One of these features, he said, would be the outbreak of ‘pestilences in one place after another.’ (Luke 21:10, 11; Matthew 24:3, 7) The Greek word for “pestilence” refers to “any deadly infectious malady.” The 20th century certainly saw horrendous outbreaks of pestilence, despite all the advances of medical science.—See the box “Deaths due to Pestilence Since 1914.”
A prophecy in the book of Revelation, which parallels Jesus’ words in the Gospels, depicts several horsemen accompanying Jesus Christ when he assumes power in heaven. The fourth horseman rides “a pale horse,” and he sows “deadly plague” in his wake. (Revelation 6:2, 4, 5, 8) A look at the death toll from some of the major infectious diseases since 1914 confirms that this figurative horseman has indeed been riding. The worldwide suffering from “deadly plague” provides one further proof that the coming of God’s Kingdom is near.*—Mark 13:29.
[Box on page 12]
Deaths due to Pestilence Since 1914
These statistics are necessarily approximate. They do indicate, however, the extent to which pestilence has stalked humankind since 1914.
▪ Smallpox (between 300 million and 500 million) No effective treatment for smallpox was ever developed. A massive international vaccination program finally succeeded in eradicating the disease by 1980.
▪ Tuberculosis (between 100 million and 150 million) Tuberculosis now kills approximately two million people each year, and about 1 out of every 3 people in the world carries the tuberculosis bacillus.
▪ Malaria (between 80 million and 120 million) For the first half of the 20th century, the death toll from malaria hovered at about two million a year. The greatest mortality is now centered in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria still kills more than one million people yearly.
▪ Spanish influenza (between 20 million and 30 million) Some historians say that the death toll was much higher. This lethal epidemic swept the world in 1918 and 1919, close on the heels of the first world war. “Even bubonic plague did not kill so many people so fast,” says the book Man and Microbes.
▪ Typhus (about 20 million) Epidemics of typhus often accompanied war, and the first world war provoked a typhus plague that ravaged countries in Eastern Europe.
▪ AIDS (over 20 million) This modern scourge is now killing three million people every year. Current estimates by the United Nations AIDS program indicate that “in the absence of drastically expanded prevention and treatment efforts, 68 million people will die . . . between 2000 and 2020.”