The year 2020 has been a time of upheaval throughout the world. As we wind down the calendar year, what should Beyond Today readers understand about what has happened and what it means for the future?
For me, the year 2020 began with a Jan. 1 flight into Hong Kong. Tens of thousands of protestors were in the streets of the city that day continuing their months-long protest against the Communist Chinese Party (CCP). Four days later our group flew back to the United States just as China was admitting to the world that a new virus strain called Covid-19 was loose in the city of Wuhan and posed a serious threat. It was an ominous start to what would become the most tumultuous year in recent history.
As we approach the close of the year, it is a good moment to examine what has happened on the world scene to gain understanding of what it means in the larger context of Bible prophecy and God’s purpose in history. None of the events of the year happened in a vacuum, cut off from divine involvement. Many rightly wonder if we have moved closer to the time of Christ’s intervention in world affairs to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Vision of the biblical prophet Habakkuk
Throughout the year I’ve been regularly reminded of a passage of prophetic scripture about God’s rule over the nations. In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet has a vision of God standing among the nations in a moment of crisis, the nations shaken by events. He writes:
“I see God moving across the deserts from Edom, the Holy One coming from Mount Paran. His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise. His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden.
“Pestilence marches before him; plague follows close behind. When he stops, the earth shakes. When he looks, the nations tremble. He shatters the everlasting mountains and levels the eternal hills. He is the Eternal One!” (Habakkuk 3:3-6, New Living Translation).
This is a vision of God marching among the nations in judgment. It is as if He stands taking stock—measurement—of the events among the people of the earth. There is a stirring and trembling among the nations and, interestingly, pestilence and plague. Things that seem certain and unmovable—mountains and hills—are shattered and crumble.
The scene is of disarray among the nations. God is judging in what appears to be a prelude to more events to come. This is a scene telling us God is ever-present, with nothing escaping His knowledge. He is the judge of all the earth. His purpose in history and prophecy progresses at His pace and according to His timing.
The scene here is intended as a comfort for us, as we might “tremble” with uncertainty at the events of this year, wondering what lies ahead and hoping for a return to “normal,” whatever that might be. This is a scene to give us hope in a time of trouble.
Let’s examine some of this “shaking” among the nations today.
Covid-19 and its fallout
As I write this (in early September) we are seeing many nations emerge from the worldwide shutdown created in March in response to the threat of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of projected deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic. The world quickly shut down travel, business, sports, restaurants and entertainment to contain the virus.
Within a month millions became unemployed. Nations mounted massive medical efforts to test, treat and deal with this new virus for which there was no known cure nor vaccine. Thankfully, actual deaths were far below projections and the world is gradually reopening.
But something bigger happened.
The economic fallout from the pandemic and shutdown is massive. Fears of a depression confront us as the reality of a recession lingers. Unemployment remains high, and it appears many segments of the economy will be very slow to recover—if they ever do.
Thousands of restaurants have shuttered, and those that have reopened do so with reduced capacity due to social-distancing mandates. Many small, service-related businesses did not weather the shutdown in spite of trillions of dollars of government aid. Individual retail merchants and even massive chains that have been in business for decades have declared bankruptcy. Airlines, hotels and the tourist and convention industries do not expect to recover to pre-pandemic levels for years.
In spite of all this, the New York Stock Exchange had a good run in late summer, cresting above 29,000 points, near its all-time high from earlier in the year. It is a paradox. Will the world economy sink into a prolonged recession or, worse yet, a depression? Or will it recover faster than expected amid pent-up demand coupled with the resiliency of markets, manufacturing and technology? Should a vaccine become available, the world economy could begin to turn around faster than expected.
But damage has been done, and the effect of ballooning debt in America is incalculable at this point. America, and to an extent the rest of the world, continue to defy the gravity of solid economic theory. It is a testimony to the depth of economic wealth within the developed world along with, again, the timing of God in even economic events.
Still to be determined is the mental impact of the pandemic and economic and social disruption. The sequestration of families and the shutdown of schools have created conditions where abuse of women, the elderly and children can occur without detection. Health officials expect to see increases in suicide and mental disorders among younger populations such as teens and white middle-aged men.
Will China dominate?
The virus originated in China, and the government there denied the danger and stood by as Chinese tourists, workers and businessmen spread the virus around the world by means of modern travel.
The question is to what extent will China leverage this crisis and continue its drive to achieve domination in Asia, in the Middle East and even over the United States? China’s ambition to become number one in the world is no secret. Should its leaders achieve their aim, that would represent a major crisis for not only America but for Europe, the rest of Asia and the world.
A recent U.S. Defense Department report on China’s military revealed the growth in China’s armed forces. China is the most rapidly growing military power in the world today. It recently attained the goal of building the world’s largest navy.
By 2035 China could be the world’s dominant power. To achieve this, China must be able to project power worldwide—something it presently cannot do because it lacks the military bases to do so. By contrast the United States has 80 bases around the world, giving it a sizable edge over China. But in every major category China is growing with the intent to surpass America. This has a destabilizing influence in Asia and areas to the west where China is expanding.
