In his opening address at the 69th annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the world’s “fasten seat belt” light is illuminated.
“This year, the horizon of hope is darkened. Our hearts are made heavy by unspeakable acts and the deaths of innocents,” he told the assembled leaders from 193 nations. “Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers. Never before has the United Nations been asked to reach so many people with emergency food assistance and other life-saving supplies,” he said.
“It may seem as if the world is falling apart, as crises pile up and disease spreads. But leadership is precisely about finding the seeds of hope and nurturing them into something bigger. That is our duty. That is my call to you today” (Sept. 24, 2014, un.org).
To many, it does indeed seem as if the world is falling apart before our very eyes. The secretary-general specifically addressed several of the most alarming trends: disease epidemics, the effects of wars which are increasingly caused by religious strife and extremism, and famine. These are truly key trends that will shape the news in 2015. And, as we will see, these escalating problems mirror prophecies by Jesus Christ about events signaling His return to earth to rescue humanity and bring real peace.
Trending Disease Epidemics
The recent Ebola outbreak has caused the greatest fear. This is due to the horrific nature of the progression of the disease, which disables the immune system, causes blood vessels to leak and makes cells explode.
Ebola first appeared in 1976, but since then there have been more than 20 outbreaks affecting various numbers of people in Africa. The 2014 outbreak has been the worst of all, since it affected urban regions of West African nations, which led to travelers’ bringing cases to the United States and Europe. As of the end of October 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 13,676 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola in the world. And the epidemic continues.
Of course, Ebola is not the only troubling epidemic in the world. The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome had, as of the end of October 2014, caused 852 laboratory-confirmed cases, including at least 301 related deaths. Most of these cases have been in nine Middle Eastern countries, but cases have also been reported in 13 other countries, including France, the U.K. and the U.S. (cdc.gov).
In the last 12 years there have been 668 cases of the latest permutation of the Asian bird flu reported in 16 countries. Of these, 393 were fatal, resulting in a fatality rate of 59 percent.
The most worrisome factor in viral diseases is their propensity to mutate. There is always a chance that the Ebola virus could mutate to allow airborne transmission. This possibility was publicly raised in October 2014 by Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN’s Ebola mission.
A flu virus could also mutate to become more deadly. The great flu epidemic of 1918-1919 stemmed from just such a mutation. That virus acted so quickly that people who felt fine in the morning could die by nightfall. Between 20 and 40 percent of the worldwide population became ill, and about 50 million people died.
How might this trend affect you?
Because of the speed and ease of international travel, faraway disease epidemics are now less than 24 hours away. With disease incubation periods sometimes lasting weeks, travelers can unwittingly carry viral diseases with them. We are likely to see epidemics spread more quickly and more widely, and few places will be immune.
The world has watched with horror as the brutally violent extremist paramilitary calling itself the Islamic State has seized lands in Syria and Iraq. The public beheadings, mass executions and other barbarism have focused attention on this conflict.
There is no end in sight for the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In a shocking return to behaviors Europeans felt were things of the past, Russia instigated an insurrection in parts of Ukraine, then sent in troops and annexed the Crimea, while establishing de facto control of parts of eastern Ukraine. This blatant grab of territories of a sovereign European country showed the powerlessness or at least the lack of will of Western nations to defend their own. It strengthened the conviction in some quarters that open aggression can still pay off.
Civil wars continue in Afghanistan and Somalia. Extremist groups are staging ongoing insurrections in Nigeria, Pakistan, Libya and a host of other countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
In fact, an August 2014 article by The Independent stated that it’s much easier to count the number of countries that are fully at peace than those involved in some sort of conflict. Citing a study by the Institute for Economics and Peace, it reported that only 11 out of the 162 countries covered in the study are not involved in some conflict (independent.co.uk)!
Noted global security expert Robert D. Kaplan has written that the world has entered the era of “endless war”—a time when conflicts will not have a peace-treaty ending, but will simply continue on and on (“Endless War,” stratfor.com).
How might this trend affect you?
With more extremist groups using violence as a form of publicity for their insurgencies, and with more individuals being radicalized, especially by religious propaganda, seemingly far-off conflicts will likely make themselves felt in many places previously considered safe.
Reports of bombings, shootings, stabbings, and even beheadings of innocent people in various Western countries have revealed a recent trend of some psychopaths to identify with military struggles. We will increasingly live under a heightened sense of awareness and concern, if not fear.
On the Brink
2014 was a year of epidemic, instability and social unrest. Here are few events that are helping to push the world closer to the edge.
Several West African nations were hit by an Ebola outbreak, killing more than 6,300 people. People traveling from West Africa carried Ebola to the United States and Europe, causing widespread panic.
Rise of ISIS
A brutal terrorist organization arose in Syria and Iraq with the goal to create an Islamic state. The group made alarming territorial gains and shocked the world through its violent actions against its enemies.
