JESUS, PLAGUES and COVID-19
(Investigator 192, 2020 May)
Bacteria are almost everywhere. Viruses too; oceans, atmosphere, soil
and human bodies are full of them. (Zimmer 2011) Most species of
viruses and bacteria don't make people sick but about 320 varieties are
known that do.
Jesus predicted: "wars … great earthquakes, and in various places
famines and plagues…" (Luke 21:9-11) Revelation 6:8 similarly foretold:
"sword, famine, and pestilence…"
As I write, Corona virus or Covid-19 has infected nearly 3 million
people in 210 countries, and killed 200,000. Government efforts to
contain it is degrading national economies, threatening global
Table 1 is based on Worldometers website where daily totals of
confirmed cases from every country are listed without speculations on
under-reporting. Other, speculative, sources have estimated that
Indonesia alone has 1 million infected people!
Table 1 Covid-19 Worldwide Statistics 2020
||Total Confirmed Infections
Corona viruses are a large family of viruses some of which cause the
common cold and others severer illnesses. Covid-19 is a new
It broke out in China in November 2019 and in January went global.
Newly infected people don't feel symptoms immediately, therefore don't
know they are sick nevertheless can infect others...
Some religious leaders link Covid-19 to Armageddon: "So the events unfolding around us are making clearer than ever that
we're living in the final part of the last days, undoubtedly the final
part of the final part of the last days, shortly before the last day of
the last days." (From: YouTube)
The efforts to contain Covid-19 will amplify global debt, shrink
national economies and produce record unemployment as thousands of
businesses shut down. On March 26 India's government ordered India's
1300 million people into lockdown, "every street, every neighborhood".
In some countries food crops are rotting because foreign workers aren't
turning up for harvesting. Add to economic losses the shutdown of
schools, sports events, tourism, restaurants, concerts, etc, and it's
not long sustainable. (Lomborg 2020)
But without containment-measures all hospitals would rapidly be
overwhelmed as 30% of the world's people get sick and 2% of these die.
That's about 50 million deaths. The strategy of shut-downs and
self-isolation should slow the spread of Covid-19 and save the majority
of these 50 million — but leave them vulnerable to new outbreaks of
Covid-19 afterwards. The gamble is that before further outbreaks occur
we'll have an effective vaccine. If we don't, the global
self-infliction of economic and social pain may end up pointless.
Sweden has reacted to Covid-19 like it's an ordinary flu — people
self-isolate or don't as desired, leading (hopefully) to "herd
immunity" for survivors.
Epidemics are city-wide or nation-wide outbreaks of infectious disease.
Pandemics are continent-wide or worldwide. A widespread endemic disease
such as seasonal flu is not considered a pandemic. The WHO has
characterized Covid-19 as a pandemic.
Epidemics and pandemics can change world history. For example:
- Pandemics contributed to the Roman Empire's
downfall because millions of dead meant reduced ability to resist
- The Black Death (1347-1351) resulted in shortages of workers and led to a new economic system in Europe.
- Typhus helped defeat Napoleon's invasion of Russia
in 1812. By the fourth week: "80,000 men had perished from sickness or
were too ill for duty." (Cartwright & Biddis, 2014)
- Typhus together with Enteric fevers (typhoid,
paratyphoid, dysentery and Asiatic cholera) which are caused when human
excrement contaminates water and food, killed more soldiers until the
20th century than all wars and battles.
The world has seasonal illnesses and ongoing illnesses some of which
kill more people than the average pandemic. Seasonal influenza affects
tens of millions and annually kills 500,000 worldwide. Tuberculosis,
diabetes, dementias, diarrhoeal diseases and malaria each kill over 1
million people yearly, as also did AIDS until recently.
- The 1918 Spanish Flu probably shortened World War I, it being one crisis too many on war-stressed Germany.
