down the curtain on earth’s history. It will not take place in a remote wilderness, where none, or only a few, can witness it. Revelation tells us, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7). It will end life as we know it, replacing it with something far better: a new earth where “ ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:4).