Is COVID-19 A Sign Of The Apocalypse?

Jul 4th, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many religious figures in all major world religions to think of end-of-the-world scenarios or what is also known as the apocalypse, from the Greek word, apocalypsis—also the title of the last book of the Bible, Revelation.  There are crazy websites that see a worldwide conspiracy in the COVID-19 crisis; speculate that Bill Gates is the antichrist; and maintain that the government is trying to suppress religious freedom using the COVID-19 hoax.  Our enemies are all around us, they exclaim, and we must be ready.  Such teachings feed irrational fears in the midst of this crisis and are not really based on the authority of Scripture.  Few intellectually honest Christians who truly study God’s Word agree with such bizarre interpretations.  At best, the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates what the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of Revelation 6-18 might look like, albeit on a much more devastating scale with a much greater loss of human life.


Most world religious posit a version of an apocalypse.  For example, the Quran details stories of plagues and a massive, final earthquake that will destroy the earth.  Buddhism’s worldview is cyclical, not linear as in Christianity, so apocalypse “has both and end and a beginning.”  Vesna Wallace, Buddhism professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explains that “Apocalypse happens and then a new order starts, a new social order, a new moral order.”  The apocalyptic stories of Buddhism include unjust rulers, social inequality, plagues and fruits that “do no ripen.”  Apocalypse comes because of “collective karma—everyone’s actions toward one another and the world—which means its outcome can change, even in the present circumstance.”  As Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times points out, even modern American secularism has accommodated to apocalyptic themes.  Consider the countless movies that depict civilization on the verge of destruction.  “The Walking Dead” explores “life amid the zombie apocalypse. ‘The Hunger Games’ presents a dystopian future after conflict and ecological disasters have destroyed much of  the world.”


What is the Bible’s teaching on the apocalypse (also called prophecy), that end-of-the-world scenario detailed in God’s Word?  Permit me a few comments:

  • First, J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament, and 578 prophecies in the New Testament. That works out to a total of 1,817, by his count. And those prophecies involve 8,352 of the Bible’s verses. Because there are 31,124 verses in the Bible, the 8,352 verses constitute almost 27% of the total, meaning over one-fourth of the Bible is prophecy.  One cannot avoid studying prophecy; it permeates the Bible.
  • Second, why should the believer study prophecy?  There are at least six reasons:
  1. It produces comfort and consolation—see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  2. It motivates us to be ready, to be watchful—Matthew 24:42
  3. It motivates us to be faithful—Matthew 25:14-30
  4. It gives us hope and motivates us to live pure, godly, righteous lives—Titus 2:13
  5. It cultivates a spirit of worship, adoration and the glory of God—see Revelation, especially chapters 4 and 5
  6. It promotes love and respect for the authority of God’s Word:  Since God fulfilled all the prophecies associated with the First Advent of Jesus, He will fulfill all those associated with the Second Advent.
  • Third, I believe that the Day of the LORD concept is one of the key biblical concepts for properly interpreting and applying prophecy.  The phrase, the Day of the Lord, appears 15 times in the Old Testament, 13 of which are found in the Minor Prophets (aka “The Twelve”), and is a major unifying theme of the Twelve (see especially Joel, Amos and Zephaniah).  [In addition, the Twelve, as well as the major Prophetic books, use the term “day,” “Yahweh has a day,” “the day of the wrath of Yahweh,” and “on that day”—all referring to the same event.]  The Day of the LORD is both a catastrophic judgment event and/or, in a complex narrative fashion, an unfolding disaster.  It also includes a time of blessing from God’s gracious hand.    It has both historical applications (e.g., Israel in 722 BC [Amos 5:16-27], Nineveh [Nahum 1:1-15), Egypt [Jeremiah 46:1-12] Judah, Jerusalem [Isa. 22:1-25, Ezekiel 7:1-27, Zephaniah 1:1-18], Edom [Isa. 34:1-17, Obadiah 1-21] and Babylon [Isa. 13:1-21, Habakkuk 3:1-16, Jeremiah 25:30-38]) and eschatological applications (e.g., Judah, Jerusalem [Joel 3:1-21, Zeph. 3:8-13], all nations [Joel 3:1-21, Isa. 2:6-22, Ezek. 38:1-39:29], all the wicked [Malachi 4:1-3] and the purification of Israel [Zeph. 3:8-13, Malachi 3:1-5]).

