A Bible Prophecy You Have Seen Fulfilled
Have you ever wondered why things are so different today compared with the way they were a hundred years ago? Some things are better. In many lands, diseases that killed in the past are now routinely cured, and the average person enjoys a standard of living undreamed of by his ancestors. On the other hand, our century has seen the worst wars and some of the worst atrocities in all history. Mankind’s prosperity—even his continued existence—is threatened by a population explosion, a pollution problem, and a vast, international stockpile of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Why is the 20th century so different from previous centuries?
1. (Include introduction.) (a) How has the 20th century differed from previous centuries? (b) What will help us to understand why our times are so different?
THE answer to this question has to do with a remarkable Bible prophecy that you have seen fulfilled. It is a prophecy that Jesus himself uttered and that, besides giving proof of the inspiration of the Bible, indicates that we are living close to very dramatic changes in the world scene. What is this prophecy? And how do we know that it is being fulfilled?
Jesus’ Great Prophecy
2, 3. What question did Jesus’ disciples ask him, and where do we find his answer?
2 The Bible tells us that shortly before Jesus’ death, his disciples were discussing the great temple buildings in Jerusalem; they were impressed by their size and apparent durability. But Jesus said: “Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”—Matthew 24:1, 2.
3 Jesus’ disciples must have been surprised at his words and later came to him for more information, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus’ answer is found in the remainder of Matthew chapters 24 and 25. His words are recorded, too, in Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21. This was clearly the most important prophecy uttered by Jesus while he was on earth.
4. About what different things were Jesus’ disciples asking?
4 In fact, Jesus’ disciples were asking about more than one thing. First, they raised the question: “When will these things be?” that is, When will Jerusalem and its temple be destroyed? Further, they wanted to know the sign that would indicate that Jesus’ presence as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom had begun and that the end of this system of things was at hand.
5. (a) What initial fulfillment was there of Jesus’ prophecy, but when would his words have their complete fulfillment? (b) How did Jesus begin his answer to the disciples’ question?
5 In his answer, Jesus took both points into consideration. Many of his words were actually fulfilled back in the first century, during the years that led up to the terrible destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (Matthew 24:4-22) But his prophecy was to have an even greater significance later, in our own days, in fact. What, then, did Jesus say? He began by uttering the words recorded in Mt 24 verses 7 and 8: “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.”
6. Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:7, 8 remind us of what parallel prophecy?
6 Clearly, Jesus’ presence as heavenly King would be marked by great turmoil on earth. This is confirmed by a parallel prophecy found in the book of Revelation: the vision of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Revelation 6:1-8) The first of these horsemen pictures Jesus himself as conquering King. The other riders with their steeds picture happenings on earth that mark the beginning of Jesus’ reign: war, famine, and untimely death through various agents. Do we see these two prophecies fulfilled today?
7. What is prophetically prefigured by the ride of the second horseman of the Apocalypse?
7 Let us look at them more closely. First, Jesus said: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” This was a prophecy of war. The second of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse similarly prefigured war. We read: “Another came forth, a fiery-colored horse; and to the one seated upon it there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another; and a great sword was given him.” (Revelation 6:4) Now, mankind has been fighting wars for thousands of years. Why, then, should these words have a special significance for our day?
8. Why would we expect war to be an outstanding feature of the sign?
8 Remember that war on its own is not the sign of Jesus’ presence. The sign is made up of all the details of Jesus’ prophecy happening in the same general time period. But war is the first feature mentioned, so we might expect that this feature would be fulfilled in an outstanding way that would catch our attention. And everyone must admit that the wars of this 20th century are unparalleled in all previous history.
9, 10. How did the prophecies regarding war begin to be fulfilled?
9 For example, no earlier wars—cruel and destructive as many were—came even close in destructiveness to the two world wars of the 20th century. Why, the first world war eventually caused about 14 million fatalities, more than the entire population of many countries. Truly, “there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another.”
10 According to the prophecy, “a great sword was given” to the warlike second horseman of the Apocalypse. How does that apply? In this: Weapons of war became far more deadly. Equipped with the tank, the airplane, deadly poison gas, submarines, and artillery that could fire explosive shells over several miles, man became more efficient in killing his neighbor. And since the first world war the “great sword” has become even more destructive—owing to the use of such things as radio communications, radar, sophisticated rifles, bacteriological and chemical weapons, flamethrowers, napalm, new types of bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, advanced airplanes, and huge battleships.
