Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Article by Peter McArthur
We all know what today’s trending topic is - that virus! Well, once Jesus was asked His perspective about the news of two recent tragedies when people were murdered, and others accidentally killed. The hot-off-the-press story back then was when Pilate the Roman Governor had slaughtered some Jews in the Temple. Also news had just arrived about a stone tower in the town of Siloam collapsing and killing eighteen people. The crowds wanted to know from Jesus why, and what He thought about all this recent news (Luke 13:4-5). They tried to get His view and whether it was a judgement from God because of the people’s sin.
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The latest news of any kind of great tragedy inevitably brings the question, where was God in all this? Or if it happens to be something as drastic as a virus pandemic, is this possibly a sign of the End?
So it’s no different from today, except the latest hot news is of course the virus! If you google it you’ll find hundreds of articles, both religious and secular, asking “is this a sign of what the Bible calls the End?”
I’m not going to tackle that just yet, because I think in one way it misses a very vital point. (For what’s it’s worth I don’t think it’s one of the End Time plagues – it’s out of sequence. See further down in my article). So yes, it’s pretty obvious people want to know why God allows these kinds of things, and is the pandemic a sign of the End. But when Jesus was asked about the hot topic of His day (the tower at Siloam news for example), He redirected the question. There’s a lesson here for us as believers. I don’t necessarily expect non-believers to accept it, because it requires the foundation of salvation to make sense of it.
Jesus wasn’t being insensitive to those murdered by Pilate or those killed by the falling tower. He wanted to address the notion that those people must’ve been very bad sinners because of the harsh judgement that befell them. Jesus breaks the cycle of that kind of thinking by saying they were not killed because they were worse sinners than anyone else. He shifts the focus from “them” (those killed) to “you” (those who need to repent).
I love it how Jesus often by-passes the trick questions thrown at Him and goes for the jugular vein of His opponents. He constantly exposes the condition of people’s hearts and deals with it directly, showing it for what it is.
I would think that the message of Jesus to us all, saved and unsaved, at this time is one that focuses on eternity, not necessarily the present moment. Repent, seek God’s mercy and call on Him that our lives would be fully adjusted to His purpose for us all.
So that’s the context for this particular passage, but it leads us to how Jesus might want us to respond to the current crisis. So here goes. I’m not speaking for Him here of course, just reflecting on what Scripture tells us about plagues, the End Time, and how we should think and act.
Is this virus a judgement from God?
Biblically speaking God uses disasters as wake-up calls for repentance. That’s not to say that every catastrophe is from God. We live in a fallen sinful world at the moment, and death, tragedies, and injustice are all part of the fallen world pattern. It will all change when Messiah returns, but until then the “god of this world” is still lashing his tail. So we can’t merely say that God sends all tragedy as judgement.
However in the past when He did send disasters as punishment, it was quite obviously a divine judgement. People knew it. There was a definite sequence of events. God through His mouthpiece (prophets, angels, etc) gave a warning of the impending catastrophe. Then the event quickly followed, which people immediately recognised as being a divine judgement.
When the water beneath the earth’s crust broke through (Gen 7:11) and the rain fell in Noah’s day, those who were outside the ark drowning, certainly knew Who had caused it all. Noah the “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) had warned them.
And when Sodom and Gomorrah were overcome by “fire from Yahweh out of heaven” (Gen 19:24) Abraham and Lot and their families knew it was a divine act. Whether the sinners in Sodom and Gomorrah were aware of it, we don’t know. They certainly didn’t seem to have learnt their lesson, for just 14 years earlier Abram defeated the remainder of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and rescued Lot his nephew (Gen chapter 14). Abram even extended much grace to the defeated king of Sodom (14:17-24). If you don’t learn a lesson from divine grace, any judgement that might follow will only be worse.
When the plagues fell in Egypt, Pharaoh’s magicians had to declare “this is the finger of God” (Exo 8:19). It was obviously so. Yet still Pharaoh hardened his heart (vs 19), the same way the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah had done many years before.
According to Scripture when Wormwood falls (Rev 8:11) and judgement comes in the most dramatic way at the End, everyone will know it’s of God (vs 15-17).