The judgment imagery of the Old Testament texts dealing with the Day of the Lord is important for understanding how the term is applied in the New Testament:  darkness, gloom; shaking, trembling, quaking of the earth, mountains and hills; signs and wonders in the heavens; wrath, fierce anger; fire; labor pains; terror, fear and panic; cup of judgment; winepress; locusts; famine; desolation; a sacrifice; gathering of nations for judgment; call to repentance.  See the words Jesus uses in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25); Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 2; and the book of Revelation, especially chapters 6-18.  To support this judgment imagery aspect, consider these prophetic passages (major and minor prophets) on the Day of the LORD:

  • Isaiah 13:6, 9—Using an image of a battle, “the Day of the LORD” refers to the judgment of Babylon and promises terror and wrath (see 2:1; 34:8).
  • Jeremiah 46:10—Using an image of a devouring sword, “the Day of the LORD God of Hosts” refers to the judgment of Egypt and promises the Lord’s vengeance.
  • Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3—False prophets have not prepared Israel for “the day of the LORD: (13:5), which later is portrayed as a “day of clouds” and a “time of doom” for the nations (30:3)
  • Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14—With broad usage, the “Day of the LORD” brings a locust invasion, judgment on Israel and the nations, and final vindication of God and His people.
  • Amos 5:18 (2x), 20—Using several metaphors, “the Day of the LORD” refers to the darkness of judgment—by the hand of the Assyrians—upon the northern kingdom (Israel).
  • Obadiah 15—Using the image of “drinking continually” (v. 16), “the Day of the LORD” refers to coming judgment upon Edom and the nations but salvation for God’s people.
  • Zephaniah 1:7, 14 (2x)—Using the image of “sacrifice,” “the Day of the LORD” refers to judgment coming upon Judah and the nations, or to refuge in the LORD for all who humble themselves.
  • Malachi 4:5—“The Day of the LORD” refers to the coming of the Lord himself, the “messenger of the covenant” (3:17), who brings justice, purifies worship, and claims those who are His.
  • Fourth, the book of Daniel is central to understanding the Day of the Lord.  The visions and dreams in the book of Daniel portray a pattern of trouble that will precede the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Some present a sequence of kingdoms beginning with Babylon and extending in succession into the future.  For example, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 [four beasts and the Son of Man] present a four-kingdom sequence that ends with climactic divine judgment that terminates the succession of Gentile powers and establishes in their place the everlasting kingdom of God.  In both of these sequences, the first three kingdoms are clear—Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece—while the fourth is not clear.  In Daniel 2 the climactic divine judgment is catastrophic but abbreviated (a rock striking and crushing the statue).  In Daniel 7 the climactic divine judgment is given in more detail as a narrative in which a ruler emerges from the 4th kingdom through some political maneuvering and attains a degree of military and political dominance.  His character and actions detail arrogance, preparation for war and the persecution of the saints.  A time pattern is added (“time, times and half a time”)—which is concluded by divine judgment and the transfer of power and kingdom authority to one like the Son of Man coming on the clouds with the saints of the Most High.  Two other kingdom sequences are presented in Daniel—in chapter 8 and in chapters 10-12, each of which presents a two-kingdom sequence.  Since both begin with Babylon, they are actually three-kingdom sequences.  Both of these end with a pattern of trouble and judgment found at the end of the four-kingdom sequences in chapters 2 and 7.  But both of the three-kingdom sequences add important new details:  Temple desecration, cessation of sacrifice and additional time measurements—2,300 mornings and evenings (1,150 days); 1,290 days; 1335 days; time, times and half a time.  In addition, the vision of Daniel 11-12 includes the phrase “abomination of desolation” [11:31; 12:11; 9:27], refers to the activity of the archangel Michael, and predicts a resurrection of the dead as a feature of Israel’s deliverance.  Therefore, there is a progression in the complexity of the pattern in Daniel’s visions from the relatively simple statue of chapter 2 to a detailed narration of an antagonist, who blasphemes God, deifies himself and persecutes the saints and who is destroyed by God Himself.   The oppressive ruler’s self-deification is quite important, for Paul quotes Daniel 11:36 in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and applies it to the yet-future “lawless one” (v. 8).  Paul clearly understood Daniel 11:36 as future prophecy.    Earlier in the book of Daniel, the deliverance of the saints at the end is pictured by Daniel’s personal deliverance from the lion’s den and his three friends in the fiery furnace.  What becomes clear in Daniel is that, from a study of chapters 2, 7, 8 and 11, judgment will precede the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

