In the book of Revelation we read in the 6th chapter about the fourth “seal judgment.” When that seal is broken and the judgment is released, what is known as the fourth horseman of the apocalypse is released upon the earth. He rides an ashen horse and has the terrifying name, “Death.” We read in this passage that following this rider is the place of the dead, also known as Hades. Authority was given to him over one-fourth of the entire population of the earth. His ride on the earth would result with four types of killing. There would be warfare represented by the sword. There would also be death because of famine and due to the wild beasts of the earth attacking humans in an unprecedented way. The fourth means by which Death would kill twenty-five percent of the earth would be through pestilence. That fourth means is what I want to address in this article. Before I continue you may want to read Revelation 6:7-8 below.
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8)
The word “pestilence” is the Greek word “thanatos” which is the word “death.” So we have Death killing with death. The reason this is translated as pestilence is because this same word is used in the Greek Old Testament translation (called the Septuagint) in Exodus, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel where it is clear in the Hebrew that a plague or pestilence is meant. This is also why the term “the black death” was used often in the 14th and 15th centuries to name horrific plagues of sickness that came upon China and Europe. Therefore what we have before us in Revelation 6 is an apocalyptic outbreak of pestilence or plague that aids in killing 25% of the population. To give you a sense of what God is saying here we can look at current population totals on earth today – which roughly can be estimated at around 7 billion people. That would mean that 2,250,000,000 people would die during this time. Locally, the population of Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is currently around 76,000, would see one in four dies, which are 24,000 people dead.
What could do this kind of thing? One of the four listed here is pestilence – and – we are watching what pestilence can do right now in West Africa. This is especially true in Liberia, where that country has seen the largest outbreak of Ebola in history – last count by the CDC is 2710 cases. Of these cases already 1459 have died. A regional outbreak in five West African counties now totals 5,350 cases with a death rate of around 50%. This sounds terrible enough, but recently the WHO (World Health Organization) ran numbers on what a normal outbreak looks like. The results were that if we do not get very serious about this current outbreak, it is nothing to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 plus cases of Ebola in West Africa alone. When the virus reaches this kind of proliferation – and begins to show up in increasing numbers in nations like Nigeria – some very bad things begin to happen. Let me expound on that thought – actually, not a thought, but rather a reality.
Most of the nations currently affected in West Africa are small enough that it is easier to monitor whether the risk of the virus getting out of that country into the larger world population. Nigeria, on the other hand, is a nation that has airline service on a much wider scale. It also has people travelling to and from it in vastly larger numbers because of general trade traffic – with oil trade traffic requiring much larger numbers to travel in and out of the country. Two ports of call that could be quickly affected with disastrous results are the airports in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Entebbe, Uganda. Both of these airports have numerous regular flights into Europe. If the virus is carried into either of these airports – and from there into European airports – it will be loosed in ways that will dwarf what is happening in West Africa. We would be talking about millions instead of hundreds of thousands.
This is why President Obama recently made a speech in which he used strong military rhetoric concerning our fight against the Ebola virus. If such a spread of this virus is to be contained – and hopefully driven back by modern medicine – it will take strong efforts to establish better public health systems in many African countries.
The one thing, though, that is not being taken seriously – is how this works into God’s purpose and plan. Here is where some reading this article will probably take great offense at what I am about to say. Biblically – when outbreaks like this happen – God was addressing sin among His people. In the book of Numbers several plagues were loosed among God’s people Israel because of their sin and rebellion against Him. When God allows things like this to happen, we ought to be willing to step back and consider where we are spiritually. There should be a willingness to examine ourselves and turn back to God with all our hearts. Many of these plagues were stayed when God’s people humbled themselves and dealt in one way or another with the outbreak of sin that preceded the outbreak of plague. In light of this shouldn’t we, as God’s people, take time to examine our hearts – ask the Lord to reveal to us where we may have departed from Him – and return to Him? Many might say that we don’t have time for this – we need to address these situations medically. But even the CDC and the WHO have said that it will be very easy for this outbreak to overwhelm and drown our health systems if it continues to grow like it has. Just to give you an idea of how fast that growth can be – realize that a few cases broke out a couple of years ago and were for the most part controlled. But we have a situation were a few cases broke out a couple of months ago – followed by cases in the 10’s a few weeks later. After a month and a half these few cases grew into hundreds. After 2-3 months they were in the thousands. Now we have facts that say that these measly hundreds have grown into over 4000 cases – with a near-term potential of hundreds of thousands by Christmas this year.
What should be our response as believers to this virus? I want to answer that in a couple different ways. On a health level, we need to practice good personal hygiene as well as wise health habits. We also need to support our president and our nation’s efforts to combat this through the CDC and other agencies that battle world health concerns like this. But there are also spiritual things we need to keep in mind. We need to pray for the nations of West Africa. We need to pray for the church in these areas – praying that God would protect them as well as use them in a time of tremendous need. We need to continue to send and support missionaries and relief teams like the one that was infected from Samaritan’s Purse. One of the most powerful testimonies the church of Jesus Christ can offer is that of people who will respond to this outbreak with mercy and compassion. Throughout history the church has responded this way in plague after plague. At the risk of their own lives many in the church have reacted to crises like this by taking their medical skills, much needed medicines, and most importantly the love of God (as well as the gospel into these places.) Throughout history the churches’ finest hours have often been in times like these. It is where the true selfless nature of the church should be seen. Let us pray that God would make the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014-15 one of those times. Pray for Samaritan’s Purse and other gospel-oriented aid ministries and their people as they take on such dangerous assignments for the glory of God and the advance of the gospel.
Finally, let us pray and turn to God as never before. You have no idea how easy it is for a virus to enter a country and wreak havoc on its population. It is honestly pure arrogance to think that we can stop all disease through our medical efforts alone. It is also arrogance to think that our nation can sin and turn from God like it has been without some kind of action on God’s part to bring humility to such a spiritually arrogant people. May we be among those grateful for modern medicine, yet wary of elevating it to god-like, or maybe more appropriately said – God-replacing, status in our lives. May we instead be those grateful for it, but painfully aware that medicine may be able to solve the crisis in public health, but it can do little to solve the crisis of sin and rebellion against God in the human heart. May we be wise enough to realize that the providence of God has allowed this so that we might turn to Him for help in our time of need.