What was the Greatest Event of the 20th Century?
The Relationship to Bible Prophecy
There are a great variety of opinions in response to this question, due mainly to the fact that the 20th Century contained many stupendous events. When I Googled the question, I was presented with many lists. Some of the events that were mentioned on almost every list were the following:
- World Wars I and II (1914-1918 and 1939-1945)
- The Lindburgh transatlantic solo flight (1927)
- The invention of television (1927)
- The first antibiotic — Penicillin (1928)
- The first computer (1936)
- The first heart transplant (1967)
- The first man on the moon (1969)
- The invention of the Internet (1969)
- The first test tube baby (1978)
- The demolition of the Berlin Wall (1991)
I noticed that many, if not most, of the events that were identified as the most significant were dependent upon prior developments that were often more important. Consider, for example:
- The Lindburgh transatlantic flight resulted from the Wright Brother’s invention of the airplane in 1903.
- The first man on the moon was dependent on the development of rocket propulsion in 1926, the invention of the computer in 1936, the launching of the first satellite in 1957 and the first man in space in 1961.
- The destruction of the Berlin Wall was due to a more important event — namely, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
- The many marvelous developments in the health sciences were dependent on biological discoveries that dated back to the 19th Century, like the development of the germ theory of disease in the 1860s.
The Most Important Event From the World’s Viewpoint
The event that was named on the Google lists more than any other as the most important event of the 20th Century was the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in August of 1945. But this event was also dependent upon many theories, experiments and tests that preceded it. Here is a list of some of them:1
- 400 BC — The Greek philosopher, Democritus (460-370 BC) postulated that the fundamental building block of all matter was what he called the “atom.”
- 1803 — A British chemist, John Dalton (1766-1844), developed a more scientific definition of the atom, describing it as a small, hard sphere that is indivisible.
- 1904 — J. J. Thomson (1856-1940), an English physicist, discovered the electron.
- 1905 — Albert Einstein (1879-1955) proposed the formula, E=mc2, which indicated the power potential of converting a tiny amount of mass into enormous energy, something that could happen with the splitting of the atom if a sustained reaction could be attained.2
- 1911 — Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) of New Zealand theorized that the atom had a nucleus and that electrons orbit the nucleus. The result was what came to be known as the planetary model of the atom — a nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons.3
- 1917 — Rutherford split the atom at Manchester University in England and discovered the proton.
- 1921 — Rutherford theorized the existence of neutrons in the nucleus of the atom.
- 1932 — Rutherford’s student, James Chadwick, a British physicist, proved the nucleus of the atom contained neutrons clustered with protons.
- 1936 — Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961), an Austrian scientist, proved that electrons do not orbit the nucleus in set paths, but in waves.4
- 1938 — Discovery of nuclear fission by Schrodinger and a German chemist, Otto Hahn (1879-1968).
A Seminal Event
This intriguing historical process of discovery culminated on December 2, 1942, at 3:25pm, when the first artificial nuclear reactor produced the first human-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The scientist in charge was an Italian-American, Enrico Fermi (1901- 1954).5
This momentous event took place on a squash court located under the bleachers of Stagg Field — the University of Chicago’s abandoned football stadium. It was an incredible accomplishment which marked the advent of the Nuclear Age.