So there’s a distinct pattern that when divine judgement does come, people know just Who sent it.
Clearly, according to the Bible itself, God can use disaster as judgement, but there’s a very select aspect to it. It’s not hit and miss. The divine judgement has a relatively narrow scope of purpose. A particular punishment for a very particularly stated sin. When the judgement falls, people are aware of the reason for it, even though at the time of warning, they might not believe it will happen!
God does nothing randomly. Every corrupt society receives God’s judgement in God’s timing. When the divinely appointed time comes, God acts swiftly and justly. Until the sin of any society reaches its apex, God still extends grace in the hope of seeing repentance. How great is His mercy and how long-suffering He is! But when the time comes, God acts.
So in the case of this current pandemic, there was no apparent warning from God to the world about any particular sin. Have you noticed there was no “prophecy” from the various prophetic ministries about this outbreak? Where were the prophetic voices warning about such a sudden worldwide event as this? Why were the prophets quiet; weren’t they listening to God? Or maybe He wasn’t speaking about this. Many of the so-called “prophets” missed something big. So it makes you wonder about the authenticity of many of today’s prophetic ministries doesn’t it?
Interestingly enough the secular media had picked up on the possibility two years ago (see link here) but no Christian ministry that I’m aware of did – certainly not among the prophetic ones. I still believe in the prophetic of course, but I think it’s both over-rated and compromised by insular pride and outward popularity in many instances. The danger is we might miss a clear divine word from the Lord because of so many other “noisy cymbals” drowning it out.
False prophetic words plus “Christian” conspiracy theories are rife, and we need to discern more accurately lest we be deceived into giving too much attention to a lie. We really haven’t got time to waste on the enemy’s attempts to divert us. Be wise!
Having the right perspective.
Also, let’s get some perspective. Tragedies like tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, etc are terrible and horrible things. But consider the following facts.
Between 1994 and 2013 severe storms killed a total of more than 244,000 people worldwide.
Plus, all earth-quakes and sea-quakes (tsunamis) killed more people than all other types of disaster put together, claiming nearly 750,000 lives between 1994 and 2013.
Some 123,000 died in earthquakes during 2019 alone.
The Indian monsoon season of 2019 caused floods with approximately 1,750 reported deaths.
And on it goes (the above figures come from this link here and other sources).
That’s a lot of people. All bad enough, and in no way am I making light of these awful tragedies. All these deaths, sad and disturbing as they are, pale into relative insignificance against the numbers of babies killed by abortion. According to the latest US Government figures, in 2018 alone over 876,000 babies were murdered in their mother’s wombs.
The World Health Organisation estimates there are 40-56 million abortions each year.The number would be higher, much higher if there were accurate records, because some nations don’t record annual abortion totals.
Some of the reasons given for having an abortion in the USA are as follows.
It would interfere with my education or career 4%
I’m not mature enough to raise a child 7%
Don’t want to be a single mother 8%
Don’t want to have any more children 19%
Cannot afford to have a baby 23%
Not ready to have a child just yet 25%
That’s a total of 86%.
What does Jesus think about that! And while we might get worried, and for some people, even fearful, over the current virus, why is there no global angst about all those murdered babies? You don’t see the media reporting on our screens how many innocent lives in the womb were taken by force this past week. Where is the outcry over that?
As people we’re strongly influenced by what current crisis the media deem newsworthy of trending. The herd mentality takes hold and it’s easy to buckle under the weight of despair. Just picture all the supermarkets inundated with panicking shoppers. The more the media trend it, the more panic tends to set in. The fear of the virus gets displaced by the fear of the event of fear itself.
That’s why I’ve always stressed that wisdom (especially Biblical wisdom,) will be an End- Time trait. When such things happen like we see worldwide, as believers we should practice acting wisely now and learn from it, because when the End comes it will be easy to go up a notch and begin to live Biblically “wise” when all around us is being shaken. Learn the small lessons now, so when the big event strikes, you’ll be inwardly prepared. It will almost be too late to learn wisdom at the End if you haven’t been learning it earlier on. Yes, wisdom is given by the Lord, but we must learn its ways and appropriate it (like salvation).
