In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus divides the time of the end into three periods. He said that during the opening period, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24:6). The prophecy generally describes the whole twentieth century, but its precise reference is to developments since 1948. This period brought a threefold fulfillment, confirming that 1948 indeed ushered history into the time of the end.
Sign: Many Wars
Jesus was clearly foreseeing a time when wars would be widespread and continuous. The year at the outset, 1948, was preceded in the twentieth century by two world wars, the widest and most destructive conflicts the world has ever seen. The second, ending right before 1948, ushered mankind into the era of atomic weapons. Efforts after World War II to build a lasting peace were stymied by nationalistic aspirations in the third world and by unyielding antagonism between the democratic West and the Communist East. Since 1948, wave after wave of strife has erupted upon the sea of nations: the Indian partition, the Chinese Revolution, the Korean War, several Arab-Israeli wars, the civil war in Indonesia, the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Bosnia, the Gulf War, wars in Africa, wars in Latin America, wars everywhere except in the richest nations. It is obvious that although wars and rumors of wars have been incessant throughout history, bloodshed mounted to a climax in the twentieth century. It has been estimated that in all the wars of human history before 1900, about forty million combatants died. Yet in wars from 1900 to 1987, the comparable tally was about thirty-eight and a half million (1). By the end of 1999, wars in the twentieth century were more deadly than in all previous centuries combined.
Sign: General Knowledge of Wars in the World
Jesus' specific prediction was not that there would be wars, but that mankind would hear about them. In Jesus' day, people in one region of the world had little knowledge of events in regions far away. But today, as a result of modern communications, every war, no matter how remote, reaches the attention of the media and becomes world news. In the last two centuries, and particularly in the last century since the advent of radio, daily reportage has been obsessed with war violence and with diplomatic maneuverings either to avert or resolve it. An important milestone along the way was 1948, because in that year consumer demand for television, invented about twenty years earlier, began to surge. Television added to war news a vividness and immediacy that greatly magnified war's place in public consciousness. Never before in history had men heard so much about war. Never before had war been such a continuing preoccupation.
Sign: General Apprehension of War
Not only did Jesus say that there would be wars and that men would hear about them; He said also that they would hear about rumors of wars. In what other period of history was man as obsessed with the mere possibility of war as he was after atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Throughout the Cold War, fears of a nuclear holocaust haunted mankind. I remember going through civil defense drills as a school child in the early '50s. The purpose was to ready us for nuclear attack. I remember the disbelief and disquiet that followed Sputnik, launched by Russia in the late '50s. I remember also the grim apprehension that gripped America during the Cuban missile crisis in the early '60s. Nuclear war was never more than a rumor, but no other rumor of war has so transfixed the minds of men and so shaped a whole period of history.
The easing of tensions between East and West did not, however, bring mankind to a tranquil assurance of future peace. A new worry has emerged to unsettle the minds of people everywhere. After violent Muslim extremism spread to a worldwide theater of operations in the '90s, and especially after 9/11, people in the Western world have been unable to escape from the daily possibility of a terrorist strike close to home. Terrorism has therefore become another menace generating endless rumors of war, such as Jesus envisioned in the end time.