As I write this blog, more than 400 people in China have succumbed to the Coronavirus and over 20,000 cases of infection have been diagnosed. The virus has not yet surfaced in the Netherlands, but today it was announced that one of the Belgians, who were evacuated from Wuhan, is infected. The World Health Organization is taking the matter extremely seriously, and it is widely anticipated that the disease will spread and cause numerous casualties worldwide.
Many readers of the Gospel of Matthew will almost automatically think of the words of Jesus in the twenty-fourth chapter, in which the Lord predicts that all kinds of disasters will happen before the Second Coming. As one of the disasters, the seventeenth-century Dutch Bible translation mentions ‘pestilences’ (verse 7). The Revised version of this Bible translation renders this as ‘infectious diseases’. In more recent Dutch Bible translations this aspect of the so-called ‘signs of the times’ is not mentioned separately. The King James Version also mentions the ‘pestilences’ that will come, while more recent English translations do not explicitly mention this facet either. My knowledge of New Testament Greek is still adequate enough to check in my Greek New Testament that the newer translations are correct.
But, in any case, the coronavirus is a serious problem, and because of the enormous globalization the danger of a worldwide spreading has, of course, greatly increased. But is it a sign of the imminent end?
And what about the Brexit? Is that a fulfilment of the last phase of the prophecy of the image King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream? Can we see before our eyes that the ‘kingdoms’ that emerged on the territory of the Roman Empire will not form a lasting unity, as the prophecy foretold? And what to say of the political tensions and the many wars, and of the threat of war that is constantly being felt? And what to make of the many earthquakes that occur? I am not so much thinking of the repeated tremors in the Dutch province of Groningen, however annoying they may be, but of quakes that go beyond seven on the Richter scale.
Are they all ‘signs of the times’? For some, no doubt they are. When they see these things, they are more than ever convinced the coming of Christ is at the door, perhaps even during their lifetime! Others are not so sure and point out that terrible disasters have always happened. In the last few days I have repeatedly heard the comparison between the Coronavirus in the Spanish flu. At least twenty million people died from that epidemic in the years 1918-1919. Some historians think that there were even about a hundred million casualties.
It is important to put all this in a proper biblical perspective. The New Testament shows that the ‘time of the end’ is the period between the first and second coming of Christ. And throughout that period there are ‘signs’ that constantly remind us that history is going to come to an end. We are in the final phase. In Greek the word ‘semeion’ is used. This is generally translated as ‘sign’. However, it is not a miracullous sign. The Greek has another word for that. Perhaps the word ‘signal’ is the best rendering. There have always been signals that time is not always going to continue. Those signals occur also in our day and age, and it is important that we recognize them as such.
Some will say: But this end-time has now been going on for about two thousand years. How can that be? Yes, it seems to be very long, at least if we date the beginning of this world in a relatively recent past, maybe some 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. For those (and I include myself in that category) who see the beginning, when God set his creation in motion, as probably much further in the past, an end-time of 2,000 years is a relatively short period–certainly from a divine perspective. But in whatever way we think about this, the ‘signals’ keep reminding us that the end is definitely coming, and that the promise of a new world will come true.