Many people have been asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Earth’s Last Days. They are asking not just because it is a serious illness, but because of the global impact of COVID-19, closing everything down, disrupting economies, troubling international relations. Something this impactful must be a sign, they feel.
I started writing on this topic by showing what Jesus said about pandemics in his teaching about the Last Days (In Matthew 24, He calls them pestilences, another word for pandemics or plagues). You can go to what I said about that in Part 1 and Part 2.
Then I moved to the book of Revelation. Why? The Bible’s last book speaks apocalyptically about Earth’s final events. Not just that, of course; it covers the stream of time from Jesus First Advent to the Second Coming of Christ.
Jesus Himself shows up in a vision to John, one of Jesus’ early disciples. It is now sixty years since Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven. The Christian Church is under serious persecution, and Jesus returns to reassure His followers of His care and concern and to lay out the future in broad strokes. It was comforting and enlightening to Christians then, and has been down through the centuries.
Revelation’s First and Last Sections
In the first half of Revelation Jesus lays out what the Church will experience in the years between John’s ministry and His return. In cycles of seven (seven letters to churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets), Jesus loops through history three times to show different angles of the same story – what His Church will face ahead. I covered that here.
The last half of Revelation is a dramatic exposé of Earth’s final events; not in the detail we might wish for, but in enough broad strokes to know the outline and major events that will come, what they mean, and how to relate to them when they arrive. It was given so we can take our stand on the right side of spiritual issues that come and have God’s strength to keep us faithful.
Purpose of this Blog
My purpose in this blog, Part 5, is to give a short overview of what Jesus told John would happen in the final period of Earth’s End-time. I will not go into great depth. The details have filled many books. My purpose here is to give you an orientation to chapters 12-22 and to spotlight a few things that show where we are in the stream of time. Jesus’ coming is certainly nearer than ever before.
A Master of Divinity student I am mentoring told me the other day that some people ask, “Why study the book of Revelation? After all, we should spend our time helping people get to know God and doing good like Jesus did, not conjecturing about the future. Besides, focusing on the Last Days just creates a lot of fear, not hope and peace.”
Those are fair questions. Remember, Jesus Himself gave us the messages and information in this book. He considered The Revelation very important for at least these three reasons:
1) To Strengthen Our Faith. Jesus knew the years ahead would be a very difficult time for believers to live in. Faith would have a hard time surviving. So He gave us information and evidence that would strengthen our faith when we saw events coming to pass. Jesus told His disciples, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:19). Our relationship with Jesus should not depend on “signs,” but on knowing His character and trusting His grace and promises, but signposts are a “help” he has given as part of our trust relationship with Him.
2) Courtesy Signs. “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). When friends or loved ones used to come for a visit (before The Quarantine), as a courtesy, they would call or text a few minutes away to let us know they would arrive soon. That way we could do our last tidying up, finish food prep, and be ready to meet them. Jesus loves us and has given “courtesy signs” to let us know what will happen and when He’ll be arriving soon so we can be alert. As He said about this in Luke, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 NIV). How thoughtful of Jesus!
3) Intense Times Require Preparation. I met a young man in Russia many years ago, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. He told me that several years earlier, he expected to be arrested for his faith, so he spent time getting prepared spiritually so his faith would not fail in prison. He spent time reading His Bible, committing texts to memory, praying, surrendering His life to God daily. Fortunately, he was never arrested. Jesus gives us “signs” to remind us along the way we need to stay ready. Before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus warned His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus has laid out final events in Revelation to encourage us to “Watch and pray. . . .”
Introduction to Earth’s Climax – Revelation 11:19
Revelation 11:19 introduces the Last Days. It describes the Inner Sanctum of God’s temple in heaven being opened. John sees the “ark of his covenant,” containing the Ten Commandments and covered by the “mercy seat.” Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, the earth quakes, and more. Something awesome is about to happen.
The Hebrew sanctuary or worship center illustrated God’s way of saving us and also a timeline for God’s salvation plan. Jesus’ death, His ascension to be our Mediator, the Judgment, and the Second Coming were all pictured.
This scene in chapter 11:19 initiates the Last Days, the Day of Atonement, the heavenly Yom Kippur. While this takes place in Heaven, Satan will ravage the earth like a wounded animal, knowing his days are numbered.
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”Revelation 12:12 NIV
Revelation 12 – 13:1-10: Cosmic Conflict
In Revelation 12 and 13:1-10, Jesus describes the Final Scenes in the long spiritual conflict between God and Satan. He does this by picturing the history of the Christian Church from the perspective of this cosmic conflict.
Revelation 12, like other parts of Revelation, contains several scenes. It begins with the birth of Christ. He is is born through the “woman,” God’s covenant people in the Old and New Testaments (Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.” John 4:22). Her tiara of twelve stars represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Her standing on the moon while clothed with the sun is a picture of the old covenant (moon) with its symbols giving way to the realities of the New Covenant (sun) and “Jesus, the True Light who gives light to everyone.” John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).
