Many are asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Planet Earth’s Last Days. Jesus did mention pestilences (pandemics) in his teaching about events that lead to His Second Coming, which is why people are asking this, plus the universal disruption it has caused.
In this series of blogs I am describing how we can view this Pandemic in the big picture of what Jesus taught about signs and the Second Advent. Think of it as a short, free class on that topic. You can read parts 1-3 here: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic a Sign? Is COVID-19 a Sign? Part 2 and Is the Pandemic a Sign? Part 3
The first two in the series look at Jesus’ teaching about Last Day events in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Part 3 gives keys for understanding the book of Revelation.
In today’s blog, we will look specifically at what Jesus taught about Earth’s Final Events before His Return in the first half of Revelation. This will be an overview. In the next blog, I will unpack the second half of The Apocalypse, as it is sometimes called. That section deals entirely with what Jesus said about events at the End.
Jesus and Revelation
Sixty years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, He returned in vision to John to show His Church what lay ahead in the centuries to come, and in the Final Events before His Second Coming.
With the passage of time, some Christians had begun to wonder if Jesus’ promise to return was still good. Some were losing their faith. Now Jesus comes to reassure them and teach important things about the future, and what was taking place in the spiritual world, behind the scenes.
Revelation covers the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming which, in turn, leads to the restoration of Earth as God’s dwelling place and the eternal home of His people.
Revelation’s Structure and Purpose
Revelation is made up of a series of visions, or vision scenes. The visions move forward in time, but also dip back in history to pick up past events. The visions also move in focus from the earth to heaven where God’s throne is. In this way, God shows that events here on earth are related to what is taking place in heaven. There are spiritual powers and forces at work behind the scenes in this world. Not everything is due to the laws of nature or human choices and actions.
The general purpose of Revelation is to show God’s love and faithfulness, and how He stays connected and involved with what is happening on earth, because of His love for us. A cosmic spiritual battle is raging between God and Satan, a fallen angel. The devil works through those who follow him, including nations and leaders of all kinds, to persecute Jesus’ followers while they, in turn, remain faithful by following God’s word and will. It is an old story, but Revelation describes it in riveting detail.
Revelation may be outlined this way:
Revelation 1-12. The first section is historical. It spans time from the period of the Early Church until the beginning of the Last Days. In Daniel’s book, this is referred to as “The Time of the End,” a period of time before Jesus returns when Earth struggles on its last legs. “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (The “knowledge” referred to is understanding Bible prophecy, God’s purpose and character, and the End Times. See Dan. 12:4, 9 NIV)
Revelation 13-19 introduces the major characters and describes final signs and events leading up to and including the Second Coming of Jesus. Dramatic symbols and worldwide action show that everyone on the planet will be called to make a decision to follow God or the “Beast” powers.
Revelation 20-22 describe what will happen after Jesus comes, a great final showdown between Satan and his followers and the Ruler of the Universe. This will be a triumph of love, not an exercise of arbitrary power on God’s part. A movie should be made of this. After that, the earth is recreated in pristine beauty and perfection, and the New Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place in heaven, is transported to Earth, where God sets up His eternal capital. The New Earth is briefly described, with a final invitation to accept Jesus and plan for eternity.
Final Events in Revelation’s 7’s
In vision, John sees several series of seven events play out: 7 letters are read to 7 churches; 7 seals are opened and 7 action figures emerge; 7 angels are given 7 trumpets to blow, and when they do, cataclysmic events occur. Later, there are also 7 angelic messages for the world and 7 last plagues before Christ comes.
The first three series of seven, 7 letters to the churches, 7 opening seals, and 7 sounding trumpets, all end with the Second Coming of Christ. So we could expect to see some events and signs of Christ’s coming also listed. In fact, we do, especially in the fifth and sixth items of each series. The seventh is the actual coming of Christ.
The Seven Churches (Revelation 2, 3)
Jesus tells John to write letters to seven different churches. These were literal congregations in Asia Minor. However, it is widely accepted that these churches represents seven periods of time stretching from the Apostolic Age to the Second Coming.
