Last-Minute Ministry

Minute hand of a clock

The last day of 2019 was much more than the end of the year. As things have turned out, for me, it also marked the start of a countdown to my being sidelined in self-quarantine. On December 31, 2019, physicians in Wuhan, China, announced discovery of a perplexing new strain of pneumonia afflicting 41 patients with flu-like symptoms. Half listening to the news report, I worked the math out in my head. Forty-one people, in a city of 11 million, located in a nation populated by 1.4 billion. To my way of thinking, it was an unfortunate situation—overseas. So, no need to view that “breaking news” in a personal way.

However, the “Novel Coronavirus 2019” took only two months to transform my perspective. Following my trip home to Omaha for my eldest brother’s hip replacement surgery, that virus struck personally. Tommy came through surgery seemingly none the worse for wear. My three other siblings and I visited daily, submitting to screening each time. “Have you visited China recently?” “Have you been out of the country?”

Back in Southern California, I began hearing increasingly grim reports of sickness and death associated with COVID 19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Still, it wasn’t a personal issue, until my phone rang, three days later.

“Your brother, Thomas, has pneumonia and has tested positive for the coronavirus,” reported the Nebraska public health official. Suddenly, the coronavirus was very personal.

“How are you feeling? Have you had any symptoms? Fever? Cough? Shortness of breath?”

By then, the World Health Organization had made official what many had already suspected: planet earth was in the throes of a coronavirus pandemic. After talking with my own doctor, and with a packed freezer and pantry, I quarantined myself. What is happening?

Scenarios to Consider

As usual, social media tried to make sense of it all, and two religious sounding propositions stood out to me: 1. Coronavirus is one of the seven last plagues. And, 2. this COVID 19 pandemic is the “big one,” ushering in the end of the world.

Could the coronavirus be one of the seven last plagues? Of the two threads, this one seemed the easiest to address. As the first quarter of the 2020 calendar year drew to a close, the financial web site, Business Insider, reported hospitals in 200 countries were scrambling to treat 784,000 patients, while the death toll climbed past 38,000. The casualty rate was staggering. Furthermore, the pandemic’s growth rate gave every impression that a plague had been loosed on the earth.

We found our answer, but not in human theories. Our primary source was God’s Word.

Possible Plague?

The first question takes us to Revelation 16, where the seven last plagues are introduced. Revelation’s plagues remind us of the plagues immediately preceding the exodus, and a critical fact that there were two classes of people: those who chose obedience and worship of God, and those who rejected Him.

So, a question in response to the first question: When the ten plagues struck in Egypt, were they harmful to God’s people? Exodus 7-12 remind us that none of the plagues harmed God’s people. Why not? Exodus 12:13 provides insight: “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses …I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you….”

Protected by the blood of the lamb, the people of God suffered no harm. So, too, in the last days. The last plagues will not touch the people of God, because we are protected by the blood of the Lamb. Paul declared in Ephesians 1:7, “ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins…”

Since, believers have fallen victim to the coronavirus, too, we may be certain that it is not one of the last plagues.

Portentous Potential

Nonetheless, that leaves question #2, is Novel Coronavirus 2019 the “big one,” that portends the imminent arrival of the end of the world?

Have we reason to believe that we are nearing that point in time, that the Bible refers to as the last days? Absolutely! Luke 17:26-30 indicates that just as it was (sinful) business-as-usual when Noah climbed onboard the ark, and when Lot followed angels out of Sodom, before the Lord returns, those same conditions will be replicated. Paul also profiles the character of those living in the last days, who will reject God’s grace and be lost (in 2 Timothy 3:1-5), and it sounds very familiar. Jesus warned of false christs, wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24. Then, He adds the caveat, when those events take place, don’t alarm yourself, because the time of the end has not yet arrived. He goes on to point out that nations will battle, kingdoms will grapple and famines, pestilences and earthquakes will take place. Still, these are not the final events. The point is, a careful reading of God’s Word, especially Matthew chapter 24, reveals what the last days will be like.

Missing Piece of the Puzzle

We know for a certainty the last days will take place. However, don’t you find it a little curious that God offers no specificity regarding the exact date of the last days? He informs us there will be last days; but, He never says when they will be. Could it be that God withholds that information because He knows how we love to put things off? And, that being prone to last-minute ministries, thinking we still had plenty of time, we might not get to the assignment He has given us. So, we don’t have all the facts regarding the “last days.”

Instead, Jesus pointed out that neither men, nor angels know the exact time of the Lord’s return and of the last days, (Matthew 24:36). Paul echoed that the end shall arrive unannounced (1 Thessalonians 5:2). 2 Peter 3:10 is where we learn that the Lord’s promised return will take all of us by surprise, as does a thief who robs by night. And, Revelation 3:3 makes it plain that we will not know the hour our Lord comes for us.

Rather than give us the exact time of the end, because He knows how deadly our procrastination can be, God gives us our exact role in His plan of salvation. Preach the gospel, Matthew 24:14. Find the lost where they are and compel them to come to the Lord, Luke 14:23. Teach and baptize, Matthew 28:19, 20.

Personal Assignment

In verses 39, 40, 44, and 54 the promise from Jesus is that He will raise us up at the “last day.” It doesn’t get much more personal than that.

The personal nature of the coronavirus experience for me found my brother’s fever breaking at last, so that he could be discharged from the hospital. As for me, I remain symptom free, and long released from my self-quarantine. Now, it’s a matter of living, worshiping and serving until the “Last Day” arrives.

@020 May June cover of Message Magazine
This article is part of our 2020 May / June Issue
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