"Infectious diseases" are communicable from person to person by skin
contact, droplets from mouth or nose, and fecal matter. Nature Reviews
Microbiology (2011) says:
Worldwide, 16 million people die from infectious disease every year…
Approximately one in every 12 individuals, or 500 million people
worldwide, is living with chronic viral hepatitis and the estimated
number of new chlamydial infections per year is approximately 50
In total, there are ~1400 known species of human pathogens (including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and helminths…
People get sick when disease organisms enter the body and multiply.
period from when germs initially invade until symptoms appear is the
"incubation period". Examples are three days for Anthrax and Scarlet
Fever; 1-5 for Cholera; 2-10 for Covid-19; Smallpox about 12; Typhus
12; Typhoid 14; Syphilis 21; AIDS 40-60.
Of virus species 5000 have been identified of which 219 infect humans.
Some of these are Yellow fever; Hepatitis; HIV; Genital Herpes; Viral
Meningitis; Human Papillomavirus; and viral hemorrhagic fevers (such as
Regarding bacteria, Dykhuizen (2005) writes: "my guess is there are a
billion species..." About 30,000 species have been formally named
of which 100 cause diseases in humans. Some of these are Plague;
Cholera; Gonorrhea; Leprosy; Anthrax; Diphtheria; Tetanus;
Tuberculosis; and Whooping Cough.
Probably additional diseases will emerge in future because: "According
to a new estimate, there are about one trillion species of microbes on
Earth and 99.999 percent of them have yet to be discovered." (Bakalar
Another cause of "disease" is gene-modifications:
Monogenetic diseases result from modifications in a single gene
occurring in all cells of the body… Scientists currently estimate that
over 10,000 of human diseases are known to be monogenetic. (WHO)
A new discovery is that the genomes of ancient viruses make up 8% of human DNA and sometimes cause disease. (Arnold 2020)
The New Testament Greek word translated "plagues" or "pestilences" in Luke 21:11 is "loimos".
Another Greek word "plegee" is used of serious injuries and public
calamities. It is translated "plagues" in Revelation 9; 11; 15; 16; 18;
21 but I won't discuss these chapters further.
In Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 Jesus foretells the "end of the
age", the "great tribulation" on Jerusalem (which began in 70 CE), and
his second coming.
If the following comments are unclear or too concise, read Matthew 24
and Luke 21 a few times to become familiar with those chapters.
Luke 21 and Mark 13 differ from Matthew 24 by omitting some points and
adding others. Jesus may have spoken the three versions to different
audiences, but they can be fitted together and therefore are not
A problem is that Jesus said: "this generation will by no means pass
away until all these things have taken place." (Matthew 24:34) This
seemingly implies that Jesus second coming would take place in the 1st
Some interpreters claim "this generation" means "this people" i.e. the
Jews. Others give the prophecy two fulfilments and limit Jesus return
to the second fulfilment only. However, Jesus used the phrase "this
generation" on other occasions and it always meant his generation, one
generation — his contemporaries. If a future generation were intended
the correct grammar is "that generation". The predictions of every sect
that identified any post 1st-century generation as the last generation
before Armageddon have always turned out false.
My solution is to divide Matthew 24 into three sections:
- The first section finishes with Matthew 24:14: "And this good news of
the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to
all the nations; and then the end will come."
Up to verse 14 Jesus was describing all the centuries — the major
recurring events like wars, famines and earthquakes — until "the end"
at his second coming.
- The next section, Matthew 24:15-28, jumps from "the end" back to the
1st century to focus on the "great tribulation" upon Jerusalem and the
Jews, beginning in 70 CE.
Luke 21:23-24 clarifies that the "tribulation" did not finish in 70 CE
but includes the entire period when Jews are killed, scattered, taken
captive, and Gentiles (non-Jews) rule Jerusalem.
- The third section, Matthew 24:29-31, refers to "immediately after the
tribulation", thus jumps forward to "the end" again to continue from
24:14 and describe the time of Jesus' return.
"Immediately after the tribulation" therefore means "immediately after" Jerusalem is restored to Jewish rule.
