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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Surviving in the COVID Era

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Crisis, Calamities—and the Second Coming
Paul Chapman
The COVID-19 crisis

A woman calls out for help from the balcony of her tenth-floor apartment. No help will come. Downstairs, the building entrance has been welded shut. In the same city, a man stumbles and falls unconscious in the street, dying. A young couple passes over to where he lays, takes a quick look, and walks on. Another young man is dragged, kicking and screaming, into a waiting van—his body temperature is deemed too high. These were the disturbing images that confronted us, as stories of the greatest pandemic in our lifetime hit the airwaves and internet video channels in the early weeks of 2020. Within a few short weeks of us viewing those disturbing images from Wuhan, governments across the globe closed their borders, halted travel, and banned the operation of high-risk businesses due to public health concerns. In a matter of a few short days, our freedom of movement and assembly was taken, almost without a word of protest. The experience has been surreal, to say the least.

It has been three months [at the time of this writing] since the government put restrictions in place in my country of residence. As I write this, the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be determined. So far, 400,000 people have died worldwide. Millions more have lost their jobs or have closed their businesses. Australia and the USA have gone into recession. The World Bank has forecast the worst global recession in 80 years. In the best-case scenario, the global economy will contract twice as much as it did in the 2009 global financial crisis.1 According to some economists, recovery will be measured in years rather than months. To make matters worse, there is fear that a second wave of COVID-19 is impending, as early as this fall.2 All this has left some wondering, what is coming next?

As worrying as it has been, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been the first of its kind nor will it be the last. But this should not be a cause for anxiety and despair. For the Bible believer, while the heart goes out in compassion for every life affected by this pandemic, at the same time, such calamities inspire hope that a better world is imminent. I can say that with certainty, for I have faith in the words of Jesus Christ, “there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7).

Jesus uttered these prophetic words almost 2000 years ago. He had just declared that the temple in Jerusalem, the glory of the Jewish nation, would become rubble. His words had doomed it to a destruction that would leave not one stone upon another. His twelve disciples, concerned and yet intrigued, asked Him a three-part question concerning the words that He had just uttered: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). In response, Jesus outlined a fearful series of events, the last of which would transpire just before his second coming. He declared, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:32, 33).

What things are we to see that will assure us that the second coming of Christ is near? What are the signs that we are living in “the last days” of this world as we know it?

Conflict

One sign would be the lack of lasting peace. Jesus said that before the end of the world, there would continue to be “wars and rumours of wars,” “for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6, 7). Of all the devastation wreaked by war since Jesus uttered those words, 1900 to 2000 have been the most blood-stained years on record. Twenty-two million died in “the war to end all wars,” with a further 23 million wounded.3 World War II claimed 55 million lives. War-related deaths between 1945 and 2000 claimed 41 million lives.4 These are estimates of deaths resulting when “nations” rise “against nations.” It does not account for all the terrible internal conflicts that have transpired in the first two decades of this new century. According to some estimates, there has not been one day of genuine peace since the end of World War I. Since 2000, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the fight against ‘terror’ continue to confirm the words of Jesus, “there shall be wars and rumors of wars.”

Can we expect universal peace? The apostle John, in a prophecy concerning the last days, declared that, rather than being at peace, “the nations would be angry” (Revelation 11:18). Over the past 20 years or so, China has been stealthily establishing itself as an economic superpower. Its rise has led to the current trade war with the USA. The unilateral decisions taken by the USA against China have riled many of the allies of the USA, most notably those in Europe. China itself has riled its neighbors by the flexing of its military muscle in the South China sea. Concerns of an eventual outbreak of hostilities are not unwarranted. Revelation 16 indicates that the battle for global domination will involve the “kings of the east and of the whole world.” If the “kings of the east” are a reference to the Asian nations, most notably, China, it is hard to see how the current crisis will end peacefully. For certain, the diplomats of the world will do their best to maintain peace and avoid international conflict, but we should not be surprised if conflict does break out. For Jesus has said that wars would continue right to the end, the last one involving every nation of the globe.