But then, an enormous red dragon swoops in, landing in front of the woman to devour her child as soon as it is born. This dragon is Satan (verse 9), but he is works diabolically through a human government to try to kill Jesus before He accomplishes His mission to save us (Satan acted through King Herod. See Matthew 2:13-18).
Christ is eventually snatched up to God’s throne (after His life, death, and resurrection; verse 5), so Satan now turns his wrath on Jesus’ followers, the Church. She flees into the wilderness, trying to escape persecution by Satan through Rome and its successors. Revelation often skips over details as it describes a larger narrative.
Why all this suffering? After these scenes, Jesus pulls the curtain back to show why the Church will suffer so much down through history (of course other persecuted minorities have suffered too). Revelation 12:7-12 shows is because Satan is carrying on a long war with God. His hatred for Jesus and the Father lead him to harass and kill their followers. He diabolically delights in suffering and death and brings suffering on the whole world.
This rebellion began in heaven where Satan gradually changed from the Angel Leader, Lucifer (Light Bearer) to Satan (the accuser) through pride and coveting God’s throne. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the story, veiled in prophecies about human kings. Through brilliant propaganda and cunning lies, Satan persuaded one third of the angels to join his side (Revelation 12:4).
Revelation 12:7-17 describes this revolution in heaven, Satan’s and His angel followers’ eventual expulsion, and their long war on Jesus’ Church through the centuries. Most importantly, Jesus tells how His followers can be victorious in this war:
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”Revelation 12:11 NIV
The woman (Jesus’ true followers) will be the “Church in the Wilderness” always persecuted, through the Dark Ages (verses 14-16).
The transitional verse which opens the curtain on the final conflict described in Revelation 13 and 14 is very significant.
“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”Revelation 12:17 NIV
In the Time of the End, the period of the heavenly Yom Kippur, Jesus is finishing His work of intercession and Judgment in heaven. Satan knows that his time is short. So he turns his fury on the Woman’s (the Church) final descendants. Chapters 13 and 14 will describe how he does this through earthly powers.
The Last Act: Cast of Characters
Previously, I said that Jesus gave the Revelation so His people, the Church, would understand the scope of what they would face from John’s day to the Second Advent. But now, Jesus focuses in on the last period of time in this cosmic spiritual struggle.
In Revelation 13, he identifies two kingdoms or nations that will especially persecute God’s people. They are pictured as “beasts.” This was an ancient way of identifying kingdoms. We do this today as well. School sports teams have their mascots, often an animal.
The First Beast of Revelation 13
At the close of Revelation 12, the dragon (Satan) stands on the shore of the sea in John’s vision. The sea represents the nations and people of earth. As he stands there, a beast emerges from the sea.
It becomes clear as we read Revelation 13:1-10, that Jesus is describing the ruling power that has been persecuting the woman in chapter 12. The dragon is going to work through this beast to persecute some of Jesus’ followers.
This first persecuting beast is actually a composite of the kingdoms in Daniel 7, Revelation’s companion book in the Old Testament: a lion (Babylon), bear (Medo-Persia), leopard (ancient Greece, and dragon (Rome). Animals in apocalyptic literature represent kingdoms; see Daniel 7:17.
This combination animal gathers the kings and nations of Europe and Western Asia into his reign. As the kingdoms of ancient Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all persecuted God’s people, this beast does the same in the Christian era, from the time of Christ through the middle ages, to the End of Time.
Notice that he has a throne and great authority. So, he reigns as a monarch. He is wounded, but survives, and the whole world follows him (vs. 3, 8). He persecutes some of God’s followers for the same period of time (forty-two months) as mentioned in Revelation 12:6.
Second Beast of Revelation 13
As John watches amazed, he sees another animal emerge, this time from the earth. This beast looks lamb-like. A lamb is a symbol of Jesus in both Old and New Testament, so this is a nation with Christian roots. However outwardly Christian it is, it sometimes speaks with the voice of a dragon and becomes more and more dragon-like. This nation comes after the first beast in history because he leads the world to reverence and worship the first beast kingdom.
By working miracles, the second kingdom gains world-wide allegiance and leads all nations to set up an image of the first beast. He gives this image life so it can speak with authority and cause all who refuse to worship the first beast to be killed. So there is a collaboration between the first beast, which continues to exist, and the second beast. As John watches these two beasts in their dragon-like work, his attention is suddenly riveted by something happening in the sky.
Three Angels of Revelation 14
As chapter 14 begins, John sees Jesus’ faithful followers at the end. They are the “sealed” people of Revelation 7. They have a pure faith, follow Jesus faithfully, and have God’s character in their minds. While he is watching them, three angels fly through the air loudly announcing a three part message to the whole world.
Their message comes directly from God as a response to the activity of the two beasts as they fight for world-wide attention and allegiance. The angels’ proclamation is a universal warning not to worship the beast or receive the “mark,” or sign of his authority, on their forehead or hand.
What Does All This Mean?
