The Effect of the Pandemic on Christendom
As students of the Bible we naturally look at major world events from a prophetic standpoint. It is proper to "watch and pray" as our Lord Jesus told us. (Matt.26:41) We do not know if this current "birth pang" (1 Thess.5:1‑3) is the final one or if it is merely another spasm. Time will tell. Regardless the pandemic which is global is a major event that ranks in importance with World War I and World War II. The world as we knew it only a few months ago is gone, perhaps forever. We should consider soberly what we should be watching for and more importantly what we should be doing.
The Bible tells us, and C. T. Russell foresaw, that the prominence of Christendom will not continue to be a dominating influence in the world. In fact, expectations are that anarchy will begin in the Western World and will end with the home governments of Gog and Magog. (Ezek.38)
We have seen changes that are contributing to a decline in Christendom:
What is Christendom?
"Christendom" or the "The Christian World" is the geographic region where Christianity is a vital part of the inhabitants’ lives. "Christendom" is also defined as the collection of countries where Christian principles [as they understand them] are upheld by the Government. The "Western World" is another term used to identify a certain region where Christianity is the majority religion. This region includes the United States, the United Kingdom and Western Europe. The region dominated by the Eastern Orthodox religion is generally considered separate from "Christendom," a fact supported by Bible prophecy. In the Harvest Message the term Christendom is applied to the "field" of the Wheat and Tares Parable. (Matt.13:24‑30; 36‑43) The Harvest Work has been most predominant in the countries of so‑called Christendom. Only recently has the focus of the Harvest Work changed to other countries such as Africa and India.
What has happened in Christendom since the Pandemic started?
There are five areas to be considered. Perhaps there are more.
Restriction of liberties
The Scriptural basis for this expectation is found in the closing experiences of John the Baptist; the prophetic picture in Daniel 3; Jesus’ words in John 9:4; several places in the Book of Revelation, and other prophecies.
For many years the Christians have wondered how it would be possible for all the governments of Christendom to restrict personal liberties in such a way that the majority of people would accept those measures, at least for a time. The Pandemic has provided such an opportunity. As a result face‑to‑face religious services, such as weekly meetings and conventions, have been stopped all over the world. We are still able to meet online, but we do not know how long this will continue to be possible. It would be very easy for our liberty in this area to be restricted further.
Christians in many countries are greatly limited in spreading the Gospel message as public meetings and other similar activities are no longer permitted. Much of the present Harvest Work is now conducted electronically and again it would be quite easy for liberty in this area to be restricted as well.
Travel has also been severely reduced, especially international travel and we do not know how long this will last.
Economic crises and instability
The Scriptural basis for this expectation is found in Isa.2:17‑21; Ezek.7:19; Zeph.1:18; James 5:1‑9; Rev.18:9‑19 and other places. C.T. Russell (See also Studies in the Scriptures, Volumes 4&6) wrote many articles and discussed in great detail his expectation that the ultimate financial collapse in the world would be one of the major factors in the Great Time of Trouble. He stated that the climax of the Great Time of Trouble will be a "financial storm that shall sweep over Christendom." The Pandemic has created global economic instability that has not been experienced in modern times. However, its effect is most pronounced in the Western World. We are only in the beginning stages of this crisis and the ability of governments to prop up the global financial system is limited. The longer the Pandemic lasts, the greater this crisis will become.
One of the most pronounced effects of the Pandemic is on the place of the US Dollar in the world economy. There are now serious discussions about the possibility that it will be replaced as the key global currency. Such a change would have a dramatic effect and lead to even more instability, especially in the United States.
There has already been a huge personal impact on hundreds of millions of people. Many millions have lost their jobs. Governments have provided unprecedented amounts of financial assistance to the unemployed and to businesses. This has greatly increased the amount of government and private debt which was already at record levels. Since all government debt today is supported merely by public confidence, sudden and disastrous changes can take place because of a loss of such confidence. Eventually they will "cast their silver and their gold into the streets" as the Scriptures tell us.
Polarization and social unrest
The Scriptural basis for this expectation is found in Psa.46:1,2; Isa.24:19,20; Luke 21:25,26; Rev.11:18; Rev.18:21 and other places. The raging waves of the sea and the nations being angry are symbolic expressions of this breaking down of society. Another set of Scriptures is found in Joel 2:1‑11 where it describes "the Lord’s Great Army." Notice that verse 1 applies this prophecy primarily to Christendom: "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand. "
Never in recent history has there been so much polarization in society as we see today. Political parties are becoming more extreme on both ends of the spectrum, left and right. Racial inequality, as a social issue, has spread from the U.S. across the globe, but especially in Christendom. The division between rich and poor is greater than it has ever been, especially in the Western World, leading to more polarization and dissatisfaction. The Pandemic has been a strong contributing factor in all of these and other areas.
