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Corona Crisis: Plagues, Pandemics, and the Coming Apocalypse

Corona Crisis: Plagues, Pandemics, and the Coming Apocalypse

by Mark Hitchcock


Learn More | Meet Mark Hitchcock

Preface

What in the World Is Going On?

From now on, it can be said that plague was the concern of all of us.
—Albert Camus, The Plague

On February 29, 2020, my wife, Cheryl, and I left our home in Edmond, Oklahoma, for a thirteen-day trip to Israel. We could never have imagined how drastically the world would change by the time we returned.

Our flight from the States to Tel Aviv connected in Frankfurt, Germany. The airport there was eerily quiet and empty, but when we arrived in Israel, the place was bustling with excited tourists. Everything seemed normal. Tour groups from China and South Korea were prohibited, but groups from the United States were abundant.

Cheryl and I were joined a few days after our arrival by the rest of the tour group we were leading. COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus, was in the news when we departed, but its potential impact on the US was still being watched and weighed. There was a looming sense of concern and uncertainty; however, the virus had not yet erupted into a full pandemic, as the hot zones were still China and South Korea.

Fast-forward several days. The coronavirus had quickly mushroomed in Europe, especially Italy. Israel had acted quickly and decisively, barring all arriving flights from Europe and other affected areas.

A few days before we were set to return to the States, everyone’s phones began blowing up. An NBA player for the Utah Jazz, which was scheduled to play the Oklahoma City Thunder, was diagnosed with the virus. The game in Oklahoma City at the Chesapeake Arena was canceled just before tip-off.

The virus had hit home.

From there the dominoes began to fall. President Trump canceled all flights to the US from Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland (though they would be included later). Everyone in our tour group with a connection in Europe had to reschedule their flights. Frustrating calls to overwhelmed airlines dragged on for several hours. Relatives and friends back home were concerned about our safe and speedy return. My wife was barraged with text messages from anxious loved ones.

Our tour group was one of the final ones to exit Israel. No more groups were allowed to leave after we did. During our final day of touring in Jerusalem, the streets were virtually empty. Vendors were absent. Shops were closed. Israel was preparing to hunker down for the long haul.

When we finally arrived back home, after only two weeks away, it felt as if we had returned to a different country—a strange new world. It’s difficult to describe how we felt, but it was profoundly surreal. Our time in Israel had distanced and insulated us from the surging chaos and upheaval back home. Cable news shows in the US had coronavirus coverage 24/7. Store shelves were ransacked. Bottled water was scarce. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found. Quarantines were mandated. Cruise ships were stranded. Events of all kinds were canceled. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all suspended their seasons. High school and college sports seasons were ended. The NCAA’s March Madness was scratched. Schools closed. Restaurants suspended dine-in service. Bars shut down. Pastors preached to empty pews and chairs as church services were broadcast via livestream. Streets emptied. Gatherings of more than ten people were forbidden. Global stock markets collapsed.

Just as we returned, President Trump, surrounded by an august group of health experts, rallied the American people to significantly limit social interaction for fifteen days to break the back of the virus and flatten the curve of infection. The lockdown dragged on. Uncertainty and panic spread.

The world was changed forever.

Signpost on the Road to Armageddon

As I am writing, we are still in the midst of the crisis, and the main concerns of all Americans and citizens of other affected nations are the physical health and safety of our families, neighbors, and friends. That’s priority one. But people are also gravely concerned about their jobs and the economy. We all hope and pray that the hit on the economy won’t crater into a deep recession or even a depression. Physical and fiscal health are the two overriding concerns, and they are deeply interconnected. Yet there’s another issue that’s lurking in the minds of many people, a lingering concern that what we’re seeing may be a portent of things to come—a harbinger of the end of days.

As my wife and I were standing in line in Tel Aviv to board our delayed flight to Newark, New Jersey, two young men were standing just in front of us. I struck up a conversation with them, and at one point one of them looked at my wife and me with a bewildered expression on his face and said, “I don’t know what in the world is going on. I think the world is about to end.”

I was surprised by his unexpected comment, but I told him, “This isn’t the end of the world, but I do believe Jesus could come at any time, and we need to make sure we know Him and that we’re ready.” He looked back at me with a blank stare, clearly having no idea how these two thoughts were connected, and then turned back to talk with his friend.

