Is COVID-19 the end of the world?
COVID-19 has created tremendous angst in many people and it is natural to ask the question. Where is God in all of this? Are these His judgments, or are they random events? What does the Bible say about pestilences and pandemics? Is this a sign of the end of the world? How can we overcome fear and fill ourselves with hope in times of crisis?
Let us assure you, God is not the author of sickness. He is not the originator of suffering or disease. In the first chapter of the Bible, it says that at the end of the creation week God looked out over the world pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Sickness was not part of His original plan. His plan was for the earth to be populated with people who were happy, healthy, and holy.
Sin was introduced into the world by Lucifer. In heaven he had been the dazzling lead angel, but he chose to rebel against God and His government. Later, when God created Adam and Eve on planet Earth, He blessed them with the freedom of choice. He longed for them to choose Him out of love. Knowing this, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to choose a path other than God’s way, thus sealing their ruin. The book of Genesis records the sad tale of his success in causing Adam and Eve to doubt God’s love and question His honesty.
When they exercised their freedom of choice and chose to sin, Adam and Eve opened a door of sickness, suffering, and disease that broke God’s heart. Sin brings separation from God, and our broken world is suffering from that separation. It is for this reason that Christ came to restore us to God’s image. In Luke 19:10, the Bible says, “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Ours is a world engulfed in sin, suffering, and disease. Christ came to reveal the Father’s love and rredeem this lost world. In His life and death, Jesus showed how much the Father cares for us. Every miracle in the New Testament that Jesus performed speaks to us of a God who cares for us when we suffer. Every time He opened blind eyes, unstopped deaf ears, healed withered arms, and raised dead bodies to life, He was demonstrating how much He loves us. By His death on the cross, He forever demolished Satan’s lie and revealed that He would rather take the guilt, shame, and condemnation of sin upon Himself than have one of us lost. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13).
But Jesus also came to be an example—to model the abundant life. He demonstrated that God is not the one behind sickness. He is not the one behind suffering. He is not the one behind disease. He is the God of abundant life! In the great controversy between good and evil, a rebel angel has defied God and is battling Him for the control of this planet. Sickness, suffering, heartache, and disease are the result of this controversy between good and evil, but through it all God has revealed His love and care. He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
What about pestilences in the Bible?
The Bible uses the word “pestilence,” or a variation on that word, 81 different times in the New King James version, and the word is used in at least four different ways. Sometimes a disease occurs because we are in a world of sin. For example, consider the story of Job. Did Job’s sin cause the disease that afflicted his body from head to toe? No. But was he in a sinful world? Yes. And was Satan behind all of that? Certainly. Satan is behind all suffering and disease. We live in a world separated from God’s original plan of complete health and wholeness. It is a world of pathogens, viruses, and germs.
There’s a second way that pestilence is used in the Bible. At times pestilences are the judgments of God upon the wicked. You may say that’s rather strange but think about Egypt. Were the plagues of ancient Egypt simply natural disasters, or were they God’s judgments to deliver His people? In love God sent warning after warning to the Egyptians. He graciously sent repeated messages to them to avoid the disaster that was coming but they willfully refused His loving invitations and the judgments of God fell upon the land. Love speaks gently but it also speaks in thunderous tones at times to get our attention.
A third way the Bible uses pestilence is in the context that God can withdraw His protective power. There are times when He withdraws His presence and allows the natural result of sin to take place. Do you remember the story of the Israelites being bitten by snakes in the wilderness? Many died of the poisonous venom. God simply withdrew His presence to allow the consequence of their sinful choices to be played out, so they would turn in repentance to His will. When we see pestilences raging in our land, it may be God’s clarion call for us to become more serious about our commitment to Christ, experience deeper repentance, and surrender our lives fully to Him.
The word pestilence is also used in the context of the second coming of Christ, in concert with other signs Jesus gave. Let me hasten to add that we need to avoid two troubling extremes. One extreme is the fanaticism that shouts, “the Coronavirus is here, so Jesus must be coming next week, or next month, or next year.” People who say this are consumed with fanciful, sensational, time-setting theories not found in the Bible. The other extreme is to dismiss this virus as a natural phenomenon that will soon pass, something that has nothing to do with last day signs. But that attitude does not reflect Jesus’ urgency as He described the end in Matthew 24. Addressing end-time signs, Jesus declared, “For nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. These are the beginnings of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7, 8).
For Jesus, wars, rumors of war, the rise of nations, and kingdoms fighting against kingdoms are all part of the end-time scenario. To these conditions, He adds natural disasters, such as earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. All of them are among the more than twenty signs listed in Matthew 24. According to the words of Christ, pestilences are indeed part of the end-time scenario.
A sign of Christ’s return?
Does that mean that the COVID-19 virus that has ravaged the world is a sign of Christ’s coming? The answer is that it does not stand alone as the sign of the end. However, when you look at the larger picture, pestilences are one of the multiple signs that Jesus predicts will occur prior to His return. Events like these indicate that time is running out and that we are living on the verge of Christ’s kingdom. The stage is being set for the climactic events described in the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation.
