There are certain parts of the churches, particularly evangelical and charismatic communities, that tend to view the current COVID-19 pandemic as a scourge that signals the “end times.”
What we have been experiencing conjures to these believers the looming shadow of the prophesied “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” There is the rider on a white horse symbolizing a conquering force whose invasion no one can withstand. Another on a red horse suggests wars—social hostility and civil wars within countries, and fierce battles for supremacy between countries. A third rider on a black horse signifies famine, commercial exploitation because of scarcity, except those goods consumed by the rich. And then there is the fourth rider on a pale horse, a sign of death brought by pestilence and other such quirky aberrations in nature.
Well, we are told in Scripture that the “end times” has already begun 2,000 years ago, when Jesus died and rose again. Satan is finished. It is true that in these last days there is this intensifying conflict between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent—those on the side of the good, and those on the side of evil. We may lose some battles and experience setbacks, but the book of Revelation leaves no doubt that we shall win this war.
Often, when we are face to face with tyrannical powers, we feel psychologically on the defensive, preoccupied with just surviving. But because there is a higher Power who foils the best-laid plans of trolls and plotters, we can be on the offensive and storm the gates of hell in many places of darkness in our present world. This is the reason behind the amazing transformation of the disciples, from cowering cowards huddled together in the upper room to fearless witnesses to the truth of Jesus.
There is a sense, however, in which this pandemic does feel like “apocalypse now.”
In the original Greek, “apocalypse” means an unveiling, a drawing back of the curtain that hides the true nature of reality. Hence, the “revelation” to the Apostle John of what is truly happening behind the great might of the Roman Empire, this “Babylon” of his time whose iron hand seemed to be crushing the incipient movement of Jesus followers to early extinction.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” was the dirge he heard. The merchants and the seafarers wept, for no one bought their cargo anymore, and the city that was clothed in fine linen, bedecked with gold, was laid waste in an instant. This vision of the fall of Rome fortified the ragtag band of believers to endure the empire’s persecution. In a century or two, Rome began to collapse under the weight of its own decadence and corruption, and what is now labeled as “imperial overstretch.”
Similarly, we are seeing these days the unveiling of the stark realities we live in. Our health system, like that of many nations, has been shown to be totally inadequate in dealing with the pestilence, an invisible enemy suspected by some to have been let loose from a laboratory in China (a notion unsupported by evidence, according to many other experts). The lack of access to medical care and extreme famine among the poor has revealed the depth of inequality that may soon tear down this nation. Those who inhabit the infernal halls of Congress, the Senate, and the Supreme Court have ripped to shreds whatever guises of independence they have, showing themselves to be what they truly are—tools of the potentate in Malacañang.
Most dangerously, we are seeing the apotheosis of the State, at first posing as guardian of the people’s safety, but is now looking more and more like the biblical monster from the sea—symbolically the totalitarian Beast out to impose hegemony and control over all. Its iron claws have now appeared in the form of the anti-terrorism law, a repressive tool for making all of us bend the knee.
There are moments in history when, as in the time of John, there appears anti-Christian forces whose consolidated power to sow evil assumes the proportions of the Beast. When the State becomes so, whether in the time of Nero, Hitler, or the present demagogue, it must be resisted.
Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D., is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
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