Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has raised many fears but also renewed interest in end-time events. As the number of economists suggesting a global depression increases, one wonders how a pandemic or an economic depression fits into our understanding of eschatology. Scripture states that while the end will come as a thief in the night for some people, “ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that this day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4 , KJV). In light of Scripture, history, and economics, how are we to understand events now taking place?
While the coronavirus has been the catalyst for economic upheaval, many preexisting conditions have made its financial impact potentially catastrophic for individuals, businesses, and even countries. Our current debt-driven, consumption-based economy, in which individuals and corporations alike operate without savings, seems to have no ability to withstand financial turmoil. Everyone—from single parent to small business to multibillion-dollar corporation—is looking for a bailout. Some were already dealing with the realities of income inequality and a system stacked against them1 while, at the same time, CEOs were paying themselves large bonuses with their financially engineered “profits” at the expense of saving for a rainy day. The world is in the state of a medically induced economic coma, out of which many businesses will not recover.
The Silent Depression
One economist reported that the economic growth per capita of the past decade in the United States was actually worse than the Great Depression era of 1929 or the Long Depression of 1873. In fact, he calls the current era the Silent Depression2—a depression that no one in the financial media wants to admit or discuss but in which people are clearly suffering. Only the use of enormous amounts of debt has been able to obscure the real impact of this financial condition. Indeed, we say, “ ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that [we] are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17, NKJV).
The world is coming to the end of a long economic cycle that started after World War II, one that created great prosperity but is now catching many in a downward spiral. Today, many, having lost sight of the financial prudence of their parents or grandparents, now find themselves in the kind of dire situations that always strike at the end of economic cycles. Such long economic cycles have played out before in history, with each ending in a global depression and societal upheaval. Interestingly, those years and eras correspond with several key events in our understanding of church and prophetic history.
The Kondratieff Wave and 1844
Nikolai Kondratieff first studied such long economic cycles during the 1920s. He observed that they persisted over 50-to 70-year periods and were characterized like the seasons. As with spring and summer, the world’s economies would grow well, followed by an economic plateau that one could describe as an autumn. Then came an economic winter that typically saw debt crises, stock market crashes, depressions, world wars, and regime changes.
Others have applied Kondratieff’s work to long economic cycles, now called the Kondratieff wave3 or long waves. The Kondratieff wave during the past 200 years is illustrated in the following graph.4 It shows the four long waves, or economic cycles, that have occurred since the late 1700s.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we find our attention immediately drawn to the date of 1844 because it is such a significant event in the beginnings of the Advent movement. The year 1844 was the end of the first cycle of the 1800s. Economists would deem the period from about 1837 to 1844 as an economic winter characterized by a deep depression, wars, and political turmoil. Uriah Smith, in his book Daniel and the Revelation, pointed out that in 1840 the Ottoman regime ended in accordance with prophecy.5 It was the same period during which the Baptist preacher William Miller expounded on the 2,300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14, declaring that the cleansing of the sanctuary would take place in 1844.
The previous wave had ended in 1789 with the beginning of the French Revolution. After a famine and grueling depression, French peasants rose up in revolt. As a result of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s general Berthier arrested and exiled Pope Pious VI, in fulfillment of another major time prophecy, the 1,260-day prophecy of Daniel. It was an era in which years of repression now fostered new ideas and theories that opposed the ruling classes of both the aristocracy and the church. Many embraced the ideologies of secular humanism, evolutionism, and Marxism to replace a theology steeped in hypocrisy and cruelty. The 1,260-day prophecy warned of these new threats to Christianity. During this era, the United States arose as a nation, another feature of the end of such cycles—changing governmental regimes.
The Panic of 1873
The next Kondratieff wave ended around 1896, after a very prolonged long economic downturn that lasted more than 20 years. Amid this economic malaise, the Adventist Church had its 1888 experience, when the preaching of righteousness by faith was to be accompanied by the outpouring of the latter rain in special power to equip the church for the final proclamation of the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6). Ellen White stated, “The loud cry of the third angel has already begun.”6 History reveals that the church was unprepared to receive this special blessing.
Looking at the events that began the Kondratieff winter from 1870 into the 1890s can be very instructive for Christians today.7 This cycle began with the Panic of 1873, a meltdown of the financial markets that grew into the “Long Depression.”8 This “Long Depression,” as historians have called it, lasted more than five years and is the longest ever officially recorded in the US, outlasting the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even after the depression technically ended, the economy languished until the end of the cycle in 1896.
Also, in 1888, Henry W. Blair introduced a bill in the US Senate that sought to establish a Sunday law. In the midst of economic upheaval, Ellen White stated that “rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance.”9 While this failed, it seems that our window of opportunity to finish the work in that cycle also faded. Yet the connection between economic turmoil and religious legislation can clearly be seen.
The key takeaway for Christians is not so much that this is a Kondratieff winter. Rather, history shows us that these economic winters are really harvest seasons for God.
Wars and rumors of wars
In the next Kondratieff wave, starting in 1896 and ending in 1945, the earth saw terrible bloodshed unlike anything experienced before. World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust under the Nazis, World War II, the atomic bomb, the beginning of the Chinese Revolution, and many other conflicts filled the era. Much of the world’s population became trapped behind closed borders. The loss of life was unbearable, and the wars and international tensions also made an environment hostile to the spread of the gospel. This cycle ended in 1945. Though it may seem there was no culmination of a prophetic event at the time, it may be that it still was the beginning of a key end-time prophecy.
