The tales coming out of Siberia more than a century ago sounded like something out of science fiction—or the book of Revelation. It was a blast of unbelievable proportions, which scientists today estimate to have been equal to between 20 and 30 million tons of TNT. That’s upward of 15,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima! But the location was so remote that the details remained a mystery for many years.
The event happened on the morning of June 30, 1908. Seismographs around the world registered it minutes after it happened. More ominously, an actual shock wave swept across Europe, striking Berlin at 5:54 local time and rolling into England moments later. Scientists wondered what kind of explosion could be felt thousands of miles away! Several “bright nights” followed, in which the sky glowed all night long. Everyone realized that something extraordinary had happened. Some speculated about the end of the world. Eventually, eyewitness and newspaper accounts closer to the blast site began to filter out.
Seismographs at the Irkutsk magnetic and meteorological observatory five hundred miles from the blast recorded its effect four minutes after the event. 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 that created 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 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 burning and fallen trees. The blast front lifted up Ivan and slammed him into one of the few remaining upright trees that stood 130 feet from the ragged remnants of the tent he had been sleeping in. Although conscious at first, he died a few hours later from shock and blood loss resulting from a compound fracture of his left arm. Investigators later determined that Akulina’s camp had been some twenty-plus miles from the blast’s epicenter.
Eager scientists wanted more information, but the the remoteness of the location and the Bolshevik revolution that began almost a decade later delayed investigators for more than a decade. The Evenk tribesmen who lived in the area had fled after the blast, which they attributed to Agdy, their god of thunder, and they refused to return, making the scientist’s task 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. Before them lay the charred trunks of a flattened forest, later estimated at 80 million trees covering 830 square miles.
Even now, more than 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 more than eleven decades has not dulled the interest of scientists. Most believe that a meteor about 50 meters (164 feet) in diameter exploded several thousand feet above the earth’s surface that day.
As I 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 a collision with what they call a near-Earth object (NEO) might indeed end all life as we know it on this planet. Some believe that a meteor strike is consistent with biblical descriptions of the end.
Scientists speak in probabilities. For example, they tell us that about one hundred fist-sized meteors fall to the earth every day. Based on geological observations from the past, they calculate that an asteroid 60 meters (197 feet) 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 one kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter will strike the planet every few hundred-thousand years. A one-kilometer asteroid would have global consequences. Scientists also think that an asteroid six kilometers (3.7 miles) in diameter will collide with the earth every hundred million years or so and cause mass extinctions!
For scientists, it’s all a matter of chance.
what does the Bible say?
Several Bible writers predict events that could be the result of a massive asteroid strike. For example, Malachi spoke of a day that “will burn like a furnace,” leaving only stubble behind (Malachi 4:1). Other biblical predictions anticipate a rain of burning sulfur (Ezekiel 38:22) and burning sulfur (Isaiah 34:9; Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10). The Bible looks forward to “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zephaniah 1:15) and “a day of battering down walls” (Isaiah 22:5). All of these texts are consistent with the effects of a meteor strike.
On the other hand, the Bible also tells of a loving Intelligence, a Divine Creator, who created a planet suitable for life, supplying light for energy, an atmosphere, dry land, and fresh water 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.
Unfortunately, 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 these were 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.
how the world will end
The Bible makes it clear that God will bring the world to an end—not foolish men, not aliens, and not random events such as massive asteroids wiping out life on earth. 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 also 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 that “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 done 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 about 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, 3)—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).
Jesus will return and bring down the curtain on this 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, emphasis added). This is what 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).
Ed Dickerson is a freelance writer who lives in Garrison, Iowa. He is the lay pastor of the HomePage Seventh-day Adventist company in Marion, Iowa, and he is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.