Readers of The Australian would have found a remarkable comment on page 1 of the 20 March edition.“It’s as if we are living in the times of Noah just prior to the flood” said Robert Booy, Professor of Infectious Diseases, University of Sydney. There are similarities: a world of self-indulgence, complacent until disaster strikes. The thief-like coming of Christ will shatter an unsuspecting world, just like in Noah’s day, when the rain came and swept them all away.

More than 150 years earlier, Robert Roberts lecturing in Huddersfield to the title “Coming Troubles and the Second Advent” said: “Hence, at the first indication of the approach of the end, we must look for times of great trouble and commotion on the earth. International politics will become complicated beyond the possibility of unravelment; a universal war spirit will be evoked; commerce will become embarrassed; trade fettered; employment precarious; distrust will fill society; panic will spread; trade bankruptcies will follow in quick succession; and the social fabric will be shaken to the foundation, if not involved in ruin and reduced to chaos. Events will stride with rapid march, and anon the superhuman will enter the scene.”2 This was a mature reflection, from a brother probably aged 22, on passages such as Luke 21:25-27: “men’s hearts failing them for fear”. This was coupled with some of his own imagery allowing him to come up with a statement which so clearly represents our coronavirus world.

With similar prescience, the late Brother Tony Benson wrote an editorial for The Testimony in 2005 graphically describing the possible outcomes of a flu epidemic. As we face this “unprecedented” world-wide scenario, we wonder how this pandemic fits within the long-term plan of the Almighty. We know that God sent plagues and diseases, especially on His people Israel, in the days when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and at the time of AD70 (e.g. Jeremiah 14:12; Ezekiel 5:12; 28:23; Luke 21:11). We also know that He will unleash disease during Armageddon and afterwards (Ezek 38:22; Zech 14:15-16; Rev 18:8). Now whilst there are no specific prophecies of plagues appearing immediately before the coming of Christ, prophecies relating to the day of Yahweh in ages past are remarkably similar to the final days preceding our Lord’s return. Whatever course Covid-19 takes, we accept that it is one of the increasingly painful and frequent labour pains leading up to the manifestation of the Son of God in the earth (1 Thess 5:3; Rom 8:22-23).

Of much assurance are Daniel’s words: “That the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men…” (Dan 4:17). Yahweh has all things under control, however mad and chaotic the world of Covid-19 might seem to be. This article explores how this virus might influence the geopolitical structure of the world and bring us to the reign of Christ. Could the angels be working with a virus emerging from someone eating a small animal (like a pangolin) infected by a bat bought from the Wuhan seafood market?

The Angels’ Plans

The angels’ role is to minister to those who are the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:14). Such a role includes intervention in world affairs ushering in the time when the saints will possess the kingdom. In Daniel 10:20–12:4 there is a single speech given to Daniel by Gabriel explaining the plan of the angels from Daniel’s day through to the time of trouble such as never was. What Gabriel’s words show, is that the angels have very detailed plans from which they are working. In chapter 11, Gabriel and the angels intended to:

  • v1 Continue to strengthen the king of Persia
  • v2 Bring forward four more kings of Persia
  • v3-4 Raise up Alexander the Great
  • v5-9 Divide the Grecian empire into northand south
  • v10-19 Work through Antiochus the Great
  • v20-21 Create unrest
  • v22-31 Elevate and help to victory Antiochus Epiphanes
  • v32-35 Help the Jews through the Maccabees
  • v36-39 Exalt the Roman little horn
  • v40-45 Bring down the latter-day king of the north and destroy him and his armies in Israel.

The detail was all mapped out before-hand and we can expect that the angels have many more comprehensive plans. As Peter says, the angels have enquiring minds when it comes to the unfolding purpose of God (1 Pet 1:12).

How the angels work

Sometimes the angels deliberately change the physical circumstances in our world. For example, they might change the weather patterns to bring about the defeat of Napoleon or Hitler in Russia. These are examples of “stormy winds fulfilling His word” (Psa 148:6).