“A Beginning of Pangs of Distress”
11, 12. In what way was the first world war merely “a beginning of pangs of distress”?
11 The early verses of Jesus’ prophecy conclude with the words: “These things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” This was certainly true of the first world war. Its end in 1918 did not bring peace for long. It was soon followed by limited but vicious military actions in Ethiopia, Libya, Spain, Russia, India, and other lands. Then came the horrendous second world war, which claimed some 50 million military and civilian victims.
12 Moreover, despite periodic peace agreements and lulls in the fighting, mankind is still at war. In 1987 it was reported that 81 major wars had been fought since 1960, killing 12,555,000 men, women, and children. The year 1987 saw more wars being fought than any previous year in recorded history.1 Further, military preparation and expenditures, now reaching a total of about $1,000,000,000,000 annually, distort the economy of the world.2 Jesus’ prophecy of ‘nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ is surely undergoing fulfillment. The red horse of war continues its ferocious ride through the earth. But what about the second aspect of the sign?
13. What tragic events did Jesus foretell, and how did the vision of the third horseman of the Apocalypse support his prophecy?
13 Jesus foretold: “And there will be food shortages . . . in one place after another.” Notice how this harmonizes with the ride of the third of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Of him we read: “I saw, and, look! a black horse; and the one seated upon it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice as if in the midst of the four living creatures say: ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.’” (Revelation 6:5, 6) Yes, severe food shortages!
14. What major famines since 1914 have fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy?
14 Is it possible that this prophecy is being fulfilled today, when some lands have achieved such high standards of living? A glance at the world as a whole leaves no doubt as to the answer. Historically, famines have been caused by wars and natural disasters. It is not surprising, then, that our century, which has had more than its share of disasters and wars, has been plagued repeatedly with famines. Many parts of the earth have suffered such disasters since 1914. One report lists more than 60 major famines since 1914, in such widely separated lands as Greece, the Netherlands, the U.S.S.R., Nigeria, Chad, Chile, Peru, Bangladesh, Bengal, Kampuchea, Ethiopia, and Japan.3 Some of these famines have lasted several years and caused millions of deaths.
15, 16. What other food shortages are truly devastating today?
15 Although severe famines usually get wide publicity, after a while they pass and survivors gradually return to a comparatively normal life. However, another more ominous type of food shortage has developed during the 20th century. This is less dramatic and therefore often ignored. But it persists year after year. This is a severe scourge of malnutrition that affects up to one fifth of the population of our planet and kills between 13 and 18 million people each year.4
16 In other words, this kind of food shortage regularly kills about as many people in two days as were killed at Hiroshima by the atom bomb. Indeed, every two years, there are more people who die from the effects of hunger than there were soldiers killed by World War I and World War II combined. Have there been “food shortages . . . in one place after another” since 1914? Yes, indeed!
17. What devastating earthquake took place soon after 1914?
17 On January 13, 1915, when the first world war was just a few months old, an earthquake shook Abruzzi, Italy, and took the lives of 32,610 people. This major disaster reminds us that wars and food shortages during Jesus’ presence would be accompanied by something else: “There will be . . . earthquakes in one place after another.” As with war and famine, the Abruzzi earthquake was just “a beginning of pangs of distress.”a
18. How has Jesus’ prophecy regarding earthquakes been fulfilled?
18 The 20th century has been a century of earthquakes, and thanks to the development of the news media, all mankind is very much aware of the devastation they have caused. To mention just a few, 1920 saw 200,000 die in an earthquake in China; in 1923, some 99,300 died in a quake in Japan; in 1935, another quake killed 25,000 in what is now Pakistan, while 32,700 died in Turkey in 1939. There were 66,800 fatalities in an earthquake in Peru in 1970. And in 1976, some 240,000 (or, according to some sources, 800,000) died in Tangshan, China. More recently, in 1988, there were 25,000 who died in a powerful earthquake in Armenia.b Surely, “earthquakes in one place after another”!6
19. What further detail of the sign was foretold by Jesus and foreshadowed by the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse?