In the letter to the Sixth Church, Jesus seems to be describing a period just prior to the Last Days. He makes this time-related promise that helps us locate where it is in the stream of time:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”Revelation 3:10-11 NIV
Jesus promises believers in this sixth period that because they have been so faithful, He will let them pass to their rest without going through earth’s Final Crisis. Believers in the seventh period will go through them. They must take Jesus’ diagnosis and remedy seriously to be ready for His Coming.
The Letter to the Church of Laodicea (the Seventh Church) describes the condition of God’s professed followers near the end of earth’s history. They will be lukewarm says Jesus; spiritually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. He offers a prescription and a divine remedy that will heal them and prepare them for Jesus’ coming (verses 18-22).
Jesus’ portrayal of Christianity in this final phase is very similar to what Paul and Peter described about the Church in the last days. Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 4:1-5, and 2 Peter 3:1-9, and you will see striking similarities. These passages describe a Christianity that, while wealthy in finances and programs, has largely lost its power and fallen into spiritual decay.
The Seven Seals (Revelation 5 – 8:5)
The letters to the seven churches are followed by two wonderful visions where John’s eyes are directed to worship taking place in heaven. In chapter 4, God is worshiped as Creator of all. In chapter 5, Jesus is worshiped as the Savior who died for human sin.
Through these visions, Jesus is gives us the solution for sin and spiritual lethargy. It is to have a renewed realization that God is our Creator, and Jesus is our Savior. We are ushered into heaven with John where we see thousands of angels and heavenly beings overwhelmed with Who God is and the sacrifice He made so sinners could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.
In Revelation 5, John sees a 7-sealed scroll in God’s hand.
Sealed scrolls like this were often used as title deeds, as evidence of ownership. A powerful angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John laments that no one could be found in heaven or on earth who was worthy enough to open the scroll and claim ownership. He says, “he wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Then one of the elders said:
“’Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. . .He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . .And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.'”Revelation 5:5-9 NIV
Jesus is this sacrificial lamb because He has taken away the sins of the world by dying in our place (See Isaiah 53 and John 1:29). Because He did this, He can reclaim the world as His own eventually.
Jesus’ act of successively opening the seals pictures how He restores God’s kingdom in this world the teaching of the good news of salvation and inviting people to accept Him. It depicts the experience of the Church as it carries the Gospel to the world through seven ages. Sometimes it goes well; often there is great suffering, and even spiritual failure in the mission.
When the fifth seal is opened, Christian martyrs symbolically ask how long it will be until Christ returns. Jesus gives each of them a white robe and tells them to wait a little longer until more martyrs die. The fifth seal is a time of great martyrdom which corresponds to the Middle Ages.
The sixth seal dramatically portrays the celestial End Time events Jesus predicted as signs of His near coming in Matthew 24:29-31.
“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’”Revelation 6:12-17 NIV
Jesus lists five signs in the heavens that will precede His coming: a great earthquake, blackened sun, the moon turning blood red, and a huge shower of stars, followed by the heavens rolling back to reveal the coming of Jesus, as mountains and islands move out of their places. The first four have already happened, though they may take place again just before Christ’s coming. To read about them, click here.
It is clear in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6, that Jesus predicts these as significant signs of His soon return.
Who Can Stand?
The leaders and people pictured as witnessing Jesus’ Advent, cry out, “The great day of God’s wrath has come; who will be able to stand?” That is the question we might be asking as well. Who will be able to stand before Christ when He comes? Who will be ready for His coming? How can I be ready?
Jesus answers that question in Revelation 7. Four angels are pictured holding back the winds of war and calamity about to devastate the earth. Another angel appears holding the “seal of the living God” which will identify who belongs to Him. This angel travels through the world sealing people for heaven, before the four winds of final trouble are let loose. This is a direct allusion to Ezekiel 9 where God’s people are marked safe before destruction.
