The world in lockdown

An overview of how the biblical prophets responded to lockdowns and pandemics.

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The world is in lockdown. What does the Bible say?

In the Old Testament, classical prophets repeatedly warned Israel of a national lockdown if they persisted in sin. In apocalyptic literature, we also find the prediction of an imminent worldwide lockdown before probation closes. We will briefly talk about this soon. But first, let us start with the prophetic role.

Biblical prophets

The term “prophet” actually means “to boil up like a fountain”. By the influence of the Holy Spirit, the heart of a prophet would “boil up like a fountain”, feel “inspired” or have an “irresistible urge” to speak for God (2 Peter 1:21).

Prophets generally fell into three categories:

First, the classical prophets. They warned Israel of an approaching national lockdown in captivity, if they failed to repent from their sins (see 2 Kings 17:13-18; Jeremiah 25:1-14).

Second, the apocalyptic prophets. Daniel and the Revelator reassured the people that God was still in absolute control. He determines the rise and fall of nations. But they also pointed to a worldwide lockdown before the close of human probation (Daniel 8:10-12, 23-26; Revelation 13:15-17).

Third, the prophets who had no recorded message. Prophets like Nathan, Gad (1 Chronicles 29:29) and Paul (Col 4:16), with some written messages which are missing from the Bible. While other prophets like Deborah (Judges 4:4), Agabus (Acts 11:27-28) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9), among others, had only a verbal message.

But in response to the call of God, the prophet(s) became a “seer” or “spokesperson” for Him (1 Samuel 9:9; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

An example from a classical prophet

The prophet Amos lived in a humble village called Tekoa, about 20 kilometres from Jerusalem. His name meant “burden-bearer”. He took care of sheep and was a pruner of sycamore trees (Amos 1:1; 7:14). Amos had a peculiar message for Israel. They were at the summit of prosperity and enjoyed great luxury. But they were morally, religiously and politically corrupt.

In Amos 3-6, the prophet delivered three divine messages to Israel about judgments they were about to encounter because of sin. All three sermons began with the words, “Hear this word” (3:1; 4:1, 5:1), a common character of classical prophets.

  1. Amos warned Israel about the destruction they would face due to disobedience and sin (3:1-15). Their only safety was to walk with God (vs 3-5). He had sent them prophets to warn them of the impending crisis (vs 7, 8).
  2. Israel was rapidly slipping into wickedness to the point of no return (4:1-13). They preyed on the poor (4:1, 2), turned to the gods of the heathen and lived a life of spiritual pretension (4:4, 5). Worse still, they heard God’s megaphone blasting out for their attention, but they ignored them. God was repeatedly speaking to Israel through famines (4:6), drought (4:7, 8), pestilences (4:9), and through plague and war (4:10), urging them to repent. But they were not listening.
  3. Yet it was still not too late (5:1-6:14). Although Israel was to go into national lockdown in captivity (5:1; 6:1-14), God still had a faithful remnant among His people, and He would save them (5:2). There was hope, “For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: Seek Me and live” (5:4, 6); “the LORD is my Name” (5:8).

An example from apocalyptic literature

John, the Revelator, warned that as we draw closer to the end of time, we will become the prime target of Satan (Revelation 12:17). In Revelation 13:1-10, he speaks about a  powerful beast (or religious-political power) with the same spirit and characteristics as the beasts of Daniel 7-8. This end-time beast was empowered by Satan to target the saints of the Living God.

Revelation 13:11-17 also predicts the rise of a second world power, behaving innocently like a lamb but speaking like Satan. Bible students have identified this power as the United States of America. John tells us that one day, soon, the United States will enforce a worldwide lockdown. It will coerce the nations of the world to worship the image (first day of the week) of the first beast. When that time comes, the first day of the week will be enforced by law as the worldwide sabbath day of rest.

What prophetic message is there to learn?

The captivity or lockdown depicted in the writings of the classical prophets was primarily the direct result of sin and disobedience to the laws of God. Today, like Israel of old, the nations of the world are also guilty of treason against God and His commandments.

In classical literature, God uses natural disasters, wars, famines and pestilences to wake people up from their slumber. In the Old Testament, “pestilences” or “plagues” were associated with contagious diseases. It was a direct consequence of breaking the covenant relationship with God. Disobedience to God’s laws resulted in severe consequences.

While the present worldwide lockdown is not primarily the fulfillment of Revelation 13, it does highlight the exponential speed with which apocalyptic prophecies may one day be fulfilled in the world. Matthew 24:8 reminds us that the final events will increase in intensity and frequency. It took only three months for the most powerful nations of the world to fall on their knees.

According to apocalyptic literature (Revelation 13), one day soon, there will be a worldwide lockdown of apocalyptic proportions. COVID-19 reminds us of that prophecy, but also that the financial markets are volatile and the economies of the world are fragile. They can quickly spiral out of control and trigger the necessity to put in place laws restricting buying and selling altogether, except for those who worship the beast and his image (Revelation 13:15-17).

Perhaps the most critical question is, Are we ready for the end of the world and Jesus to return? Jesus reminds us, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).


Dr L Manu O’Uiha is lead pastor of Ilam Seventh-day Adventist Church in Christchurch, New Zealand.