Sirens screamed in the bunker. The day had finally come. Although men on every side tried their hardest to avoid the inevitable outcome, their efforts were rendered futile. It was too late to stop the dreadful disaster: The United States of America had finally decided to fire a nuclear missile at the Soviet Union.
Well, not really. The United States never fired a nuclear missile into Soviet airspace. But on September 26, 1983, Soviet radar detected several nuclear-tipped American missiles advancing toward their motherland.
Just south of Moscow, in the secret command center of Serpukhov-15, Lieutenant Colonel and duty officer Stanislav Petrov heard the wail of sirens throughout the halls of his bunker. The Soviet early-warning system had detected a nuclear threat—not just from one missile but five. Petrov later said that the early-warning system, Oko—which is Old Russian for “eye”—was built to rule out the possibility of false alarms.
That day, the satellites told them with the highest degree of certainty that rockets were on the way. In reality, Oko had detected sun rays reflecting off clouds over North Dakota. But to Oko, this was not the sun: These were U.S. Minutemen intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay,” he told the BBC.
Soviet ground radar could confirm the missiles, but that would mean waiting ten minutes for a confirmation, and it already took 12 minutes for Soviet High Command to complete a counterattack. The missiles were only 15 minutes away. Petrov had to make a quick decision.
“All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.” Shaken, Petrov picked up the phone. He called the duty officer at the army headquarters and reported a malfunction, not a missile strike.
Petrov knew perfectly well that nobody would have been able to correct his mistake if he had made one. He waited. He waited for 15 nerve-racking minutes, fearing reports of a nuclear strike. The Soviet military should have been informed of and ready for this nuclear strike, but they were not.
And then it happened: nothing. Nothing happened at all.
“Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief,” Petrov said.
Two decades earlier, a similar event happened near the modern-day town of Qaanaaq, Greenland. U.S. early warning radar detected dozens of Soviet missiles en route to U.S. soil. The North American Air Defense Command received the warning and went to its maximum alert level. Fortunately, the United States refused to retaliate because Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader at the time, was visiting New York. They later realized that the radar had only detected a moonrise over Norway.
In March 1980, another close call occurred near the Kuril Islands, located between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia. The Soviet Union was running a training exercise that involved launching several submarine-based missiles. But one of those missiles had an eastward trajectory pointed straight at North America, and the United States held a threat assessment conference as a result.
Just recently, on January 13, 2018, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency intended to internally test an emergency alert. But he pressed the wrong button. Instead of a simple internal test, the ballistic missile emergency message was sent to Hawaiian residents and visitors on their cellphones and TV screens. The message warned them this wasn’t a drill and to seek immediate shelter indoors. Naturally, people went into a panic.
Time and time again in history—over ten times at last count—we have witnessed many close calls that could have easily pulled the United States into nuclear war. But why didn’t any of these events end in disaster? Why is it that every time we come close to the annihilation of civilization, we avoid it with the narrowest escape?
After God revealed the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, this is what the king said: “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (Daniel 2:47).
God has His own plans for fulfilling prophecy. He knew that if these close calls ended in a premature nuclear war, prophecy would be altered dramatically. When it comes to world events, we must not forget that “[T]he most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25). God made sure that the United States and the Soviet Union never went to war.
We can be certain that God will fulfill His revealed prophecy. 2 Peter 1:19-21 states, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; … Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Very soon, mankind’s radar will detect nuclear missiles again, and this time, they will be real. The world will back itself into a nuclear war—one so bloody that all flesh would be destroyed if Christ did not come to put an end to it personally (Matthew 24:21-22).
But all of this must occur according to God’s schedule. What can we do in the meantime? Matthew 25:13 states, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
As teens, we have a responsibility to watch the news, and stay in touch with world events. We do not necessarily do this to be politically savvy, but rather we do this to better understand where we are in Bible prophecy. Remember, Christ did not say, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt if you check in with the news every once in a while.” He told us specifically to “watch and pray” (Luke 21:36). This is a command. And it will greatly benefit us when God brings certain prophecies to pass.
We may not know exactly when God will bring something to pass, but we can definitely be sure of one thing: His prophecies are sure. And when they come, they will bring about the most horrific suffering this world has ever seen, and then they will bring about one of the most fantastic events ever to occur on earth: the return of Jesus Christ. Then, we will finally have peace.
We are commanded to watch and pray, and we cannot do that without understanding how God plays a critical role in world events. He is a “God of gods, and a Lord of kings.” He is the one who judges when war breaks out, and He is the one who judges when enemies get along. Learn now that God, the Most High, rules in the kingdom of men.