Note also that Jesus until Matthew 24:26 (and Luke 21:20) uses the
pronoun "you", implying that his audience would experience the sorts of
things he was predicting. But in verse 30, where Jesus describes his
return, he uses the pronoun "they" — "They will see…" — implying that
his return or second coming will occur after his audience is deceased.
The three-fold division is evident also in Luke 21.
- Verses 7-11
describe the entire period until the occurrence of "great signs in
heaven" (v. 11).
- Verse 12 says "But before all this occurs…" which
returns the narrative back to the 1st century. Verses 12-24 describe
the persecution of Christianity and the tribulation on the Jews which
began in 70 CE.
With this three-fold division how do we understand "this generation
will by no means pass away until all these things have taken place?"
- Verses 25-28 jump forward again to the "great signs
from heaven" which occur after the tribulation.
Simply assume that when Jesus spoke, he did not stand (or sit)
motionless like a cardboard box but used gestures and body language.
When he said "these things" did he gesture toward Jerusalem or up
toward the sky?
If toward Jerusalem then "these things" exclude the "signs from heaven" and Jesus' second coming.
Therefore "this generation" — the generation of Jesus — would see wars,
pestilences, earthquakes, and the start of the "great tribulation", but
not the signs in heaven or Christ's second coming.
Revelation 6:8 says: "…they were given authority over a fourth of the
earth to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild
animals of the earth." (NRSV) Some Bibles here have "death" instead of
The Greek word is "thanatos" which taken literally means "death".
However, just as "sword" is a figure of speech and refers to war, so
"death" is here a figure of speech called "Metonymy" and refers to
plagues. The Companion Bible explains: "Metonymy… When one name or noun
is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain
Many modern translations therefore replace "death" in Revelation 6:8
with "diseases", "pestilences", or "plague". Translating "thanatos"
this way is supported because:
1, To "kill with death" is redundant since everything that kills does so "with death";
2. Famine is mentioned in Revelation 6:8 and famine
often precedes outbreaks of disease. This is a historical and medical
fact because poor nutrition reduces the body's resistance to disease.
In the Old Testament the link between famine and disease is indicated
because the Hebrew word "deh-ver" (pestilence), which occurs 49 times,
appears 16 times [Correction — 20 times] together with the word "famine" as in the phrase
"famine and pestilence".
3. Revelation 6 parallels Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as in Table 2:
Table 2 Parallel Details
|| Matthew 24:6-9
|| Luke 21:9-11
| Christ's return: Revelation 6:12-17; Matthew 24:30-31; Luke 21:25-28
Some Bibles mention "plagues" also in Matthew 24:7, which other Bibles
there omit. This is because ancient manuscripts don't always agree and
different Bible translators may rely on different manuscripts.
It is clear, however, that both Luke 21 and Revelation 6 predict
plagues/pestilences as events to occur until the return of
Jesus' prediction of plagues/pestilences to occur until "the end" when
he returns conflicted with the common belief in the 1960s-1970s that
antibiotics and vaccines would soon eliminate infectious
Spellberg (2008) writes:
Dr. Anthony Fauci has assured us that the belief that infectious
diseases had been conquered was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s .
Furthermore, in 1978, one of the world's leaders in infectious
diseases, Dr. Robert Petersdorf, commented that, “Even with my great
personal loyalty to Infectious Disease, I cannot conceive of the need
for 309 more [graduating trainees in] infectious disease...unless they
spend their time culturing each other” [8, p. 630]. As late as 1985,
Dr. Petersdorf had not changed his mind; at the Infectious Diseases
Society of America's annual meeting that year, he stated that “the
millennium where fellows in infectious disease will culture one another
is almost here” .
A plague killed about 50,000 people in Athens in 429-426 BCE. Plagues
on that scale were rare before Jesus' time but increasingly common
The Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence (2001) outlines over 600
plagues/pestilences since the 1st century. See a partial list in Table
In predicting wars, famines and plagues Jesus identified great-impact
type events that the majority of people would hear about or experience.