In light of Christ’s predictions in His prophetic Word, what can we expect in the future? Natural disasters will increase. Famines, earthquakes, and pestilences will escalate. Just as in Noah’s day when a sinful world full of immorality and violence filled the cup of its iniquity in rebellion against God, so our world is preparing for God’s final judgments. God lovingly appeals to a wayward planet. There is nothing more important to Him than saving as many people as possible. When God withdraws His pprotective power, natural disasters and death-dealing disease run rampant. He does not cause these disasters but uses them to demonstrate the fragility of life. These events drive us to our knees to seek refuge in Christ and the promises of His Word.
Facing the future with hope
How can we keep from being consumed by worry and anxiety? What can deliver us from crippling fear? Or, more accurately, who can deliver us? The Bible offers God as the only way out for humankind and His promises can help us face catastrophes with hope. We can move forward with confidence, knowing that Christ stands by our side. His promise is sure. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
In Luke 21, Jesus speaks of our time. “Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” (verse 26) The next passage says, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because your redemption draws near” (verses 27, 28).
Whether we are consumed with fear or filled with hope depends on where we are looking. If you are looking at natural disasters, pestilences, and diseases, your heart is going to be filled with fear. Jesus says, “Look up!” Why? When we look to Heaven’s sanctuary, we see Jesus and discover strength in His promises. In Christ, we find confidence. In Christ, we experience assurance. In Christ, we are lifted above life’s uncertainties and concerns, and our hearts are filled with security in the One who loves us with an everlasting, undying, unfathomable, exhaustless, endless love. In Christ, we are delivered from our fears.
The Bible repeatedly urges us to “fear not” or “Do not fear.” Although I have not personally counted the number of times the Bible uses this expression, one author has noted 365 times that an expression such as “fear not” is used throughout the Bible—that is one for every day of the year. God has the entire calendar year covered. He invites us to rest in His love, trust in His grace, and rejoic in His power.
In one of the Bible’s most reassuring promises, Isaiah echoes the words of our Lord, “Fear not for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). Why don’t we fear? Jesus is with us. Whatever we must go through, He is by our side.
“Fear not for I am with you.
Be not dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
When we see sickness, suffering, and disease all around us, we need not fear because Jesus is with us. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, the inspired word states,
Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
Why don’t we need to fear? The reason we are not to be afraid is not because we believe we will never get sick. No, we are free from paralyzing fear because we believe that whatever state we find ourselves in, Christ will be with us.
You remember that Job experienced a terrible pestilence that horribly afflicted His body. In the midst of his suffering, he cried out in confidence,
“For I know that my redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25, 26).
Job had the absolute assurance that a better day was coming and that one day He would see God face to face. Until then, with hope and confidence he could exclaim, “Though he slays me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Job lived a life of trust in the God who not only promised to be with him each moment of the day, but also assured him that a better tomorrow was coming.
Even if we develop a life-threatening disease, our faith clings to the promise that one day Jesus will come again to take us home. Like Job, we believe that we will see Him face to face. Jesus speaks these reassuring words to us, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1–3). Soon Jesus will come again and on that wonderful day, we will be caught up in the clouds in the sky to meet Him in the air. Sickness and suffering will be forever eradicated. Disease and death will find no place in the presence of our loving God.
Faith does not mean we believe we will never get sick. We live in a broken world and though we may do the best we can to make healthy choices, sickness may still afflict us. In this case, we simply grasp the promise of His abiding presence. He is with us through sickness and disease. He does not leave us when a virus attacks our body. As the old song says, “Just when I need Him, Jesus is near.”
One of the major reasons we do not live in fear is because God has revealed the future. We know that sickness will not have the last word: Christ will. We know the coronavirus, or any other virus, natural disaster, calamity, or nuclear war, will not destroy all life on planet Earth. We have the promise of Jesus’ return. We see famines. We see earthquakes. We see the distress of nations. We see the potential of a disastrous nuclear war. We see climate change. We see diseases taking the lives of thousands.
We see these things, but we have a hope that enables us to thrive in life’s toughest times. There is a sense of confidence that carries us through because we have read the last chapters of the Bible. We know how the story ends. In Revelation 21, verses 4 and 5, John writes,
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
We are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This blessed hope helps us look beyond what is to what will be. We look beyond today to tomorrow. We look beyond sickness to health. We look beyond the viruses drifting through the air to the pure air where there will be no more pestilences.
God has a purpose in permitting these calamities to occur. He is calling us to complete dependence on Him. He is revealing to us that there is no certainty in this world. Christ is our only assurance, our only security. He is our only Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, and coming King.
What should be our response to the rise of COVID-19? It seems that recent events should prompt an awakening in our hearts. The onslaught of COVID-19 should rouse our spiritual senses to the urgency of our times. It should remind us that this broken world is not our forever home.
In the midst of this tragic pandemic, Christ is speaking to you and to me. Our lives are fragile. Each of us lives in a mortal body and Jesus wants to deliver us from fear and assure us of eternal life. Now is a good time to let Him fill your heart, strengthen your resolve, and prepare you for His soon return.