Recently, a water main had to be repaired near my home. As a result, the water supply was cut off for a day or so. We expect these disruptions to happen from time to time, so everyone took it in stride. After the water service resumed, we turned our faucets on and some water came out right away—but then the faucets began to sputter and blow out air. Why? Because of the repair, an extended section of the main water pipe was left with no water in it. But as soon as the air cleared out, fresh water again flowed into our home, as normal service was restored.
Our modern world has many pipelines of various sorts, and many products reach their destinations through a combination of freighters on the water, cargo carriers in the air, railroad cars and trucks on land—together creating a figurative “supply chain pipeline” bringing items from manufacturers to consumers. Raw materials begin at one end of the pipeline and go through complex patterns of transportation to be manufactured, assembled, sorted, processed, and delivered at various points along the pipeline before reaching consumers at the other end.
Companies seeking to keep costs down have made the supply chain both fragile and complex, with each step interdependent on the others. This makes the supply chain pipeline vulnerable even to small disruptions. And when disruptions reach the levels we have seen since the COVID pandemic began, the many factors complicating our modern global supply chain become clear.
- Many of the world’s supply lines have a lack of redundancies, and few secondary options are available if the supply line of a particular component is interrupted.
- When there are reliable supply chains, “just-in-time” inventory can achieve efficiencies and lower costs, but—with inadequate stockpiling of essential parts—manufacturing processes become vulnerable to disruption.
- Government policies adopted in the throes of a crisis can make planning difficult for manufacturers, who must respond to large swings in consumer demand and sometimes even to shortages caused by hastily crafted policies.
Each link in the supply chain depends on the previous link. When one supplier cannot do its part, others down the chain cannot do their parts, as they cannot get the necessary components. Ultimately, consumers end up paying more for the fewer items the chain is able to supply. And—like the water pipeline in my neighborhood—once shortages are over and supply is restored, it takes time before goods will reach their destination.
THE COVID PANDEMIC
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, many hospitals’ intensive care units filled up quickly, and governments around the world implemented lockdowns meant to slow the spread of the disease. Production of many goods and services simply stopped, and demand for some products—such as automobiles, useless to locked-down populations—declined precipitously.
This created numerous interacting disruptions in global supply chains. For instance, computer microchip manufacturers in Taiwan and South Korea account for 83 percent of world microprocessor production and 70 percent of memory chip output (“Global chip shortage: Everything you need to know,” TechRepublic.com, November 22, 2021). Those microchips are a critical component of many products, including automobiles. When demand for automobiles fell sharply in 2020, semiconductor manufacturers shifted their production to meet other consumer needs. As a result, when demand for automobiles bounced back in 2021, automobile manufacturers could not purchase enough semiconductors to resume enough production to meet the revived demand. This meant shortages of automobiles—and higher prices—for consumers.
And there were shortages of many types of products. According to a November 2021 report from Adobe Digital Insights, online shoppers were met with more than two billion out-of-stock messages in October 2021 alone (“Adobe: Shoppers have seen over 2 billion out-of-stock messages online,” Adobe Blog, Blog.Adobe.com, November 11, 2021). To recall the analogy of the broken water main, there was “air in the pipeline.”
Worldwide production is ramping up again, and chastened industrial managers hope to implement measures to minimize inventory disruptions in the future. For instance, China is reported to be stockpiling semiconductors ahead of anticipated U.S. sanctions, pushing its annual purchases to $380 billion—adding to the semiconductor shortage worldwide. Economists hope that the pipeline will restore much of its capacity by late 2022, but some sectors may not be restored until 2023 or 2024.
SUPPLY SHORTAGE AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Logistics, supply lines, and raw materials can be serious national security issues. Nations will go to war to secure resources critical to their economies. Of particular concern is petroleum, as the world saw in the years before World War II. The U.S. at the time was a major petroleum exporter, but embargoed supplies of crude oil to Japan. Many today do not remember that supply chain issues were a major factor in Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor, Malaysia, and Thailand to secure the resources and supply lines critical to its imperial ambitions. Similarly, one key motivation behind Hitler’s decision to attack the U.S.S.R. during World War II was the German war machine’s need for a stable source of petroleum from the Caucasus.
In more recent times, European leaders are concerned that Russia is “weaponizing” the supply of natural gas to Europe by demanding economic and political concessions. Also of concern is that approximately a third of the world’s shipping passes through the South China Sea. China continues to militarize and expand its claims in that region, in what are currently recognized as international waters. By gaining military control over those shipping lanes, China would have a powerful economic and political lever over world trade. While China ramps up its naval forces, the U.S. is losing control of the world’s sea gates, increasing concerns about strategic supplies.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS
Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ took His disciples up to the Mount of Olives, which is about a kilometer east of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount across Kidron Valley. Today, that area can be visited by tourists, and if you were to look westward across the valley at the Temple Mount, you might remember the prophecy by Zechariah that stated, “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem…. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:2–4).
When the disciples looked out across Kidron Valley at the Temple, perhaps they also remembered this prophecy given through Zechariah. They 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?’ And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, [that] “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’” (Matthew 24:3–8).
In the last book of the Bible, Christ further describes world conditions just prior to the cataclysmic events that will proceed His return. First, He reveals a white horse, picturing false Christianity that will deceive the world. Next will come wars, pictured as “another horse, fiery red…. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” Food will become unaffordable during famine—“[a] black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” Finally come disease pandemics and widespread death, as the text continues, “behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades [the grave] followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:1–8).
A few years ago, our world could not have imagined a global pandemic—a “pestilence”—transforming our way of life in just a few months. Few could have imagined the food shortages, disruption of supplies, and international tensions we now see. We are hearing of wars and rumors of wars almost daily in the news, and the possibility of war is a major international concern in Europe, the Middle East, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. These difficulties are not necessarily the beginning of the Great Tribulation—which the Bible says will occur just prior to Christ’s coming—but they give us an idea of what can happen in a very short time in our interconnected world.
Jesus was very clear in His instructions to those living in the end times, when all this would come to pass. He said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:35–37).
What are we to watch? Biblical prophecy viewed in the context of current events! In the parable of the fig tree, which was given at the same time on the Mount of Olives, Jesus said, “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (v. 28–31). Christ’s instructions are sure.
Tomorrow’s World is dedicated to helping you watch by putting world events into the biblical narrative. To learn more about imminent, prophesied events, request free copies of Prophecy Fulfilled: God’s Hand in World Affairs and Fourteen Signs Announcing Christ’s Return, or read them online at TomorrowsWorld.org.