Consider the Black Death:
There were simply not enough serfs and peasants left in England to do
the work. The aristocrats also died in droves. The medieval economic
system broke down because of the rapid drop in population…
It took 200 years for population levels to recover. In the meantime,
the medieval system of serfdom collapsed, because labor was more
valuable when there were fewer laborers. (Shipman 2014)
And the various smallpox plagues may have killed in total over 300
million people, inflicting massive recurring demographic, economic and
A Partial List of Plagues
Antonine Plague (A.D. 165-180):
5 million deaths. The plague (probably Smallpox) weakened the Roman Empire leading to opportunistic invasions by "barbarians".
Plague of Cyprian (250-271):
This Europe-wide plague killed over 1 million people.
Plague of Justinian (541-542):
Bubonic plague which killed 25 million people in the Eastern Roman
Empire and started its decline. Other outbreaks until 700 CE killed
additional millions and decreased Europe's population 50%.
Japanese smallpox epidemic (735-737):
2 million deaths.
The Black Death (1347-1351):
Benedictow (2005) writes: "The data is sufficiently widespread and
numerous to make it likely that the Black Death swept away around 60
per cent of Europe's population. It is generally assumed that the size
of Europe's population at the time was around 80 million. This implies
that around 50 million people died in the Black Death. This is a truly
Shipman (2014) writes: "Between 75 and 200 million people died in a few years' time, starting 1348."
Syphilis 1493 onward:
Syphilis killed millions per century.
Smallpox Mexico (1519-1520s):
20 million people lived in Central America when Hernando Cortes arrived
in 1519 and brought smallpox which killed more than 5 million natives.
Cocoliztli epidemic (1545-1548):
Possibly Salmonella Enterica, which killed 10 million in Mexico. Another outbreak (1576-1580) killed 2 million.
Italian Plague (1629-1631):
Smallpox (16th century):
Smallpox is the most deadly disease brought to America by European
explorers. It killed perhaps15 million and facilitated the collapse of
the Aztec and Inca empires.
Measles — Mexico 17th century:
2 million deaths.
Smallpox 18th century:
Smallpox killed 40 million Europeans in the 18th century. Of survivors 30% went blind.
Smallpox 1780–1782 and 1837–1838:
Smallpox depopulated the Plains Indians of North America.
Persian Plague (1772):
Asiatic Cholera Pandemics (1817-1823; 1826-1837; 1852-1860; 1865-1875; 1881-1896; 1899-1923; 1961-1975):
The first six of these pandemics began in India and spread over much of
the world including Europe, Britain and America. The second pandemic
killed about 500,000 people; the third 1 million; the fourth "115,000
deaths in Prussia alone"; the fifth 1 million; the sixth 800,000 in
Plague Pandemic (1855-1960s):
Bubonic plague in Yunnan province (China) went worldwide. Kohn
(2001) writes: "By 1918 India reported 10 million human deaths."
European Smallpox Epidemic (1870-1875):
This killed 500,000 Europeans but also spread to Africa and the Americas.
Russian Flu pandemic (1889-1890):
One million deaths in Russia, Europe, Africa and America.
Spanish Flu (1918-1920):
Worldwide over 20 million died. The initial spread occurred in crowded
American military camps where soldiers prepared to leave for Europe.
The Flu killed 675,000 in the USA; Germany 427,000; France 400,000;
Britain 228,000; Spain 260,000; Australia 15,000; Japan 390,000; India
12 million; Indonesia 1.5 million.
Russian Typhus Epidemic (1914-1922):
"One of the worst and most extensive disasters of all time." (Kohn 2001)
Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic (1915-1926):
Worldwide 1½ million deaths.
Russian Malaria Epidemic (1922-1923):
"Perhaps Europe's most devastating malaria epidemic of the modern era, killing millions of people." (Kohn 2001)
Asian Flu (1957-1958):
This avian flu virus entered humans in China and spread worldwide taking up to 2 million lives.
Hong Kong Flu (1968-1969):
1 million killed worldwide.
AIDS (Identified in 1981):
About 35 million deaths by 2020 and still climbing.
