"Tell us ... what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).
"... let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them..." (Isa 41:22).
"... explain the 'flow' of history, so that in the light of former things (what has happened already) they might deduce what the outcome will be" (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, TOTC, p.290).
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8).
History suggests that a background for the "beginning of sorows" prior to WW3 - the outcome - is the transition of world hegemony from Britian to America - the former things.
"...the transition between British and American predominance from 1914 to 1945 shook the world no less than a violent earthquake. The political, monetary, and military foundations upon which markets operated were severly tested. In more than one instance, they gave way, and as they did, prosperity - like a weakened building - tumbled into the chasm. The result was disorder: a world unpoliced, in which property rights and free trade were abridged or abolished in many places, and millions perished in brutal wars" (James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, The Great Reckoning, Revised Edition, (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1993), p.138).
Paul Johnson in reviewing the boom and bust of the 1830s pointed out that "nature intervened, as it usually does when men construct houses of straw, or paper" (A History of the American People, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), p.259).
"The message from history is that cooperation declines along with economies. As world growth prospects diminish, ethnic solidarity and nationalism increase. Horizons narrow. Groups tend to hoard political advantages and seek regulations that reserve for themselves as much as possible of the smaller pie" (Davidson and Rees-Mogg, p.139).
"In bull markets, people focus on progress and production; in bear markets, they focus on limits and conservation...
"Bull markets result in increased harmony in every aspect of society, including the moral, religious, racial, national, regional, social, financial, political and otherwise. Bear markets bring polarization. With that realization, you can predict increasing cooperation in all those areas in bull markets, and increasing conflict in bear markets...
"The bear market will bring back nationalism, racial exclusion, and perhaps even religious conflict. Thinking technically about events, that is, observing what they reveal about social psychology, prepares you for those changes, whereas trying to predict the future from the events themselves leads you to the opposite, and wrong, conclusion. It cannot be stressed enough, because life-or-death decisions can depend upon your assessment..." (Bob Prechter, Why Fashion Trumps Financial Media, elliottwave.com, September 28, 2006).
The time from the peak in the stockmarket of September 3, 1929 to the outbreak of WW2 on September 1, 1939 is perhaps the best 'former thing' for the future, (cp. also the times from the stockmarket crash of 1873 to the outbreak of WW1 in 1914.
Contraction - Expansion - World War
In this scenario, the 'contraction' is the coming Great Depression - the beginning of sorrows? - followed by an expansion, in which there is a miltary build-up, eventually leading to WW3. The expansion may be peppered by recessions in one or more economies, cp. the American recession of May 1937 to June 1938. Adolph Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 - at the beginning of the "former" expansion - and WW3 started some six and a half years later.
The main deduction from these 'former things" is that, it is going to take some time for all things to fall into place.
The troublesome 'secular' events provide the background for the 'religious' events:
Mt 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Mt 24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
Mt 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Mt 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
Mt 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Mt 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Mt 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Mt 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Mt 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Mt 24:22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.