Earlier this year China clamped down on Hong Kong, imposing changes to law that make any dissent against the Communist Party a crime. Protests in Hong Kong have almost disappeared. When they do occur, it’s under a far more watchful eye of authorities with stricter punitive action. The Hong Kong I visited in January no longer exists.
The next step China could take to assert control is over Taiwan, the long-estranged state separated from the Chinese mainland by the 200-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s independence has been a decades-long thorn in the side of the CCP. Taiwan is shielded by agreements with the United States that go back to 1982. But should the communist Chinese invade Taiwan—and it’s known they do have plans to that effect—would America or any other nation come to Taiwan’s defense? China could take out U.S. bases and keep America’s navy at bay if it chose to take Taiwan. It is a threat that could succeed.
The world did nothing while China shut down dissent in Hong Kong. Would the Chinese calculate that other nations would again stand by and do nothing while they annex Taiwan? This could be the next flash point in the region, setting up a major crisis for Asian nations and U.S. dominance in the Pacific.
China’s ambitions are real and far-reaching. China is extending its influence further into Africa and the Middle East. Through its Belt and Road Initiative it has made loans and built infrastructure in African nations, giving it a beachhead for the extraction of valuable minerals and other natural resources while gaining territorial influence enabling projection of power.
China’s relations with Iran indicate a desire to extend valuable support to a country that is strapped by American sanctions and is a pariah to its fellow Muslim states in the region. Iran’s actions have destabilized the region, even influencing the recent peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the state of Israel. China’s influence with Iran again destabilizes the delicate nature of Middle Eastern politics.
China’s goals to dominate in Asia run counter to the interests of America, Australia, India and other nations. How this conflict is managed will impact world commerce. The trip that took me to Hong Kong this year included a stopover in Singapore and an opportunity to better understand the world economy.
Singapore sits astride the Straits of Malacca and is the world’s second-largest port. Shipping between China, Japan and the West flows through this region. It is the fifth-largest banking hub in the world. A key to Asian stability, Singapore does not relish the ambitions of China nor conflict between America and China. Singapore does not want to choose sides in this battle. It craves order and stability to fulfill a historic role that’s a legacy of British colonization in the 19th and 20th century.
While in Singapore my conversations with locals highlighted the positive feelings there toward the United States and other parts of the English-speaking world. Singapore does not want a dominant Asian power to again roll its way—it remembers well World War II and the Japanese invasion. Singapore understands that America must stay focused on Asia with a strong naval presence, while at the same time knowing a “cold war” between China and America would be disastrous. Nations like Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and others benefit from a strong American presence that keeps China from dominance.
I came away from my trip to Asia in late 2019 and early 2020 with a better understanding of the American role in Asia and the world, as well as a growing sense that events would likely see that role continue for the short term.
God’s revelation in the Bible gives critical understanding about the role of geopolitics in the modern world. The English-speaking nations of America and Great Britain have had a significant impact not only on Asian nations but the ongoing global balance of power in our time. Understanding what will emerge out of the current crisis period of 2020 depends on a foundation rooted in the insight of God’s prophetic promises to the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (see “America’s Role in History Foretold” beginning on page 14).
Today’s historians and geopolitical pundits lack this critical understanding. This is why the best of them miss the mark of discerning why certain major events are occurring and where they will lead. Bible prophecy is a key to understanding today’s times and the future shape of world events. A key example is China and the emerging global order.
China’s ultimate endgame must follow what Bible prophecy reveals. And it shows that China will not be the dominant world power at the end of the age. While China’s growing influence will undoubtedly factor greatly, another global power will emerge out of a time of crisis that will astound the world (see our free study guides The Book of Revelation Unveiled and Are We Living in the Time of the End?). To better grasp this we must next look at another little-understood current trend.
Globalism on the march
The past four years have seen the steady march to a global world order that has been somewhat stymied by the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and his policies. President Trump’s emphasis on American global interests has been a thorn in the side of world leaders who’ve been steering the world to an ever-closer union of states without the constrictions of national borders, national laws and parochial national interests.
U.S. foreign policy has been critical of the United Nations, NATO and, more recently during the pandemic, the World Health Organization. Large numbers of troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and Germany. The historic and far-reaching NAFTA trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico was renegotiated to achieve more favorable terms for American manufacturers and workers.
The Trump administration’s policies have been a temporary detour away from the desire to eliminate national borders—essentially the modern nation-states—and the creation of a one-world order run by transnational bodies of justice, economics and politics. This has contributed to hostile feelings toward the president and created uncertainty about America’s commitment to the treaties that undergird the global project.
Add to this the decision by Britain to leave the European Union, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Britain’s desire to retain its autonomy in world trade and politics, apart from the evolving bureaucracy of the EU structure, has pressed Europe to reassess its drive toward an ever-closer union of states acting with one accord.