Daniel chapter 9, however, is one of the most important chapters in the book, for it addresses the concern that underlies the entire book, namely the restoration of Jerusalem, the return of Israel and the fulfillment of the promises of blessing.  Daniel had been reading Jeremiah 25:11, which caused him to offer his prayers of repentance and his plea for restoration.  God informs Daniel that his prayer will be answered—that Jerusalem will be restored and rebuilt along with the Temple after 70 years, as Jeremiah prophesied in chapter 33:6-16.  However, God also gave Daniel another vision of “seven periods of time,” i.e., seventy weeks (literally “seventy sevens,” 9:24), which is beyond the restoration promised by Jeremiah.  After the decree to rebuild them, the rebuilt city and Temple will be destroyed after sixty-nine sevens of time (v. 25).  But preceding that destruction will be the coming and “cutting off” of an anointed one, the Messiah (v. 26).  The future destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple culminates in an “end,” which is mentioned twice in v. 26.  The seventieth seven is introduced in v. 27, following the same pattern seen in the sequential visions of Daniel—the pattern of a powerful ruler causing temple sacrifices to cease for half of a “seven” until he meets his decreed end.  What is added here in chapter 9 is that the temple desecration occurs in the “middle.”  But only here in Daniel is there a focus on a future destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  [This cannot refer to Antiochus Epiphanes in the 160s BC, because he did not destroy either.]  Daniel 9 also reinforces the Day of the Lord language in Jeremiah 25, which stresses the divine judgment on the nations and its linkage to the “end.”