One of the persons present, University of Chicago physicist, Samuel K. Allison (1900-1965), wrote at the time: “All of us knew that with the advent of the chain reaction, the world would never be the same again.”6 Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson (1867-1950), called the chain reaction “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.”7
A Crucial Letter
Three years before this chain reaction was created, in August of 1939, two Hungarian-born physicists, Leo Szilard (1898- 1964) and Eugene Wigner (1902-1995) drafted a letter to send to President Franklin Roosevelt in an attempt to warn him of the potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.”8 They had it signed by Albert Einstein in order to make sure it came to the President’s attention. The ploy worked, and on October 9, 1941, President Roosevelt approved the establishment of a crash program to develop an atomic bomb.9
This decision led to the creation of what came to be called “The Manhattan Project.” General Leslie Groves (1896-1970) of the Army Corps of Engineers was put in charge of overseeing the project. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, was appointed the scientific director.10
To maintain a high degree of secrecy, the central headquarters of the project was located in the mountains of a remote region of northwest New Mexico, at a site called Los Alamos. The specific location of the project and its residents was concealed by designating its mailing address as a post office box in Santa Fe. Babies born in Los Alamos were designated on their birth certificates as being born in Santa Fe. Residents were told to call the town “Site Y” or “The Hill.” There were many more locations across the nation — from Washington State to Alabama — where various aspects of the project were housed. But the key core of scientists were at Los Alamos.11
An Amazing Project
The pressure to develop the bomb was intense. There were fears that the Germans might succeed first, and there was the desire to use the weapon to bring a quick end to World War II. But the technical problems were overwhelming. Nonetheless, as 1945 began, the scientists could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In early May of 1945, it was decided that there needed to be a test explosion of TNT in order to obtain parameters for evaluating the force of the atomic bomb when it was exploded. Accordingly, on May 7, a stack of 108 tons of TNT was placed on top of a 20 foot tower and exploded. This is the reason that the force of atomic explosions since that time have been expressed in tons of TNT.12
This TNT test explosion was conducted at the same site that had been selected for the detonation of the first atomic bomb — a very remote location in New Mexico in the midst of the Jornade de Muerto Desert (“Day of Death”). The exact site was about 50 miles southeast of Socorro and 130 miles south of Albuquerque. Today, this site is at the north end of the White Sands Missile Range. The site was given its name, Trinity, by Oppenheimer. He later claimed that the idea for the name came from a poem by John Donne.13
As the day neared in July for the atomic bomb test, the scientists set up a betting pool as to how powerful the explosion would be. The bets ranged from the bomb being a dud to speculation by Edward Teller (1908-2003) that it might ignite the atmosphere and destroy the planet. Among those who guessed a specific number, the one who came the closest to the bomb’s actual power was an American physicist, I. I. Rabi (1898-1988), who took the number of 18 kilotons because it was the last available wager left in the pool. The team of theoretical physicists guessed a yield of between 5 and 10 kilotons of TNT.14
The bomb itself was nicknamed “The Gadget.” It was exploded at 05:29:21 on the morning of July 16, 1945. The power was determined to be 22,000 tons of TNT (or 22 kilotons). A total of 425 people were present, most of them housed in bunkers. All seemed to be more impressed by the brilliant light of the explosion than its sound.
The roar of the shock wave was felt over 100 miles away. The mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles in height and could be seen 200 miles away.15
The Army issued a cover story in the form of a press release that said, “A remotely located ammunition magazine containing a considerable amount of high explosives and pyrotechnics exploded.”16 The true story was not released to the public until after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. The Manhattan Project engineers and scientists did not visit the site until two months later in September.
The results of the test were sent immediately to Secretary of War Stimson who was with President Harry S. Truman at the Potsdam Conference in Germany. The coded message read: “Operated on this morning. Diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations.”17
Back to the Question
So, what about it? Was this the greatest event of the 20th Century? Well, of course, that is debatable. But from a humanistic viewpoint, I would say that it was.
Why? Because of both its immediate and long term impact. Immediately, it resulted in the swift end to the greatest war in world history. In the long run, it changed international politics forever. And it provided mankind with the power to destroy all life.
Since that time, there have been 528 atmospheric nuclear tests and 1,528 underground tests, for a total of 2,056.18 There are currently a total of nine nations with nuclear weapons: the United States, England, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.19
As of 1986, there were 70,300 active nuclear weapons in the world. Due to disarmament treaties, that total now stands at 13,890, but many of the decommissioned weapons were simply stored or partially dismantled, not destroyed.20
As of 2020, the world is focused on trying to control the nuclear capabilities of two nations — Iran and North Korea. The effort regarding Iran is to prevent the nation from acquiring nuclear weapons. With regard to North Korea, the purpose is to prevent the nation’s irresponsible use of its weapons.
The Relationship to Bible Prophecy
The advent of the atomic bomb also has spiritual implications that are related to the prophecies contained in the book of Revelation. Although the Antichrist will rise to power peacefully in Europe, relying on his charisma and supernatural wisdom given to him by Satan, he will have to use military power to conquer the rest of the world.
