Signs that the end is near (Matt. 24:6–8) include pestilences, such as the 2019 novel coronavirus. Of this set of signs, Jesus said that “ ‘all these are the beginning of sorrows’ ” (v. 8).1 The end is not yet because, among other reasons, “ ‘the gospel must first be preached to all the nations’ ” (Mark 13:10).
While the COVID-19 pestilence has been mostly a physical health issue, spiritual issues have arisen around it as well. We know that there will be confrontation against the truth as it is in Jesus and against the people who, by following Him, will be blamed for the world’s calamities—all in fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “ ‘And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake’ ” (Mark 13:13).
We have been told that “great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.”2 While the harsh realities detailed by Jesus will surely come (Matt. 24:10–12), the good news is that they will pass quickly. In addition, Jesus will be with us until the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). Most important these realities herald the imminence of our salvation: “ ‘When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near’ ” (Luke 21:28).
Semblances of final events
Some situations generated by COVID-19 provide us with portrayals of history’s final events and, therefore, can serve as a preparatory stage for the last scenes of the great controversy.
1. Quarantine. This situation foreshadows a time when, having escaped from the great cities (as when Christians left Jerusalem before her fall in AD 70), the children of God will find refuge in towns or smaller population centers. Then, the order of our Lord will be: “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past” (Isa. 26:20).
Even with a tragedy as terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic, God gives us opportunities, and we should take advantage of them.
It is true that “the season of distress and anguish before us will require a faith that can endure weariness, delay, and hunger—a faith that will not faint though severely tried.”3 But then—and later, during a time of trouble such as Jacob’s (Jer. 30:7), when the people of God will have to live in small groups or in isolation—God will protect His children and supply their basic needs.4
The unexpected situation we are now experiencing could be best improved in preparing ourselves, including our families and congregations, for what lies ahead. Such preparation could include the following:
Time to study the Word—For our spiritual houses and those of our church members to stay firm, we need to make sure that their foundations rest on solid rock, the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24–27). What is preventing us and our church members from spending time studying the Word of God more assiduously? We need to answer and solve that question.
Time for personal prayer—Current circumstances offer us the opportunity to strengthen our direct dependence on God, in ways such as struggling with Him in prayer, as did Jacob (Gen. 32:24–30). In response to the prayer of faith, God will give us what the sleeping virgins lacked (Matthew 25): His Holy Spirit, symbolized by the oil (Luke 11:11–13). He will teach us (1 Cor. 2:10–12), He will guide us in deepening our knowledge of the Scriptures (Jer. 33:3), and He will help us treasure its precious promises (John 14:26).
Faithfulness in little things—Jesus warned that before the final test, we will be brought before the courts of the land. He has promised to be in tune with those who are in tune with Him (Luke 21:12–15). Keeping in mind the words, “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7), we must include in our study “the testimony of Jesus” given to us in “the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). If we are faithful in these things which lie within our power, God will do for us exceeding, abundantly more than we could ask or think (Luke 16:10; Eph. 3:20).
2. Government intervention. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to see governments limit our liberties and individual rights, ideally to achieve a common good. Governments have intervened, among other things, to
limit the freedom of movement of their citizens;
limit access to free trade, which affects both sellers and buyers; and
limit or prevent the entry or exit of certain population groups through country borders.
While the goal of these legal measures is to seek the common good, we can also perceive how, imperceptibly, nations could be preparing themselves for the moment when the governments of the earth, in a coalition, and also invoking a common good, will use their power and force in fulfillment of final events (Revelation 13). Jesus has assured us, “ ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’ ” (Matt. 10:28); and Jesus has promised us, “ ‘Not a hair of your head shall be lost’ ” (Luke 21:18).
3. The global scope of the crisis. COVID-19 is a pandemic, a word made up of two Greek terms: pan, meaning all, and demos, meaning people. The pandemic has been declared a “worldwide public health emergency” by the World Health Organization. The global reach of this crisis offers us a semblance of the crisis that the entire world will be involved in, and the remnant of God threatened by, at the end of history, when “all the world” will marvel and follow the beast (Rev. 13:3). Also, the second beast of Revelation 13 will cause the whole “earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (v. 12) and will deceive all “those who dwell on the earth” by telling “those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived” (v. 14).
4. “An invisible enemy.” Referring to the COVID-19 virus, civil and medical authorities around the world, have repeatedly stated that “we are fighting an invisible enemy.” Those words are true in another realm, the spiritual, as well. Our fight is not against visible elements with flesh and blood, namely human beings (Eph. 6:12). We fight an invisible enemy, Satan, who hides and acts through the human powers in his fight against the Lamb and His followers (Rev. 17:14).
Victory is ours only by putting on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:14–17). Satan’s unmasking, defeat, and destruction are assured (Rev. 20:10). That will be the work of God. Ours, even as spiritual leaders, is to humbly acknowledge that Satan’s cunning exceeds our intelligence and ability (2 Cor. 11:14), to submit to God (James 4:7) and to pray in faith and be sober and watching (1 Pet. 5:8, 9).
Even with a tragedy as terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic, God gives us opportunities, and we should take advantage of them. Each of us should place our entire dependence on the Lord, sustained by a thorough study of His Word, meditation, and prayer.
These biblically based reflections about the COVID-19 pandemic are not intended to establish any theological position but, instead, to motivate us, as leaders blessed with special light on last-day events, to actions that will allow us and the people whom we love and serve to be ready to meet Jesus on His glorious and imminent return (Heb. 10:23, 24).
- Scripture is from the New King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 9:11.
- Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 621.
- See White, Great Controversy, chapter 40, “God’s People Delivered” (any edition).