The world has gone mad and turned upside down. In the early days of this coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, I could see the implications, as many could, not just for people’s health but also for the economy and social order. But for me, this situation has highlighted how many things in our lives we have assumed are rights are really privileges of living in an unprecedented time of prosperity and luxury, compared to the rest of human history.
During this time, I feel like I am going to be tested as to where my security lies and what “idols” I have been trusting in and relying on. Everything that we considered “normal” is slowly being stripped away from us. Sports pages are no longer filled with results but rather commentary about how professional sports will survive this period of time. Financial markets are being turned on their heads. The hospitality, tourism and retail sectors are close to being completely shut down.
Ever since this started, I’ve been thinking about Revelation 18. Early on, I was considering what we would do as a family if both my wife and I ended up losing our jobs. Revelation 18 kept coming to mind, so I decided to go and read it again. Verse 3—which mentions how Babylon had made the nations drunk and how they had become rich through her sensuality—jumped out at me. The word “sensuality” here can also be replaced with “luxuriousness”. It goes on to describe a worldwide economic collapse in which people’s lifestyles are permanently changed and people mourn over Babylon because of what was lost. “The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them” (verse 14).
I started to consider how would I react if my luxurious lifestyle was brought to a sudden halt. If I am honest, I am often in a drunken-like stupor from the overwhelming clutter of modern life. I’m consumed by where our next holiday will be, how my football team will go this year, when the next update of my smart phone is and what I can afford to buy. I am so taken up by things that ultimately don’t matter. If this virus does completely strip my life of all these distractions, how will I cope? Those who know me best know how much I dislike my plans being disrupted—but Jesus’ second coming is the greatest disruption of all time to all human plans and goals.
God warns in Revelation 18 that Babylon—this system of self-sufficiency and not needing God—will one day come rapidly crashing down. Just like the original tower of Babel, where people were trying to reach heaven through their own efforts, we have built a way of life and created the lie that we can live life without God. We try to have the kingdom without the King. I am no prophet and I have no special insight into whether this is the crisis that brings the permanent fall of Babylon—in fact I’m very hesitant to try to constantly “read the signs” and try to determine how prophecy will be played out—but I can definitely see how it is possible that this could be the end. And even if it is not, it could be a warning for us to wake up from the stupor of modern life and its intoxicating trappings.
Is this not a time to be on our knees and seeking God like never before? We really shouldn’t need a crisis like this to produce that response, but maybe we are not so unlike the people of Israel in the Old Testament after all.
Another phrase has been going through my mind comes from something Ellen White predicted in Testimonies to the Church, volume 9, page 11 (9T p 11), where she says, “The final movements will be rapid ones.” Everyone witnessing and commenting on this current situation will not deny how quickly it is progressing. It is making us realise just how fragile our lives and lifestyles are.
"We try to have the kingdom without the King."
In considering all of this I’m reminded of two things. Firstly, the fall of Babylon is followed by the third angel’s message, which is a test of loyalty—a test of whether you truly place your life in God’s hands or not. If coronavirus is the fulfilment of prophecy in Revelation 18, then we are being warned and now—more than ever—is the time to make sure we make a firm covenant with God to be the very people Revelation 14 describes as getting through this crisis with their connection with God intact. These people are those “who keep (uphold) the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (verse 12).
Verse 12 is not a description of us simply because we belong to the Adventist Church. Rather, it is a description of the characteristics of individuals. Firstly, that we will not compromise “even when faced with death”, but most importantly that we “overcome because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony” (Revelation 12:11). Those who are victorious fully trust their lives into Jesus hands and do not believe that they can stand before God on any other merit than by being covered by the blood of Jesus.
The second thing I am reminded of is that the Gospel will go to all the earth as a witness, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). Our response, rather than being concerned with self-preservation, should be with Gospel proclamation. We know that soon we will be seeing our King returning to bring restoration and healing to this world and we should be inviting others to join us as much as we can. The call to come out of Babylon is a call to the world to stop trying to find their own solutions and protect their own way of life. It is a call to turn to Jesus and find satisfaction in Him alone. As 1 Peter 1:4 says, you will “obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away”.
In the same paragraph that Ellen White describes the last movements being rapid, she says this about the response of God’s people to the evolving final crisis:
“We are to be consecrated channels, through which the heavenly life is to flow to others . . . Upon us is laid a sacred charge. The commission has been given us: ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:19, 20). You are dedicated to the work of making known the Gospel of salvation. Heaven’s perfection is to be your power” (9T p 20, 21).
Let’s find new ways to be God’s church and share God’s message of warning and love to a world that has become blind to their need for God. Let’s look forward—now more than ever—to seeing Jesus return and bring us home. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Matthew Hunter is pastor of Elizabeth and Birdwood churches in South Australia.