That young man’s question, in one form or another, has probably been on the minds of many people in recent days. Empty streets, closed malls and shopping centers, people holed up in their homes “sheltering in place” . . . these days certainly have an apocalyptic feel. Apocalypse is in the air. While many people may not want to say it aloud, they’re secretly wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic is an omen of the end—a sign or signal of what’s to come. Another signpost on the road to Armageddon. Even the Washington Post ran an article on March 18, 2020, about what Christians who study the end of the world were saying about the corona crisis.1

Echoes of the End

Simply stated, that’s what this book is about: the intersection of plagues and the coming Apocalypse. We’ll concentrate on the rise of deadly viruses in the last few decades and consider what role pandemics will play in the end of days. Of course, the current focus is on COVID-19, but the coronavirus is only one of a long chain of outbreaks the world has experienced in recent times. We’ll highlight some of these other plagues in chapter 3.

Zeroing in on the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said,

But Christians looking to this news and of course looking with concern also have to look, recognizing that we are hearing echoes of what we find in Scripture. For example, in the Gospel of Luke 21:11 where Jesus says, “There will be earthquakes and in various places, plagues and famines and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”2

Dr. Mohler is spot on. The coronavirus plague echoes what we find in Scripture. It foreshadows what lies ahead, which raises many compelling questions that deserve clear answers.

  • Are current events part of a larger drama scripted long ago?
  • Does the Bible predict the rise of pestilence and plagues in the end times?
  • Is the coronavirus prophesied in the Bible?
  • Is the coronavirus the judgment of God?
  • How bad will it get?
  • Are we living in the end times?
  • Where is the current crisis headed?
  • How should we respond in light of the corona crisis?

Answers to these questions won’t tell us everything we want to know about the future or pinpoint the time of Jesus’ coming, but they will place the current crisis into a scriptural framework that helps us understand what lies ahead and teaches us how to live until Jesus comes again. In all this, we need to remember that God told us about the future not to scare us but to prepare us, not to make us anxious but to make us aware.

So join me as we unpack today’s ominous headlines and connect the dots with ancient prophecies in the pages of Scripture. Together, let’s discover what in the world is going on and make sure we’re aware and prepared.


Chapter 1

Corona Fever

We’re waking up to our new reality. . . . This will be the thing this generation remembers.
—Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health Director

“People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”
—Jesus, Luke 21:26

None of us, in our wildest dreams, ever thought we would spend so many days and weeks of our lives thinking about a microscopic virus. It’s not something we like to think about or want to think about. Now or ever! Yet our lives have been consumed by novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).1 We’re bombarded and barraged with it every waking moment. It’s 24/7. We’ve heard from doctors, epidemiologists, politicians, financial experts, and political pundits nonstop. We’ve seen charts and graphics predicting how bad it’s going to get. No one living through these times will ever forget 2020 and COVID-19.

The coronavirus has turned the entire world upside down. It’s a classic “black swan” event.2 We’re witnessing worldwide upheaval. The headlines tell the story:

“Apocalypse Now: Here’s How Americans Think It Will All End”
yougov.com, March 18, 2020

“Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.”
Politico, March 19, 2020

“Why Do Some Christians Believe Coronavirus Is an Apocalyptic Prophecy?”
The Jerusalem Post, March 26, 2020

“Empty Streets and Sights as Major Cities Lock Down”
BBC News, March 29, 2020

“Trump Acknowledges That Deaths in the US Could Reach 100,000 or More”
Associated Press, March 29, 2020

“Over 3,000 People Have Died in US from Coronavirus, Surpassing 9/11 Death Toll”
New York Post, March 31, 2020

“US Jobless Claims Hit Record 6.6 Million as COVID-19 Ravages Economy”
The Guardian, April 2, 2020

Never in my lifetime have I sensed so much anxiety and unrest. It’s palpable. Never, other than briefly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has nearly every conversation been dominated by one topic. Conversations are centered around coronavirus and its consequences and impact on daily life.

We’re navigating uncharted waters. These are turbulent, unparalleled, unprecedented times. There’s a daily Niagara Falls of unnerving news. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Isolation is exacting its grinding toll.

Viral Spiral

On New Year’s Eve 2019, health officials from China alerted the World Health Organization of a new form of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, a megacity in the Central China region.

