This article – a prophetic characterization of the current pandemic – is a continuation of part 1, which focused on giving a prophetic analysis of the global disaster. It identified a whole range of factors, characteristics and manifestations of the current pandemic, beyond the realm of global public health. The first article also provided the scriptural basis of the pandemic as a “sign and a wonder” that requires mankind to enter into a season of moral reflection and contemplation. It provided examples of how ancient civilizations – kings and nations – responded to significant events by seeking the face of the God of heaven, Jehovah, the Creator of human life. Thus, the first article was written with the following categories of people in mind: The Disciple of Christ (the Believer), the Church Leader, the Citizen and those in spheres of leadership – especially political leadership.
Part 2 is written to take the conversation further and deeper, to provide the following: (1) a doctrinal outline of some of the questions that the church is currently grappling with, (2) and a prophetic lens through which we can view this global disaster that has overtaken the world. The disaster finds us (church) marching forward towards the fulfillment of pre-established and biblically based beliefs, hopes and purposes. We therefore must seek doctrinal-prophetic meaning of the pandemic, within a broader reality of a march that began at the Cross and that shall end when we finish the purposes of God here on earth. For us, the disaster cannot be a “distraction”, it must be a moment of re-calibration.
Every human being, people-group and culture have a lens (or a worldview) through which they interpret life. For the Disciple of Christ, that lens must come from the Scriptures. This article is therefore written to place and to frame the current pandemic within the broader grand march of the Kingdom of God to the conclusion of the purposes of God. It is written not as a “Social Media nugget”, but as a resource for the Disciple (Student) of Christ and for that Church Leader who is deeply engaged in the work of advancing the Kingdom of God.
It is clear to us all by now that coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact upon the world, the kind we have not seen in modern humanity. In engaging the sense of void that characterizes the world at the moment, and a general cessation of human activity due to multiple nations being on lockdown, at the same time – e.g. the streets are empty, there is no traffic in cities, no sight of children going to school, industries and economies are on pause, stadiums are abandoned etc. – the words of Revelation ch. 18 come to mind:
Rev 18:8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. 9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ 11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more…17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 22 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. 24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” NIV
The scripture above is a picture of life in a lockdown reality. It reflects systemic and cultural paralysis that we are seeing around us.
This cover page of the economist magazine is a graphical representation of Revelation 18 – the world is locked down and the human enterprise is on pause. The world is under siege and is fighting for survival. The offensive nature of the capitalist system has been broken as the world enters a season of survival.
The dilemma or conundrum of the pandemic is clear: it’s that you must lockdown the nation in order to minimize an outbreak in infections, to avoid overwhelming the public health care system and to therefore save lives. But in locking down the nation, you immobilize the economy. And when the economy is immobilized, human livelihood is threatened. The challenge faced by our political leaders is clear for all to see, just as is the sense of uncertainty faced by households.
The words of Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who heads the Ministerial Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health in South Africa, further help us understand the moment upon modern humanity. Prof. Karim made the following statements during a webinar on Thursday 17th April 2020, “nothing prepared us for this…we were not ready for a virus like this…no one was ready…no country was”. Furthermore, statements like, “we are one humanity” and references to the pandemic as something that poses an “existential threat to humanity” are becoming common in media interviews and commentaries. This shows us the scope within which human thought is functioning, in relation to this pandemic – humans are having an “ultimate reflection and conversation” as they mobilize to save human life. If this is the case in the world, it must be even more of a reality within the House of God – we must be thinking about doctrinal-prophetic meaning of this moment, in the context of finalizing the purposes of God. We must begin to have an “omega conversation”.
In part 1 of this article, we noted that the magnitude and scale of this pandemic brings the natural question, “God, where are you?”. Since December 2019, there has been just over 1.9 million cases of infections and over 100 thousand deaths. These are not just statistics; these are real people and families that have been infected and affected by this pandemic. With this kind of agony, a sound of distress emerges from global humanity into the heavens, with the question, “God, where are you?’. This question can be likened to the cry of the Lord Jesus on the Cross, just before He released His last breath. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). This phrase is traced back to Ps.22, a psalm of the suffering Christ:
Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. NIV
Psalm 22 gives a picture of conflict between human suffering and the sovereignty of God (the God who is enthroned in heaven). And how we humans tend to measure God’s nearness or relational proximity to us, on the basis of the conditions that surround us. Thus, Matt. 27:46 gives a picture of the humanity of Jesus, wrestling with suffering and calling on God’s nearness in a time of agony. The idea is – if God is enthroned and in charge, He surely should come quickly to bring salvation to us.
