In the book of Revelation we find a disturbing vision of four fearsome horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8). Each of these horsemen is a symbol of the four major punishments to be inflicted upon a rebellious mankind — probably in the not-too-distant future! Each represents the final, end-time culmination of the major crises with which the world has been confronted for centuries — false religion, war, famine and disease epidemics. This series of booklets will make the prophecies of Revelation 6 come to life. You will learn the significance of each symbolic horse and rider. This message is one of the most frightening in all of the Bible. You need to be informed and prepared for what’s ahead in Bible prophecy!
Chapter One — THE PALE HORSE TAKES ITS TOLL
When it comes to progress, no one can accuse the human race of being in a rut. Since the turn of the century man has broken the sound barrier, probed the depths of outer space, unraveled the secrets of the atom, and even made precision landings on the moon. Yet for all his scientific wizardry, man continues to be baffled by one of his oldest enemies — disease.
Even today, in the age of miracle drugs and space-age medicine, the toll that pestilence takes is staggering by anyone’s standards. Every year one million people around the world succumb to tuberculosis. Malaria claims another million lives in Africa alone. Schistosomiasis, a painful, debilitating snail-borne disease, afflicts a quarter of a billion third-world inhabitants or roughly 8½% of the population. Venereal disease is all but out of control in many nations, and has been found to infect as many as 10% of the young people sampled in some areas.
In some parts of the world, disease is a way of life and all too frequently a way of death. Some 34 million Brazilians (35% of the population) are hobbled with a host of maladies including goiter, yaws, tuberculosis and leprosy. One quarter of black Africa is under the continual threat of sleeping sickness. In other parts of the continent up to 20% of the adult population have been reduced to a groping, stumbling existence because of the ravages of a tiny bloodsucking black fly, carrier of the dreaded river-blindness disease.
In the Western world the number of walking wounded grows every year as people pay the delayed penalties of a synthetic, sated, “civilized” lifestyle. In the United States alone, over 28 million Americans are afflicted by some form of heart and blood vessel disease. Almost four million have suffered coronary attacks. One in six Americans is afflicted by hypertension. Forty million are pained in varying degrees by arthritis. Four million are diabetics, and there are another five million who are potential candidates for insulin injections.
Every year more Americans die from cancer than were killed during the entire course of World War II. One million are currently under treatment for various malignancies and another 49 million (or roughly one out of every four persons) will eventually contract this degenerative disease.
The state of the nation’s dental health also offers some rather unpalatable food for thought. Some 20 million Americans are estimated to have lost over half their teeth. The odds are two in five that an American will be totally toothless by the time he reaches age 50. And by the time he is 65 the chances will have increased to an even one in two.
The Ever-Potent Pandemic
Over the entire course of history, disease has undoubtedly been man’s greatest enemy in terms of sheer loss of life. According to Folke Henschen, a leading Swedish pathologist: “Infectious diseases… have probably been the most dangerous enemies of mankind, much more so than war and mass murder.
“When one studies the constant epidemics of the past and the deficiency diseases on land and at sea, one realizes that the whole of civilization could have succumbed, and one is constantly surprised that mankind has survived.”
And Hans Zinsser, writing in Rats, Lice, and History, likewise explained: “Swords and lances, arrows, machine guns, and even high explosives have had far less power over fates of the nations than the typhus louse, the plague flea, and the yellow fever mosquito…. War and conquest and that herd existence which is an accompaniment of what we call civilization have merely set the stage for these more powerful agents of human tragedy.” The infamous Black Plague of the fourteenth century is estimated to have wiped out one third to one half of humanity. Even as late as the twentieth century the influenza epidemic that erupted at the close of the First World War claimed more lives in a few months than were lost during the entire course of this monumental worldwide conflict. And pestilential pandemics have shown little respect for human life, even during the last few decades of history. In 1957 and again in 1968, the Hong Kong flu swept around the world, taking tens of thousands of lives. At the height of the 1957 outbreak, 1700 Americans in 122 large cities died every week. Before it was over, 30,000 Americans and Britons lost their lives.