Wikipedia says: "Measles killed around 200 million people worldwide
over the last 150 years. In 2000 alone, measles killed some 777,000
worldwide out of 40 million cases globally."
"About 25% of the world's people are infected with Mycobacterium
tuberculosis, 8 million become ill with tuberculosis annually and 1-2
million die. In the 19th century tuberculosis killed a quarter of
Europe's adults, and in the 20th century about 100 million people
Swine Flu Pandemic (2009-2010):
A new strain of flu that originated in Mexico, spread worldwide, infected 1 billion, and killed 500,000.
The Bible says, "Let every person be subject to the governing
authorities…" (Romans 13:1) Acting on this advice during the present
pandemic when governments consult medical professionals for strategies
to contain Covid-19 can be life-saving.
Consider social-distancing and home-quarantine rules which some people
are still flouting. Their importance was known during the Spanish Flu
pandemic. However, on September 28, 1918, the city of Philadelphia went
ahead with a grand parade to support the war effort and 200,000
spectators crowded the sidewalks; but St. Louis cancelled its parade.
Days later all of Philadelphia's hospitals were filled! Philadelphia
became America's hardest hit city with 16,000 deaths from flu (almost
1% of its population) but St Louis only 700 (about 0.1%).
"Governing authorities" can be wrong too. The Bible teaches "speak the
truth" — lies and their consequences are one of the themes of the
Bible. It also identifies as being disgusting to God anyone who
condemns the innocent. (Proverbs 12:22; 17:15) China flouted both these
ethical principles if the reports are correct that authorities
knowingly underreported the Covid-19 death toll and silenced
individuals who tried to alert the public. Jennings (2020) writes: "the
party hid the seriousness of the crisis in January while Chinese
companies stripped Western countries of protective medical equipment."
Jesus was right to predict plagues because epidemics, pandemics and
endemic diseases have been major historical events. They occurred
throughout the centuries, not just in one generation. Religious leaders
who claimed a certain pandemic proves Armageddon is near have always
been wrong — they misunderstood and misused Matthew 24 and Luke 21. The
Bible has other predictions of plagues, notably in Zechariah 14 of a
flesh-rotting plague just before "the LORD becomes king over all the
earth", but Covid-19 is nowhere specifically predicted.
Also wrong were people who expected vaccinations and antibiotics to
eliminate all infectious diseases. That would have refuted Jesus, but
it hasn't happened!
Arnold, C. Enemies within, New Scientist, 29 February, 2020, 36-39
Benedictow, Ole J. The Black Death The Greatest Catastrophe Ever, History Today, March 2005, 42-49
Cartwright, F.F. and Biddiss, M. (Third Edition) 2014 Disease and History, Thistle Publishing, p. 93
The Companion Bible - Being The Authorized Version of 1611 … With 198 Appendixes, Samuel Bagster & Sons, p. 1891; Appendixes p. 11
Dykhuizen, D. Species Numbers in Bacteria, Proc Calif Acad Sci. 2005 June 3; 56 (6 Suppl): 62–71.
Giles, J. Healthy democracy, New Scientist, 21 May, 2011, pp 34-37
Jarus, O, 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history
Kohn, G.C. (Editor) 2001 Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, Checkmark Books
Lomborg, B. Money or lives: at some point we must say 'enough', The Weekend Australian, March 28-29, 2020, p. 18
Microbiology by numbers, Nature Reviews Microbiology, Volume 9, p. 628 (2011)
Shipman, P. The Bright Side of the Black Death, American Scientist, November-December 2014, 410-413
Spellberg, B. Dr. William H. Stewart: Mistaken or Maligned? Clinical
Infectious Diseases, Volume 47, Issue 2, 15 July 2008, Page 294,
Wills, C. 1996 Plagues Their Origin, History and Future, Harper Collins
Wigram, G.V. Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, Fifth Edition, Samuel Bagster & Sons, 334
Zimmer, C. A Planet of Viruses, University of Chicago Press
Jennings, P. The Weekend Australian, April 18-19, 2020, p. 18