There have been periods of social unrest in the past, but never so widespread or so severe as we see developing today. Polarization leads to further unrest. Unrest leads to additional restriction of liberties. This becomes a vicious cycle that tends to anarchy, which we anticipate is to be the final result. (Add to this vicious cycle the next point:)
The Bible points to the French Revolution as an example of the trouble to come upon Christendom. We find this in Dan.12:5‑7, Rev.10, and Rev.12:15,16. The French Revolution was brought on by political dysfunction which contributed to polarization. This led to financial crises resulting in greater and greater dissatisfaction, social unrest and eventually anarchy.
We see the same forces at work today. In fact, the degree and extent of political dysfunction, especially in the Western World, is the greatest it has been in modern history. The Pandemic can be seen to be a strong contributing factor in this political dysfunction, as government leaders and parties fight and argue about proposed solutions, primarily based on self‑interests, while the people perceive that their interests are not being served.
General fear for the future
Luke 21:26 aptly describes our day: "Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." Even before this Pandemic there was a high level of fear in society; the degree and extent of that fear has been increased dramatically now.
So, we see the foregoing five factors active in Christendom today, we see that these five factors have been aggravated by the Pandemic, and we see the potential for greater effects in the future.
The following paragraph by C. T. Russell summarizes the situation very well: "The masses will be restless under their restraints but will be conscious of their weakness as compared with the kings and princes, financial, social, religious and political, who will then hold sway. The majority of the poor and the middle class prefer peace at almost any price. The masses have no sympathy with anarchy. They realize truly that the worst form of government is better than none. The masses will seek relief through the ballot and the peaceful readjustment of earth’s affairs for the elimination of evil, for the placing of monopolies and utilities and the supplies of nature in the hands of the people for the public good. The crisis will be reached when the hitherto upholders of the law shall become violators of the law and resisters of the will of the majority as expressed by the ballot. Fear for the future will goad the well‑meaning masses to desperation, and anarchy will result when Socialism fails."
What we have considered so far naturally leads to the next major question:
How does the Pandemic fit into the prophetic sequence of events?
There are many prophetic events which have already been fulfilled when seeing the Second Presence of our Lord. It is not possible to consider all of these but some of the more prominent ones include the call "Come out of her My people!" (Rev.18:4) The increase of knowledge and "running to and fro" in Dan.12:4 is another prophecy that is obvious to all. The end of the Times of the Gentiles and the events which prove this conclusively is another. Perhaps one of the most powerful of all is the regathering of the Jews to their homeland and the re‑establishment of Israel as a nation.
We find this prophetic sequence in at least two places:
(a) Elijah’s vision in 1 Kings 19:11,12,
The purpose for examining these two prophecies is to trace their accurate fulfillment so far, and then to see how the Pandemic might fit into them.
Elijah’s Vision of the Wind, Earthquake, Fire and the Still Small Voice.
The Wind was so powerful that it "rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks." This reminds us of the prophecy in Daniel 2 and the striking of the multi‑metallic image. Wind represents war, and the "Great War," as it was called, (World War I) started right on time to the day in 1914. [This was on the 9th of Av, according to the Jewish calendar, the exact day when the first Temple was destroyed 2,520 years earlier.] Mountains represent kingdoms, and the kingdoms most affected by the "wind" feature of the Time of Trouble have been, and still are, the so‑called Christendom kingdoms. This part of Elijah’s Vision had a beginning of fulfilment in 1914 and continues until today in spasms.
The "earthquake" represents revolution. Social revolution has been the natural consequence of the War phase of the Time of Trouble. Great spasms of social revolution began near the end of World War I with the Bolshevik Revolution and have continued to this day.
The "fire" represents anarchy. We have seen anarchy on a limited scale in certain parts of the world. Incidents of anarchy have generally followed a sequence: war creates problems: financial, political etc., this leads to revolution and attempts at social reform that prove unable to solve the problems. The result is anarchy. The French Revolution is an example from the past; Libya is a more recent example and there are others. We have not yet seen anarchy on a global scale, but we do see many indications of incipient anarchy all over the world. These observations tell us that we are on the verge of anarchy, the fire phase of Elijah’s Vision, and that the Pandemic is pushing the world closer to that condition. Will there be something more? We do not know, but we believe that the time is short. We wait longingly for "the still small voice" which will say to the raging waves: "Peace! Be still!"
Amos 5:19 The lion, bear and snake
A sequence of events is given in this verse concerning a man. Several factors in the context support the idea that he could represent Christian Society. The following is presented as a suggestion.
(1) The man flees from a Lion, representing the Divine Right of Kings which ruled in Christendom prior to 1914. This came to an end in World War I, during the first phase of the Time of Trouble.
A related excerpt from the Harvest Message
"The Scriptures indicate that pestilences, as well as physical convulsions, will mingle with anarchy in making up the sum of the great trouble approaching, which will be a judgment from the Almighty to reduce the world to humility and submission, and make mankind ready to hear ‘Him that speaketh from heaven,’ whose voice shall thus ‘shake the earth [society], and also the heavens [ecclesiasticism].’—(Heb.12:25‑29)"(1895)
So, we see a further confirmation of the thought that events such as the current Pandemic will "mingle with anarchy" and form a part of the Great Time of Trouble. The world recovered from the Great Pandemic of 1918 (Spanish flu). Perhaps it will recover from the one we are experiencing now. This possibility seems unlikely, but everything is in the hands of the Lord and He will decide the matter.