And so when we consider the question, “God, where are you?”, we must reflect on the paragraph below, taken from part 1 of this article, and which brings to light some theological and prophetic nuances that we want to explore and unpack in this article:
“Looking at the magnitude, the scale, the speed and the global impact of this pandemic, ancient kings, prophets, the righteous ones and ancient societies would have concluded that something other-worldly was happening! Clearly, at least according to the news and the statistics coming through, something is indeed moving across the nations of the earth. And if God is on the other side of the line of whatever is happening, catching up with it together with us, and trying to stop it, then He isn’t as powerful as He declares Himself to be. And since we know God the Creator of the earth, Jehovah the self-sufficient One, that He is no spectator to life events, and that nothing happens to His creation at least without it earning His divine oversight and attention, because His eyes scan the entire earth (2 Chron. 16:9, Ps. 15:3, Heb. 4:13). And that this same God is so detailed that He has numbered the very hairs of our heads (Luke 12:7), that He never sleeps nor slumbers (Ps. 121:3-5), then we have to say that (1) either this pandemic is the direct hand of God or (2) He has allowed whatever is moving in the earth, to produce the level of impact that we’re seeing on our television screens. And this further raises doctrinal and prophetic questions as we seek to calibrate the lens through which we see this Creator. That is, at the core of this conversation, is the theology of the Nature of God.”
The Question of Faith
Theology or doctrine is never meant to be an abstract thing; it’s meant to give us substance, hangers and a basis upon which we can formulate a worldview and a perspective concerning the flow and outcome of life.
Any system of belief must be able to help us process three fundamental questions of human existence – (1) where do we come from, (2) what is or should be the nature of the human condition and (3) where are going? We must not only frame these questions in the context of creation, but also in the progressive flow of human life. That is, any generation or society reflects the three principles of human existence in its social dynamics: 1) human origins (historical conditions that have shaped current expressions of society), 2) the human condition (current socio-economic realities that can be weighed against God’s righteousness) and, 3) human destiny (unfolding futures). Noah was able to see future destruction of life in a time when everybody was clearly invested in life – “in those days, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:37&38).
Faith empowers us to reason, understand, see and to speak! Without faith, it is not only impossible to please God, but we are left hopeless and unable to process life and reality around us. Without faith, we fall into fear and anxiety. However, faith is not simply positive thinking or the exertion of human soul and will – faith must be founded on a sure foundation of the (a) promise of the Lord and (b) the revelation of His Nature. If we know that when the dust settles, God will be standing right next to us, then we have full assurance and confidence to walk through the valley of this pandemic, without fear. Faith is important, for the following reasons…
Faith empowers us to reason
Heb 11:17-19 By faith… Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. NIV
The word “reason” means to make an estimation, to put together with one’s mind, to take an inventory, to think, reason and conclude, to do calculations or accounting. Basically, this word means to reconcile realities before you on the basis of the Nature and Promise of God to you. In this case, Abraham had to reconcile three things: the first thing was the promise he had received from the Lord about having a baby boy (the son, Isaac), the second thing was that it was through the same son (Isaac) that Abraham would become the father of many nations, and the third thing was the instruction to sacrifice the son. Abraham reconciled these three things on the basis of the nature and promise of the Lord (that God fulfills His promise; He is not in the business of breaking promises, and yet God is to be fully obeyed), and he arrived at the conclusion that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God was going to raise him (Isaac) from the dead, since there were some outstanding things that had to be fulfilled, through Isaac. Abraham therefore understood that the command to sacrifice his son was not about taking Isaac’s life, rather, it was a test of obedience, on the part of Abraham.
We cannot reason out realities before us without a proper knowledge of God – and so therefore the theology and doctrine of the Nature of God is fundamental to the church’s ability to engage in prophetic analysis and figure out what exactly is the Lord doing at this time, amidst this pandemic.
