Covid 19 is a contagious disease that has reached every corner of the world. It has disrupted life for people on every continent, no matter their race, social class, financial status, or education level. The disease has made billions of people sick and ended the lives of millions. In many ways, the Covid 19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. As a result, many people want to know if the disease is mentioned in the Bible.
Covid 19, and the pandemic it caused, isn’t specifically mentioned anywhere in the Bible. However, in one New Testament passage, according to the theological view called premillennialism and its interpretation of Scripture, Jesus foretold that pestilence in the world would increase as the end of the world draws near.
Is pestilence a sign of Jesus Christ’s return? What does the New Testament Greek word for “pestilence” or “plague” mean? Will pestilences and plagues increase as the end of the world draws near? What does the rider on the pale horse bring, and what is the aftermath, according to the book of Revelation? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Where Should I Start Reading the Bible? to learn more.
The future of pestilences like Covid 19 according to the Bible
All orthodox Christians believe that Jesus Christ will one day return to Earth, an event commonly referred to as the “Second Coming.” However, Christian traditions don’t always agree about what events precede Christ’s return.
What theological perspective believes that pestilence or plagues will increase? Premillennialism — which is known for its belief in the rapture, the seven-year tribulation, the Antichrist, and Armageddon — believes that the Bible teaches that God will give the world “signs” prior to the Second Coming.
What are some examples of the signs of Christ’s return? The appearance of false messiahs, wars, famine, and earthquakes are examples of these signs (e.g. Matt. 24:4-8). Pestilences are also one of those signs (Luke 21:11).
|NIV||There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.|
|NLT||There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.|
|ESV||There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.|
|KJV||And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.|
|NKJV||And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.|
|NASB||and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.|
Will pestilences and plagues increase as the end of the world draws near? According to the premillennial interpretation of the Bible, especially the Gospel of Luke, infectious disease will run rampant in the future before it is purged from the earth forever (cf. Rev. 21:4).
In Luke 21:27, Jesus included “pestilences” or “plagues” — depending on the English translation — among the events that will precede his return.
Was Jesus saying that more pandemics will occur in the future? Jesus’ description fits the definition of “pandemic,” which refers to an event that is “occurring over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affecting a significant proportion of the population” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). He adds that pestilences will occur in “various places” or in “many lands.”
Does premillennialism teach that the signs will occur before the seven-year tribulation or during it? Some premillennialists believe all the signs will occur during the tribulation period. Others believe that while the worst of the signs will occur during the tribulation, the setup for them occurs before it starts.
What does the Greek word translated “pestilences” or “plagues” mean? The Greek word loimos refers to fatal diseases. It occurs in two places in the New Testament — in Luke 21:11 (quoted above) and in Acts 24:5, where Tertullus calls the Apostle Paul a plague in a non-literal sense, as in a public menace.
|Meaning||pestilence, a pest|
|Original Word||λοιμός, οῦ, ὁ|
|Part of Speech||Noun, Masculine|
|Definition||pestilence, a pest|
|Usage||(a) a pestilence, (b) a pestilent person|
Why don’t the other Gospels mention this prophecy? In the KJV and the NKJV, Mattew 24:7 reads, “there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes” in various places (emphasis added). All other translations believe that the most reliable manuscripts of Matthew don’t include the phrase. For example, the NASB reads, “in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” Yet, the most reliable Luke manuscripts include the phrase.
Even if Matthew mentions the phrase, why doesn’t Mark? So-called “parallel” accounts in the Gospels aren’t carbon copies of each other. One writer didn’t plagiarize another, though they did use each other as sources for information.
Differences between the Gospels exist for various reasons. Sometimes one Gospel writer offers readers an overview of an event of speech, while another one is more detailed. Other times, Gospel writers recorded Jesus’ teaching on the same subject at two different times and places in which he used slightly different words.