Despite the strife and contention throughout the world, we should not be troubled by it. Jesus said, “In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Only Jesus can bring lasting peace to our world. But that peace begins by each person making their peace with Him. Only then can we be at peace with each other.

Sadly, this world will never experience universal peace. They will declare peace. But prophecy indicates it will end in “sudden destruction” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

Famine

The second sign Jesus gave is often a consequence of the first—famines. During the 20th century, famines caused the death of more than 70 million people. Over half of these died in the three great Chinese famines of 1928–30, 1942–43, and 1958–61, the latter being responsible for over 30 million deaths.5 Today, famines in Europe and America appear to have been consigned to history. But it should be a sobering thought that globally “millions of people have died in famines in every decade since at least the 1920s. Famine is not a matter for historians,” concluded the UK Institute of Development Studies. “It is yet to be defeated.”6

The East African drought of 2011 was devastating. The famine it caused claimed in three months 29,000 children under the age of five. In Somalia, 285,000 people perished. Of these, 133,000 were children under the age of 5.7 Today, Africa continues to be the continent at the highest risk of famine. According to World Vision, 257 million people in Africa are experiencing hunger right now. As a result of crop failures, soaring food prices, drought, and cyclones, 41 million people are food insecure, with 9 million needing food immediately.8

The two leading causes of famine have been droughts and conflicts in a working paper published by the UK Institute of Development Studies. Poor government policy and, to a lesser extent, natural disasters have also been contributing factors.9 As long as these continue, famines will continue.

To help end famine on the African continent, Europe and America are sharing the technological advances that attributed most to their own apparent resilience to famine. However, these advances in agricultural production and the supply and distribution of goods to trade for food are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Those fuel resources will not last forever. Without sustainable energy resources, Europe and America cannot sustain their current agricultural methods. This concern has led some experts to speculate of a near-future global food crisis.

Pestilence

Not only would famines continue, but, according to Jesus, “pestilences” also. History has proven His words true. Virulent epidemics of cholera, malaria, measles, typhus, and other diseases often accompany famines.10 However, pestilences do not confine themselves to times of famine. In 2009, the swine flu, a strain of the influenza A virus, caused between 151,000 and 575,000 deaths.11 The top five pestilences causing death every year are lower respiratory infections (including pneumonia and influenza), HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases (cholera, botulism, E. coli, etc.), tuberculosis, and malaria. In 2017 alone, influenza and pneumonia were responsible for 3.1 million deaths, tuberculosis for 1.3 million deaths, HIV/AIDS for 1 million deaths, and malaria for 439,000 deaths. While there has been a decrease in tuberculosis mortality rates since 2000, malaria mortality rates have stalled since 2014, and HIV is on the rise in Europe.12

Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, that virus has infected 75 million people. About 32 million of these have died. Today, HIV infects 37 million people, with 2 million new cases every year. It remains the number one cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.13

The Bible indicates that pestilences will also spread beyond the human species. Through Hosea, the Lord declared, “The Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away” (Hosea 4:1–3).

Loss of wildlife

Over the past decade, mass deaths of animals, birds, and fish, some in their millions, have occurred in multiple countries. In 2019, during three months in Brazil, 500 million bees died from pesticide poisoning, threatening the country’s entire agricultural industry.14 In April this year, bees were dropping dead in their millions all over Spain, leading to concerns of a nation-wide food shortage. Farmers were blaming the deaths on the pesticides sprayed everywhere in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.15 The 2019 bushfires in Australia over four months killed off an estimated 1 billion animals.16 Just in February this year, in New Zealand, 3,500 birds were found dead in the Coromandel waterways, evidently due to an outbreak of botulism.17

These pestilences and related disasters are said by some to be natural die-offs. Others say they are due to pollution, and others hold these to be an indication of God’s judgment. While many of these remain a mystery, we can be sure of one thing—they were prophesied to happen.