Faith empowers us to understand
Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. NIV
The word “understand” means to consider, to exercise the mind, to comprehend, to perceive with thought coming into consciousness or to formulate new thinking capacity. Faith empowers us to understand the formation and outcome of new human realities. Hebrews 11:3 is not dealing with personal faith; it’s dealing with faith in relation to big macro developments of life. At the core of this is the understanding that “what is seen comes from what is invisible”. For us who believe, life does not begin in material realities. For us who believe, science is important but not enough to explain developments taking place on planet earth. On the contrary, we understand that human life has both spiritual origins and spiritual outcome. When we see life happening, we seek to understand the source and the cause. It is in understanding the source and the cause that we determine appropriate action. That is, in any given situation, how do we know whether to engage in prayers of intercession or warfare? How do we know whether to rebuke or affirm? How do we know how we pitch our prophetic proclamation in the earth, amidst disasters and pandemics?
There was once a powerful young king in Israel – king Josiah. He did a whole lot of great things in reforming the nation and in re-establishing the law of God. However, the story of his death in 2 Chronicles 35 reflects lack of discernment on his part. Josiah decided to go out and fight the Egyptian king, Neco, who was marching to fight another king. King Neco’s words and warning to Josiah highlight the need for us to always understand the source of things and realities before us:
2 Chron 35:20 After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. 21 But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” 22 Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Neco had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo. NIV
Sadly, Josiah was killed in this battle. Josiah! The same political reformer who changed the moral fibre of the nation of Israel? Josiah chose to be regulated by presumption than faith. He was so accustomed to being on the side of God’s favour that he couldn’t comprehend that king Neco, though a gentile Egyptian king, might have been on a divine mission, sent by God Himself. Had Josiah taken time out to do the “David thing”, of seeking the face of the Lord in the matter, he would have understood the source and the cause behind king Neco’s military campaign. The story reveals the tragedy of not taking time to discern and understand the source and origination of human events and realities. The Body of Christ simply cannot afford to do the “Josiah thing” as this pandemic plays out.
Faith empowers us to see
Heb 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. NIV
Faith is inherently prophetic. It comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). It is often triggered by the revelation of the Nature and Promise of the Lord (Heb. 6:13-15). It is geared towards a hope in God (Heb 11:1) – in other words, it is forward looking and futuristic. It never looks backwards.
The word “see” used in Heb. 11:13 means to see with perception. Faith is not simply about the preservation of current conditions of human life. Faith is about seeing or being insightful about new conditions arriving in the earth. The people of faith did not only see, they also welcomed these things. The word “welcome” means to enfold in the arms, to greet, salute, and to treat with affection.
Heb 11:14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. NIV
Sight of new conditions means that we let go of the old as we embrace “the heavenly thing” that God is doing.
Faith empowers us to speak
2 Cor 4:13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. NIV
Once we have understood the formation of new realities of life in this pandemic, and have reasoned out God’s divine outcome, then we can speak to one another as believers and to the nations of the world.
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day. NIV
2 Cor 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. NIV
God’s response to the formlessness, emptiness and darkness of the earth was a proclamation of light – the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ. In this season of disaster, when we are surrounded by formlessness and emptiness, we must see new realities of life being carved out of the Rock that is Christ, and we must proclaim them upon the earth. They are the only hope to mankind.
In providing the prophetic lens through which we can view the current pandemic, we must consider and appreciate the following…
- Some limitations of the church: For example, some sections of the church have an underlying, subtle suspicion towards political government. This is partly caused by a particular eschatological viewpoint, and it can affect how the church relates to political authority, especially during these times.
- The doctrine of the Nature of God, especially as it relates to the issue of divine judgment: there has been questions and conversations around this issue. We must go back to the scriptures to explore, examine and redeem in our minds a scriptural view of the application, purpose and redemptive nature of God’s divine judgment to man.