Keep in mind that Africa, Asia and Latin America have spent the past two hundred years struggling to get out from under European colonial rule. These nations are not going to willingly submit themselves to a European dictator, no matter how charismatic he may be. And this will also be true of the Muslim nations in the South Asian areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Thus, after the Antichrist establishes his power over Europe, he will launch World War III in order to fulfill the prophecy of Revelation 13:7-8, which says that he will ultimately gain “authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” That war is pictured in the Seal Judgments of Revelation 6. It appears to be a conventional war in which one-fourth of humanity will be killed.
But in chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation, the war seems to morph into a nuclear one, resulting in the deaths of one-third of those left alive. It also results in one-third of the earth being burned and one-third of the sea being polluted.
This is most likely what Jesus had in mind when He said that one of the characteristics of the end times would be “men fainting from fear… for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Also, a nuclear holocaust would explain why we are told that at the end of the Tribulation those still living will be covered with “malignant sores” — most likely from nuclear radiation (Revelation 16:2 &11).
Before the advent of the Nuclear Age, we had to assume that the horrible judgments of Revelation could only be achieved through supernatural acts of God. Now, we realize that we can do these things to ourselves through an all-out nuclear exchange.
I believe the only reason nuclear weapons have not been used since World War II is because of God’s restraining hand. But during the Tribulation, He is going to step back, remove His restraints and allow evil to run its course. Unrestrained mankind will then proceed to destroy itself.
The Spiritual Viewpoint
Now, up to this point I have been evaluating the most important event of the 20th Century from a humanistic viewpoint. But if we shift to a much more important spiritual viewpoint, then I would argue that there was an event in the 20th Century that was far more important than the development of nuclear weapons.
That event was the worldwide regathering of the Jewish people back to their homeland — an event that resulted in the reestablishment of the state of Israel.
And like many of the great events of the 20th Century which were preceded by equally great or greater foundational events, the miraculous regathering of the Jewish people was possible only because of a greater miracle God performed — namely, the preservation of the Jewish people for more than 1,800 years despite the fact that they were dispersed worldwide and were severely persecuted almost everywhere they went.
And lest you think I am exaggerating, let me prove it to you.
The Relevant Prophecies
There are many Bible prophecies concerning the regathering of the Jewish people in unbelief. In fact, their regathering in unbelief is the most prolific prophecy in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Let’s take a look at three of the most important of those prophecies. The first is found in Jeremiah 16. It is mind-boggling. Read it carefully:
14) “Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’
15) but, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.”
This same prophecy is repeated verbatim in Jeremiah 23:7-8.
You cannot fully appreciate what is said in these verses unless you know something about Judaism. The one event that all Jews consider to be the greatest miracle in their history is the deliverance of their ancestors from Egyptian captivity under the leadership of Moses.
But this scripture passage asserts that a time will come when the Jews will look back on their history and proclaim that their regathering from the four corners of the earth — the event that began in the 1890s and continues to this day — was a greater miracle than their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. In other words, the regathering that began in the 20th Century and continues today will eclipse the Exodus!
This means that you and I are privileged to witness one of the greatest miracles of history. And yet, the average Christian has no appreciation for what is happening because he is ignorant of Bible prophecy and he has been taught that God is finished with the Jews. Therefore, the current regathering is simply viewed as an accident of history.
The second prophecy I want to bring to your attention is found in Isaiah 11:
10) Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples…
11) Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
12) And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Some have tried to debunk any modern application of this prophecy by claiming that it was fulfilled about 500 years before the time of Jesus by the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. But that cannot be. The passage refers to a “second” regathering (the return from Babylon being the first). Further, it states this will be a regathering “from the islands of the sea,” which is a Hebrew colloquialism for the whole world, as is made clear in verse 12 where it states that the regathering will be “from the four corners of the earth.” Also, verse 12 says that “the banished ones” of both Israel and Judah will be regathered. The return from Babylon was a regathering of Jews from Judah.
The third prophecy is found in Ezekiel 37. This is the famous prophecy of the Valley of the Dry Bones. The prophet was placed in a valley full of bones and told to preach to them. As he did so, the bones began to come together, flesh grew back upon them and they came to life, becoming “an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:1-10). At that point, the Lord explained to Ezekiel what he was witnessing:
11) Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’
12) “Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.'”
This is a symbolic prophecy. The dry bones represent the Jewish people in their end time dispersion, with no hope of ever existing again as a nation. The resurrection from their graves represents their regathering from the nations where they had been dispersed.
