The Meaning of Present World Distress
TOWARD the close of his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ spoke about his second presence, when he would commence his rule as king of God’s heavenly kingdom. His followers had asked him: “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?” (Matt. 24:3) Jesus then described, for their benefit and ours, what would take place on earth when he would begin to rule in heaven.
In this way, although the events in heaven would be invisible to human eyes, there would be visible proof that Christ was at last on the throne, taking action as king. It would be proof that the wicked system of things that has oppressed mankind for centuries had entered its “last days.” (2 Tim. 3:1) Although it was foretold that there would be ridiculers that would try to belittle the facts, yet the evidence would be clear.—2 Pet. 3:3, 4.
As we consider the evidence together, it is important to realize that Jesus did not say that any one event, such as threat of war or a terrible earthquake, would be the proof that “the end” was at hand. (Matt. 24:6) Rather, he said: “Note the fig tree and all the other trees: When they are already in the bud, by observing it you know for yourselves that now the summer is near. In this way you also, when you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Luke 21:29-31.
If we see one tree put out its leaves in midwinter because the weather is warm for a few days, we do not reason that summer has come, do we? But when we see all the trees budding and the days growing longer we know that summer has to be near. Likewise, when all the things that Jesus described take place, we can know for sure that Christ is on his heavenly throne and that his kingdom has, indeed, begun active rule. When that happens, liberation is near!
FULFILLMENT OF “THE SIGN”
Exactly what did Jesus point to as marking his second presence and the “conclusion of the system of things”? He said: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another.”—Matt. 24:7.
Here Jesus tells us to look for a new kind of warfare—total war! The war that began in 1914 fits his description. Not only did armies fight on the battlefields; civilian populations too were organized to give full support to the war. As Jesus foretold, entire nations and kingdoms were fighting against one another. For the first time in history the world was at war. Hence it is called “World War I.” Of it the book World War I by H. W. Baldwin says on pages 1 and 2:
“In its scope, its violence, and above all, in its totality, it established a precedent. World War I ushered in the century of Total War, of—in the first full sense of the term—global war.
“Never before 1914-1918 had a war absorbed so much of the total resources of so many combatants and covered so large a part of the earth. Never had so many nations been involved. Never had the slaughter been so comprehensive and indiscriminate.”
The World Book Encyclopedia noted that the number of soldiers killed and wounded was over 37,000,000, and added: “The number of civilian deaths in areas of actual war totaled about 5,000,000. Starvation, disease, and exposure accounted for about 80 of every 100 of these civilian deaths. Spanish influenza, which some persons blamed on the war, caused tens of millions of other deaths.”—1966 edition, Vol. 20, p. 377.
Total warfare, famine, and the pestilence too, were all foretold by Jesus. They have all occurred. Put together, these facts mark 1914 as the beginning of the “last days” and the year that God’s heavenly kingdom began its active rule.—See also Luke 21:10, 11.
Also, after 1914 a series of earthquakes rocked the earth, causing great damage. In 1915, in Italy, nearly 30,000 were killed. In 1920, in China, 180,000 died. In 1923, 143,000 died in Japan. And major earthquakes have continued to take place with unusual frequency since then. As Jesus foretold, they are another mark of the “last days.”
However, Jesus said that the events that marked the beginning of the “last days” in 1914 were only the “beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matt. 24:8) Greater trouble was to come. True to his prophecy, it did. The World Book Encyclopedia (1966, Vol. 20) on page 379 under its heading “World War I” says: “World War I and its aftermath led to the greatest economic depression in history during the early 1930’s. The consequences of the war and the problems of adjustment to peace led to unrest in almost every nation.”
This paved the way for World War II. And of that war the same encyclopedia notes on pages 380 and 410 under its heading “World War II”: “World War II killed more persons, cost more money, damaged more property, affected more people . . . than any other war in history. . . . It has been estimated that the number of war dead, civilian and military, totaled more than 22,000,000. The number of wounded has been estimated as more than 34,000,000.” Truly, the “pangs of distress” Jesus foretold have become greater as the “last days” move toward their climax.