- The doctrine of Christ: through Christ and His Cross, we see the reconciliation of two important components of the Nature of God: since the fall of man, God introduced His righteous requirements through the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses, and commanded man to perform these commands. Disobedience came with a penalty. Thus, through the Law of Moses, we see God as a righteous Judge. However, in the New Covenant, God declares that all men have sinned and fallen short of His glory, and therefore stand judged. And God takes the next step – He leaves His position of a righteous Judge and assumes the position of a convict, on behalf of humanity (Phil. 2:6-8). He comes to the earth to die for us so that we can live through Him. What we see in the story of salvation is that God is so righteous that He will not leave sin unpunished, but He is so merciful that He will pay the penalty for us. And that anybody that will still not receive the gracious gift of life still remains judged and condemned. What Christ reveals to us is the reconciliation of the two components of the Nature of God – the righteous Judge and the merciful Redeemer.
We will explore some of these topics in the near future. Moreover, to walk in the fullness of the wisdom that God has freely and graciously given to us, we must embrace the whole counsel of the scriptures – from Genesis to Revelation. The following principles around the Bible and scripture administration are helpful to consider:
- “All scripture is God-breathed” – it was written out of divine inspiration of God upon man (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:20&21).
- The Bible reveals the Nature of God and the nature of His intervention to earthly and human conditions.
- We are to embrace the entire Bible (Genesis to Revelation) as the whole counsel of God to man, there are no irrelevant books.
- Old Testament books and New Testament books are not two conflicting sections of the Bible, this would make God schizophrenic. Both these sections of the Bible make up one and coherent counsel of God to man. They are both as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.
- However, we must understand God’s shift from the Old Covenant of law (not Old Testament books) to the New Covenant of grace (i.e. we must distinguish between Old Testament books and Old Covenant on the one hand, and New Testament books and New Covenant on the other hand).
- We must embrace the entire Bible as the whole counsel of God to man, but we must read it from the vantage point of the New Covenant of grace.
- We must remember that what may be regarded as “irrelevant Old Testament books” was in fact the Bible that Jesus read.
- Moreover, it was the Old Testament Books that the early apostles, teachers and church in general relied upon and used to bring the revelation of Jesus as the Christ. That is, the early church did not frown upon Old Testament books, but they embraced and understood them to bring the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- What this means is that we are not tearing, chucking or shredding some scriptural books. All we’ve had to do is to look at the same thing but from a different vantage point of the New Covenant or of Christ.
- Rom 10:4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (NIV). Christ reflects a shift in angles and vantage points, from law to grace.
- The Bible and the principle of collective representation: The Bible is written by the ink of the Spirit of God as a book reflecting collective representation of mankind. That is, the sin of Adam is in fact the sin of mankind. Just as the righteousness of Christ does in fact open the window of redemption for all mankind.
- The Bible and the principle of collective reflection: The bible is also written with the intent for collective reflection – i.e. we can never read a story about a character in the bible (good or bad) and then go on to distance ourselves from them. The Bible reveals the true nature of mankind. What this means is that we all suffer from the same things. The Bible is nothing but a collective mirror crafted by the wisdom and intelligence of Him who created us and who therefore knows us very well. When I read about Adam’s temptation to eat a forbidden fruit, I must see myself. When I read about David’s sexual lust, I must see myself etc.
- When we consider the principle of collective reflection, then we can think of the Bible as nothing but a video camera zooming onto specific characters, people-groups, generations, situations, events and epochs, to reflect the wider, universal and trans-generational condition of mankind.
- The human condition will never outsmart the Scriptures. There is not a single generation or human era, regardless of technological advancement, where scripture will become irrelevant in terms of providing the revelation of God, a moral compass and wisdom for human life.
- What is even more powerful in the principles of collective representation and collective reflection, is that in Christ Jesus, we have not only the Messiah who goes to the Cross to die for us, but we also have a human being (the second and Last Adam, 1 Cor. 15:45-59) who comes to show us how we can be humans again, so that in celebrating the Cross, we are celebrating a portal into new humanity (Eph. 4:22-24, Eph. 2:14-16).
- The Bible and the principle of universality of truth: scripture is applicable to all humans across generations, people-groups, age, gender and class groups. It is applicable to all human conditions and situations.
- Scripture is written as a historical record to warn successive generations in terms of how God deals with the human condition (1 Cor. 10:6&11).