Palestinian rocket attacks on Israelis and terror tunnels that allowed the murder of three Israeli teens led to an Israeli invasion of Gaza that saw over 2,100 Palestinians killed.
After Ukraine's pro-Russian president was removed and a pro-Western government was established, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the strategic peninsula on the grounds of protecting ethnic Russians.
Boko Haram Kidnapping
Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group in Nigeria, launched violent terrorist attacks across Nigeria and captured the world’s attention when it kidnapped 276 teen girls from a Nigerian school.
Trending Food Shortages
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in July 2011, “Across the Horn of Africa, people are starving. A catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought has left more than 11 million people in desperate need.”
This area faces the most desperate famine risk in the world at the moment, but other regions are frequently on the brink. North Korea has great difficulty feeding itself. Regions to the south of the Sahara Desert frequently experience droughts that cause crop failure and food shortages.
Sadly, the countries worst hit by the Ebola epidemic may be in for a follow-up famine. According to The Daily Mail: “Ebola could cause a major food crisis in Africa if it continues unchecked, and millions of people in the worst-hit countries are already running short as farms are abandoned and trade interrupted, a UN organisation warns. The outbreak of the deadly virus in West Africa is piling more pressure on supplies that are already badly stretched. The global famine warning system is predicting a major food crisis if the Ebola outbreak continues to grow exponentially, and the UN still hasn’t reached over 750,000 people in need of food in West Africa” (dailymail.co.uk).
Undernourishment, while not as noticeable as outright famine, is a constant problem in the world. The World Food Programme states, “At present, there are 842 million undernourished people worldwide, most of them in developing countries.” Undernourishment exists when “food intake does not include enough calories (energy) to meet minimum physiological needs for an active life” (wfp.org).
Close to 1 billion people are unable to lead normal lives because they lack enough nutritious food.
How might this trend affect you?
Undernourishment and famine weaken people and make them easy prey to disease, including epidemics. One reason the death rate from Ebola in Africa is worse than it is with cases elsewhere is that many Africans’ immune systems are compromised by inadequate diet. And, as seen earlier, disease epidemics even in faraway places can show up on a doorstep anywhere in the world. Increasingly, food shortages in the world will have a widely felt impact.
Trending Religious Turmoil
According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, religious hostilities reached a six-year high in 2012, and the trend is likely to continue.
Government pressure or outright oppression is a factor. A third of the world’s nations have high restrictions on religion; and due to population distribution, this means that “more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.” Most of these restrictions are centered in the Middle East and Asia (pewforum.org).
Social pressure is also a major cause of religious hostility.
Secular humanism, hedonism and declining interest in organized religion are causing many professed Christians to reconsider fundamental tenets of Christianity.
Beliefs about the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, and biblical roles of men and women in the church and in the home, are all under enormous societal pressure to conform to the winds of public opinion. What is commonly accepted by many as Christian behavior today is a far cry from what was accepted a generation ago and an even farther cry from what Jesus Christ Himself taught.
How might this trend affect you?
The religious turmoil will likely continue to increase the intensity of many conflicts, which will affect much of the world with a rise in attempts at random and organized terror attacks.
In the Western world, societal and perhaps governmental pressure will continue to rise against people who believe traditional biblical teachings. It will become more challenging to hold fast to the actual teachings of the Bible. Strength and courage and commitment will be required.
Discerning readers may have noticed a fascinating coincidence in Ban Ki-moon’s UN statement about dangerous trends, including disease epidemics, war, food shortages, and religious confusion and conflict. These escalating problems mirror statements by Jesus Christ about precursors of His return to earth.
In the account of Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Jesus responded, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (verses 4-8).
Jesus stated that initial signs of His return drawing near would be religious deception—people claiming to represent the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but leading people astray. This is happening in much of mainstream Christianity, where professed Christians are leaving the clear teaching of the Bible in order to adopt more permissive, socially agreeable doctrines and behaviors. Doing so actually distorts Christ and His teachings to the point of heresy—the replacement of the true Christ by a counterfeit.
Jesus also specifically mentioned wars and rumors of wars, famines and epidemics as “the beginning of sorrows.” While these curses have existed throughout history, the fact that Jesus mentioned them in the context of “the end of the age” means they will crescendo with stunning magnitude.
These statements of Jesus also flesh out the striking imagery of Revelation 6, where prophetic events are represented by the opening of seals on a scroll. The opening of the first four seals reveals what are called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which coincide with the very signs Jesus gave.
It is most striking that a world statesman like Ban Ki-moon, making no reference to the Bible, sees clear evidence of signs Jesus announced some 2,000 years ago: signs to precede His return. All these prophesied trends will increasingly touch the lives of every living human being.
Thus, the world in 2015 will continue apace through deepening troubles toward the “end of the age”—the end of the rule of man and the world systems we know. But this also means the world is accelerating toward the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth. Ultimately “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn [in fear and ignorance], and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
That is the only true “seed of hope” for the future. (Read more about this wonderful good news in our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.)
Truly, we live in momentous and sobering times.