During and after World War II widespread food shortages added to the distress. Shortly after the war, Look magazine in its June 11, 1946, issue observed: “A fourth of the world is starving today. Tomorrow will even be worse. Famine over most of the world now is more terrible than most of us can imagine. . . . There are now more people hunting desperately for food than at any other time in history.”
More recently, the book entitled “Famine—1975!” by William and Paul Paddock said concerning today’s food shortages, on pages 52, 55 and 61: “Hunger is rampant throughout country after country, continent after continent around the undeveloped belt of the tropics and subtropics. Today’s crisis can move in only one direction—toward catastrophe. Today hungry nations; tomorrow starving nations. . . . By 1975 civil disorder, anarchy, military dictatorships, runaway inflation, transportation breakdowns and chaotic unrest will be the order of the day in many of the hungry nations.”
Jesus also foretold the “increasing of lawlessness” as a mark of the “last days.” (Matt. 24:12) And God inspired the apostle Paul to add: “In the last days . . . men will be lovers of themselves, . . . disobedient to parents, . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, . . . lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, . . . wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13) These are the conditions that have developed at an explosive rate since 1914! You have seen them with your own eyes, have you not?
Just look around. Throughout the world lawlessness is running wild. Said one of Britain’s leading lawyers, Lord Shawcross: “Almost everywhere, including Soviet Russia, there appears to be an increase in crime, and particularly, alas, in juvenile crime. . . . Nor are our statistics exaggerated. On the contrary, the figure of crimes known to the police probably constitutes only a small proportion of those not discovered, or, for one reason or another, not reported to the police.”a
From nation after nation come reports such as the following: “A wave of crime and rioting is sweeping across the United States . . . In many cities, women are afraid to go out after dark. And they have good reason. Rapes, assaults, sadistic outbursts of senseless violence are on the rise. Crimes often seem to be committed out of sheer savagery . . . Respect for law and order is declining.”b
As another feature of the “last days,” Jesus spoke of great confusion and fear among the nations and their leaders. He foretold: “On the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
The fulfillment of this prophecy, too, is evident in the news of our time. U.S. News & World Report of November 27, 1967, page 62, said: “Is the world in greater tumult than before World War II? No doubt. Shooting troubles, on the average, erupt once a month. Counting out real wars like Korea and Vietnam, the record still shows over 300 revolutions, coups, uprisings, rebellions and insurrections world-wide since the end of World War II.”
Added to all these things is the fear of being destroyed by the huge supply of nuclear weapons some nations possess. Wrote the noted news editor David Lawrence: “The fact is that today the biggest single emotion which dominates our lives is fear. It is fear of war, fear of nuclear holocausts, and fear of surprise attack that may leave vast areas of the world devastated and strewn with tens of millions of dead.”c As former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara said: “More than 120 million Americans would die in the event of a Soviet missile attack . . . If it were to include urban centers, . . . the death toll would be 149 million.”d It is just as Jesus foretold: mankind is fearful and the nations are in anguish.
All the foretold marks of the “last days,” are here. They prove beyond a doubt that we have been in the “last days” since 1914. Hence it was in that year that God’s heavenly kingdom came to power!—Rev. 11:17, 18.
It is true that in past generations there were periods marked by violence and much immoral conduct. The decline of the Roman Empire is an example. But never before in human history have all the conditions specified by Jesus been observed in the same generation. And never before have they existed at the same time in every nation of the earth. Today we live, not merely in the last days of one political empire, but in the “last days” of the entire wicked system controlled by Satan.
a U.S. News & World Report, November 1, 1965, p. 80.
b Ibid., August 1, 1966, pp. 46, 47.
c U.S. News & World Report, October 11, 1965, p. 144.
d New York Times, February 19, 1965.