What on earth is happening? Looking at the Pandemic through the lens of Prophetic Scriptures
We began this article by reflecting on the doctrine of faith – faith empowers us to reason, to understand, to see and to proclaim. Faith empowers us with a kingdom worldview with which we process reality, situations and events of life around us. Faith does not only give us power to govern over our human affairs, it also empowers us with understanding and hope to be able to walk through difficult times. For instance, because we are a people of faith, “we are not to grieve (death) like the rest of men, who have no hope”. 1 Thess. 4:13-14.
What are some of the Scriptures and prophetic themes that provide a lens through which to look at the current global disaster and the pandemic? For the purpose of this article, we will identify two prophetic themes…
The Shaking of Nations
Heb 12:25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” NIV
Hag 2:6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” NIV
In Hebrews 12:25-29, we see the shaking of life. God acknowledges Himself as the Source of the shaking. There are two triggers of the shaking identified for us: (a) the refusal of the speaking of God or a turning away from God, (b) and the impartation of the Kingdom of God to the church.
To “shake” means to throw into a tremor, to put in commotion, to cause to vibrate and to be unstable, to cause to tremble with fear. The purpose of the shaking is clearly to reveal and expose an arrangement of human life built in opposition to the Kingdom of God. How do we know this? Because the scripture speaks about “the removal of what can be shaken… so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (vs.27). This means that we must ask ourselves the following questions: (a) what is being shaken in and through this pandemic? (b) And what is being established?
Hebrews 12 is taken from Haggai 2:6-9 – the Hebrew word translated as “shake” defines a forceful and a violent, back and forth movement of a physical body by an outside force. If we consider that the natural is a pointer to the spiritual, then beyond the scientific, medical and even political issues around this pandemic, something other-worldly is indeed blowing at the system that man has built. The story does not end there, Haggai 2:7 further reveals the true intent of the shaking – so that “the desire of all nations shall come”. The word “desire” means delight, or that which is desirable and pleasant. The purpose of the shaking is to stimulate the appetite of nations towards God and His righteousness. It is to stimulate the nations to have a new hunger for righteousness, that they may come to the house of the Lord (Isa. 2:1-4). In other words, the shaking is deeply redemptive.
The Groaning of Creation
Rom 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. NIV
Romans 8 reveals some key themes for us…
Creation was subjected to frustration (vs.20): creation was subjected or subordinated to futility, vanity and purposelessness. The Fall of man in Genesis 3 did not only affect humans, but also creation (Rom. 5:12). The Fall and sin had both human and systemic effects – they affected the creation of God.
Creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into a glorious freedom (vs.21): creation is in a state of slavery to decay. The word “decay” means destruction, corruption, deterioration, a fraying and a wasting away. Since the fall of man, creation has been wasting away and being depleted, primarily because of man’s original sin but also as a result of continued greed of man. We know that at the beginning, when man fell, God did a couple of things: He set in motion anatomical and ecological curses. We who were created as immortal humans began to suffer from death or mortality. The woman would now give birth with great pain. All of this means that something changed in our anatomy or physiology. Not only that, but the ground was cursed because of the sin of man. Sin brought an ecological curse. That process has been in motion since Genesis chapter 3.
Creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth – up to the present time (vs.22): the word “groaning” means to moan or lament jointly, to grumble from impatience, to be constricted as when squeezed or pressed by circumstances.
Since the fall of man, creation has never been in a state of joy. Creation is lamenting and complaining – it is in a state of protest against the cosmic effects of man’s sin and immorality. This lamentation of creation is likened to a woman in labour – the idea is that the lamentation is increasing in intensity, resulting in all the disasters we are seeing.
Jesus helps us by explaining the exact nature of the “labour pains”…
Matt 24:4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. NIV
Luke 21:10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. NIV
The lamentation or labour pains of creation involve earthquakes, famines (economic crises), pestilences (health crises) etc.
The image below shows a range of events and situations that were taking place as we started the year 2020. Some of these events had already been taking place in previous years. I put up this slide during our first 2020 Sunday worship meeting, on the 5th of January (not so long ago), to show our church the nature of events that were in the news as we started the year. Then, we were dealing with a serious military crisis between the USA and Iran. I showed coronavirus “as one of the things taking place” (number 5 in the image). A couple of months later, the world is under quarantine because of coronavirus. But all this is a picture of creation that is in protest because of the violation of the order of God.
