How widespread today is anxiety about the so-called end-time events? Or have people just pushed them aside to replace them with more pressing concerns? A closer look at the roots of perhaps the most confronting of these predicted end events brings up some pleasant surprises. No wonder Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).
Climaxing the predicted “last-day events” are the seven last plagues. This series of unnatural disasters ushers in Jesus’ second coming and are the result of what John describes as the completion of God’s wrath (Rev 15:1)—presumably for what sin has done to the planet and its inhabitants. The seven last plagues are:
- painful sores (Rev 16:2),
- the sea looking like blood from a corpse (which is black, not red, v. 3),
- rivers and water sources become as blood (vv.4–7),
- scorching sun (vv. 8–9),
- darkness (vv. 10–11),
- evil spirits engaged in battle against God (vv. 12–16),
- lightning, thunder, earthquake and hail (vv.17–21).
When you look for the roots of these phenomena you find that they are based on the covenant blessings and curses. These were delivered by Moses on two occasions; as they gathered at Sinai soon after leaving Egypt (Lev. 26), and to the next generation on the plains of Moab just before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land (Deut. 28). It was on this latter occasion that Moses delivered his last public address. I can imagine the old man summoning all his strength to share with his people, for one last time, an address that would finally convince them to keep their faith in God. Then he went up to the top of a nearby mountain, had one fleeting look at the prize he was missing out on, and died.
What Moses outlined in that last speech has come to be known as the covenant blessings and curses. The covenant, in simple terms, was God’s guarantee to shepherd his people into the Promised Land, and to give them success in all that they did. In response, the people agreed to serve God only, and to live in harmony with him.
The covenant blessings were incredibly all-encompassing (Deut. 28:1–14). They were not just platitudes, but positively impacted the lives of the faithful—wherever they lived, whatever their occupation, with success in all that they attempted. Heaven’s storehouse was to be opened to ensure that God’s people would always be at the top of the pile, and never at the bottom (vv. 12, 13). So, in this context, a blessing is understood as flourishing in the presence of God, receiving all needs from his hand, being prospered by him at home and abroad, and succeeding in every venture.
However, if the people chose to disengage from God and go their own way, there would be consequences—curses. What exactly is a curse? It is the opposite of a blessing—being separated from God, enduring the consequences of surviving in a world without him, dwindling at home and abroad, and failing in every venture attempted.
The curses included:
- boils, tumors, and scabs from head to foot (Deut 28:27, 35),
- unquenchable thirst (v. 48),
- sky as bronze, ground as iron, dust for rain (vv. 23–24),
- darkness at noon (v. 29),
- invasion and exile by distant foreigners (v. 49),
- Sudden ruin (v. 20), harsh and prolonged disaster (v. 59).
It is significant that the curses outlined in the covenant speech of Moses parallel the seven last plagues. And it is interesting to note that when God freed his people from Egypt, a similar series of plagues fell to facilitate the release of his people. Therefore, curses and plagues are associated with deliverance.
It is even more significant that these “curses” also struck Jesus at Calvary, cementing their connection with the salvation process—because Jesus endured them, you and I don’t have to. So, it is at Calvary that both the curses and the plagues make sense. It is there that we can see their real significance, for it is at Calvary that Jesus suffered for human rebellion and experienced the curses of the covenant.
- Jesus was scourged – his whole body became an open sore (Matt 27:26)
- rotten wine was given to him to quench his thirst (v.34)
- he was crucified naked in the hot sun (v.35)
- darkness fell on the scene (v.45)
- he endured the taunts of demonic opposition (vv.42–45)
- there was a massive earthquake (v.51, 52)
When these different sources are compared, this is the result:
This means that when Jesus was crucified, he bore the covenant curses in himself. He met the consequences of the broken covenant. Therefore, at the end of time, there is absolutely no need for those who have placed their faith in him to suffer the plagues. However, those who refuse Him will need to bear the consequences of the broken covenant themselves. Jesus said as much when speaking to Nicodemus; “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son” (John 3:18). If we are not prepared to accept what Jesus went through for us, we will need to endure it for ourselves. Conversely, if we have accepted Jesus and what he did for us at Calvary, then there is no purpose in us being hit by the plagues.
This can be illustrated by the story of an Australian family returning to their home after its destruction in a bushfire. After their disheartening and futile attempts to salvage any possible remnant of sentimental value, the little boy of the family went over to where the hen house had been. In kicking the charred remains of a hen, he was surprised to see living yellow balls of fluff emerging.
Jesus once used the metaphor of a hen when describing his anxious attempts to get his people to shelter under his “wings” (Matt 23:27). But they were not willing. However, the offer is still available. In addition, as any resident of the Australian bush will tell you, the safest place in a bushfire is where the fire has already burned. And if the seven last plagues, (or the curses of the covenant), have already “burned” at Calvary, then the safest place to be when the end-time plagues start falling, is at the foot of the cross.
David Tasker is currently senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education in Australia. Prior to that he served as a church pastor in New Zealand, mission president in Solomon Islands, Dean of the School of Theology at Pacific Adventist University (PNG), Dean of the Seminary at AIIAS (Philippines) and Field/Ministerial Secretary for the SPD.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9478