What do we expect to happen in Christendom in the future?
We do not know what the future holds in detail. We only know what the Scriptures tell us, and the broad view of those prophecies as given in the Harvest Message. There are many prophecies which are not yet fulfilled, or which are only partially fulfilled. Some of these prophecies may have some connection with the Pandemic.
Five areas were already considered regarding the current effects of the Pandemic on Christendom. The possible future impact will now be considered in greater detail.
Restriction of liberties
The spasms of the Great Time of Trouble will lead to many problems for the "heavens" or powers of control. The governments of "Christendom" will look to the established churches for help. The combined efforts of Church and State, symbolized by the croaking of the frogs, will be to preserve the status quo and quelling any opposition. (Rev.16:12‑16) As mentioned before, we do not know how this total restriction of liberty will come about, but the Pandemic may play an important role. We must continue to "watch and pray" and more importantly, we must use the liberty we still have before it is taken away.
Economic crises and instability
The economic effects of the Pandemic have been global and catastrophic. These effects will last for many years. It seems certain that this important feature of the Great Time of Trouble has progressed greatly because of the Pandemic. It has already led to much instability all over the world, but especially in Christendom. We expect this instability to increase.
Rev.18 shows that Great Babylon will be destroyed while the financial and political leaders stand "afar off" (v.10). This suggests that the religious institutions of Christendom will fall before the rest of the "heavens" or powers of control. Russell says "The time of trouble, as it will affect the world, will be after Babylon has begun to fall and disintegrate."
The "Beast" and the "False Prophet" [religious systems] are cast into the "Lake of Fire" first, but the "Dragon" is later cast into the "Bottomless Pit" to be released after the thousand years has expired. (Rev.19:20; 20:1‑3,7‑10) Satan is behind all three agencies, but it is the Civil Power aspect that is shown under the symbol of the Dragon. The authority and influence symbolized by the power of the Dragon, Satan’s last vestige of control, will be totally suppressed after the destruction of the Religious systems. However, the Church will be complete before any of these three agencies are rendered powerless.
Another important prophecy which has not yet been considered is in Ezekiel. Chapter 38 shows a sequence of events harmonious with what has already been considered: Israel is now regathered to her homeland and is a nation again. This is a fulfillment of many prophecies. In this chapter we are told that a time will come after this regathering when Israel will "dwell safely" and "without walls, and having neither bars nor gates." (vv.8,11) At the same time, they are shown as being extraordinarily rich: having "gotten cattle and goods" and "silver and gold." (vv.12‑13)
Gog and Magog (north and east of Israel) first go westward but are then drawn southward to Israel (v.4). They go to "take a spoil" and to "carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods." (vv.12‑13)
What is the connection of this prophecy to our subject? Israel must be at peace with her Arab neighbours. We see some strong indicators of this possibility in recent developments, politically and economically. The region will have stability and economic prosperity at a time when the rest of the world does not, Israel will be "dwelling safely at the time when the rest of the world is in its wildest commotion." (Russell)
No one will come to help Israel against the invasion of God and Magog. All her lovers will have forgotten her. (Jer.30:14) One likely reason is that the Western World at that time will be too weak to assist. This weakness, shown in other prophecies, will be financial, political, and social weakness. The effects of anarchy will already be felt in the Western World at this time.
The Pandemic is already affecting the Western World with financial, political and social weakness. There will probably be a combination of factors which will further weaken Christendom in the future. There may be more than one Pandemic. Physical convulsions such as earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods and other natural disasters are already adding to the financial weakness and instability and will likely continue to do so.
Polarization and social unrest
With the French Revolution, several factors led to the violent overthrow of that government. One factor then was a polarization of society that led to social unrest. The dividing of the people into two classes is already begun taking place along financial, political and social lines. Government leaders are causing much of the political polarization. Financial "kings and princes" are causing a division between the rich and the poor. Social problems are dividing the masses as well. The Pandemic has aggravated these problems and the resulting pressures will continue to make matters worse. Future polarization and social unrest will increase because of many factors.
Much of the dissatisfaction of the masses is a result of the inability of current leaders and politicians to solve the problems that are affecting society. This dysfunction is generally a result of selfish infighting to advance their own agenda and to gain more power. Once again this is a strong parallel to the causes of the French Revolution. The Pandemic is the latest crisis that political leaders and politicians have been unable to solve. There will be other crises in the future.
General fear for the future
"Fear for the future will goad the well‑meaning masses to desperation..."( Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 4) Regardless of the causes, or how big a role the Pandemic plays in those causes, the final result will be anarchy.
More importantly, let us never forget what lies beyond the dark clouds of trouble and the fires of anarchy. Let us continue to pray: "Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."