But then angels work through human behaviour as Daniel 11 clearly shows. They ensured that:

  • v6 marriage agreements occurred bringing temporary peace when Antiochus divorced his wife Laodice and married Berenice, Ptolemy’s daughter (249BC)
  • v17 Ptolemy gave away his daughter, Cleopatra, to betray the interests of her husband
  • v21 a vile king, Antiochus Epiphanes, would obtain power through flatteries
  • v23 the king would work deceitfully
  • v24 he would work devices
  • v27 two kings would work mischief and lies (Antiochus and Ptolemy)

 

This task of working through human behaviour is not always easy. Gabriel found the prince of the kingdom of Persia particularly difficult and enlisted Michael’s help (Dan 10:13).

The king of the north and the king of the south

Daniel 11 describes the transient power of these two powers, with a tussle over the centuries. The key word in Daniel 11 is “stand” (cp v2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, [continue v11], [set forth v13], [stand up, establish v14], [withstand v15], 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 31).

These two competing forces continually engage in conflict to see which one will stand. In the end only Michael will stand (Dan 12:1). Our world has been in a confused state where the powers that are part of these two great systems are intertwined. How can the king of the north push at the king of the south if these powers are not easily identifiable? Trump started the disentanglement by pulling US troops out of king of the north territories and drawing away from Europe. Brexit, under Boris Johnson, has also been critical of Europe’s position and has shifted the UK away from the king of the north powers.

Commentators have noticed significant geopolitical changes as a result of corona virus. It has the potential to make a major realignment in world powers preparatory to the arrival of our Lord. Greg Sheridan3 in The Australian argued that the virus “will transform, if not completely kill, globalisation as we have known it and enhance the power of national governments.” He discussed how all nations had secured their borders and focused on their own needs. The G20 meeting on 26 March signalled a body unable and unwilling to unite to take on the challenges. The EU is struggling to remain a Union in the face of such terrible national problems. Let’s examine some of the key areas.

China

The rise and rise of China has been temporarily halted. One Belt, One Road, and other ambitious international plans depend on strong economic growth. With growth plummeting, China might well need to draw back within its own national borders. When we are asked, where does the Middle Kingdom fit in God’s plan, we find just one possible reference to it as Sinim in Isaiah 49:12. Despite its seeming power, China does not feature in the grand manoeuvres of the end times – although it may be collaborating with Russia.

This doesn’t mean that China may not be a strong economic power – it may be still number two or even number one in the world when Christ comes, as its service industry and factories roar back into life (albeit with some cancelled orders from the West). It is estimated that when Jesus was born, China represented around 30% of the GDP of the world and it may do so again at his second advent. But just as the world’s number three economy, Japan, lost its political power after their economic bubble burst in 1989, the same may be true of China. Trump uses the term “China virus” to emphasize his opprobrium towards China, blaming them for the Wuhan seafood market from which this emerged and the initial incompetence with which it was handled. A senior Chinese foreign official claimed that coronavirus was really a USA plot, and that they had set it up. There seems little likelihood of these powers being long-term friends.

Commentators acknowledge that the virus is accomplishing what no trade war could ever achieve4. It has highlighted the dangers of dependence on China in world supply chains. There is a move, now, to build capacity in the West, particularly for medical and pharmaceutical products. It could well be that the West creates economic distance from China and connected with that, increased political distance.

Russia

It was Vladimir Putin who precipitated the huge falls on Wall Street, although they probably would have come anyway. On 6 March, he rejected the OPEC oil cuts, given that cuts were just supporting US shale producers which, in his mind, were dispensable. The price of oil dropped through a sudden fall in demand with over-supply. Although the oil battle with the Saudis has caused collateral damage to Putin, he was keen to make the US suffer, not benefit. As the ruble falls, Russia has a lower production cost in US dollars than the Saudis, given they have pegged the riyal to the US dollar. The plummeting world oil price has led to the only consolation of corona virus – affordable prices at the bowser. But the war has caused a rift in Putin’s relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which had previously been characterised by exuberant friendship5. Under cover of the corona virus focus, Putin can get on with whatever schemes he wants to advance; although there has been a temporary postponement of his latest constitutional power grab.