It’s time to think as Heaven thinks, to see as Heaven sees, and to act as Heaven wants us to act. Be a prepper, but inwardly.
Is this virus one of the Seals?
The book of Revelation is about “things which shall be hereafter” (1:19) or events that would happen after the era of John the Apostle. In chapter 6 John sees the seven seals that eventually lead up to the return of Christ. The first four seals are often referred to as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (verses 1-8).
One view is that the first four seals (the four horsemen) plus the fifth one (martyrs) have already been released upon the earth and have been at work throughout man’s fallen history. The sixth seal (Rev 6:12) is a future event, because plainly we haven’t yet seen a massive worldwide earthquake, or the sun turning black, or the moon becoming like blood (despite what some people think of recent lunar events! See my article and also here). So it’s most likely that the four horsemen seals have been around for a very long time indeed.
Now when trying to work out if Coronavirus19 is one of the End Time plagues or not, it’s wise to go directly to Scripture and see what it says about “plagues and pestilences”. Otherwise we’re just taking bits and pieces of the various texts and making up our own version.
Let’s start with Revelation chapter 6, verses 7-8.
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Here we find the word “pestilence”. It doesn’t necessarily mean “plague” because Jewish writers sometimes used “pestilence” to refer to “death” and vice versa. So it doesn’t refer to a virus at all in context.
Note the four-fold sequence of judgements here. First there comes death by the “sword”, followed by “famine” which brings about “pestilence/death” and then death by “wild beasts”.
There’s a fairly strict logical order here, with each judgement introducing another factor. War brings famine, famine brings in death by hunger (called pestilence), and the desire for food causes wild animals to hunt down human prey, weak from the famine, etc.
Revelation is not the only book to mention End-Time epidemics. Jesus said such outbreaks would occur before His return: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be…plagues” (Lk 21:11 but compare Matt 24:7 and Mk 13:8).
Note that only Luke includes pestilences/plagues, which is really a play on words because “famines” and “plagues” sound the same in Greek. Matthew and Mark don’t include the word “plague” at all but do say “famine”. Paul used this literary method called paronomasia often in his letters, so it’s probable that Luke was simply using a poetic technique to highlight the drama of it all. The much earlier gospel accounts from Mark and Matthew don’t use “plagues” in this saying.
It’s true that pestilences often followed famines, but you can’t actually use these texts for proof that plagues are part of what Jesus was referring to in this discourse, because He doesn’t really say that here.
What He is telling us that many things must happen which will include wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes and that “they must take place” (Matt 24:6) but all these are just run-ups to the “beginning of the birth pangs” (verse 8). After that the gospel of the kingdom (verse 14) has to be preached worldwide, and “then the end will come”. So there’s a distinct sequence of events which must unfold.
Revelation 15:1 tells us that there are coming seven more plagues, “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished”.
So if this current virus outbreak is a fulfilment of any prophecy at all, it fits the historical trend that the Bible predicted within the context of the 4th seal, the one dealing with premature deaths as a result of war, famine, and all its associated horrors.
Let’s be very cautious here about the current crisis and how we regard it. Did God cause it, is it His punishment sent from heaven? There’s nothing particularly supernatural about this pandemic or the ensuring economic crisis. Yes, it’s unsettling, inconvenient and for some, very scary. Sadly many have succumbed to the virus, and probably more may yet do so.
But in perspective you can see other similar events in world history and explain them from natural causes without attributing those to the supernatural. And if you did want to blame someone, remember the god of this age will do all he can to shift our focus from the real plague – the sin of a rebellious heart that was purposed by our Father for much better things.
To sum up.
I don’t think this is one of THE plagues mentioned in Scripture. It’s part of the consequences from the Fall, yes, but not a direct sign of the near End. The question is, can we learn from this?
Christians will need to act differently, not bowing to the media, nor to politics, nor to the fear formed in the human heart. We are called to be light, to be wise, to show this world that’s so badly shaken by events, where Truth really is, and WHO it is - the Lord Jesus.
May we all as followers of Jesus act so differently from the growing chaos around us, that people will want to know why we’re not fearful, shaken or despairing.
Are we at that place?