In the 1960s, a new variety of cholera virus known as El Tor rampaged through Asia, parts of Russia and the Middle East. By 1971 it reached Spain and Portugal, and isolated cases were found in Sweden, France, West Germany and England.
Smallpox, the disease that was almost ready to be relegated to the pages of history, was still alive and well in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan during the 1960s and 70s. In 1967, ten million people are thought to have been infected. As late as 1974 over 30,000 smallpox deaths occurred — principally on the Indian subcontinent.
Recent disease epidemics have also caused massive dislocations, panics and uproars. In 1974 a meningitis outbreak in São Paulo, Brazil, took some 2000 lives. Residents of the city fled by the thousands. Neighboring Uruguay was so concerned she closed down the border as a precautionary measure.[Photo Caption — A YOUNG victim of smallpox. Smallpox is still endemic in many parts of the Indian subcontinent and Africa.] [Photo Caption — CHOLERA weakens its victims through extreme dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. Mortality rates can run as high as 50% if no medical treatment is available.]
Infectious disease is neither a respecter of men nor nations. No part of the world is immune. For example, in the United States malaria cases have cropped up in California, Alabama and Texas in the last few years. Tuberculosis is widespread among Latins and Asians in Los Angeles County, and a strain of typhoid fever currently resistant to antibiotics is being imported into the United States by illegal aliens from Mexico.
Bubonic plague vermin are still alive and flourishing in many parts of western America. In 1974 a twelve-year-old girl who apparently had come in contact with a plague-carrying animal died from the disease. And one year later plague also took the life of a seventeen-month-old baby in Ventura, California.
The threat of infectious disease outbreaks cannot be blithely ignored, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal (October 13, 1971): “To most Americans, the possibility of an insect-borne epidemic in the U.S. seems remote…. Such scourges as yellow fever, plague, typhus, dengue fever and scores of other diseases seem like something out of the eighteenth century — or at least out of the backward nations of today.
“But to public-health officials and epidemiologists, the insect-borne epidemic represents one of the more fearsome types of disease outbreaks. The slightest hint that an epidemic might be in the making is enough to send into instant action teams of health officers, epidemiologists, veterinarians and entomologists…. Once such an epidemic begins, it is difficult to stop. And even if it is brought under control, it may remain among animals and insects for months and years afterward — always posing a threat that, under certain conditions, it might break out again.”
William E. Small, then editor of Biomedical News, and author of the book Third Pollution, had this to say: “That many diseases are under control at the moment does not mean that public health efforts can be relaxed. Typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, summer diarrhea, dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax, intestinal worms, and many other diseases are still with us and could again return as plagues of old. During the garbage strike in New York in 1968, public health officials geared up to give massive immunizations against typhoid fever, so great was the potential hazard from garbage in the streets.”[Photo Captions — PILLS for lepers in Tanzania. Symptoms of leprosy include wasting of muscle and deformities.]
The communicable disease problem is further being complicated by the potential hazards brought on by jet-age transport. No longer do nations live in relative isolation, separated by vast oceans or days and weeks of travel. Now a potential disease carrier can infect another country or continent thousands of miles away — all in a matter of hours. A person could carry a disease like yellow fever from the forests of Brazil to the suburbs of New York City and no one would be the wiser. Since the incubation period of such a disease usually amounts to several days, a potential carrier could easily clear customs long before the first telltale symptoms would break out.
In addition, there is the threat of new disease strains which can be sprung on an unsuspecting country like an infectious bolt out of the blue. Typical examples include the Marburg virus which was carried into Germany by African green monkeys. Seven out of 25 research workers who contracted this lethal little bug were killed. Lassa fever, unheard of until the 1970s, was also found to be so virulent that researchers at Yale University Laboratories were forced to terminate all work on the virus. Just how susceptible is the human race to massive disease epidemics? Will the Pale Horseman yet ride again with renewed vengeance and fury? Will mankind be engulfed in a tidal wave of disease epidemics that will rival the worst ones of history? Or has the human race seen the last of the grim reaper’?
Before discussing these questions, let’s examine the role disease has played in history and the key factors that led to some of the major epidemics of the past.
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