Europe

Europe, particularly, has been badly hit – especially the Catholic countries of Spain and Italy. The Pope has had to give special dispensations for Catholic rites. The disintegration of Europe is not the path that prophecy lays out – Nebuchadnezzar’s image must have a Western leg and there must be a latter day European beast (Rev 16:13). The ten toes will be weak but will hold together.

But Europe has changed, rejecting Angela Merkel’s model of an open society, back to one with closed borders, passports and, perhaps health certificates to move around. This will be a more closed and selfish society where each country fends more for itself. Milanovic6, writing in Foreign Affairs, likens it to the breakdown of the Western Roman Empire between the 4th and 6th centuries into smaller self-sufficient economies. These are the toe powers – independent, but ruling Europe between them.

There have been increasing links with Russia. It was Russia that came to the aid of Italy with medical support7 – medical teams and equipment – when the rest of Europe couldn’t help. Expect these ties to increase.

US and Britain

The Five Eyes group can only come closer together out of this. They could be expected to form even stronger alliances with the Saudis and the Gulf States. Saudi Arabia will stop its strong friendships and economic ties with Russia and China and focus on the West. Projections of the damage to the Saudis and the Gulf States by the current oil price suggest they will be looking for political and economic collaborations. The evidence from the Scriptures should alert us to this strengthening alliance.

Our response

Christ says he comes in an hour when we are not thinking. Perhaps it will be a lull between the birth pangs when he comes to destroy all human systems. However, not only should we watch the changes that coronavirus brings to the world, but watch out for each other. Never has the brotherhood felt so physically isolated and dependent on the internet and mobile phones to even communicate. While we have been unable to meet, we have time at home to build a stronger relationship with God through prayer and meditation and use every possible opportunity to strengthen one another. The pain and possible tragedies of Covid-19 can strengthen us to be a people even more focused on pleasing our God. Perhaps this is the angels, as ministering spirits, giving the heirs of salvation just one last warning that the Lord is at hand.

So how will we respond? Will we “be subject unto the higher powers,” (Rom 13:1) graciously fulfilling government requirements, or will we be disobedient, like some? Will we share, or will we selfishly grab more than we need (2 Cor 9:6)? Will we happily forego the luxuries of life that we have become used to, or murmur and complain about what we have lost (1 Cor.10:10)? Will we be ruled by fear as those in the world, or will we have that quiet confidence in God’s goodness? Will we happily suffer any periods of isolation, or murmur against a God who seemingly doesn’t intervene? Will we be angry if our loved ones suffer and die? This worldwide pandemic will test our faith. May the trial of our faith work endurance and patience in us so that we all may find a place in the coming kingdom of our Lord.

References

1 Thanks to some input from Brethren Peter Boon, Geoff Henstock, Michael Newman and Greg Palmer and Sisters Helen Hunter and Nancy King.

2 Twelve Lectures, 1862, p.177. This was omitted in its printing in enlarged form as Christendom Astray, which was noted by Brother James Carter as an unfortunate deletion which “With profit it could well be replaced”. The Christadelphian, Vol.114, p.377.

3 The Australian, March 20th 2020

4  e.g. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/coronavirus-has-potential-shake-china-trade-more-tariffs-n1150571

5  e.g. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-g20-argentina-saudi/a-high-five-from-putin-and-that-awkward-photograph-saudi-princes-g20-summit-idUSKCN1O1041

6  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-03-19/real-pandemic-danger-social-collapse

7  https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-03-22/russian-army-to-send-coronavirus-help-to-italy-after-putin-phone-call

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