“We have never seen anything like this before!” That is how you hear people speak about the current corona crisis. In many respects, that is true.
The last “global” crisis was World War II. Since then there have been many other crises in the world, but nothing quite comparable to what we are experiencing right now.
This raises the question, how we, as Christians, are to deal with it? What can we say about it? There is a buzz on the Internet with countless people interpreting the corona crisis, trying to grasp its impact and meaning. There are, for example, the proponents of the charismatic churches, many of whom have linked this crisis directly to some of the apocalyptic events in the Book of Revelation. Preachers have claimed to be able to pinpoint where we find ourselves on the timeline that is to culminate in the catastrophic end of this world. Much is speculation, of course. We need to ask ourselves: What can be said with certainty?
“This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Rev 13:10)
It is important to note that since Jesus’ ascension, this world is indeed heading towards its end and that God will judge it together with its entire people. He will destroy this world and create a new heaven and a new earth, which according to Revelation 21:6 has already begun. That this world is coming to an end is certain. It remains, however, unclear when exactly this will happen (Mt 24:36).
The whole history of the church is under the sign that this world is coming to its end, moving towards a new creation. Our generation has the privilege of being able to look back on 2000 years of church history, during which our forefathers confirmed the above conclusion. But the way things panned out, was never quite as expected.
That is the reason why we need to ask ourselves, how we, as Christians, can deal responsibly with this crisis today. This is to be done by highlighting the (a) eschatological, (b) theological, and (c) ecclesiastical significances of this crisis, followed by some concluding reflections on the Book of Revelation.
The eschatological or end-time significance of the corona crisis
What is the eschatological significance of the corona crisis? The global impact of this crisis and the far-reaching consequences for human life make it necessary to consider whether this crisis does not belong to the so-called “birth pains” Jesus revered to in his eschatological discourse in Matthew 24. Just as the contractions of a mother in childbirth become stronger and more intense, so too will there be increased signs of the Last Day approaching. Whether this crisis represents the “last woe” or whether more can be expected, we do not know. But we need to bear in mind that each crisis is a divine reminder that this world will be reaching its completion.
How does one prepare for the end? On the one hand, we need to carry on with life. We should not stop working, getting married, starting families, taking holidays and so forth, but continue to engage with life. But on the other hand, Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-14) reminds us of the necessity, to continually assess whether we still live our lives “in faith.”
We do this by constantly reflecting on our lives, asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts (Ps 51) so that we may build on the firm foundation, which is Christ, and not on sand (Mt 7:26). This means, we are to remain faithful in God’s Word and seek strength at the Lord’s Table. This way we are assured that Jesus is our Saviour.
The theological significance of the corona crisis
Theologically, we can say with certainty that God uses times of crisis to call people to repentance and to extend his kingdom.
In the history leading to the Babylonian exile, the Israelites (of both the northern and the southern kingdom) were revering and worshipping other gods. The Israelites had become self-confident. Injustice and immorality characterised their daily lives. In allowing the temple and the holy city of Jerusalem to be destroyed, God had but one goal: to call His people to repentance. They should realise that he is the one and only living God. If God allows a time of crisis, he always has the salvation of his people in mind.
Against this background many similarities can be drawn: Church attendance is declining. People seek wealth and self-honour. Injustice and immorality are on the rise. All effort is concentrated on making this world a paradise.
In this sense we can interpret the corona crisis as an event with which God has put on the emergency brake. Godlessness is exposed and a call to repentance is sounded. This is particularly evident in the fact that the crisis has once again highlighted that this life is transitionary, it is passing by. The economic collapse shows us how quickly everything can change. With the world facing up to death, the fear of death is spreading. This causes insecurity. People look for a hold that can give them certainty beyond this life.
