Revelation 15:1 serves as a superscription, not only for chapter 15 but also for chapter 16. It is a sign that the end is fast approaching—that God is on the cusp of deposing evil and making all things right, as the world was when God first created the universe and placed man in the garden.
As has become his practice, John introduces the first vision with the iconic kai eidon—“I saw.” As he had earlier, he saw “another sign in heaven.” The previous heavenly signs were of “the woman” (Revelation 12:1)—Israel—and of “a great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3)—Satan.
Like those former signs, this third one was “great” (maga), but it was also “marvelous” (thaumastos). These two words only occur together in verse 1 and in verse 13 of Revelation 15. The implication that the sign is “great” means that it is “incredible” or “important;” that it is “marvelous” means that it is “impressive, amazing, astonishing.” Like “shock and awe,” taken together the phrase indicates that the sign is particularly awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping because it signified the climax of the outpouring of God’s wrath on nature, humankind, Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet.
The third sign itself is of the “seven angels who [pour out] the seven plagues” from the bowl judgments. We think of “plagues” today as natural events, like communicable diseases such as the newly discovered coronavirus that is running rampant. But in the Bible, a “plague” was a supernatural manifestation of divine judgment. Sometimes plagues were natural events that were supernaturally timed by God such as an earthquake or an infestation of locusts or frogs like Egypt experienced during the time of Moses.
Sometimes God’s judgments are prolonged, like the flood in Genesis 7. However, unlike long, drawn-out epidemics, like influenza, HIV, or tuberculosis, the “plagues” in verse 1 literally means “blow” or “wound.” These plagues will come with sudden impact—swift, decisive, and destructive.
And as we’ll see when we look at the details of these “plagues” in chapter 16, the seven bowl judgments repeat in various ways the ten plagues of Egypt. The similarities suggest that God’s purpose in both judgments—during the time of Moses and during the time of the Tribulation—is the same: to punish ungodly idolaters and to liberate godly followers for future blessing and service.
So could the coronavirus be one of God’s judgments against the earth as some are wondering?
- All natural disasters can be ultimately traced to sin. (Romans 8:19-21)
Pandemics, earthquakes, cancer, birth defects, and every other malady we face may not be attributable to individual sin, but it all traces back to the original sin. Sickness and calamity were never a part of God’s original plan for this world.
- Some disasters are related to specific sins. (Genesis 7, Numbers 12, Deuteronomy 28:27, Revelation 6)
It is true that in some cases certain natural disasters and sicknesses are attributable to specific sins and are the result of God’s targeted judgment—the flood in Genesis 7; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of homosexuality in Genesis 19; Miriam struck with leprosy in Numbers 12.
We see in Revelation that in the future God will send illnesses as a part of His judgment (Revelation 6:8). After the judgments of war and famine that will cause an unprecedented number of deaths on the earth, disease will follow as it always does. Decomposing bodies not properly handled can cause dysentery, hepatitis, tuberculosis. The reference to “wild beasts” may very well be a reference to an animal-borne plague such as bubonic plague, swine flu, and possibly the coronavirus.
The point is that both in the past God has and in the future God will send devastating disasters and diseases that are the direct results of His judgment.
- We dare not speak what God has not spoken. (Deuteronomy 18:20)
Any time we speak what God has already spoken in His Word, we are being obedient. However, when we claim to speak for God when He has not spoken, we are being presumptuous—and are in danger of God’s judgment against ourselves:
For example, I can say with all confidence that “God hates the sin of abortion.” The Bible says you shall not murder and equates the unborn child with the small child after birth. I can also say in the past, God has judged nations that have killed their children as illustrated in Jeremiah 1. I can also say that God hasn’t changed, and therefore America is in danger of God’s judgment for abortion. But what I CANNOT say is that the coronavirus is God’s judgment against American for the sin of abortion . . . or any other sin. That is presumption.
- We can say that the Coronavirus is not one of the plagues of Revelation. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The world has suffered pandemics before. The Spanish Flu from 1918-1919 infected 500 million people and killed as many as 50 million. But it wasn’t one of God’s final judgments and neither is the Coronavirus. How can I say that? Because the stage has not yet been set. There is no antichrist, no peace treaty with Israel, no 10-nation confederacy. Most importantly we—the Church—have not yet been raptured.
That doesn’t mean that this could not get worse, but it could also get better. But regardless, we should remember that as Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Any anxiety in our life that is “overwhelming” and “paralyzing” is not from God. God does not overwhelm us with fear. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take common sense steps to “be of a sound mind.”
Two words you should remember: prayer and precaution. “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything” Paul wrote in Philippians 4. Pray as if your safety from this virus depends all upon God, and take common sense precautions as if it all depends upon you.