We can be assured of this interpretation because it is the one that God Himself provides later in the chapter:
21) “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;
22) and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.'”
Again, those who are determined to argue that God has no purpose left for the Jewish people, attempt to invalidate these verses as an end time prophecy by arguing that they were fulfilled when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity. But that simply cannot be.
The entire chapter has an end time context. It speaks of a regathering from “the nations,” and not just from Babylon (verse 21). It says this regathering will result in a union of Jews from both Israel and Judah (verse 19). And it says that following this regathering, the Jewish people will turn their hearts to God and will become “My people” (verse 23).
At verse 24, the chapter moves into the Millennial Reign of Jesus as it speaks of David (in his glorified body) once again becoming the king of the Jewish people. Further, it states that at that time, “the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel…” (verse 28).
I was talking with a friend recently about the life of Jesus, and he said to me, “Wouldn’t it have been exciting to live in biblical times?” My response: “We are living in biblical times because we are being granted the privilege of seeing the fulfillment of one of God’s greatest biblical promises — that one day He will regather the Jewish people in unbelief back to their homeland from the four corners of the earth.”
Further, we should keep in mind that end time Bible prophecy focuses on the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, and the things that God is doing among the Jewish people today, in fulfillment of many prophecies, is proof positive that we are living in the season of the Lord’s return. That’s the most important reason for considering the regathering of the Jewish people to be the greatest event of the 20th Century.
1) “The History of the Atom: Theories and Models” (www.compoundchem.com/2016/10/13/atomicmodels); “The History of the Atom” (www.sisd.net/cms/lib/TX01001452/Centricity/Domain/1297/The_history_of_the_atom_ Notes _condensed.pdf); and “History of Atomic Structure” (https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless chemis try/chapter/history of atomic structure).
2) “Einstein’s Equation” (www.atomicarchive.com/Physics/Physics4.shtml) and Robert Lamb, “What does Einstein’s famous equation really mean?” (https://science.howstuffworks.com/science vs myth/everyday myths/einstein formula.htm).
3) Wikipedia, “Ernest Rutherford” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Rutherford).
4) “The History of the Atom: Theories and Models” (www.compoundchem.com/2016/10/13/atomicmodels), page 5.
5) Steve Koppes, “How the first chain reaction changed science” (https://www.uchicago.edu/features/how_the_first_ chain_reaction_changed_science), and Wikipedia, “Chicago Pile-1” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Pile 1).
6) Steve Koppes, page 1.
7) “Henry Stimson’s Letter to President Truman (1945)” (https://teachinghistory.org/history content/beyond the textbook/25484?subpage=2), page 2.
8) “The Einstein-Szilard Letter – 1939” (www.atomicheritage.org/history/einstein szilard letter 1939).
9) “FDR Approves Building an Atomic Bomb: 70th Anniversary, October 9, 1941” (www.nww2m.com/2011/10/fdr approves building an atomic bomb 70th anniversary october 9 1941).
10) U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History and Heritage Resources, “Exploring the Atom” (www.osti.gov/ opennet/manhattan project history/Events/1890s 1939/exploring.htm).
11)Wikipedia, “Manhattan Project” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project), pages 12-13.
12) “100-ton TNT Shot” (www.atomicheritage.org/history/100 ton tnt shot).
13) U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History and Heritage Resources, “The Trinity Test” (www.osti.gov/opennet/ manhattan project history/Events/1945/trinity.htm),
14) Jay Garmon, “Geek Trivia: Which Manhattan Project scientist won the group’s infamous ‘doomsday’ betting pool?” (https://www.techrepublic.com/blog/geekend/geek trivia which manhattan project scientist won the groups infamous doomsday betting pool) and Wikipedia, “Trinity (nuclear test)” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_ (nuclear_test), pages 11 & 14.
15) Wikipedia, “Trinity (nuclear test)” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_ (nuclear_test), pages 12 & 16.
16) Ibid., pages 15-16.
17) U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History and Heritage Resources, “Evaluations of Trinity” (www.osti.gov/ opennet/ manhattan project history/Events/1945/trinity_evaluations.htm).
18) Arms Control Association, “”The Nuclear Testing Tally” (www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nucleartesttally).
20) Wikipedia, “List of states with nuclear weapons” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_nuclear_ weapons).