Heavy rumblings

Jesus also declared that there would be “earthquakes in divers places.” While we’ve always had earthquakes, records confirm that of the ten deadliest earthquakes since 1900, three of them occurred in the past 15 years: Pakistan in 2005 with the loss of 73,000 lives; China in 2008 with the loss of 87,000 lives; and Haiti in 2010 with the loss of a staggering 222,570 lives.18

Social upheaval

Apart from wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, the Bible speaks of tremendous social problems as a sign of the end. In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–4).

No one would question the perilous times in which we are living. The increasing violent crime, the civil unrest, the rampant narcissism of the me-generation, the breakdown of the family unit, the redefining of the Biblical model for marriage and families, the massacres at the hands of crazed gunmen, and the proliferation of illicit drugs are just some of the prevailing conditions that would precede the second coming of Christ.

A crisis of capital

Another sign that we are in the last days is the great struggle between the rich and the poor. The apostle James pronounced a woe on the “rich”—not for being productive, but because they “heaped treasure together for the last days” at the expense of the poor (James 5:1–8). This rebuke could not apply more than to the rich of our generation. The extreme disparity between the world’s wealthiest and the world’s poorest is a terrible phenomenon today. Despite the 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” protests highlighting the income inequality in the USA and around the world, the economic disparity continues to rise. The 2019 Global Wealth Report reveals the level of disparity. According to the report, 1% of the world’s population owns 44% of the global wealth. Those in this wealth tier have a net worth in USD of at least $1 million. Those whose net worth is at least $110,000 fall into the top 10% of global wealth owners. This tier collectively holds 82% of the world’s wealth. In contrast, 56% of the population holds a meager 1.8% of the global wealth. People in this tier own less than $10,000 each, most of them far less.19 To highlight the disparity, even more, Oxfam reported in 2019 that the combined fortunes of the world’s 26 wealthiest individuals reached $1.4 trillion in 2018—the same amount as the total wealth of the 3.8 billion poorest people on earth. Hence the appeal, aptly put by one journalist to the ultra-wealthy, to “aim their great wealth and energies toward the world’s urgent challenges: extreme poverty, needless disease, illiteracy, and environmental devastation.”20 This call for action is even more relevant, given the current COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank estimates that the forecasted global recession this year “may push 70 million to 100 million people into extreme poverty.”21

Despite the oppressive economic conditions of the last days, the apostle James encourages us not to give up in despair, but rather “to be patient unto the coming of the Lord.” He reminds us that just as the farmer “waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain,” so we should also be “patient” and focus on keeping ourselves ready, “for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:7, 8).

A crisis of religion

The apostle Peter, under prophetic inspiration, gives us a further sign of the last days, one that would take place in the religious world. Scoffers. He wrote, “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3, 4).

Now there have always been scoffers of religion, ever since the days of Cain and Abel. But what is different about the scoffers of the last days? Evidently, they are religious people. They have a regard for “the fathers of the faith”—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other patriarchs of Scripture. Hebrews 11 tells us that the “fathers” looked for a “better country, a heavenly” one, but died without realizing the fulfillment of the promise. Since their falling asleep in death, nothing has changed. “All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” So the scoffers say. But have they? From the creation of this world, and everything that has happened to it? Have all things continued as they were from the beginning? If you know your Bible history, you will have to answer, No.

What the scoffers fail to believe, what “they willingly are ignorant of,” as Peter puts it in verse 5, is the fact of the greatest calamity this world has ever seen or will ever see until the second coming of Christ. Peter describes it this way: “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:5, 6). Due to the continuous evil practiced by the earth’s inhabitants almost 4,500 years ago, the world perished in a universal flood. All flesh died, except for eight souls and the animals that were with them in the ark.

The scoffers of the “last days” deny this event, even though they profess belief in the Scriptures. How can they possibly do that? The answer is born out in what has been happening in the Christian world for the past 200 years.