Why is creation in a state of lamentation? What is the hope of creation?
The answer to the question above takes us back to the doctrine of salvation. The following components of this doctrine are paramount…
- The Fall did not only affect humans, it also affected the entire system of creation – sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12).
- Sin did not only affect man’s heart, but also man’s anatomy and the entire ecological system (Gen. 3).
- Equally, Jesus has not only come to save humans, but to also restore the entire order of creation so that it can be reconciled with God (Col. 1:17-21).
- Creation was subjected to decay at the Fall, in hope that it would one day be liberated.
- Consequently, God has not saved us simply to keep us within this fallen order of life. He has saved us with the intent to restore not only our spirits, but also our bodies (anatomy) back to their original order of immortality – this will fulfil the image of God.
- God’s salvation plan is working out progressively towards finality – our spirits have been redeemed and regenerated (Tit. 3:5-6, 1 Pet. 1:23), our souls are being saved (1 Pet. 1:9) and our bodies (anatomy) shall be saved (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:35-49)
- Equally, creation must reflect the nature of God (Rom. 1:20, Ps. 19:1) – creation was therefore subjected to decay for a while, so that it would eventually be liberated.
- Liberation of creation is the eventual destruction of all that has been corrupted, and the establishment of a new order of life (2 Pet.3:3-15)
Creation is lamenting in hope for the fulfillment of the full plan of God’s salvation…
Rom 8:21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. NIV
Triggers of the End
The Bible teaches us that mortality shall come to an end, and that the system of immortality shall be re-established. All these things that are happening cause us to begin to think deeply about the end of all things. There are three interconnected components that are at play in the church’s movement to the end:
- The groaning of Creation and the manifestation of crises and disasters (Rom. 8:18-25, Matt. 24:3-14).
- The preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to all nations or people-groups (Matt. 24:14).
- Growth and development of church in the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-16, Eph. 5:27).
The first issue: The Groaning of Creation – We have no control over the first component. The manifestation of global disasters is something that is outside of our sphere of authority. To build an eschatological mindset where we solely depend on earthly events to determine our movement to the completion of kingdom purpose leaves us powerless and ineffective. The Bible teaches us that we can speed up the day of the Lord, meaning that there are contributions that we are expected to make in the process (2 Pet. 3:11-12).
The second issue: Preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom – The second issue, which is within our means, has to do with the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God to all nations (Matt. 24:14). All nations must hear about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Church must engage this apostolic mission. The righteous, just and merciful God will not conclude His purposes without all people-groups getting the opportunity to hear about what He has done for them.
The third issue: Maturity in Christ – beyond the evangelistic, geographic spread of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, there must be a dimensional spread of the growth of the church in the fullness of the life of Christ. We must grow up to Him who is the head (Eph. 4:15&16). If we only grow geographically, without dimensional growth, we will become a global church that still has the stains and the wrinkles of worldliness.
These three components are interconnected. Disasters and crises have a way of opening territories, people-groups and cultures to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Crises often leave humanity in a state of fear, it creates a new longing for the meaning of life, the message of hope and the theology of immortality (especially when humans are faced with death). At the same time, disasters and crises open the church up to new conversations about God, His Kingdom and Purpose. This allows the church to reflect upon her building approaches, unleashing her to new dimensions of wisdom in building the things of God.
The Response of the Church
Heb 10:35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. NIV
Church must respond in faith – and faith is the courage to engage the moment.
What are the platforms of faith that church must engage at this time?
- Faith is to understand (it is to have knowledge) the evolution and movement of life to the end of time: church must respond with knowledge and insight concerning the meaning of the events taking place in the earth. Church must be able to frame these events within the promises of God. Jesus went to the Cross fully knowing what was happening. He was joyful at the outcomes that the Cross was going to produce in the redemption of mankind. “For the joy set before Him, He endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2-3).
- Faith is an action-oriented response to a discerned requirement of the Lord in the crisis: all the people we are told about in Hebrews 11 did something as an act of responding to what they believed God was doing in their time. Abel offered a better sacrifice, Noah built the ark, Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice etc. In Hebrews 11, faith is spoken of as human action offered in response to discernment of the will of God in the midst of life situations.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. NIV
1 Tim 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… NIV
Eph 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. NIV
- Church must intensify intercessory prayers, to petition the Lord for the salvation of mankind.