Is there any doubt about Luke’s record of Jesus’ teaching on pestilence? While some are skeptical about Matthew mentioning pestilence, no serious scholar doubts that Luke did. Why did Luke? Ultimately, it’s not known. However, Luke was a doctor (cf. Col. 4:14) and perhaps people getting sick is a detail that stuck out to him from Jesus’ teaching.
Also see What Does the Bible Say About Racism? to learn more.
Does the Book of Revelation mention Covid 19?
Some premillennialists wonder if the book of Revelation mentions Covid 19. There is so much prophecy and symbolism in the book, maybe some of the imagery depicts Covid 19 and the pandemic it caused.
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (Rev. 6:8, ESV)
Why is the horse pale? The color “pale” is also translated “ashen” (e.g. NAU) and “pale green” (e.g. NLT). These descriptions are translations of the Greek word John uses, from which the English language derives the word chlorophyll, which is a green plant pigment. John intends for the description to reflect the pasty, lifeless appearance of a corpse.
What does the rider on the pale horse bring? The pale rider, named Death and Hades, is allowed to kill via the sword, like the second horseman, and through famine, like the third horseman. Plagues will accompany him as well.
Furthermore, deaths attributable to animal attacks (i.e. “wild beasts) will be plentiful. In imagery similar to John’s, Moses teaches that death from animals is one method of divine judgment:
They shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous pestilence; I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with the venom of things that crawl in the dust. (Deuteronomy 32:24, ESV)
Why does God judge people in this manner? This manner of judgment may appear unusual, but God using His creation to punish wickedness is a Bible-wide theme. The global flood of Noah’s day and the ten plagues against the Egyptian Pharaoh are examples of major instances of this method.
What is the outcome of the pale rider’s arrival? The aftermath of the pale rider is astounding. 25% of the world’s population will be killed. In today’s world, that would amount to over 1.5 billion casualties. It’s only fitting that the rider’s name is Death. John reports that his follower is “Hades,” a word meaning “the place of the dead.” This twosome, therefore, takes lives from the earth and sends them to their eternal dwelling place.
The origin of Coronavirus and Covid 19
Though research is ongoing, many scientists believe that Covid 19 originated in the animal kingdom and “spilled over” into the human population.  Others believe the virus might be man-made. Perhaps time will tell which version of Covid’s origins is true. Both ideas, in light of the Bible’s teaching, will be addressed next.
Is pestilence increasing in the world today? Many scientists say that as with other pandemics in human history, Covid 19 is likely of zoonotic origin in a natural setting, and ultimately originated from a bat-borne virus.  Whether this is Covid 19’s origin or not, scientists confirm that pestilence is affecting the human population at unnerving rates.
What are some examples of pestilence? In his book, The Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen observes that most of the world’s pestilence comes from the animal kingdom. Monkeys, bats, and other creatures have generated waves of pestilence, which have been rising in the world over the last 50 years. HIV, SARS, Bird Flu, and Ebola are examples of animal-borne diseases.
Explanations for an increase in pestilence, while still being explored by scientists, presently appeal to one or more of the following reasons.
- First, the human population has erupted from one billion people in 1900 to over seven billion people today. This increase has made the transmission of disease effortless, especially with the ease of air travel.
- Second, civilization has expanded into previously uninhabited regions, such as the forests of Central Africa (thought to be the birthplace of Ebola), which used to serve as a natural barrier, effectively caging viruses.
- Third, diseases are blitzing regions that don’t have adequate medical means to fight back successfully.
When Jesus taught that pestilence would precede his return, he didn’t do so to entertain the disciples. His intention was that believers keep watch, be ready (Matt. 24:42, 44), and live for him, which includes serving those who are poor and sick (Matt. 25:36).
How can churches help? With this in mind, the best response local churches can make to this epidemic is to maximize their service to these populations at home and abroad. Internationally, local churches can support not only direct evangelistic efforts overseas but medical missions as well. Locally, churches can increase their efforts to serve the poor and sick.
Also see How To Read the Bible to learn more
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