  • Fifth, the Olivet Discourse of Jesus (Matthew 24 and 25) is a narrative structured as the 70th week but with features of the Day of the Lord (e.g., the labor metaphor) in the first half.  The 2nd half of the Discourse is expanding the Day of the Lord, addressing the question of when it will come.  What the Discourse adds is that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is another prelude to the final eschatological fulfillment stressed in Daniel 9.  In the first part of the Olivet Discourse, the events leading up to the coming of the Son of Man has the structure of Daniel’s 70th week—a beginning, an end, with a middle marked by the abomination of desolation, with Jesus quoting Daniel 9.  As in Daniel 9, there are false Christ’s, war and persecution of the saints (see especially Matthew 24).  The pattern of the Discourse ends with the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:30, Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27), clearly a reference to Daniel 7:13.  However, the Discourse also bears clear evidence of Day of the Lord language:  war, famine, earthquakes, pestilences, terrors and great signs from heaven.  Darkness, a unique feature of the Day of Lord, increases through the middle of the narrative as the days are cut short (see Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20).  In the middle, there will be a siege of Jerusalem.  The concluding events will include signs in the sun, moon and stars, notably the darkening of the sun and the moon, stars falling from the sky and the shaking of the powers of the heavens.  Fear and trembling come upon the earth’s population.  Collectively, these features manifest the Day of the Lord (see Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21).  Jesus used the metaphor of birthpangs in Matthew 24:8 and Mark 13:8, echoing Isaiah 13:8, which also connected birth pangs to the Day of the Lord.  The end, then, will be similar to the process of birth.  This process concept is confirmed by Jesus at the end of the first part of the Discourse when he tells the parable of the budding trees (see Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; and Luke 21:29-32).  The second half of the Discourse focuses on His coming (His parousia), at the end of a greatly intensifying process.  The entire narrative sequence of the end is the Day of His coming—i.e., the entire narrative sequence is the Day of the Lord.  But, as Jesus warned, no one will know when the full pattern, including His glorious appearing, will occur.
  • Sixth, 2 Thessalonians and the Day of the LordMany in Thessalonica believed that the Day of the Lord had already come.  Chapter 2:3ff clarifies that what marks the Day of the Lord is the full rebellion and the appearance of the “man of sin (lawlessness)”.  This man of sin seems to be the antichrist (1 John 2:18), referred to as the “beast” in Revelation 13 and the abominable one in Daniel 11.  In terms of the Day of the Lord, Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 shows the influence of the Olivet Discourse (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:2-3=Matthew 24:43-44 and 24:37-39 and Luke 21:34-36) as an emphasis of suddenness and surprise.  The structure of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:24-27) is also evident.  The Day of the Lord will commence suddenly like labor pains.  No one knows when it will begin, but it will result in wrath for unbelievers and salvation for believers, with the dead being raised and the living believers caught up together with them to be with Christ.  In other words, Paul was teaching a pre-or onset day-of-the-Lord rapture, with the Day of the Lord being an extended event, as in Daniel’s 70th week.  [The rapture is pretribulational.]  But the Day of the Lord’s arrival will be different for believers and for unbelievers.  The eschatological pattern that Paul sets forth in 2 Thessalonians 2 is essentially the same as Daniel’s time of the end, which is also the structure of the Olivet Discourse.  The Day of the Lord will come as a thief, suddenly, without warning.  But its onset brings about contrasting experiences for believers and unbelievers.  Believers will experience deliverance via the rapture, while unbelievers will be as if they are caught in a trap with the unfolding consequences of the Day of the Lord event-complex.  Unbelievers will be deceived into participating with the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:9-17, especially vv. 10-11) and will be condemned by God.  Believers, on the other hand, are chosen “to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14).

The COVID-19 pandemic is manifestly not an event associated with any specific incident in biblical prophecy.  It is illustrative in that it demonstrates how a pandemic can cripple the world economy, lead to countless deaths and undermine humanity’s self-confidence.  Indeed, COVID-19 exhibits on a small scale the type of devastation associated with the Day of the LORD.  But Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse, cautioned His followers against trying to figure out the specifics associated with His return.  Instead, he declared: Be ready and be faithful.  Wise counsel for 2020.

See Elizabeth Dias in the New York Times (2 April 2020) and the most helpful series of articles by Craig A. Blaising in Bibliotheca Sacra (January-March 2012,number 673), (April-June 2012, number 674) and (July-September, number 675).

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One Comment to “Is COVID-19 A Sign Of The Apocalypse?”

  1. Wes Hubka says:

    “BE READY AND FAITHFUL”! What we are witnessing are signs of how fragile is our society! Media hysteria, political motives, corruption are a powerful influence on a small number of people. The pandemic is real, mortality is significant. I believe we have over reacted. I claim no expertise in the current health topics. But, I believe Anthony Fauci is the ”Chicken Little”, of medical epidemiology. You and I have peace in the ” Arms of God “! We sleep well at night because God gives us peace. Events like these are necessary. People will reach out for understanding. Most will realize that something greater than each of us is happening. Hopefully many will seek and find God.
    God is Great,