19 Another detail of Jesus’ prophecy has to do with disease. The evangelist Luke, in his account, records that Jesus foretold “in one place after another pestilences.” (Luke 21:11) This too harmonizes with the prophetic vision of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The fourth horseman is named Death. He pictures premature death from a number of causes, including “deadly plague and . . . the wild beasts of the earth.”—Revelation 6:8.
20. What outstanding epidemic was a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about pestilences?
20 Back in 1918 and 1919, more than 1,000,000,000 people fell sick with Spanish influenza, and more than 20,000,000 died. The disease took more lives than did the great war itself.7 And “deadly plague,” or ‘pestilence,’ continues to afflict this generation, despite many remarkable medical advances. Why is this? For one thing, poorer lands do not always enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. Poor people suffer and die of sicknesses that could be cured if more money would be made available.
21, 22. How have people in both rich lands and poor lands suffered from “deadly plague”?
21 Thus, some 150 million people worldwide suffer from malaria. Some 200 million are infected with snail fever. Chagas’ disease afflicts about ten million people. About 40 million suffer from river blindness. Acute diarrheic diseases kill millions of children each year.8 Tuberculosis and leprosy are still a significant health problem. Outstandingly, the poor of this world suffer from ‘pestilences in one place after another.’
22 But so do the wealthy. Influenza, for example, afflicts rich and poor alike. In 1957 one strain of influenza caused 70,000 deaths in the United States alone. In Germany it is estimated that one person in six will eventually suffer from cancer.9 Sexually transmitted diseases also strike the wealthy and the poor. Gonorrhea, the most frequently reported communicable disease in the United States, afflicts as many as 18.9 percent of the population of some parts of Africa.10 Syphilis, chlamydia, and genital herpes are some of the other pandemic sexually transmitted “pestilences.”
23. What “deadly plague” has recently captured the headlines?
23 In recent years, the “deadly plague” of AIDS has also joined the list of “pestilences.” AIDS is a terrifying illness because, as of this writing, there is no cure in sight, and the number of its victims continues to increase. Dr. Jonathan Mann, director of the WHO (World Health Organization) Special Program on AIDS, said: “We also estimate that there are five to 10 million people in the world today infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).”11 According to one published estimate, the AIDS virus strikes a new victim each minute. “Deadly plague” indeed! But what about the prophecy of death by wild beasts?
“The Wild Beasts of the Earth”
24, 25. (a) To what kind of ‘wild beast’ did the prophet Ezekiel refer? (b) What did Jesus say about “wild beasts” being active on earth during his presence?
24 The fact is, when wild beasts are mentioned these days in the newspapers, it is because certain species are endangered or nearly extinct. “The wild beasts of the earth” are far more threatened by humans than humans are by them. Despite this, in some lands wild animals, such as tigers in India, still take a steady toll of human lives.
25 The Bible, however, draws our attention to another kind of wild beast that has caused real fear in recent years. The prophet Ezekiel compared violent men to wild animals when he said: “Her princes in the midst of her are like wolves tearing prey in shedding blood, in destroying souls for the purpose of making unjust gain.” (Ezekiel 22:27) When he prophesied an “increasing of lawlessness,” Jesus, in effect, was saying that such “wild beasts” would be active on earth during his presence. (Matthew 24:12) The Bible writer Paul adds that during “the last days” men would be “lovers of money . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Has such been the case since 1914?
26-28. What reports from around the world show that criminal “wild beasts” are prowling the earth?
26 It certainly has. If you live in almost any big city on earth, you already know this. But if you doubt it, just consider the following recent newspaper quotations. From Colombia: “Last year the police recorded . . . about 10,000 murders and 25,000 armed robberies.” From Victoria, Australia: “Big Jump in Major Crime.” From the United States: “Slayings in New York Heading for a Record High.” “Detroit overtook Gary, Ind., last year as the major city with the highest murder rate in the nation—58 per 100,000 inhabitants.”
