Many wars have been fought since World War II. Has man learned how to avoid world war or are we living on borrowed time? Does the Bible predict World War III?
In the 20th century two world wars were fought just a little over 20 years apart. As I write, it has now been 70 years since the end of World War II. Man’s capacity to wage world war today exceeds anything previous generations could imagine. The world has seen many regional wars during these 70 years, and there are many wars going on at the present time. What would it take for one of today’s wars to escalate into World War III?
Will there be another world war? The definitive answer to such a question can only be found in the Word of God. We believe we are living in the biblical age that many call the end times. The Bible speaks of major world events to take place at “the time of the end” (Daniel 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9)—the time before the second coming of Jesus Christ. These prophecies of the Bible provide the answer to the question: Will there be a World War III?
As we begin, we acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t use the phrase World War III. While the Bible uses different terminology, from man’s perspective there are several prophesied events that may come to be known as World War III. Of course, humans have always had wars, and we can’t rule out the possibility of another war involving the majority of the world even before these prophesied events occur. With this disclaimer, let’s now consider biblically prophesied wars that are going to have dire consequences for mankind.
Prophecies of war
Jesus Christ spoke of major world events to come before His return in what is called His Olivet Prophecy. His disciples began by asking Him, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Christ’s reply included this warning of an unprecedented time of trouble: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (verses 21-22).
What does this mean for us today?
Jesus was saying this Great Tribulation will be far worse than anything the world has ever experienced. This means the loss of life will be greater than that of World War II, in which more than 50 million people died. He also said the days of this “great tribulation” will be “shortened for the elect’s sake” or no one would be left alive. While Jesus indicates that the crisis of this tribulation will involve other factors (including natural disasters, famine and religious persecution), the description in these two verses strongly indicates there will be at least one more world-encompassing conflict in the end times before the return of Jesus Christ.
In Daniel 11:40-43 there is an amazing prophecy of a war between the king of the South and the king of the North. The setting is the time of the end (verse 40) when the king of the South (likely based in either North Africa or the Middle East) will attack the king of the North (a leader based in Europe). The king of the North will at some point counterattack with an enormous army and naval force crossing the Mediterranean, invading North Africa and entering the “Glorious Land,” which today is Israel (verses 40-43).
At that time an unusual event will be occurring in Jerusalem. It is explained by Jesus Christ in the Olivet Prophecy.
Religion’s role in the Great Tribulation
In Matthew 24:15 Jesus warns, “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).” This event will take place at a time when the evening and morning sacrifices have been reinstituted at a location that is holy to the Jews.
The sacrifices will be stopped by this invasion and an “abomination of desolation” will be set up in their place. Jesus goes on to explain that, beginning with this invasion and the setting up of this abomination, the world enters into a time of “great tribulation.” Due to the scope of this impending struggle and the number of men involved in the fighting, “World War III” may indeed be the human description of this conflict (verses 17-21; Luke 21:20-24).
The abomination of desolation was spoken of by the prophet Daniel in several chapters (Daniel 8; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). It would have two fulfillments, and the first one historically occurred in the 160s B.C. (Daniel 11:31). Almost 200 years later Jesus prophesied that the second abomination would occur before His second coming. Unlike the first two world wars of the 20th century, this world-encompassing conflict will see religion playing a major role.
In Revelation 13:13-14 Jesus tells John through His angel about an end-time religious figure who deceives the masses: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast” (emphasis added throughout).
Many people will be willing to fight and die because they will be deceived by these signs. This religious figure and his deceptive religion have a name in the book of Revelation: “Mystery, Babylon the Great” (Revelation 17:5).
Religious deception did not play as big of a role in World War I and II, but that will not be the case in the time of the prophesied world war. True believers will need to be patient, keep the commandments of God and have the “faith of Jesus” to survive and avoid being deceived (Revelation 14:12).
The length of the prophesied tribulation
In the time leading up to these biblically prophesied events, Jesus said man’s overall mind-set would become quite complacent to what is unfolding around him.The book of Revelation reveals that seven trumpet plagues will follow the seals and bring great suffering upon all who will choose to follow a leader referred to as “the beast.” The majority of the earth’s inhabitants will give allegiance to this leader and, as a result, suffer the consequences of this misguided decision.
The last three of the seven trumpets are called woes because of their severity. The second woe (the sixth trumpet) will result in the deaths of a third of mankind (Revelation 9:15-18).
If humans do not designate the Great Tribulation or events preceding it as a world war or world wars, another biblically prophesied end-time event most surely will be recognized as such. This war was spoken of by God through the Old Testament prophets. The prophet Joel was inspired to write in the eighth century B.C., “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat [many authorities feel this refers to the Kidron Valley bordering Jerusalem on the east]. … Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12, 14).
This battle of mankind’s remaining armies against Christ is also prophesied in the book of Zechariah: “Behold the day of the LORD is coming. … For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem” (14:1-2). The final outcome is decided when Jesus Christ sets His feet on the Mount of Olives (verse 4) to become king over all the earth (verse 9).
While many refer to this battle by the armies of all nations against Jesus Christ as Armageddon, this term is simply the name of the area northwest of Jerusalem where the armies will gather before advancing to Jerusalem to fight Christ. As the sixth of the final plagues of the book of Revelation explains, the name of this final war of this present age is “the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14).
Are we complacent to what is coming?
While it remains to be seen which future conflict might be called World War III, there is an even more sobering and important concept for us to consider. In the end times leading up to these biblically prophesied events, Jesus said man’s overall mind-set would become quite complacent to what is unfolding around him.
Jesus said, “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).
This complacency will include many religious people who will mistakenly believe they are doing what God desires. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
If you would like to learn more about the “elect” who will be spared, study the biblical passages outlined in our article “Called and Chosen” and our free booklet Change Your Life! They will show you how to be spiritually prepared for the perilous times ahead.