The future of the United Kingdom in world trade and alliances holds the possibility of a closer union with its other major Commonwealth partners (Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Throw in the United States as a potential partner in an Anglosphere alliance, and the world could see the creation of a bloc of states with a combined GDP twice that of the European Union.
Both these developments—America’s reassertion of its own national interests first and Brexit—reflect a profound crisis for those who desire to create a transnational-rule-based global order. This aim of leaders and thinkers in seats of power is a long-held utopian desire—the dream of worldwide peace under a benevolent global regime.
The EU is the world’s strongest example. Whether in facing strife among nations, poverty and disease or global climate change, it’s felt that solutions to such large world problems can only be found in a powerful superstate where national interests are given up to the greater good.
The global project that has been proceeding since the end of World War II has been challenged by these two developments in the last five years. Because of the dominant power of the United States, its involvement is critical to the goals of this global order. Experts understand that for such a global system to come into effect, America would have to rethink and voluntarily give up its national sovereignty to such a global power. The present geopolitical dominance of the United States, along with the current administration’s policies, prevents this from happening at the moment.
But events can change rapidly. A different president and administration could alter course and reinstate policies whereby the United States would be absorbed by the forces of globalism. An economic shift brought on by America’s excessive debt could cause it to lose its dominant economic role.
Or a new power in Europe, one with deep historic roots going back to the time of the Roman Empire, could be revived and present itself as the force to restore order to a world in crisis and replace America and the English-speaking nations in the world order. This would lead to what the Bible describes as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7)—a time during which the major English-speaking nations seem to “disappear” from the Bible’s prophetic timeline as the historic force for good in the world.
This last scenario is what Bible prophecy ultimately foretells. We could very well be looking at the systemic causes for such a collapse, erupting from the body politic of America in 2020. Since May, many of America’s major cities have watched anarchy reign in the streets. Racially charged riots in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Chicago and New York have exposed a cancerous mass of inner social corruption that threatens to destroy the nation from within.
In the name of social justice and resisting “systemic racism,” America has been thrown into a period of upheaval that is the biggest threat to social cohesion in the last half-century. The rot of political corruption, social decay and institutional failure has been exposed in ways that are shocking to an older generation with long enough memories to understand the threat of such behavior.
The broader world has looked at what is happening and asks whether America will have enough self-awareness and strength of national character to collect itself and carry on as the world leader. If self-loathing and anarchy continue to dominate, America’s ability to lead in the world could be severely crippled.
The prophet Isaiah’s description of a nation’s death throes are eerily familiar to the headlines of today’s America: “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more.
“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up or soothed with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (Isaiah 1:4-7).
Perhaps the most significant crisis of today’s world is this scene of unprecedented polarization and civil unrest in the United States. Charges that America is irredeemably racist and that its history is that of an evil society that has only made the world worse is pushing it to the brink of irreversible national division. If this false narrative continues it will choke out the spirit of a people that has stood for liberty and justice throughout its exceptional albeit imperfect history.
America has had its severe flaws, but it is the only nation in history that has enshrined the values and principles of liberty in its founding documents. The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal . . . with certain unalienable rights.” Its more than 240-year-history has been a story of a people seeking to create a society where this lofty and noble goal is achieved. It has fought itself over these ideals. It has gone to war in Europe twice to free nations from totalitarian governments that sought to snuff out those ideals in their bids for world conquest.
If, in this moment in time, America is deceived into thinking it is irredeemably racist, unjust and unworthy to lead, a leadership vacuum will be created in the world. Into that void will step a world power promising peace and order—but that power, as Bible prophecy reveals, will crush all who oppose it. This is what we see as we assess how the world has been reshaped in 2020.
If the world at the conclusion of 2020 is at a moment of pause, like that described in Habakkuk where God stands measuring the startled nations, then each of us has a time of opportunity. Now is the time to seek understanding and help from God. It is time for you to seek Him with all your heart and to ask forgiveness from the God of grace and mercy.
Through Beyond Today you are receiving a message of warning and a call to understand the true God and His Son Jesus of Nazareth. You have opportunity to know this God in all His fullness and His purpose for your life.
God ultimately rules over the nations, and He is guiding all history to His purpose. What we are watching in today’s world events is more than a historic cycle of political and national interests. We are watching the concluding chapters of human experience leading to the moment when Jesus Christ appears in the glory of His second coming! He will then bring to this earth the Kingdom of God to replace all the kingdoms of this world.
Beyond Today presents the biblical keys of understanding that lead you to faithfully submit your life to Christ, the King of that coming Kingdom. Those keys show you the way to submit your life to Him today and trust that He, the living Christ, is the judge who is poised at the heavenly threshold in anticipation of the moment the Father gives the command to visibly intervene in history on a global scale.
I opened with the vision of the prophet Habakkuk. Let’s return to the end of that vision of God’s intervening judgment. Despite a time of trial, the prophet concludes with these words: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).
Now is the time in our life to walk with the Lord God, with Jesus the Christ, with strength and confidence. Regardless of what the coming months will bring, God is guiding history toward the day when Christ will appear in the glory of His Kingdom!