Since the early 1800’s many professed Christians have accepted the idea that the earth is billions of years old. However, this notion contradicts the plainest reading of the Bible. Rather than take the Bible as it reads, Biblical scholars have proposed many theories to harmonize the contradiction. One of the most prevalent views being taught in seminaries today is the Framework Hypothesis. It was developed in 1924 and popularized in the 1950s in the United States and Europe.22 In this view, the creation story of Genesis is merely a poem and not a historical account of our origins. Those professed Christians who hold this view do not believe the Biblical record of a literal six-day creation, nor of the earth being only about 6000 years old. They postulate that the creation might well have happened over thousands of years, with evolution being a mechanism. They further propose that the greatest hydraulic cataclysm that this world has ever seen was just a couple of local rivers overflowing. In their view, the localized flood story became the stuff of legend, and the legend became this fantastic Biblical story of a worldwide flood.

This view has laid the foundation for the last-day scoffers about which the apostle Peter writes. They deny the universal flood as well as the literal six-day creation. We should not then be surprised when we meet these ideas in the lecture halls of Christian universities and educational institutions.

In a 2002 letter to the editor of the Australian Presbyterian, a prominent Presbyterian minister represented the view when he wrote, “I would be aghast if orthodox Presbyterians were required to endorse the populist argument for a global Flood in [your] May issue.”23

The apostle Paul adds further details to the decay of Christianity as a sign of the “last days.” He wrote to Timothy that people would be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:4, 5). Religion would become a form without true love for God. In Jesus’ words, “the love of many would wax (or grow) cold.” The reason for this, according to Jesus, would be the terrible evil that would abound in the world just before His return (Matthew 24:12). Who can deny the abounding evil present in the world today—the crime; the social injustice; the needless pain and suffering inflicted by people upon other people; riots and racism; the oppression of minorities; and the neglect of the poor, the homeless and the afflicted. People of faith are growing tired. Rather than exercise their faith in making a difference, the vast majority become indifferent to the abounding iniquity. Jesus’ words indicate that things will not get better but worse. When it comes to faith, there will be very little of it around at His second coming:

“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8, last part).

He will. But sadly, it won’t be manifested by many.

A faithful few

True “faith works by love.” And according to the words of the apostle Paul, “love is the fulfilling of the law,” not the breaking of it. The law the Apostle Paul refers to is evident in the commandments it embodies:

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8–10).

Consequently, Christ’s faithful followers will be those who fulfill the ten commandments. The apostle John, looking down to the time just before the second coming of Jesus, sees such a group of people. He describes them in this way, “Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God, and have the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

These believers are commandments keepers. They are the fruit of the preaching of the “everlasting gospel” (referenced in verse 6) for the last days. This preaching will be in fulfillment of one of the last signs Jesus gave that would mark the nearness of the end.

Worldwide preaching

Jesus affirmed, “the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). This movement is symbolized in Revelation 14:6 as an angel flying “in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” John is writing here of a worldwide movement that takes the gospel message to every inhabitable quarter of the globe. Dear reader, this is happening today. Of the 193 recognized countries, there is not one nation on earth that does not contain Christian adherents. However, the Joshua Project estimates there are 17,425 people groups within the countries of the world today. These are groups in which no significant barrier to understanding the gospel would exist between people within that group. Of these, 7,410 are yet to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ and His soon coming. That is about 3.2 billion people.24 Before Jesus returns, they will hear the gospel message. But that message will have a significant emphasis. John writes in Revelation 14:7 that the “everlasting gospel” to be preached in these last days will be a call to “worship him that made the heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” Recognition of God as the Creator will be the heart of the message.

