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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, August 26 2021

Epidemics in Bible prophecy

At the beginning of 2020 worrying reports began to emerge from China about a new virus that had crossed from animals to human beings. At first, this new or “novel” coronavirus seemed similar to common cold and flu viruses, but soon proved to be different.

by Scott Ashley

Unlike normal colds and flus, the transmission and death rates from this virus was much higher, with the elderly in particular prone to fatal lung infections. The COVID-19 virus quickly spread and by the end of January the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, with governments and hospitals woefully unprepared for the growing flood of patients.

Meanwhile many Christians wondered if Bible prophecy could shed any light on current conditions and what the future might bring. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples asked what signs or trends would precede His return. In response, Christ listed religious deception, war, famines and pestilences and referred to them as “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:5-8).

He explained these conditions would lead to the great tribulation: “a time of great distress, such as there has never been before since the beginning of the world, and will never be again” (Matthew 24:21), warning that: “If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive, but for the sake of God’s chosen it will be cut short” (Verse 22).

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In Revelation chapter 6 we find a more detailed description of these end-time events of religious deception, war, famines and pestilences presented as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first rider, in verse 2, is mounted on a white horse wielding a bow and wearing a crown. Some assume this is Jesus Christ, but Christ returns much later and does not ride a white horse. He also carries a sword and wears many crowns. This first rider is an imposter, representing false religion that deceives most of mankind (Matthew 24:5, 11 and 24).

The second horseman rides a fiery red horse representing warfare, “...and it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (Revelation 6:4).

Revelation 6:5 and 6 then describes a third black horse with the rider carrying scales in his hand. A voice describes the scarcity of food that will strike the whole earth in the aftermath of war, just as Jesus described famine conditions in Matthew 24:7.

The fourth horse and rider is described as “a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave” (Revelation 6:8). In Jesus’ prophecy recorded in Matthew 24:7 “pestilences” or disease epidemics occur in the wake of religious deception and war, taking the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

History reveals how devastating and deadly these plagues can be. The “Black Death” or “Black Plague” of the 14th century started in Asia and spread to Europe. It is thought to have killed a third of the world’s population.

Eight centuries earlier, in A.D. 541, an outbreak of plague in the time of the Emperor Justinian shattered his dreams of reestablishing the glory of the Roman Empire. Hordes of flea-carrying rats spread the plague through the Byzantine Empire, killing about a fourth of the world’s population—some 50 million people.

In 1894 another plague outbreak in Hong Kong and Canton (or Guangzhou) killed an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people, then spread from Chinese ports to the rest of the world, resulting in 10 million more deaths.

In 1817, the first of seven cholera pandemics over the next 150 years started in Russia and took a million lives. Cholera spread to India where millions more died. Smallpox, leprosy and measles have also claimed millions of lives. In 1520, smallpox helped bring down the mighty Aztec Empire.

Today epidemiologists are greatly concerned about pandemics like COVID-19—zoonotic viruses that jump from animals to human beings through mutation. HIV is one such killer, and has claimed some 35 million lives over the last 40 years. Ebola is another, killing its victims so quickly that they most often die before they have time to spread the virus to others. Just over a century ago, a strain of flu crossed from birds to human beings and took an estimated 50 million lives during its deadly march around the globe.

Today we also face the threat of biological weapons. The concept has been around since the 1300s when Mongol invaders catapulted plague-infested corpses over the walls of cities to let the plague do its killing for them. Anthrax and cholera are only two of a number of deadly infectious agents we know have been converted into bioweapons by national governments and terrorists.

God’s message to mankind via the four horsemen are the consequences of mankind rejecting our Creator and choosing our own way to live which, as all of human history has shown, results in death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). The Bible is full of warnings and pleadings from God to turn from our sinful ways and “seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). He is “...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

After the devastating ride of the four horsemen, the book of Revelation describes God’s merciful intervention to save the human race from extinction. God will bring peace and freedom from death and disease to the earth, but not before mankind learns the lesson of where our human ways lead us.

The story of mankind doesn’t end with the last of the four horsemen of Revelation. John saw not four horsemen, but five. Mankind’s hope lies with the fifth horseman, Jesus Christ, whose ride in Revelation 19:11-16 to intervene in world affairs marks the end of mankind’s misrule on the earth.The author of this article relates that when he was a boy his parents came to realize the Holy Days described in Leviticus 23 were commanded in both Old and New Testaments. Until then, his family had observed Christmas, Easter and Halloween, and he did not want to give these holidays up.

With time, he also came to understand the days observed by most of Christianity are not commanded in the Bible, and Scripture backed up his realisation that associating the name of Jesus with these days did not make them more acceptable: "... in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

While in high school, he also discovered that in the King James Version of the Bible the word translated as "Easter" in Acts 12:4 was an erroneous translation of the Greek word ‘pascha’, a word clearly meaning the Passover (described in Leviticus 23:5). It was not until the second century, long after the New Testament was written, that people began to replace the Passover observance with Easter.

Jesus and His family observed the Holy Days of the Bible, travelling to Jerusalem, when He was twelve years old, to observe the Passover (Luke 2:41, 42). John 7 also shows Christ keeping the Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day (described in Leviticus 23:33-36) in spite of the threat of bodily harm. Jesus kept all of the annual festivals, not only because He was a devout Jew, but because God commanded them and He was setting an example for Christians today (Matthew 28:20).

These Holy Days were also observed following Christ's ascension. The disciples were gathered together to observe the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent (Acts 2:1), because Pentecost was still a "holy convocation," a commanded assembly (Leviticus 23: 15- 16, 21).

Gentile Christians also observed the biblical Holy Days. More than 20 years after Christ’s crucifixion, about the year A.D. 55, the Apostle Paul gave important instruction to the Church in the gentile city of Corinth, where most church members were gentile. A man was involved in an immoral relationship, and Paul instructed them to expel him from the church:"...Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump...For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with ...the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The Corinthians had put out leaven to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but had not applied the spiritual lesson. Paul’s intent, by instructing them to "keep the feast," was not to spiritualize away the Days of Unleavened Bread, but to magnify them. The New Testament builds on the foundation of the Old by emphasizing the spiritual intent of the Holy Days.

Colossians 2:16, 17 is perhaps the most oft-quoted New Testament Scripture used to discredit the Holy Days: "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

Paul was not saying not to keep the Holy Days, he was addressing their proper observance. The Colossians had been introducing ascetic practices on the Holy Days, as they were being influenced to follow the commandments and doctrines of men (verses 18-23). If anything, these verses corroborate the practice of God's true Church in the first century was to observe these days,

Another misunderstood text is Galatians 4:8-10. Verses 8 and 9 refer to the practices of the Galatians before they knew the true God, and after learning the truth, they were beginning to return to these ‘weak and beggarly elements’. To say God's laws are weak and beggarly is blasphemous. These "days and months and seasons [times] and years" were pagan practices, possibly similar to astrology today.

When a person looks into the commands and examples in the Bible to determine which religious festivals to observe, there is only one choice to be found: the annual festivals and Holy Days of God. If we are to build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and follow the example of Jesus Christ, we will faithfully observe these days, and come to learn more about God's plan of salvation for humanity.