Is COVID 19 the beginning of the End?

I have heard several people in different context make reference to the end times and the tribulation.  I want to examine the question; is this the beginning of the Tribulation? The answer to that question is no, but it may be before you finish reading this post.  I know that was a bit cryptic but it has to do with the imminence of the rapture of the Church.

First we need to define “the end”.  Biblically we have been living in the last times or latter day since the death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  But is it the End of the end.  This is a 7 year period of time that is referred to by many different names. It is known mainly as the tribulation but also the time of Jacob’s trouble and referred to as the birth pangs.  We also need to distinguish between Christ’s return for his Church and the second coming of Christ.  Christs return for his Church is described in 1Thessaloninans 4:13ff, a moment when Christ comes to the clouds and catches up or raptures his Church out of this world.  The second coming refers to his actually coming back to the earth at which time he will rule over Israel and the whole world as described in Matthew 24:27-30, 25:31-32, Zechariah 14:1-4, Revelation 19:11-21 and various other references.

From the study of Scripture we believe that the next event on the prophetic agenda is the rapture of the church to be rapidly followed by the 7 year tribulation (which is divided into two equal parts of 3 1/2 years) followed by the second return of Christ and the 1000  year reign of Christ on earth. Daniel 9:24-27 gives us the timeline for Israel of 69 weeks and one final week.  The 69 weeks were concluded with the rejection and death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD.70.  The prophetic watch then stops for Israel until the antichrist is revealed.  The intervening era is the church age, a mystery revealed in the New Testament.  The church age is concluded with the resurrection and rapture of the church, this rapture is presented as being imminent.

We need to be careful not to confuse terms imminent, expectant and soon.  Something that is imminent is an event that is sure to happen at an unsure time, whether near or far off is unknown.  Expectancy has to do with ones attitude toward a coming event which could be soon, at some length in the future, or of an unknown time.  We mistakenly equate both words with soon but soon is not the emphasis of either word.  For something to be imminent there can be no precursor, no unmet prerequisites, no indicators, no set timeframes, and no signs of the times.  This excludes the possibility of “date setting” that has been unsuccessfully practiced by some scholars.  To set a date necessitates a period of time which must happen before the event.

The writers of the epistles made it clear that the church was to be living in an attitude of expectation for the coming of Christ for the rapture of the church.  Paul exhorted the Church in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, to be looking for the Savior Jesus Christ, not the anti-Christ.  In Philippians 4:5 and other passages the imminence of Christs coming was used as a key motivation for good conduct.  James 5:7-9 pictures Jesus as our judge standing at the door, who could enter the scene at any time.  If we are looking for signs of the times or the revealing of anti-Christ we would be living without the urgency of expectancy which these verses require of us.  Many in the early church mistook imminence for soon, some thought they had missed the rapture while others were behaving in a slack and unruly manner forsaking the responsibilities of this life thinking they wouldn’t be here to reap the consequences of their neglect.

Imminence requires no prerequisite but allows much to happen in the intervening time.  Many things have happened to set the stage for the acceptance of the anti-Christ and the conditions prophesied concerning the tribulation.  The First World War set in motion a series of actions that ultimately brought about a nation of Jews in the Promised Land.  We can now see the plausibility of many things once thought impossible.  Some contributing elements are the following:  tremendous advances in technology, modern warfare, dependence on government, hatred of Jews, the formation of the European Union, the rise of China, influx of Jewish people into Israel, Israel’s desire for peace, ect. We can see large pieces of the puzzle coming together, but the time is not yet.

One of the missing pieces is the removal of the Holy Spirits’ restraining ministry described in 2Thessalonians 2:6-9.  Before the lawless one or the Anti-Christ can come He that is restraining is taken out from or away from their midst.  The “He” must be a supernatural being to have remained for over 2000 years.  This is a reference to the Holy Spirit.  For the duration of the Church age the Holy Spirit is a permanent seal and presence in and influence upon the believer who is in the midst of this world.  The Church age must end and the Church caught out of the midst of this world before the tribulation can get started.

The express purpose of the tribulation is to pour out the filled up cup of wrath upon this world and in part upon his rebellious nation Israel (Revelation 16:19, 14:10, Jeramiah 25:15, Isaiah 51:22).  The cup of wrath is a cup of judgment and condemnation filled up by the unrepentant acts of sin accomplished by the ungodly.  God is withholding his wrath on this world system, its nations, leaders, and religions to be stored up and filled to its limit.  By longsuffering God is letting them prove out their worthiness of judgment before it is unleashed upon them.  Christians do not store up wrath for themselves but are constantly washed by the blood of Christ who is the propitiation or satisfaction for our sins.  We may suffer from our own foolishness, or by the consequences of living in a sin cursed world or at the hands of sinful men but never by the wrathful judgment of God.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).    Consider also the promise to the church in Revelation 3:10b that Christ would keep them from the hour of temptation.  Romans 5:9 tells us we are saved from wrath. 1Thessalonians 1:10b “even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come”. Chapter 5:9 “For God did not appoint us to wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A pretribulation rapture view is often carelessly used in comforting believers.  The emphasis is “thankfully we won’t be here to suffer that” which though true may leave us confused when we receive persecution and even martyrdom.  The greater comfort is in the imminent coming of Christ.  All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  A wrong emphasis of escaping the tribulation can also lead us to avoidance of hardship and persecution which leads us to a muted testimony in this world and a failure to witness for Christ.

As you consider the scale of current events though exceptional in our time, still does not measure up to the scale of tribulation judgment.  As I write the expected rate of death is 1.4% of those who show symptoms of the virus.  When we consider Tribulation judgments it is in % of the whole population.  The fourth seal alone removes ¼ or 25% of the world’s population.  There have been many pandemics through history some of them more devastating than the current one.  I do not deny that this is a tool in Gods sovereign hands to accomplish His will and even of Grace to make man mindful of mortality and the judgment of God.  If you fear the wrath to come then flee to the cross of Christ and find true forgiveness and life forevermore.  The wages of sin is death and after death comes judgment, an eternal judgment and damnation not just a temporal expression of the wrath of God described in the Tribulation.