Pestilence in Prophecy
Good News Magazine
November 1975
Volume: Vol XXIV, No. 11
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Pestilence in Prophecy
George P Ritter  

   War, famine and disease: mankind's three worst enemies. Much has been written about the first two. We are familiar with the chilling facts, statistics and pessimistic prognostications telling us about the possibilities of some future nuclear holocaust or worldwide food shortages. But what about disease? What does Bible prophecy have to say about the future? Will the human race ever be free from the curse of the grim reaper? Or will mankind once again be engulfed in a tidal wave of disease epidemics that will rival the worst ones of history?
   The world has yet to see the last of widespread disease epidemics. That, in effect, was what Jesus Christ told His disciples in the pivotal Olivet prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Right along with wars and famine came pestilence: "For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Matt. 24:7). These were some of the prophetic signs that Christ listed in answering the question, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]?" (Verse 3).
   Granted, pestilence, famine and war have been ongoing problems that have plagued mankind ever since the dawn of history. But the main thrust of Christ's message is futuristic. The overall context of the Olivet prophecy readily attests to this fact. In verses 21 and 22 of Matthew 24, Christ referred to a time when the total annihilation of human life would be a distinct possibility. Only with the recent development of multiple-megaton nuclear weaponry could such an event have become a reality.

The Pale Horseman Rides

   The book of Revelation also underscores the fact that such tumultuous times are yet in store for the future. John's apocalyptic scenario centers around the events surrounding the Day of the Lord (Rev. 1:10). In the sixth chapter we see war, famine and pestilence (the last three of the four horsemen of John's vision) riding together at this critical juncture in world history.
   With both the black horse of famine and the red horse of war riding roughshod over the earth, it is only natural for the pale horse of pestilence to follow hard on their heels. Ezekiel also described the devastating effect this deadly triad can have: "A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them" (Ezek. 5:12).
   Parallel prophecies found in the Old Testament clearly indicate why man will continue to suffer from the ravages of disease. Notice this cause-and-effect relationship as outlined in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy: "But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God," warns man's Creator, "the Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from off the land, which you go to possess. The Lord will smite you with consumption [wasting, degenerative disease], with fever and inflammation [possibly infectious contagions).... and the tumors, the scurvy [deficiency disease 1 and the itch, of which you cannot be healed. The Lord will smite you with madness [mental disorders] and blindness and dismay of heart [emotional trauma]" (verses 15, 21-22, 27-28, The Amplified Bible).

It Has Only Just Begun

   Misgovernment, greed and oppression over the course of nearly 6000 years of history have saddled the human race with the unwanted burden of disease. For instance, man's proclivity to crowd into disease- prone cities is indicative of this problem. And it is interesting to note that Bible prophecy seems to indicate that this crowd-at-all-costs policy will eventually backfire on the human race. Notice Leviticus 26:25: "... And when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you...." Also Ezekiel 7:15: "The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him."
   This type of lethal disease epidemic, working hand in glove with war and famine, will lay the groundwork for perhaps the greatest catastrophe ever to confront the human race. In Revelation 6:8, John writes: "And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its ride's name was Death, and Hades [the grave] followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth" (RSV). By today's head count, that would amount to a mind-boggling one billion people. And according to the Olivet prophecy, that is only the "beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:8). Much more is to follow as the world moves into the darkest moments of its entire history. Jeremiah called it the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7). Christ said there would be "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world... nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21).
   In the eighth chapter of Revelation, John again writes: "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter" (verses 10-11).
   Was John perhaps referring to yet another round of deadly waterborne disease epidemics? Could this be the result of man's continual pollution of his freshwater sources? Regardless of the reason, it is apparent that at this point in time humanity is in dire straits. Perhaps that is one reason a massive horde of 200 million "horsemen" (a great army) decides to descend on the pivotal area of the Middle East (Rev. 9:16). Could the increased pressures of widespread famine and disease pandemics have something to do with this warlike mass movement? Again it is difficult to read between the lines of John's prophecy. However, it is interesting to note that some authors have speculated on just such a possibility.
   Frederick F. Cartwright, author of Disease and History, had this to say: "Sheer pressure of numbers and of hunger may dictate a return to Mongolian and Viking-type invasions; since all the more desirable parts of the world are thickly inhabited, global war would inevitably result" (p. 237).
   Robert Heilbronner writes in The Human Prospect: "Massive human deterioration in the backward areas can be avoided only by a redistribution of the world's output and energies on a scale immensely larger than anything that has hitherto been seriously contemplated.... Such an unprecedented international transfer seems impossible to imagine except under some kind of threat" (p. 44).
   Whatever future role disease plays in precipitating these events, it is obvious from the above prophecies that if God did not personally intervene and put a final stop to the continually escalating rounds of war, famine and disease that will more than likely engulf this planet, all humanity would perish (Matt. 24:2 1-22).