- The saints must intensify the cry before the Lord for the establishment of the Body of Christ (Isa. 62:6&7).
- Church must pray for political authorities to submit themselves under the wisdom of Christ, who is the King of kings.
We must meet this current pandemic with prayers and intercession! With the prayers of the saints, God can redeem souls.
Ps 133:1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. NIV
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV
There is a huge difference between church as a devotional service and church as a spiritual community. Church is called to be a community under the government of Christ. Community is important for the church to be able to navigate the current crisis. No one believer or leader can face this moment alone. Community is the revelation of common life in Christ. And once this revelation is established, it starts to trickle down and manifest in the socio-economic realm of the saints.
It’s going to be difficult to start now to build community life. Churches that have not been able to prioritize community life must use this period of the pandemic to reflect and begin to build around this principle post this pandemic. In that way, they will be ready for what is to come – the next constriction.
Spiritual community in churches empowers leaders to be able to continue to move forward in the purposes of God even during a national lockdown. It’s impossible to do this with “church attendees”. Churches need to be made up of fully committed believers, who are in active relationship and mutual accountability, for them to thrive in these turbulent times. In other words, community life is a critical platform upon which leaders can still “sail the ship” amidst the storm.
Even more powerful is the fact that community life becomes a platform of witnessing and evangelism, in a time when people are isolated, vulnerable and fearful. Beyond the message of salvation, we must proclaim to our neighborhoods, cities and villages by a construct of life that is appealing to the human need.
Discipleship and Equipping
Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. NIV
Churches will not be able to confront moments like this pandemic with simply “church attendees”. Churches can only walk through this storm with disciples or students of Christ who have a clear obligation to live for the Lord and to journey with fellow believers.
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. NIV
These believers have been trained and equipped to walk in Christlikeness. They have revelation, spiritual energy and humility to stay connected and to remain accountable even when in a state of isolation. They are living for the Lord; they are not doing this for a show. They have faith and the courage to not retreat in the crisis. And they know how to draw deep within the vulnerability of their soul to rise up in prayer before the Lord. They have seen Him work in their lives before, helping them to “kill the lion and the bear”, and so they have faith that God will keep them.
It is time for the church to intensify efforts of evangelism and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rom 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” NIV
Like Noah, we must be messengers of righteousness in our generation.
2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others… NIV
Eph 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not only mut we proclaim in word but also in deed, to express the manifold wisdom of God that sustains our lives in the midst of the conditions of the world – our individual lives, our families and our faith communities.
Ministry of Love and Mercy
Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn. NIV
Gal 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. NIV
We must engage in practical ministries of Christ, to touch the brokenness of humanity and minister the love of God. As humanity breaks under the pandemic, we must stand in communities with the word of Christ, the healing anointing and material resources that the Lord has blessed us with, to minister to humanity. We must bring the word of hope, truth and deliverance to communities.
Engaging the Government and Political Leadership
2 Sam 7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” 3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” 4 That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan… 17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation. NIV
This is the story of prophet Nathan providing prophetic and insightful support to the desires the king had in the development of the nation. Church must actively seek to resource and cooperate with the government, in its (government’s) efforts to secure human wellbeing amidst this pandemic. Here are some ways in which the church can help…
- Over and above praying for those in authority, church must sit at the “table of the king” to provide critical wisdom and insight in the strategic direction of the nation.
- Church must mobilize its own resources, including human resources, talents and skills in the process of mitigating the crisis.
- Church leaders must shepherd their faith communities towards responsible and kingdom oriented citizenship, it must create a platform of advocacy, educational campaign and awareness to help direct the flow of human life towards a desirable end.
Please follow the links below for other resources around the pandemic:
- Covid-19: A Prophetic characterization of the current pandemic (part 1)
- Restating the foundations of the New Covenant
- Drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic
- Doing church in the crisis of coronavirus
Pastor – LivingStones Agency (www.livingstonesagency.com)
Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship (www.kingdomhumanity.com)