There isn’t time to go into every detail, but here are some important things to notice:
It’s Who You Worship. The beasts are doing everything they can to gain world-wide worship and authority. Satan, who has wanted worship from the beginning of his apostasy (Isaiah 14:13, 14; Ezekiel 28:17) , works through them to get the worship he wants. Paul predicted this would happen in 2 Thessalonians 2. The Three Angels remind everyone that only God is worthy of worship because He is the Creator, Savior, and Judge of all.
It’s Who You Obey. The Last Day cosmic struggle will be about who to obey. The beasts and their image will try to force obedience and worship on pain of death. At the same time, Jesus invites all to obey and follow Him because He is the true God. Two key statements are made which show this.
“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”Revelation 12:17; 14:12 NIV
Jesus’ Last Day followers will obey all of God’s Ten Commandments (James 2:10-11) and hold on to their testimony about Jesus, that He is their Savior and Lord. They don’t just believe, they obey. They are grateful for saving grace, and through Jesus’ help they keep God’s commands. That’s why Satan hates them and is trying to get rid of them. They are the opposite of what he has become. They are faithful and, through grace, are becoming more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Final Call. This is earth’s spiritual Endtime crisis, Jesus’ final invitation to accept and follow Him. How do we know? Immediately after the Three Angels give their message, Jesus comes. His Coming is described as the earth’s harvest. The Seven Last Plagues take place, the judgment on the beasts and their followers (also called “Babylon”) occurs, and Jesus comes.
Who is Babylon? Babylon plays a prominent role in Revelation 14-18. Who is this Babylon? Ancient Babylon was originally made up of God’s followers, the family of Noah who were faithful to God and survived the Flood.
After the Great Flood, some of Noah’s family lost their faith, gave into doubt, turned against God, and established a religious philosophy of salvation through personal effort, instead of trusting God completely (Genesis 11). This group of Noah’s descendants became the ancestors of ancient Babylon, which in turn became a major antagonist to God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament.
In Revelation Jesus draws on Old Testament names and places to symbolize what will take place in the Last Days. People that historically followed God, but turned away, will become the persecutors of those who humbly trust and obey Jesus’ teachings.
Miracles and Authority. In Revelation, Jesus warns us not to base our faith on the teachings of people or miracles, but on Jesus and His word. While genuine miracles will take place, Revelation warns strongly against false miracles. This is in line with Jesus’ earlier teaching:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”Matthew 7:21-23 NIV
Conclusion: What’s It All About?
Revelation begins with Jesus. Chapter 1 is dedicated “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,” and who “is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. . .” (Revelation 1:5-7).
Jesus appears to John in symbols, showing that He has kept His promise to be with His Church “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Revelation shows that our crucified, resurrected, and living Savior has led the Church through the centuries since His First Advent, and will lead us through the Last Days before He returns at the Second Coming.
We can trust this and love Him even more for His faithfulness.
So, is COVID-19 a sign of the End? Not by itself, though something like this could certainly help trigger the things described by Revelation. When we examine what Jesus taught about the Last Days, we see a coming together of many influences and events. It is world-wide in scope. Like a painting is made up of hundreds brush strokes, the Last Days will involve many things.
In times of crisis, people sometimes turn to God out of fear. Nationalism and majoritarian religion can create a climate of xenophobia and racism, which leads to persecution of minorities. In a crisis, leaders sometimes over reach in power. Constitutional liberties are overlooked in the interest of personal and national security.
Revelation predicts a time when this will happen on a world-wide scale.
Signs Visible Now – Questions to Ask
Looking over Revelation 13-19, what do we see now that might show Jesus’ Coming is very close?
Nations with World-wide Authority and Power. Ask yourself, what nations have the influence and power described in Revelation 13? What kingdoms and powers are collaborating to force obedience to non-scriptural laws. This may still be in the future, but it is important to be alert.
Miracle Movements. What movements focus heavily on the miraculous, and how broad is their influence? Do they accurately teach the Bible? When miracles are used to justify false teaching, as often happened in Old and New Testaments, those leaders and miracles are not from God.
Power and Force. What tendencies do you see to grab power and ignore the principle of freedom of religion and conscience? What movements exist to undermine human rights in major countries. In our nation, we must protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
Economic Problems. Revelation 18:17 and James 5:1-6 predict a time when wealth will disappear through economic trouble or collapse. What trends in our world indicate this could happen?
Battle over God’s Law and Jesus’ Gospel. Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 say clearly that the final spiritual issue will be whether people hold to their faith in Jesus and keep God’s Ten Commandments. We are saved by grace to live a life of holiness and obedience as Romans shows. In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Ten Commandments. In other words, grace does not void out God’s Law. What efforts and movements do you see growing who distort these truths?
So, what should we do?
This is such an important question. When Jesus gave His teachings about Church history and the Last Days in the Gospels, He concluded by showing how we should live while we wait for His Second Coming.
Interestingly, He did not teach that we should focus all our attention on signs and events, but on living His life and serving others in His name. While we should be aware of all Jesus taught about signs and events, it is the mission He gave us that we should concentrate mostly on. I will conclude this series on COVID-19 and the Last Days by looking at what Jesus taught about this in Matthew 24:36-51 and 25.