Recognizing our Creator

Despite the terrible calamities we see in nature, there is still a God of nature who cares for His creation. He who made all things is to be loved and worshipped as the Creator of all things. Sadly, most of the Christian world has forgotten the day that God set aside to worship Him on. In Isaiah 58:13, He calls it “my holy day”—the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, commonly called Saturday. It is the only day in Scripture that God has blessed and sanctified as a day of rest to remember Him as our Creator (Genesis 2:3). The Sabbath is also a reminder of our deliverance from the bondage of sin through our loving Creator’s power (Deuteronomy 5:15). Today, He is inviting you to enter the Sabbath “rest,” a rest that can only come from accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, the one who has delivered you from sin by His creative power. Only then can you truly “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” for the Creator, by His redeeming grace, will have made you holy (Exodus 20:8–11; Hebrews 4:9). This is the gospel message that must go to all the world for a witness, and then shall the end come.

Secure in the conflagration

In concluding His reply to His disciples’ question, Jesus declared, “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37).

The debauchery and evil that preceded the destruction of our world by water would again be a precursor to the destruction of our world when Jesus returns. How will this destruction take place?

“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). Just as the waters held above and beneath the earth burst forth in destruction in Noah’s day, the fiery elements beneath the earth and above it are being held in check by divine power until that day when they shall burst forth in destruction. Sadly, most will be unprepared. “For the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Dear reader, we are very near to the end. “All these things” that Jesus and his prophets said would transpire before the end are happening right now. This gives me confidence that Jesus is coming back very soon. But why does He delay? Despite what the scoffers may say, “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” Instead, He is exercising His divine patience with us all, the godly and the ungodly alike. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The perpetration of evil in this world, the calamities, and the conflicts grieve His heart. But soon, very soon, He will bring all this to an end. What should you then do to be ready? Come to Jesus in true repentance. Confess your sins, surrender your life to Him, and accept His forgiveness. In doing so, regardless of what happens in our world, you will always be ready to meet the Lord in peace. Amen.

References
1 The Age: World Bank forecasts worst global recession in eight decades. 9 June 2020.
2 American Medical Association (AMA USA): Harvard epidemiologist: Beware COVID-19’s second wave this fall. 8 May 2020.
3 Encyclopedia Britannica, World War I, Killed, Wounded or Missing.
4 Leitenburg, Milton: Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century, Occasional Paper #29, Cornell University, Peach Studies Program. 2006.
5 UK Institute of Development Studies, Working Paper 105: Famine in the Twentieth Century, p. 6.
6 Ibid., p. 8.
7 FEWS NET: Mortality among populations of southern and central Somalia affected by severe food insecurity and famine during 2010-2012, Study. Published 2 May 2013. p. 8.
8 World Vision: Africa hunger, famine: Facts, FAQs, and how to help.
9 10 UK Institute of Development Studies, Working Paper 105: Famine in the Twentieth Century, p. 6.
10 CDC: First Global Estimates of 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Mortality Released by CDC-Led Collaboration, Published 15 June 2012.
11 World Health Organisation: World Health Statistics 2020, Visual Summary.
12 Rosser, M. and Ritchie, H., Our World in Data: HIV/AIDS. Published November 2019.
13 Carta Campinas: Com 500 milhões de abelhas mortas em três meses, agricultura brasileira pode entrar em colapso. 2 March 2019.
14 Euro Weekly News: Millions of Bees found dead across Spain’s Costa del Sol & Costa Blanca causes Farmers to worry about food shortages. 17 April 2002.
15 Bloomberg.com: One Billion Animals Now Feared Dead in Australia’s Wildfires. January 8, 2020.
16 Newshub: Coromandel waterways filled with thousands of dead birds and eels. 4 March 2020.
17 Statista.com: Earthquakes with the highest death toll worldwide from 1900 to 2016.
18 Credit-Suisse Research Institute: Global Wealth Report 2019.
19 20 CNN: Billionaires reach for the stars while world suffers. 15 August 2018.
20 The Age: Ibid.
21 McCabe, Dr. Robert V. and Chaffey, Tim: Answers in Genesis: What’s Wrong with the Framework Hypothesis?
22 Doctor Roland S Ward: Letter to the Editor of Australian Presbyterian, June 2002; Quoted from Answers in Genesis: Church Leader “Aghast” at Belief in a Worldwide Flood?
23 Joshua Project.