Understanding Events Since 1914
“WHEN World War I began, it caught me completely by surprise,” says George Gangas, who was 18 and living in Turkey at the time. “I was scared. I didn’t know what would happen next. I went to Greece, where I thought I would be safe. But the Allies blockaded the country and caused a terrible food shortage. We had almost nothing to eat except carob pods, or a rough bread made from them. I can still remember spotting a piece of bread in the street and running to get it before someone else could.
“Later I was taken to Paris to build fortifications for the French. I was in Paris when the Spanish influenza struck and people died like flies. Nobody knew what it was. There was no remedy. Everyone was terrified.
“At the time, I didn’t understand the meaning of the war, famine and pestilence that I was seeing. Later, someone showed me from the Bible what it all meant.”
If you will open your Bible to Matthew chapter 24 you can see what George Gangas and many others have been shown. Matthew chapter 24 contains a lengthy prophecy spoken by Jesus Christ himself, a prophecy that enables us to put world events since 1914 into focus.
As Mt 24 verse three indicates, Jesus is talking about events that will mark the time of his presence (or, “coming,” Authorized Version) and the end of this system of things (“world,” AV). Farfetched? Why should it be, when newspapers and magazines constantly write about mankind’s destroying all life on earth in World War III?
Notice the first clear sign that this system of things is nearing its end. “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.”—Matt. 24:6-8.
‘But there have been many wars since Jesus’ day,’ someone might object. True, and it should be noted that those that occurred during the decades immediately following Jesus’ prophecy were not without significance; they led on to the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. But Jesus was also pointing ahead to another “tribulation,” one that would have no equal. (Matt. 24:22) As part of the “pangs of distress” leading on to that event, wars have been fought that affect all the earth.—Compare Revelation 6:1-4.
Historians widely agree that World War I was the first war on a global scale. Comparing World War I with previous major wars, cultural historian Jacques Barzun observes that in previous wars, “the absence of large industry had precluded the involvement, physical and mental, of every adult citizen simultaneously throughout Europe.” In World War I it was different. “In 1914 Beethoven, Hegel, and Goethe would have been in the trenches.”
Yes, the world really changed in 1914! What began then was of great significance.
Food shortages, earthquakes
When World War I ended in 1918, much of the farmland of Europe was devastated, causing severe food shortages. Meanwhile, China had suffered a famine in 1916. An estimated three million people died in a famine that struck Russia in 1921. Food shortages have continued to be a tragic fact of 20th-century life, with millions dying recently in places like Biafra, Cambodia and Bangladesh. The World Food Council estimates that 50 million people starved to death in 1979 alone.
Since 1914 men have been shaken by at least 46 major earthquakes, most of which have killed thousands of people. Interestingly, 21 of these quakes have occurred since 1970, with very bad ones just last year in Algeria and Italy.
Could it be mere coincidence that Jesus predicted food shortages and earthquakes to follow a world war? Even if Jesus could have guessed that world war would be followed by famine, how could he have guessed that earthquakes would increase in frequency? How could he have foreseen the total wars that technology would make possible only in our century?
Increasing of lawlessness
“When I came to New York in 1928, you didn’t have to be afraid to get in the elevator with a stranger,” says George Gangas. “Now it’s different. People are terrified of crime. I see signs on apartment doors that say ‘Don’t bother to break in—they already got everything.”’
Increasing crime is not just a problem for New York city. The People’s Republic of China, which once claimed to have largely eliminated crime, recently admitted that crime throughout the country had reached serious proportions. A London newspaper reports that “the 1970s were marked in England and Wales by a steady rise in crimes of violence.”
This, too, was forecast for the period following World War I. Jesus said that “because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.”—Matt. 24:12.
“People have lost much of their neighbor love,” observes Ewart Chitty, “but even worse than that, in recent years they seem to have utterly lost their love for God.” Have you noticed the same thing?
Reason for hope
Of course, just knowing that our 20th-century woes were predicted does not make them any easier to bear. But Jesus was not interested in depressing his listeners with bad news about the future. No, he had a positive message. What was it?
“When you see all these things,” Jesus said, referring to world wars, food shortages, earthquakes and lawlessness, “know that he is near at the doors.” (Matt. 24:33) Who is near? Jesus was talking about himself, “the Son of man.” (Mt 24 Vs. 30) How near? “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”—Mt 24 Verse 34.
The generation that saw the outbreak of World War I is getting older even as world conditions rapidly get worse. But as Jesus foretold, that generation has ‘by no means passed away.’ In the United States alone there are still over 10 million people who are old enough to have been in school when World War I began. Some of them will still be here when this system’s end arrives.—Matt. 24:3.
Why is the impending “conclusion of the system of things” reason for hope? Because our war-wracked, famine-stricken, crime-ridden 20th century has proved for all time that this system of things does not work. Even with the advantage of technology undreamed of in 1914, man has shown himself totally incompetent to rule the earth. Indeed, more and more people agree that if the present nationalistic world system is not ended somehow, man will incinerate the earth in nuclear war.
With what is this system of things going to be replaced? Notice what Jesus promised that he will say to his faithful followers “when the Son of man arrives in his glory.” “Come,” he will say to them, “you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—Matt. 25:31-34.
Yes, God has prepared a kingdom, in the hands of his Son, to rule this earth properly for the first time since Adam and Eve turned against God in the garden of Eden. Appropriately, that kingdom will return earth to the paradise state that was lost in that first rebellion.—Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-24.
Prophetically the psalmist tells us:
“In his days the righteous one will sprout, and the abundance of peace until the moon is no more. For he will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.”—Ps. 72:7, 12, 16.
So the answer to the anguished question ‘What is this world coming to?’ is an encouraging one. This world is coming to the brink of a new order that will be ruled by God’s kingdom! It is fast approaching a time when wars, famines, earthquakes, crime and lack of love, both for God and for neighbor, will be a fading memory.
If you want to know more about God’s wonderful promises for the near future, why not ask any of Jehovah’s Witnesses? There is much more good news that they will be happy to share with you!
[Chart on page 8]
Back in 1978 it was calculated that 150 wars have been fought since the end of World War II, with 25 million lives lost. Here are a few of the better known wars. As this partial list indicates, peace has truly been ‘taken away from the earth’ in the 20th century, as predicted in Revelation 6:4.
1945-54 Vietnam War (French involvement)
1955-75 Vietnam War (American involvement)
1948-57 Guerrilla war in Malaya
1959 Chinese-Indian border
1965 India-Pakistan border
1967 Arab-Israeli “Six-Day War”
1967-69 Biafra (Nigeria)
1969 Russian-Chinese border
1976-79 Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
1979 Cambodia, Vietnam
1980 Iran, Iraq
[Chart on page 9]
Here are a few of the major earthquakes since 1914. Only those killing 3,000 or more are listed. Of course, casualty estimates vary in some cases.
Date Location Approximate number of deaths
1915 Italy 29,900
1920 China 180,000
1923 Japan 143,000
1927 China 200,000
1932 China 70,000
1934 India 10,700
1935 India 60,000
1939 Chile 30,000
1939 Turkey 23,000
1948 Japan 5,100
1949 Ecuador 6,000
1960 Chile 5,700
1960 Morocco 12,000
1962 Iran 10,000
1968 Iran 11,500
1970 Peru 66,700
1972 Iran 5,000
1972 Nicaragua 6,000
1974 Pakistan 5,200
1976 Guatemala 23,000
1976 China 655,000
1976 Philippines 3,300
1976 Turkey 3,700
1978 Iran 25,000
1980 Algeria 20,000
1980 Italy 3,000