Recovering the classic, Protestant interpretation of Bible prophecy.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Seventh Bowl of the Wrath of God

by Joe Haynes, March 17 2020

Please also see the series of devotional videos, recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, on being ready for the second coming of Christ

Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) a sign of the end times?
Frankly it's too early to tell. Here are a few things to keep in mind in light of the Book of Revelation.
I recently preached through Revelation 16, the chapter about the seven final judgements of God called "the bowls of God's wrath." In those sermons, I suggested,

  • The first bowl was fulfilled by the time of the French Revolution;
  • The second bowl was fulfilled in the devastating wars that followed, up to and including WW1 and WW2;
  • The third bowl was fulfilled during the same period of time as the first two bowls;
  • The fourth bowl was fulfilled especially after the French Revolution, and led up to the end of the Pope's dominion over the former Papal States (c.1870);
  • The fifth bowl was fulfilled when the Kingdom of Italy seized the Papal States and unified Italy, in a remarkable fulfillment that stretched from 1870 to 1929;
  • The sixth bowl was fulfilled as the Ottoman Empire shrivelled up and allowed the Jewish people to begin returning to their ancestral homeland in Israel, especially from 1917 to the present day;
  • The seventh bowl has not yet been completely fulfilled.
Here is what Revelation 16 predicts concerning the seventh bowl:

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. (Rev 16:17-21 ESV)

You can listen to my sermon on this passage for more detail, but in the meantime, here are the three main takeaways I suggest we be alert to watch for. If we do not see these three things unfold as a result of the coronavirus then we should, so to speak, go back to the drawing board and watch and wait for these words to be fulfilled in some other way in the future. However, if we do see these things begin to happen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic we would be wise to pray, to take heed of these prophecies, repent of our sins, trust in Jesus, and share the Gospel with courage even as we love our neighbours in practical ways. So here are those three takeaways from the seventh bowl of the wrath of God:
  • The angel pours his bowl in the air
  • An unprecedented earthquake changes Europe
  • People are not able to find any help or protection in governments
First then, the angel pours his bowl in the air. The image comes from one of the plagues with which God sent Moses to confront and punish Egypt. The point of comparison between Revelation 16:17 and the plague in Moses' time is the action of "throwing it in the air." Exodus 9:8-10 says this is exactly what God told Moses to do with a handful of ashes:

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt." (Exo 9:8-9 ESV)

So when the angel pours the seventh bowl of God's wrath into the air, we should be expecting an effect that is somehow similar to when Moses threw the soot into the air. In Ex 9:9, God said, "it shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt" and that it will affect everyone "...throughout all the land of Egypt." In other words, one handful of soot and ash somehow spreads through the air and infects everybody. So far, writing this on March 17, 2020, this is the only thing that seems similar to the coronavirus outbreak: the exponential spread of this contagion. Now don't make the mistake of thinking the coronavirus is the whole point of the seventh bowl prediction. Not at all. Rather the act of pouring the seventh bowl into the air then triggers, somehow, the great earthquake. It is not the virus itself, or the death toll connected directly to the virus, that we should be focused on. We should be watching to see what happens next as a result of the virus.

Second, an unprecedented earthquake changes Europe. As I explained in my sermons in Revelation, an earthquake is a common biblical symbol for a great upheaval of people. Coincidentally, I read in the news this morning that one economist was describing the economic aftermath of this pandemic as "aftershocks." And this afternoon I heard the Premier of British Columbia describe the effects of the pandemic as "seismic." That's similar to how the Bible often uses an earthquake to refer to upheavals among the nations or peoples of earth. The point is, in Revelation 16:18, an unprecedented upheaval of people is predicted, followed immediately, in 16:19, by its effect on "the great city... Babylon the Great." Again in my sermons I have explained that "the great city" in Revelation refers at first to the lands of the Roman Empire, and later, more specifically, to the dominion and kingdom once ruled by the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church. This is surprising to lots of readers today because nobody living today has even seen a time when the Popes were kings of a literal kingdom. Their kingdom was taken away about the year 1870, when Italy was unified under the Italian King, Victor Emmanuel. So it's like ancient history. But the next chapter, Revelation 17, gives a number of clues that identify "Babylon the Great" with the actual city of Rome. So while I can't be too specific, it seems clear in Revelation that "the great city... Babylon the Great" (Rev 16:19) refers to either the city of Rome, the former Kingdom of the Roman Popes, or the lands of the former Roman Empire.

Then verse 19 predicts the effect of the earthquake will cause "the great city... Babylon the Great" to "become three parts." (That's literally what the original language says. It does not use a violent verb like "split" or "divide" but just says it "becomes three parts.") If the bowl poured into the air predicts a pandemic, and the earthquake predicts an unprecedented upheaval of people, and "the great city... Babylon the Great" refers to say, the lands of the former Roman Empire, then we should watch for a fulfillment that sees something like the European Union dissolving into three political regions, perhaps with closed borders between them (or something like that).

Third, people are not able to find any help or protection in governments. In my sermon on this passage I showed how the biblical symbols of "mountains and islands" describe human and governmental institutions that people look to for protection and shelter in times of crisis and danger. The point is, Revelation 16:20 predicts there will be no governments or institutions to offer people protection and safety. This likely means that the population of Rome, or Italy, or much of Europe, will no longer be able to depend on their governments--municipal, regional, or national.

These are the three takeaways I see from this final prophecy of judgement before the second coming of Christ. If we do not see these things unfold in the months and years following this pandemic, then I think it's safe to say it is not that time yet. But if world events begin to correspond more and more strongly to the predictions in Revelation 16:17-21, then we should do what Revelation 16:21 and 16:11, etc,. predict most people will NOT do: repent of our sins, glorify God, put our faith in Jesus.

Having said all of this, the duty of the Christian Church has never changed. We are called to make disciples among all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; loving our neighbours, and even our enemies; doing good at all times; caring for the poor; praying and preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, who offers eternal life and forgiveness of sins to anyone who turns from sin and puts their trust in Jesus alone.

About Me

Historicism.com is owned and operated by me, Joe Haynes, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I serve as a pastor in a church plant in Victoria since 2013. My wife, Heather, and I have five kids. In 2011, I completed a Master of Arts in Christian Studies from Northwest Baptist Seminary at the Associated Canadian Theological Seminaries of Trinity Western University. Feel free to visit my blog at Keruxai.com.
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