“…Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away. Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” - Luke 21:8-11
While I believe with all my heart that Jesus’ words are true and will come to pass, I make no pretense of knowing whether our current global pestilence – COVID-19 – is specifically part of what He foretold. I don’t believe it’s a sign of any imminent prophetic event.
However, this verse, as well as a similar one in Matthew 24, do seem to clearly indicate that we should expect such prophetic signs to increase in frequency and intensity as Christ’s return nears.
So at the very least, it seem plausible – if not likely – that God is allowing this in order to get our attention, and there’s no arguing that COVID-19 has our collective attention like nothing else in recent history.
As I limp toward my sixtieth year, never have I witnessed first-hand a singular event that has simultaneously shaken the everyday lives of the entire globe. Perhaps WWII came close. It’s also true that history provides plenty of similar examples of plague and pestilence which have recorded exponentially higher death tolls; the 14th century’s “Black Death” plague took a minimum of 75 million lives, so one might argue that COVID-19 is but a comparative minor blip on the grand timeline.
However, viewed from both a historical and a biblical perspective, that seems doubtful.
Historically, reaching back to the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic early in the last century, while healthcare knowledge and resources were relatively poor and great loss of life was widespread, implications beyond that proved generally manageable and relatively short-lived. But in the world of 2020, it seems indisputable that the implications of COVID-19 are much more far-reaching. Despite major improvements in medical technology, ours is a world connected much differently and more intimately than that of a century ago; we’ve never been so interdependent and, as such, never as prone to the catastrophic effects now being experienced on a global basis. We’ve only just begun to digest the short-, mid- and long-term implications.
Meantime, while I claim no formal theological training, a basic grasp of prophecy makes it clear that the time in which we now live is markedly different from days gone by.
Even a layman knows that prophetic events follow a roadmap with key milestones, not all of which have readily discernible timing. However, there seems to be general consensus among experts that the most recent definitive event occurred with the reconstitution of the State of Israel in 1948. Once that happened, most of those experts believe, it was ‘game on’ for end times prophetic events to begin unfolding, albeit with an undefined timeline for now. In fact, the next event anticipated by many believers is the ‘rapture’ – the sudden removal of all believing Christians – without warning.
One can debate whether the prophetic signs outlined in the Bible - wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues of locusts and pestilences (all of which are with us today) - are increasing at an alarming rate. Secular science and humanism would claim a logical physical explanation for each of those. However, viewed collectively, do those explanations remain plausible?
It’s an important question each of us needs to ask - and answer - for ourselves. Over the centuries, so many have tried to dismiss scripture - and prophecy in particular - as fanciful mythology or mere symbolism. Time and time again, however, the historical and archeological record has shown otherwise. In court, it’s called a preponderance of the evidence, and an honest weighing of the evidence for biblical reliability makes a strong case indeed - much stronger than those who would write off our past, present and future to cosmic chance and random evolution.
As for COVID-19 itself, a prominent pastor recently outlined what I thought were six critical points highlighted by this pandemic. They are:
- The vulnerability of everyone
- The credibility of the bible
- The uncertainty of life
- The scarcity of hope
- The sufficiency of Jesus
- The urgency of salvation
It’s irrational to argue against the first point. In a matter of weeks, this virus has killed over 100,000 people and fundamentally altered everyone’s modern-day life right down to the most basic components, from a simple hug or handshake to a grocery shopping trip or social activity. COVID-19 has killed young and old, healthy and infirm. Our universal vulnerability has been laid bare for all to see.
The credibility of the bible has already been addressed. If you have personal doubts remaining, you owe it to yourself to explore them and give your questions the thorough consideration they demand. Dismissing out of hand its already fulfilled predictions and admonitions seems unwise.
If there’s any silver lining to the cloud now hanging over our world, it may well be that COVID-19 has, with the clarity of a giant church bell, reminded all of us of the fragility and uncertainty of life. Whenever I see a pro athlete or popular entertainer strutting around with an attitude of smug invincibility, I can’t help but wonder: “Don’t you realize that, just like the rest of us, you are a missed heartbeat away from eternity?” None of us is guaranteed a moment beyond right now. Coming to – and living by – the realization that each day is a gift from God is a tremendous blessing. Whatever your views on end-time theology, our personal life expectancy isn’t in our own hands. Perhaps the irony of life’s uncertainty is that, at the end, our earthy fate remain a 100% certainty - death. Sure, you can eat well, exercise and all the rest - and wisely so - but it won’t alter your predetermined appointment time with eternity by a nanosecond.
The scarcity of hope is hard to deny as well. If you don’t believe it, check the latest disheartening suicide rates, particularly among the young. It’s been said that, by definition, suicide is the absence of hope. Ours is an angst-ridden society. A CDC study found that, from 1988 to 2011, use of anti-depressants in the U.S. rose by nearly 400%. A later study found that, by 2014, one in eight Americans reported anti-depressant use. Substance abuse follows a similar course. While there can be purely physiological causes behind some of these cases, these chilling statistics are most often the byproducts of that absence of hope. Despite his prophetic shortcomings, Hal Lindsey nailed it when he famously said that “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air...but only for one second without hope.”
Thankfully, there’s an antidote to that deadly dilemma. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides hope and a clear path for any who choose to believe it and walk with Him. Christianity is unique in offering this path.
Islam, according to religionfacts.com, states that “the purpose of life is to live in a way that is pleasing to Allah so that one may gain Paradise. Muslims believe that at puberty, an account of each person's deeds is opened. This will be used at the Day of Judgment to determine his eternal fate.The Quran teaches the necessity of both faith and good works for salvation.”
Judaism, according to beingjewish.org, “…has always held that we do not need that sort of salvation, for we are not doomed or damned at birth. We are not doomed or fated to sin…In other words, you can do good, and if you do, things will be better for you….you can control sin, you can control your evil desires, and you can be good.”
Jesus’ path to salvation is by faith alone, which stands alone among all world belief systems. It’s also important to note that He leaves no wiggle room, saying “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” - John 14:6 (ESV)
Last on the list, but certainly not least, is the urgency of the situation. While we do not have a crystal-clear timeline of how prophecy will unfold, we do have the reasonable assurance that it will. Further, we have knowledge of our own, inescapable mortality. As the Apostle Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “…now is the day salvation.”
To sum up, it seems clear that this pandemic is both an opportunity for self-assessment and change, as well as a warning that the time allotted to make up our minds on Jesus’ claims and act on them is limited.
A recent Pew Research poll found that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a positive impact on Americans' religious habits. It found that more than half of all US adults have prayed for the coronavirus to end, including people who say they rarely pray and those who don't belong to a religion. That number includes 86 percent of the Americans who already pray daily, along with 15 percent of the people who rarely pray but have now started praying because of the pandemic. A University of Copenhagen researcher says she found that there's been a huge global spike in prayer interest over the last month.
My hope is that we will all heed this warning, prayerfully considering the questions it raises and seeking wise answers to those questions. Thank you for your time and may God bless you.