A few days later, health officials announced they had identified a new strain of virus from the coronavirus family. It was labeled “2019-nCoV,” more commonly known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus.

The number of cases exploded in China, and then Italy and Spain were hit hard. The first COVID-19 death in the United States was on February 29, 2020. The US eventually surpassed China as the country with the most confirmed cases. New York City became the global epicenter.

Coronavirus hit the elderly population hardest along with those with underlying medical issues. Experts maintain we will never know the full extent of the pandemic since some people have no discernible symptoms. But one thing we do know is that coronavirus changed the world. That’s not an overstatement or exaggeration, since COVID-19 spread to almost every nation on the planet and reached into every corner and crevice of our lives. Our schedules, schools, social contacts, hygiene, work, psyches, and—for many people—interest in spiritual things. Shaking hands or hugging became taboo. We had to keep our distance from everyone.

Like thousands of other pastors, I preached for weeks to an empty sanctuary as our services were livestreamed to our people in their homes. It was not ideal, but it was a great reminder to us all that the church is not the building or the gathering but the people who are part of Christ’s body. Still, preaching to an empty room on Good Friday and Easter Sunday was an experience I will never forget.

Even our vocabulary changed in a short period of time. New words and phrases we’ve all heard and learned have become part of our everyday conversation: self-isolation, self-quarantine, shelter in place, social distance, community spread, coronavirus, n95 mask, COVID-19, super-spreader, flatten the curve, and pandemic. There’s no doubt the word of the year for 2020 will be coronavirus. It may be the word of the new decade.

It seems like we’ve all been suddenly written into the script of a movie about the spread of a mysterious apocalyptic virus—think Outbreak (1995) or Contagion (2011), the latter of which became one of the most-watched movies during the corona crisis. Or it seems like we’re part of the nightmarish plot of one of the spate of movies that portrays a dystopian future after a pandemic, war, or ecological disaster: World War Z, 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, or The Last of Us. Strange times indeed.

India went on lockdown, quarantining one-sixth of the world’s population. Italy shut down as tight as a condemned building. While I’m writing, 90 percent of the US population is under some level of lockdown or stay-at-home / shelter-in-place order. Storefronts are plastered with signs stating “Closed Until Further Notice.” Streets are eerily empty. High-rise office buildings are vacant. Playgrounds are silent. Tent hospitals have sprung up in New York City’s Central Park. Floating naval hospitals are anchored off the coasts of New York City and Los Angeles. Writing for The Atlantic, Ed Yong said,

Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country. . . . It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.3

On top of all the other personal anxiety, financial markets plummeted. The US stock market logged its worst first quarter in 124 years. Experts called it a major financial reset. The largest economic relief and stimulus package in history was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. More rounds are expected.

Global travel lurched to a standstill. Unemployment could quickly surge to near 1930s levels. There’s no doubt that the world is being battered psychologically, socially, physically, and financially. But COVID-19 has had another powerful effect, reaching into our collective psyche prophetically and apocalyptically. Everywhere you look, more and more people are wondering if, in addition to all the other impact, coronavirus signals the beginning of the end. With the sudden surge of COVID-19, it’s not uncommon to hear the words apocalyptic, doomsday, or last days used to describe what’s happening. We often use those words loosely, but in this case many people seem to be using them in a more literal sense. With the entire world on edge, many are asking searching questions:

  • Is this the beginning of the great tribulation?
  • Will coronavirus lead to the end of the world as we know it?
  • Is it a sign of Christ’s soon return?
  • Are these the “beginning of birth pains,” as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:8?

Opinions on this topic are flying all over the internet and social media in every conceivable direction as people struggle to make sense of what’s happening.4

The Harbinger

Without doubt, the global spread of coronavirus has a strange, apocalyptic feel. In March 2020, as my wife and I were at Armageddon, the ancient ruins of Megiddo in Israel, leading a tour group from our church, the corona crisis was ramping up. The site at Armageddon is fascinating, and it felt surreal being there as a global pandemic was tightening its grip on the globe. We were there on a beautiful, clear day, which was great since the ancient site of Megiddo overlooks the expansive Jezreel Valley, or Valley of Armageddon. As always, I presented a teaching on the final great military conflict from Revelation 16 and 19.

