For the last couple of centuries, every disease, war, hurricane, and earthquake has been used as a scare tactic of false teachers to draw more people to their churches and to draw more attention to themselves. Premillennialism (the belief that Christ will soon set up a physical kingdom on earth) has not ceased to scare the world with its wild concepts and mutilation of scripture, while also attracting followers who are interested in all things strange. The latest disease outbreak, the coronavirus, has not slipped through the hands of false teachers, but, like all disease outbreaks before it, it is being spoken of as a sign that Jesus is coming soon to set up his kingdom. Let’s consider for ourselves the scripture being used to promote the coronavirus as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy concerning the end times.
The scripture being misused and misapplied to the coronavirus is the same scripture that has been used for other disease outbreaks in the past; it is Revelation 6:8.
“And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”
This is an easy scripture to be misinterpreted because a true understanding of it requires a full comprehension of the context of the book of Revelation. When the context is either not considered or not honored, then the individual verse will suffer abuse. We don’t want to do that. All the contents of the book must remain in the context of “the things that must soon take place”, a statement that both begins and ends the book of Revelation (1:1; 22:6). And considering the date of the book given in chapter seventeen, along with the content of the prophecies in the book, truly all these things would “soon take place” over the course of two years (From the 68th to the 70th year of the first century). The contents of the book are a fuller narrative to many of the words that Jesus gave when he was on the earth (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17, 21, and many of his parables). Perhaps Revelation can be summed up in a single statement that Jesus spoke to the Jews of the first century: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43). The narrative of Revelation follows the things that must soon take place for that generation, detailing the judgment of God against the Hebrew nation, the destruction of the physical city of God (Jerusalem) and the physical temple, and the restoration of the kingdom of God to a worthy people who produce the fruits of the kingdom. This is the shortest summary of Revelation that I’ve ever given, but I hope it was understandable (see this fully developed in my book “The Days of Restoration”). Nevertheless, having a sense of the original context of the book, we can now consider the verse at hand (6:8).
Revelation 6:8 details the warning of the fourth horse and rider, which is the end of the context dealing with what many call the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These four horses are symbols that God has used in the past (Zechariah chapters 1 and 6). They represent the patrol of God throughout the earth; his consideration of all people and their actions. But the symbol is twofold, in that, these horses and riders also execute severe warnings of judgment upon those who have turned to wickedness. In the case of Revelation 6, the house of Israel was found to be at ease in their wickedness, and this report from the horsemen will cause the Lord to order the horsemen to inflict warnings of judgment upon the Jews. Concerning these warnings, Jesus had earlier coined them as “the beginning of sorrows” for the house of Israel in that generation. In this vision of Revelation 6, we see the words of Jesus come to symbolic realization: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6-8).
The fourth horse and rider inflict a grave warning for the Jews to repent. This warning is a fourfold means: “to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” As stated, this is only a warning because it symbolically affects “a fourth of the land”; later in the book, because the people did not repent (9:20-21), judgment will come to the fullest upon them.
The fourth horse is described as “pale” in the English text, but this does not paint the full picture of the symbol. In the original language, chloros is a pale yellow-green; the color of skin during terrible illness, disease, or upon death. This color is fitting for the horse, as its rider is named “Death”, and the grave (“hades”) follows every action committed by this rider. This scene is not the working of Satan, as some have misrepresented it to be, but it is the authority of God against his physical people, the house of Israel, who pierced their Christ and refused repentance. This “pestilence” upon the house of Israel in the first century was a symbolic warning of judgment upon them. It is not the coronavirus, nor can the verse be applied to any situation in our present or future.
The coronavirus, like all respiratory illnesses, has the potential of causing death, but in no way do we have authority from God’s word to say that this is a judgment of God or a sign of the end of time. Those who have the audacity to add to or take away from the word of God (Revelation 22:18-19), will surely twist them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). We must stand firm on the foundation of truth and revere the context of God’s words.