What is this seal? I believe it the experience of settling into trusting God and knowing the the truth about Him intellectually and spiritually so we will never turn away. The Bible says we are “sealed” initially when we accept Jesus (Ephesians 4:30), and Paul says:
“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’”2 Timothy 2:19 NIV
I believe now is the time we need to be getting solidly settled into our relationship with God, through the grace and help of Jesus. Only Jesus can help us do that. We cannot do it in our own effort.
When Jesus opens the Seventh Seal, in Revelation 8, three things happen. There is a brief period of silence in heaven. An angel with a golden censer comes to offer incense at the altar with the prayers of God’s people. Then this angel hurls the censer to the earth in judgment.
When Jesus ascended to heaven after his death and resurrection, the Bible says he went there to intercede for us. The book of Hebrews explains this in detail. This intercession, in part, is to claim all He won on the cross, draw people to salvation, defend us against the accusations of Satan (Zechariah 3), forgive our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2), and empower us to live as His people (Ephesians).
Our part is to pray and work with Him, as the “saints” are pictured doing in Revelation 8:3-4. When Jesus finishes His intercession, the door of salvation closes, and judgment takes place in stages. Judgment begins with the Seven Trumpets described in Revelation 8-11 and the Seven Last Plagues of Revelation 15-16.
As you read this, do you get the sense we are living near the end of earth’s history? I believe we are. God is calling us in the book of Revelation to see where we are in the stream of time and realize how important it is to commit our lives to Christ and follow Him. That’s why He has given us these signs.
The Seven Trumpets
In Bible times, trumpets were used in worship, warfare, to announce God’s appearances (theophanies), in the enthronement of a king, and before God’s judgments on the earth.
The Seven Trumpets of Revelation announce calamities which signal God’s approaching enthronement as King of Kings and Judge of Earth.
When the Fifth Trumpet sounded, the catastrophes were told “not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Rev. 9:4)
When an angel blew the Sixth Trumpet, a voice from the altar in heaven commanded, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great River Euphrates.” These are the angels who had been holding back the Four Winds in Revelation 7.
The Seventh Trumpet is blown in Revelation 11, after an interlude of almost two chapters. In chapter 10, an angel announces, “Time has run out. Whenever the days arrive and the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished just as He announced to His servants, the prophets” (The VOICE). God’s longest time prophecy in Daniel 8, 9 was expiring. The Time of the End was beginning and the mystery of God (giving the good news of salvation to the world) was going to be completed soon.
When the Seventh Trumpet sounds, loud voices in heaven, say:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever. . .You have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”Revelation 11:15-18 NIV
The Seventh Trumpet clearly announces the Final Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ. However, the visions are not finished yet. I said in an earlier blog that Revelation is divided into various scenes by Hebrew Sanctuary imagery.
This was the ancient worship center or temple where God’s plan of salvation in history was acted out. The sacrifice of Christ, the Judgment, and the final destruction of Satan was depicted in a yearly sequence. The final service took place on Yom Kippur, or The Day of Judgment, when the high priest went into the Most Holy Room There, before the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and the Law of God, he performed a service of final atonement and judgment for Israel.
In the first half of Revelation, Jesus gives three series of seven. Each of these series cover history and reach to the Second Coming of Christ. The sixth period in each series, Jesus gives signs that precede His coming. In the seventh, He describes some aspect of His return.
So, as we finish Revelation 11 and move into the second section of the book, Jesus indicates in sanctuary imagery that He will now go back and explain in more detail about Earth’s final events and the Judgment. That is the purpose of Revelation 12-19.
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”Revelation 11:19
In my next blog I will introduce you to the dramatic characters and major events in Earth’s final period. These are major signposts Jesus gives us about His soon return.
Last night I watched a video about a family in South Africa who owns a lion and tiger reserve. They have rescued and raised many in their own home. It was really special to see the family having fun with a lion or tiger. It reminded me that God has a wonderful future planned for us in heaven. Because Jesus died for us, someday He is going to remove all suffering, conflict, and sin and make Earth new again. Revelation is pointing toward that wonderful time.