I cannot recall in my lifetime the world ever being gripped by such a biological threat as that posed by the corona virus known as Covid-19. Whilst we look with fascination at the spread of this disease around the world, and the social and political responses that have followed, it is also easy to give heed to a rising sense of fear. This could well be about to impact your life, either medically, as you or someone close to you becomes ill, or practically as more and more have their activities and movements constrained.
I will not comment on the virus itself or the measures taken in our nation to limit its impact – that is best left to people who know much better what they are talking about! Nonetheless, this is not a time to abandon our trust in God. Far from it. This is a time to stand firmly on the revelation and promises of God’s Word, confident that our Father God is in control. So, here is what the Bible says on Covid-19.
There Will be Disease
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, contains many strange pictures and visions. In short, it gives us heaven’s perspective on what is happening in the world right now and into the future. It is both fascinating and marvellous!
The author, John, gets a vision of God seated on the throne of heaven. As he continues to look, he sees that the person in the centre of the throne is Jesus himself, the Lamb of God.
This is an important starting point for us: there is a throne in heaven and Jesus is on that throne. Our God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is sovereign over all things. There is nothing in all creation that takes God by surprise or is beyond his power to shape and use for his purposes. In fact, he is the initiator of all things. God is not surprised by Covid-19. He is sovereign over this disease, and it sits within his plan.
Revelation Chapter 6 then describes Jesus opening the seals on a scroll. Each seal releases a different aspect of God’s righteous judgement for the sin in the world.
“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’. I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a quarter of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
From this revelation we can conclude the following:
- God is sovereign over all sickness and disease. He is not surprised by Covid-19. Revelation paints a frightening picture, but the point is that God is always in control, Jesus is victorious, and he invites us to place our hope in him.
- It is not that people who get sick have sinned, but rather that there is disease set loose into the world and the righteous and unrighteous alike get caught up in this.
- There will be times when a significant proportion of the world’s population will be impacted by plague. (A “quarter” is not a precise number but symbolic of a large number.)
- God will not allow the disease to get out of control or spread to the majority of the population. God himself limits its impact.
Take a look at the other elements of God’s judgement that are described in Revelation 6. It is a pretty good description of the messed-up world we live in.
Outbreak of Disease is a Moment for the Church to Fulfil its Purpose
During our recent Special Offering preaching series, we saw how God’s plan has always been to be present with his people. He demonstrated this perfectly by sending his Son, Jesus, to live on this earth. We marvel that the glory of God could be contained in something so… ordinary as a human body.
Centuries before John had his vision in Revelation, King Solomon followed God’s instruction to build a temple. The temple was a picture of Jesus and the purpose was the same: God’s plan was to dwell with his people. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon similarly marvels that God’s glory could be contained in a stone structure:
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
1 Kings 8:27
But in God’s mercy, He had promised, “My Name shall be there.” Solomon realised the potency and privilege of God’s presence residing in that place. As he continued to pray, his mind ran over everything that is wrong with the world. In every case he prayed that people would look to the temple and thereby receive healing and forgiveness from God. His thoughts turned to those who were struggling with disease.
“When famine or plague comes to the land… whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands towards this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act…”
1 Kings 8:37-39
The church is the family of God’s people, saved out of sin and brought into Jesus. Jesus is the temple of God, so we the church are the temple of God. He chooses to make the church His dwelling place and says, “My Name shall be there.”
When disease comes to the UK, it is time for the church to stand tall. It is as a shadow passes over the land that the church shines even brighter. Whilst we don’t wish illness on anyone, our prayer is that people in physical need would also become aware of their acute spiritual need, that it would be to Christians that they turn for help, and as a result find Jesus. Solomon’s prayer shows us that this a key reason why God places his glory in the church, even in something as ordinary as Grace Church!
Our model for this is Jesus. He said, “This is what God’s kingdom, his dwelling place, is like.” He told people about himself, and then he had compassion on those who were sick and healed them. He then sent his disciples out to do the same. As people around us succumb to Covid-19, we have a unique opportunity to imitate Jesus. Don’t shrink back in fear. Rather, lead the way in caring for the sick, praying for healing and relieving suffering wherever you can.
Disease will Finally be Dealt with When God Fully Dwells with His People
Psalm 91 says that we have no reason to fear the onset of disease when we have God as our Father:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… You will not fear the… pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”
That does not mean that Christians will never get sick, but rather that our hope does not depend on being physically well now. In fact, our bodies are incredibly weak and frail, even though they are wonderfully made! Rather, our hope rests in our eternal destiny in Christ. That is the end of the story in Revelation. It describes the time that is coming when God dwells perfectly with his people, and all sickness and death will be a thing of the past.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
That’s a hope that will never fail!