Laodicea and the age of prosperity
The post–World War II era ushered in an era of unprecedented world prosperity. The US Marshall Plan helped to rebuild the war-torn economies, and America benefited by becoming a global economic engine. The American dollar became the international trade and reserve currency, effectively making the US the world’s banker. Kondratieff spring and summer bloomed for 30 years and with it the burgeoning American middle class. While the Christian church thrived financially, the growing affluence led many into a trap of materialism and wealth.
In the 1980s, corporations began to seek greater profits by offshoring their production to Asia and other regions, which started the financialization of the US economy. Financialization and debt replaced manufacturing and savings, but few recognized the economic and societal impacts of such a shift. The strong manufacturing economy shifted to one driven by debt and consumption. As debt levels grew, it created a massive financial bubble. In the year 2000, the bursting of the tech-stock bubble ushered in the Kondratieff winter, the effects of which are being experienced today in this bubble economy era.
Past is prolog
The global financial crisis in 2008 was another warning signal. Still, again most have forgotten it, thanks to the extraordinary amounts of debt incurred by governments and central banks to keep up the appearances of economic growth. For 12 years, the US economy set new records for the length of economic expansion and stock market gains. But this past decade of economic progress has left behind many of the lower-income families. Income inequality has exploded, festering social unrest. Nationalism has become preferred over international cooperation. And in the midst of a global trade war between the US and China, a new threat has swept the world—COVID-19.
This pandemic has exposed all of the weaknesses and excesses of our economy and society. Our on-demand, consumption-based economy has not saved for a rainy day. We have assumed that economic growth will always be the norm, ignoring the “laws” of economics. The sudden stop of cash flow has revealed all of the levered economic schemes that only a few months ago looked like sound investments.
In 2020, many have borrowed to create rental homes, making Airbnb just the new word for the subprime mortgages of 2008. Some have borrowed to buy more expensive cars, expecting to Uber or Lyft their way to affordability. Large corporations have spent their cash and then borrowed money to buy back stocks to prop up stock prices so that executives can get their bonuses. The entire US shale oil industry is built on the availability of cheap debt and the assumption of never-ending demand. Oil prices crashing into negative prices was as unthinkable as the failure of a major financial institution such as Lehman Brothers. The government is bailing out not only the financial sector but also every business and worker. Governments around the world have pledged tens of trillions of dollars to keep the system from imploding.
The great opportunity
So, what of this economic winter? The key takeaway for Christians is not so much that this is a Kondratieff winter. Rather, history shows us that these economic winters are really harvest seasons for God. These are the times when worried people are ready to listen to a message of hope. In such times, struggling, oppressed human beings are responsive to compassion and grace. This is not only a time when the harvest is plentiful in a world looking for answers but also an opportunity to finish the Great Commission given us by Christ. Jesus, Himself, lamented that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few.
Where will this go from here? Will all the printed money transport the economy back to January 2020, to a world before we knew of coronaviruses and lockdowns? Or will the economic gravity, that had already been pulling, fully take over and bring the economic winter to its inevitable conclusion as it always does? Has God, in His foresight, planned for a paradigm shift for His church, a massive redirection and mobilization of peoples previously paralyzed in a Laodicean state?
“God’s mercy, His sustaining providence, His never-to-be-forgotten deliverances, are to be recounted, step by step. As God’s people thus review the past, they should see that the Lord is ever repeating His dealings. They should understand the warnings given, and should beware not to repeat their mistakes. Renouncing all self-dependence, they are to trust in Him to save them from again dishonoring His name.”10
Perhaps God has guided the world through economic cycles, history, and prophecy to prepare His people to recognize the events of the COVID-19 financial crisis as the moment of greatest opportunity in the history of His workings with humans.
- “Measuring Deprivation: The Grim Racial Inequalities Behind America’s Protests.” The Economist, June 3, 2020, https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/06/03/the-grim-racial-inequalities-behind-americas-protests.
- Emil Kalinowski, “The Silent Depression: Trundling Is the New Booming,” CFA Institute, February 11, 2020, http://blogs.cfainstitute.org/investor/2020/02/11/the-silent-depression-trundling-is-the-new-booming/.
- Christopher Quigley, “Kondratieff Waves and the Greater Depression of 2013–2020,” Financial Sense, February 24, 2012, https://www. financialsense.com/contributors/christopher-quigley/kondratieff-waves-and-the-greater-depression-of-2013-2020.
- Long Wave Analyst Group, Vancouver, Canada, longwavegroup.com/. Another resource is Nicolai Kondratieff, The Long Waves in Economic Life (Mansfield Center, CT: Martino, 2014); originally published as “Die langen Wellen der Konjunktur,” Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 56, no. 3 (1926): 573–609.
- Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1897), 518.
- Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 363.
- T. H. Aka, End Game Economics, Understanding the Coming Financial Crisis Through Scripture (Seattle, WA: Kindle Direct Publishing, 2020). Another resource can be found at the YouTube channel “End Game Economics : Kondratieff Wave" at https://www. youtu.be/e1OLh3zNzcw.
- The National Bureau of Economic Research, US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions, nber.org/cycles/cyclesmain.html.
- Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 592.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1902), 210; emphasis added.