Healing a Disease-Torn World

   Fortunately, God will not allow the human race to pass the cosmic failsafe point. Jesus Christ will return to save mankind from the triple threat of war, famine and disease. One of the first things He will do is put a final end to man's age-old war-making activities (Micah 4:3). Not only will that take care of the red horse, it will go a long way toward reducing the proclivity for disease epidemics.
   Christ will also be faced with a world whose rivers and streams are too polluted to support any kind of life (see Revelation 8:10-11 and 16:4). To correct this situation, living waters will begin to flow from Jerusalem to heal the world's water supply (Zech. 14:8; Ezek. 47:8).
   The world's agricultural system will be revolutionized and men will no longer have to endure the rigors of malnutrition and deficiency diseases (Amos 9:13-14). Land reform will also be a primary item on the agenda. Crowded, disease-ridden cities will go by the boards. Every human being will be entitled to his own plot of ground: "They shall each one sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and no one shall make them afraid" (Micah 4:4). But even more important, mankind will begin to live by a new system of principles and laws. Instead of destroying and desecrating their surroundings, they will learn how to dress and keep the earth (Gen. 2:15). This will undoubtedly eliminate the favorite breeding grounds of many a rat, fly, cockroach and mosquito.
   Before Christ's thousand-year reign is over, humanity will at long last understand what it means to be truly free from sickness and pestilence. Like the dodo, passenger pigeon and saber-toothed tiger, disease will be something men read about in their history books.

Old Testament Health Laws- Still Ahead of Their Time

   Several millennia ago, God gave a people the opportunity to live a basically disease-free existence. Shortly after the children of Israel came out of Egypt, He told them: "If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer" (Ex. 15:26, RSV).
   Many of the laws and statutes that God gave them contributed directly to the elimination of disease at its source. For instance, the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," is insurance against gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes.
   God also told the Israelites to bury their sewage (Deut. 23:12, 13), rather than using it to contaminate their waterways. This simple preventive measure, if followed, virtually eliminates the threat of crippling waterborne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and bilharzia.
   Old Testament dietary laws made a lot of sense too. The Israelites were instructed not to eat known disease-carrying animals such as pigs, rabbits, oysters and snails. Obedience to these laws would greatly reduce the incidence of trichinosis, tularemia, hepatitis and other parasitic diseases.
   Sanitation, cleanliness and quarantine were also emphasized. Lepers and diseased people were required to be isolated from the main body of the Israelites. Houses known to harbor disease were quarantined (Lev. 14:33-38) and then given a thorough scrubbing (verses 39-42). If that didn't do the trick, the officiating priest was instructed to demolish the offending domicile and get rid of the infected rubble (verses 43-45).
   Procedures were also given for treatment of people with various types of running sores and infections (see Leviticus 15). Virtually anything the person touched was considered contaminated, including dishes, clothes and even saddles.
   Adherence to these laws, even in the "advanced" twentieth century, would alleviate quite a bit of suffering and misery among millions of people around the world today.

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Good News MagazineNovember 1975Vol XXIV, No. 11