This provides us Christians with a great opportunity to point people in love to Jesus as the Lord of this world, who, despite all chaos, is nevertheless in control. The Gospel – as a message of hope that transcends this world – can be spread. Let us ask God to give us the right words at the right time, so that we can be witnesses of His hope and truth.The ecclesiastical significance of the crisis
What does this crisis mean for the Church? With the lockdown regulations that prohibited public gatherings – including church services – the church was literally forced onto the Internet and had to find new ways to bring God’s Word to the people. It was amazing how quickly this was done by both pastors and congregations. It even paved the way for new mission opportunities. Devotions and preaching services were sent to those who would normally not attend a church service.
Of course there were also challenges, in particular concerning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This sacrament is a means of grace intended for those experiencing hardship. It strengthens faith and is a source of comfort. What is to be done when the congregation is prohibited from gathering? This situation has raised new theological questions. We are grateful that church gatherings are permitted again. But the questions raised during the initial lockdown period have not been answered sufficiently as even now many congregation members are fearful and have not attended a church service again. May God give us wisdom to deal with this situation.
Our experience is that only a few attend church services. Is it a matter of fear? Have some become accustomed to house services? Or are there other reasons that prevent people from attending church? There is little doubt that the “fellowship of the saints” is essential for Christian life. May God guide us through his Spirit that we may worship together again, despite personal fears and reservations.
The crisis has, however, also resulted in many positives, such as the willingness to help those in financial difficulty. It is difficult to imagine that many people struggle with the question: What shall I eat today? Let us pray to God that our faith may become active in love and that we may experience the blessing that he promised to those who serve their neighbours with joy.
The Corona crisis in the light of the Book of Revelation
As I said at the beginning, there are many attempts to understand the corona crisis in the light of the Book of Revelation. The Covid-19-vaccine, which is currently still in a developmental phase, is causing a lot of excitement. It is linked to the mark of the beast from Revelation 13. How is that to be understood? There are reports that claim that the Covid-19-vaccine is to be administered by means of a tattoo on the hand, linked to a microchip that is to be implanted into the hand, which will serve as a form of identification (an ID). According to these reports, the Covid-status will be stored on the chip and this will determine whether one can participate in public life or not. If the status is not confirmed, you might not be able to enter a shop. This is in turn linked to the buy-and-sell motive in Revelation 13. Without the microchip, that is, the mark of the beast, you will not be able to buy or sell.
At first glance there seems to be a direct link between the perceived Covid inoculations and Revelation 13. But if we look at this theologically, many questions are raised. Does this mean, then, that all those who receive the Covid-chip are evil and will not be saved? Contrary to Scripture this would also mean that “we” would be able to discern who is evil and that there would no longer be the option of repentance.
There are clear limits to interpreting the Book of Revelation “realistically.” One needs to keep in mind that its message is based mainly on symbolism associated with images and numbers. The sign on the hand and on the forehead could point to the evil “actions” (hand) and “thoughts” (forehead) of mankind. In similar symbolic language we read that the names of all believers are written in the “book of life” and that they are clothed in “white garments,” cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7). These are images for baptism, and Revelation should be interpreted in this sense.
In reading the Book of Revelation it is important not to lose track of the central message, addressed to a persecuted church, that despite all evil God is in full control and that one day he will throw the beast into the lake of fire. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is alone worthy to open the seals of history. He is the centre of Revelation. This image gives us the assurance that Jesus is the Lord of history and that He determines everything in this world and in the world to come.
For this reason, I placed this reflection under Revelation 13:10. What is needed is “patient endurance” and “faithfulness.” Whatever comes our way – including the possibility of persecution – Jesus will strengthen us and show us the way to salvation.
As the last day approaches, do not forget to “plant an apple tree.” This phrase comes from Martin Luther, who in line with what Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, wants to encourage us to continue with our calling until that final day when Jesus comes. We Christians have an important role to play by continuing with daily life as much as possible, asking God to give us true joy as we await the wedding banquet that he has arranged for us and all believers.
Pastor Dieter Schnackenberg, Cape Town