Towards the end of World War I, the world would be convulsed by another deadly event. In January 1918, a new strain of flu began making its way across the globe. The origin of the virus remains unknown. Some historians have theorized that the virus originated in a British camp in France, while others are convinced it came from North America. However, as the virus spread, the heavily censored press on both sides of World War I suppressed the news of the outbreak in fear that it would damage morale. In neutral Spain, the uncensored press was free to publish news of a deadly disease that had swept the country, a phenomenon which led to the virus being given its name: Spanish Flu.
The Spanish Flu emerged at a time when the world was becoming increasingly interconnected, thanks to the realities of World War I. Troops on both sides coming to and from the front lines easily spread the disease to civilians. The Spanish Flu thrived in urban population centers and soon spread to the countryside, leaving few places in the world untouched by the medieval-style plague. Businesses and schools closed. Quarantines were enforced. People donned face masks as they went about their daily business. These measures, however, seemed ineffectual in stemming the tide of the disease. After three waves over the course of 18 months, an estimated third of the world’s population was affected, with as many as 50,000,000 people dead as a result of the virus. While the Spanish Flu tended to kill the very young and the very old, those of median age also suffered tremendously.
To many Christians, the flu, combined with the devastation caused by the Great War, must have seemed like the end of days. In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned His disciples that they would
…hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass,
but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be
famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
(Matt. 24:6-8, New King James Version)
In the wake of World War I, both man-made and natural famines occurred throughout the world, including Germany, Iran, China, and Russia. From 1914 to 1920, the world experienced seventeen earthquakes, from Japan and China to Mexico and the United States to Samoa and Australia. Combined with the rising of nation against nation during the Great War, it seemed that Jesus’ prophecy had come true.
Or had it?
Today, we seem to be experiencing the same thing. Earlier in 2020, war with Iran seemed inevitable, and turmoil in North Korea seems likely. East Africa is being ravaged by a swarm of locusts that threaten the crops of an already impoverished region. There have been several earthquakes, including one that just struck California as of this writing. All these factors, coupled with the Coronavirus, seem to indicate that we are living in the days prophesied by Jesus.
Indeed, that may be true. However, the key phrase from Jesus’ statement is “the end is not yet.” Wars, plagues, and natural disasters are all a sad reality of a world groaning under the curse of sin. Sometimes, these events happen separately or simultaneously, but these in and of themselves are not indicative of the end of days.
Yet, Christians must not be lax concerning Jesus’ return. Whether we live in the last days or not, these events will happen as a marker for the eschaton. Along with these things would also come severe persecution, false prophets, the proliferation of sin, and growing cold of many hearts. Only after “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world…shall the end come” (24:9-14). With this in mind, Christians must keep vigilant, as the five virgins in Jesus’ parable who prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival (25:1-13). He does so by serving God and his fellow man, investing and growing the talents that God has given him (25:14-30). When we serve the least, we serve Christ (25:40) and show others the way to know Him.
However, one cannot be truly prepared to experience the end of days without knowing the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9). This means placing one’s trust in God, believing in the resurrection of His Son, and confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-13). Even in the face of calamity and persecution, the believer has hope in the coming of Christ in His glory and spending an eternity with Him in a way that the non-believer does not. In order to be free from the power of sin and death, be made in the newness of life, and hopeful of the resurrection to come, we must first take Jesus at His word:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
John Thomas Justus is a TMU alum with a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in theology. He is currently completing his PhD in American history from Liberty University Online with hopes to finish by 2024.
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