‘Pestilences in One Place After Another’
PESTILENCES of unparalleled proportions were a foretold feature of “the sign of [Jesus Christ’s] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3) The Gospel writer Luke adds this detail not mentioned in the accounts of Matthew and Mark. (Matthew, chapters 24 and 25; Mark, chapter 13) Outbreaks of epidemics and devastating diseases would occur “in one place after another” in the last days. (Luke 1:3; 21:11) From where might such diseases come?
“Scientists know of several viruses lurking in the tropics that—with a little help from nature—could wreak far more loss of life than will likely result from the AIDS epidemic,” states the journal Science News. “Even if the world’s viral inventory remains stable, researchers say, the tropics already harbor enough viral ‘fire power’ to wipe out large segments of Earth’s population.”
What makes ours an era of increased vulnerability is the earth’s burgeoning population and the greater needs of a crowded world. “History shows that life-threatening viral outbreaks have often followed when humans moved into unexplored terrain or when urban living conditions deteriorated in ways that invited new viral hosts,” says Science News. As humans infiltrate virus-infected areas that were previously inaccessible, new viral epidemics often follow. The same thing happens as insects extend their range when global climate patterns change. “Additionally,” says the magazine, “modern medical technologies such as transfusion and transplantation have provided viruses new means of transport between human hosts. So have a variety of social and behavioral changes, ranging from globe-trotting among the rich and famous to needle sharing among drug addicts.”
“Recent history offers vivid examples of viral skirmishes in isolated areas that may foreshadow much broader outbreaks in the future,” the article adds. Examples are: the previously unknown Marburg virus, a lethal tropical virus that afflicted dozens of scientists in West Germany in the late 1960’s; the virus causing Rift Valley fever that infected millions and killed thousands in Egypt in 1977; the tropical Ebola virus that infected more than a thousand people in Zaire and Sudan in 1976 and killed about 500, many of them doctors and nurses treating its victims.
Devastating viral attacks are rarely predicted in advance. “In 1918, for example, a particularly virulent mutant strain of human influenza spread around the globe, killing an estimated 20 million people,” says Science News. “More recently, the emergence in humans of a virus that probably once resided only in African monkeys caught the world off guard again. The AIDS virus has now infected 5 million to 10 million people in 149 countries, according to World Health Organization estimates. But despite all the attention drawn by this most recent plague, much more frightening things await us, many virologists fear.”
As distressing as pestilences are, they are part of the composite sign of Jesus’ presence in Kingdom glory, along with such features as wars, famines, and great earthquakes. (Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10, 11) The features are also a reason for rejoicing, for Luke adds Jesus’ words: “But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.