After we returned to the States, I read that even Armageddon was on lockdown in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.5 I couldn’t help but think that things have gotten pretty bad when Armageddon is off limits and locked down. The site at Armageddon may be closed, but the events that will lead to that final great conflagration are ramping up. Our world is well down the road that leads to Armageddon.

Even the New York Times has taken note of the apocalyptic character of the times as natural disasters seem to be escalating:

For people of many faiths, and even none at all, it can feel lately like the end of the world is near. Not only is there a plague, but hundreds of billions of locusts are swarming East Africa. Wildfires have ravaged Australia, killing an untold number of animals. A recent earthquake in Utah even shook the Salt Lake Temple to the top of its iconic spire, causing the golden trumpet to fall from the angel Moroni’s right hand.6

Many are pointing to these events as flashing signs of the end. The shaking of the foundations.

Pastor and prophecy expert David Jeremiah, who is not given to sensationalism or hyperbole, called the COVID-19 pandemic “the most apocalyptic thing that has ever happened to us.”7 The American people seem to share that sentiment.

In a poll of likely voters in the United States, conducted by the nationally recognized McLaughlin & Associates, “A stunning 44.3% of poll respondents said they believe the coronavirus and resulting economic meltdown is a ‘wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God,’ signs of ‘coming judgment,’ or both.”8 That’s astounding. Additionally, 29 percent of those polled believe the corona crisis suggests that “we are living in what the Bible calls the ‘last days.’ ”9 This poll is not a fringe finding or outlier. It’s an accurate reading of the nation’s prophetic pulse.

I heard a story years ago about a man who visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a friend. Stunned by the solitary beauty, he commented, “This looks like the end of the world.” His friend replied, “It’s not the end of the world, but I think you can see it from here.”

That’s how many people are feeling today. Even people with little or no religious belief or conviction have an uneasy, foreboding sense that doomsday is approaching. That we can see the end from here.

They may be right. Scripture predicts events that will shake and shatter the foundations of society in the end times. The Bible urges us to pay attention to the crises in our world that will lead to the final events that must take place before Jesus returns. Among those future crises or catastrophes is pestilence, plagues, and pandemics—like coronavirus.

2020 Vision

It’s well known that President Ronald Reagan was extremely nearsighted. Reagan’s eyesight was so bad that it affected his military service in World War II, keeping him from combat duty. For many years he wore glasses and later contact lenses. As he aged, he still needed correction for his nearsightedness but also needed help to see up close. He wore a lens to correct nearsightedness on his right eye and a lens for farsightedness on his left eye. So he would read his speeches with his right eye and look out at the audience with his left eye. President Reagan was a man focused on the near and the far.10

In these unprecedented times, we want the same to be true of us. We need double vision. We need to be ever watchful, simultaneously looking with one eye toward the end times and the other on the meantime. We need to be focused on what’s up close: Our health. Our families. Our communities. Ministering to those around us who are in need. But if all we do is focus on what’s nearby, we can become anxious and alarmed. We need to keep an eye on the sky. As pastor Philip De Courcy observed,

It’s easy to become alarmed if we remain nearsighted. After all . . . famine and natural disasters abound, wars and rumors of wars fill our conversation, economic globalism is on the rise. . . . We must not be nearsighted alone, we must also be farsighted. To survive and thrive in a world gone mad, we as Christians must begin with the end, we must constantly and confidently keep an eye on the horizon as we look for the second coming of Christ in the clouds with power and glory.11

We need both eyes. It’s easy to get out of balance. I like this thought from author Max Lucado, calling us to strike a proper balance: “Some Christians are so obsessed with the last days that they are oblivious to these days. Others are just the opposite. They’ll tell you Jesus is coming. But they live like he never will. One is too panicky, the other too patient. Isn’t there a balance?”12 There is, and we would do well to find it, especially in these challenging times. We need to keep our vision balanced and focused.

We will try to do that throughout this book. We want to look at what’s ahead because that’s the focus of this book, but we also want to think about how to live today in light of what’s coming. Interestingly, as we look at current events and headlines, the near and far seem tobe moving closer together every day—even appearing to be on the verge of merging.

With that in mind, it’s not my desire to stir up needless anxiety or arouse groundless fears; rather, I hope to deal with questions people everywhere are asking and to connect some prophetic dots by turning to Scripture for answers. I invite you to come with me as we discover the answers God has given us in His inspired Word, the Bible.


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