An important lesson of prophecy is often overlooked. The coronavirus pandemic is a reminder of why we must be spiritually ready for things yet to come!
“And—just like that!—all of a sudden the entire world was changed!”
This will certainly be part of the story line when we recount how the coronavirus pandemic swept the world in 2020. The swiftness with which it spread, sparing virtually no country, is one of the more astounding aspects of this experience.
Less obvious to most people, though, is how this pandemic is a harbinger for other story lines that have already been written, but have not yet occurred.
What are those stories already written? The prophecies in your Bible regarding the world events culminating in the end of this age.
You may be familiar with many of those events that Jesus and the prophets before Him foretold. But this coronavirus pandemic stands as a great lesson regarding another very important element we need to think about—the breathtaking speed with which prophecies can unfold!
Bulging walls, sudden falls
The track record of humanity’s relationship with God is well-established: We’re slow to believe or take Him seriously. Something in our nature finds it hard to heed His warnings that life can change all of a sudden, especially when things at the moment seem to be going along quite well.
The track record of humanity’s relationship with God is well-established: We’re slow to believe or take Him seriously.The people of ancient Israel and Judah learned this lesson the hard way. Despite repeated warnings from God’s prophets, they remained “a rebellious people” who would not “hear the law of the LORD” and would say, “Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits” and “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isaiah 30:9-11).
“Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perversity, and rely on them,” God said, “therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach ready to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant” (verses 12-13, emphasis added throughout).
What a visual warning God gave to them!
He often sits quietly for a long time while sins build in a person’s life—or in society—but when the wall of sin collapses in on us, it brings sudden destruction.
And so it was for the 10 tribes of Israel, as the unthinkable happened. Just as He had told them—“He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth; surely they shall come with speed, swiftly” (Isaiah 5:26)—after centuries of patience, God allowed them to be quickly conquered and taken captive by Assyria.
Slow to learn
We humans also seem to be slow learners. Within a few decades, God was likewise warning the people of Judah of impending disaster due to their continual sins.
“They are wise to do evil,” God said, “but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4:22). Their evil doings included covetousness, religious deception, shamelessly committing various abominations and rejecting God’s laws and His words.
As God’s spokesman, Jeremiah pleaded with them, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” His words fell on deaf ears. “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jeremiah 6:16).
He went so far as to describe exactly how their fall would come—by a people “from the north country” invading and overrunning, and “the plunderer will suddenly come upon us” (verses 22 and 26). Sure enough, God finally withdrew His protection, and Judah was shocked when all of a sudden they found themselves vanquished and their temple destroyed.
The past will repeat itself
Israel’s and Judah’s experiences live on as warnings of what is yet to come on the world. One of the major prophecies for the end times has to do with the happenings surrounding what is called the Day of the Lord.
God gave the prophet Zephaniah tremendous insight into many events that have yet to be fulfilled. Early in his book he foresaw a time when “the great day of the LORD is near” (Zephaniah 1:14).
Notice the next statement emphasizing its speed in coming: “It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out.”
In verse 18 he adds, “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land.”
The apostle Paul understood how the world will be blind to the conditions preceding Christ’s return and thus will be astonished at the speed with which they unfold. He wrote that “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
Many other earthshaking events are prophesied to roll out preceding Christ’s return, but should we expect the world in general to react any differently than it has in the past?
Or should we consider that the words God spoke to Babylon still stand as a warning to all people now? God said, “Therefore evil shall come upon you; you shall not know from where it arises. And trouble shall fall upon you; you will not be able to put it off. And desolation shall come upon you suddenly, which you shall not know” (Isaiah 47:11).
Sudden judgment on end-time Babylon
One could say, well, that was then, but Babylon has long since disappeared. Oh no! That world power then was a precursor of the world’s society now at the end of the age. Five times in the book of Revelation God calls the end-time political and religious system “Babylon,” and He makes it plain in chapter 18 that what happened to ancient Babylon is going to happen again to this world.
This system “glorified herself and lived luxuriously,” arrogantly disbelieving that it will ever “see sorrow” (verse 7), but “her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine” (verse 8).
God says this will stagger the entire world.
“The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come’” (verses 9-10).
Twice more in the following verses we see the statement “one hour,” which, along with the phrase “one day” is not necessarily to be understood as literal, but emphasizing the speed with which events occur.
The sense conveyed here is that not only what happens, but the speed with which it occurs, will be absolutely stunning!
Are we watching or sleeping?
In this quick overview of past history and future prophecy, we see three important lessons:
- God is patient, and sometimes quiet, as He watches people increase their sins. But we should never confuse His patience and silence for approval or disinterest (Psalm 50:21).
- When God determines it is time to move, He is delayed by nothing! He can swiftly and suddenly effect any outcome He desires.
- People are invariably caught off guard and shocked by the suddenness of unfolding events, even when they have been warned.
That brings us to another vital element Jesus Himself stressed. Speaking of His return to this earth, He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:32-33).
Continuing, He stressed twice again, “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (verses 35-37).
What are we to watch?
Certainly we need to watch world conditions and understand them. Anyone can see what is happening in the world, but very few can see why or where world events are leading, especially in the light of biblical prophecy.
But most of all, we need to watch ourselves and our spiritual state.But most of all, we need to watch ourselves and our spiritual state. “Therefore you also be ready,” Jesus urged, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
His message to each individual is very clear—take heed to yourselves! Why? Because one can be wide awake to what is happening in the world and sound asleep to what is happening in his or her life!
There is a difference between watching and being ready. Being ready doesn’t depend on what we know about world events and whether or not we have put together all the puzzle pieces to prophecy. Being ready has to do with our spiritual condition!
Jesus elaborated in Matthew 25 with His parable of the foolish and wise virgins, doubling down on the need to watch ourselves and be spiritually ready for His return.
“Those who were ready went in with him”—Christ, the bridegroom—“to the wedding” (verse 10). As the foolish virgins clamored to be let in, they must have been shocked to hear the bridegroom answer, “I do not know you.”
Either be urgent before, or panic afterward
The message is clear. We have been told of the events heralding Christ’s return, but those who lack a sense of urgency to know God before these events unfold will have a sense of panic when they begin.
In Luke’s account Christ added even more specifics. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
The coming prophesied events leading to Christ’s return are not going to catch God by surprise; they will not seem sudden and swift to Him! The sense of suddenness and the element of surprise will be the human reaction.
Why? Because despite God’s warnings, we humans are so prone to be “weighed down,” distracted by so many other things in life, rather than the things of God.
The coronavirus pandemic, if nothing else, already stands as a powerful witness to one of the great lessons of prophecy—that world events can unfold all of a sudden.
It stands as a reminder of the urgency of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6. “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”