27 From Zimbabwe: “Infant murders have assumed crisis proportions.” From Brazil: “There is so much crime here, and so much toting of weapons, that news of violence just doesn’t generate much excitement anymore.” From New Zealand: “Sexual attacks and violent crime continue to be a major concern for police.” “New Zealanders’ level of violence towards each other could only be described as barbaric.” From Spain: “Spain grapples with growing crime problem.” From Italy: “Sicilian Mafia, after setback, revives in wave of killings.”
28 These are just a small sample of newspaper reports appearing shortly before the publication of this book. Surely, “wild beasts” are prowling the earth, causing people to tremble for their safety.
Preaching the Good News
29, 30. What is the religious situation in Christendom, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy?
29 How would religion fare during the troubled time of Jesus’ presence? On the one hand, Jesus prophesied that there would be an increase in religious activity: “Many false prophets will arise and mislead many.” (Matthew 24:11) On the other hand, he foretold that in Christendom as a whole, interest in God would be at a low ebb. “The love of the greater number will cool off.”—Matthew 24:12.
30 This truly describes what is happening today in Christendom. On the one hand, mainstream churches everywhere are failing through lack of support. In the once strongly Protestant lands of northern Europe and England, religion is all but dead. At the same time, the Catholic Church is suffering from a lack of priests and from shrinking support. On the other hand, there have been surges in fringe religious elements. Cults based on Eastern religions proliferate, while greedy television evangelists extort millions of dollars.
31. What did Jesus foretell that helps identify true Christians today?
31 What, though, about true Christianity, the religion introduced by Jesus and preached by his apostles? It would still exist during Jesus’ presence, but how would it be recognized? There are a number of things that identify true Christianity, and one is mentioned in Jesus’ great prophecy. True Christians would be occupied in a worldwide preaching work. Jesus prophesied: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14.
32. What group alone has fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy recorded in Matthew 24:14?
32 This preaching is now taking place on a colossal scale! Today, the religious group called Jehovah’s Witnesses is engaged in the most intensive preaching activity in the history of Christianity. (Isaiah 43:10, 12) Back in 1919, while Christendom’s politically minded major religions were advocating the ill-fated League of Nations, Jehovah’s Witnesses were being prepared for this global preaching campaign.
33, 34. To what extent has the good news of the Kingdom been preached throughout the world?
33 There were only about 10,000 Witnesses back then, but they knew the work that had to be done. Courageously, they set about the task of preaching. They realized that a clergy-laity division was contrary to both the Bible’s commands and the apostolic pattern. So all of them, to the last individual, learned how to speak to their neighbors about God’s Kingdom. They became an organization of preachers.
34 As time went on, these preachers endured intense opposition. In Europe, they were opposed by different kinds of totalitarian regimes. In the United States and Canada, they faced up to legal challenges and mob action. In other lands, they had to overcome fanatical religious prejudice and ruthless persecution by tyrannical dictators. In recent years, they have also had to counter the spirit of skepticism and self-indulgence that has developed. But they have persevered to the point where, today, there are more than three and a half million of them in 212 lands. Never before has the good news of the Kingdom been preached so widely—a striking fulfillment of this aspect of the sign!
What Does It All Mean?
35. (a) How does the fulfillment of prophecy today help to demonstrate the divine inspiration of the Bible? (b) What does the fulfillment of the sign that Jesus gave mean for our day?
35 Without any doubt we are witnessing the fulfillment of the great sign that Jesus gave. This fact adds to the evidence that the Bible is indeed inspired by God. No human could have foretold so long in advance the events that would take place during this 20th century. Moreover, the fulfillment of the sign means that we are living in the time of Jesus’ presence and of the conclusion of the system of things. (Matthew 24:3) What is the significance of this? What is involved in Jesus’ presence? And what is the system of things that is concluding? To answer these questions, we need to consider another strong evidence of the inspiration of the Bible: its remarkable internal harmony. We will discuss this next and see how the Bible’s major theme is even now approaching an awe-inspiring climax.
a There were at least five earthquakes between 1914 and 1918 that registered 8 or more on the Richter scale—more powerful than the earthquake at Abruzzi. However, these temblors were in remote areas of the globe, and thus they did not attract as much attention as the Italian quake.5
b Varying figures have been reported for the number of victims of some of these disasters. All, however, were extremely destructive.