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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, September 16 2021

The pale horse of pestilence

The first four seals of Revelation 6, depicted by the four horsemen, show the devastation of false religion, war, famine and plague on the earth’s population, which ultimately leads to such a crisis when if Jesus Christ did not intervene, “no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:22).

The coronavirus pandemic has already killed hundreds of thousands and panicked millions. Before that ebola killed thousands in Africa before being largely contained. Preceding the ebola outbreak AIDS killed tens of millions and even today is still decimating populations in some countries.

Revelation 6:7-8 describes the effect of the fourth seal or horseman: “When He opened the fourth seal...behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.” These four seals would have a cumulative effect with the latter part of Revelation 6:8, referring to all four horsemen, stating: “And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth to kill with sword, with hunger, with death and by the beasts of the earth.

To better understand this prophecy, let’s review some of the great plagues of history:

The Black Death of the 14th century, thought to have been bubonic plague, killed more than 20 million people, which was a third to half of Europe’s population. The disease was so lethal people were known to go to bed well and die before waking. Whole towns were depopulated, and the social structure crumbled. One writer of the time tells of observing 5,000 bodies lying dead in a field.

The bubonic plague has also appeared in more recent times. The Great Plague of London in 1664-65 resulted in more than 70,000 deaths, and an outbreak in Canton and Hong Kong in 1894 left 80,000 to 100,000 dead. Within 20 years this disease spread from southern Chinese ports throughout the whole world, resulting in more than 10 million deaths. The bubonic plague originates in rodents and is usually transmitted to people by fleas. Cases of the plague are still reported today, with an average of 15 people dying each year.

Human-engineered plagues have been used throughout history as an offensive weapon.

The Mongols catapulted plague-infested corpses over the walls of besieged cities, causing thousands to die as the disease spread throughout the walled-in population. Also, during World War II, Japan dropped plague-infested fleas on China.

After World War II the Americans conducted a decades-long research project into biological warfare at Fort Detrick in Maryland until President Nixon ordered the research stopped in 1969. The United States then signed a treaty with 70 other nations in 1972 outlawing the production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons. However, despite this treaty many nations still continue to develop biological weapons.

Influenza “[One hundred] years ago a mutation in the influenza virus resulted in a worldwide pandemic that killed an estimated 25 to 40 million people in 18 months. Many consider this to be the worst natural disaster in history” (Hillary Johnson, “Killer Flu,” Rolling Stone, Jan. 22, 1998).

Researchers know they cannot stop a pandemic, and measures like total lockdowns are put in place to try and “flatten the curve” of infections to buy time for medical workers to learn how to treat the disease. Covid-19 has forced governments to shut down virtually all public life, with the world media contributing to both an awareness of the disease and fear. The economic impact is serious, with the long-term consequences still unknown, but we will likely be feeling the impact for years to come.

The four seals of Revelation 6 (false religion, war, famine and disease) are the result of man’s broken relationship with God, in spite of repeated warning and pleading from Him to turn from sin and live righteously based on His eternal law of love.

The Fifth Horseman: In spite of man’s refusal to acknowledge God, He will accomplish His purpose of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). The book of Revelation portrays God’s merciful intervention in human affairs to save man from destruction.

John saw more than four horsemen in his vision. Revelation 19:11-16 shows the ride of the fifth horseman. This is the appearance of Jesus Christ, on a white horse, intervening in world affairs to bring about an everlasting Kingdom of truth, peace, plenty and ultimate well-being.

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.