The Book of Revelation is, as we saw last week, a book filled with such imagery that it is often used to 'prove' almost any conspiracy theory or contemporary prophecy. Did you know that the book apparently predicted Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama – as well as barcodes and social security numbers?
It's a common idea among some evangelical (and Orthodox) Christians that Revelation 8:10-11 was a prediction of the Chernobyl disaster because Chernobyl can be translated 'wormwood' in Ukrainian. Although in order to do so, biblical literalists have to suspend their absolute literalism for at least part of the verse – because a star falling from heaven did not cause Chernobyl!
It won't be long before someone is publishing an End Times book, showing how Revelation prophesied Covid-19 and is a sign of the End. I don't believe that – in fact I regard that as an irresponsible use of Scripture in direct defiance of John's warning at the end of this book, not to add anything to his words. But there are basic principles which, like the warning in Revelation 8, make this apocalyptic book a real revelation for us in our crisis. Let me offer this broader perspective.
Covid-19 is a call to repentance
In 6:8, we are warned about the fourth horseman bringing plague – reminding us of the fact that throughout history, plagues have been part of the human experience.
In 6:16-17, the kings and rulers, the rich and mighty (and everyone else) understand these dreadful events as being a sign of the 'wrath of the Lamb'. Whilst it is foolish for us to regard Covid-19 as a direct consequence of any particular sin, it would also be foolish not to see that, in letting us have our own way, God has left us over to judgement.
Humanity and the planet cannot be saved without Him. Our leaders who boast about how they can save the planet have been humbled; they cannot even save themselves. The world as it exists is filled not only with the mercy but also the judgements of God. God is shouting to us in our pains - the trumpets shall sound, as Revelation 9 tells us. But rather than listen – whether to His still small voice, His echoes of love, or the trumpets of His judgement – many human beings would sooner 'curse the name of God' and refuse to 'repent and glorify' him (16:8). It shows the depth and perversity of human sin that, instead of seeking the help of God, we prefer to curse and blame Him when we fail.
18:14 is a stunning verse for our culture. "The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered."
It's a time to repent of our greed and materialism and false idols. It's also a time to repent for our abuse of the good earth that the Good Lord made us His stewards of. "The time has come for judging the dead.....and for destroying those who destroy the earth" (11:18).
Covid-19 is a call to patience
I love the various pictures that are given in Revelation of God's people coming through the troubles – whether it is coming out of the Great Tribulation (7:14) or praying after the stunned silence in heaven (8:1-3), or their patient endurance and faithfulness (13:10). The cry 'how long O Lord, how long?' has a particular resonance, not just for those in lockdown, but for all who long for a new and better world – wherein dwells righteousness!
Revelation does not teach that there are equal and opposite forces of good and evil, and that there is an eternal struggle between the two. It tells us that there are seven last plagues - 'last, because of them God's wrath is completed' (15:1). There is only one winner in this battle. The Lamb! Who is on the Lord's side?
There is such great hope revealed in Revelation. Whether it is the fact that 'the Eternal Gospel' will be proclaimed to 'every nation, tribe, language and people' (14:10). Or the assurance that those who die 'in the Lord' are blessed (14:13). But it is a hope that is yet to be fulfilled. We wait. We cry 'maranatha' – even so, come soon Lord Jesus.
Covid-19 is a call to eternal life
Chapter 21 sets out a beautiful picture of a new heaven and a new earth. No longer will there be any curse. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more plagues. No more thirst. No more hunger. Just springs of living water from the tree of life (ch.7).
22:17 gives us the most beautiful invitation. We long for a vaccine for Covid-19, we long for freedom, health and joy. Revelation promises us all those. The vaccine for the human condition of sin and suffering is the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (22:2). It will be like a reverse John Hopkins view of Covid-19 progress. Instead of charting how many are infected and how many died, it will be a book of those who have been healed and have been granted eternal life. And it will be a number that no one can count (7:9) – not even John Hopkins!
Revelation starts with a glorious vision of Christ. It continues with telling us about the battle between good and evil throughout history, and it ends, not with the universe imploding or us as individuals floating like a blob of carbon from one meaningless existence to another, but rather with the greatest invitation of all time: an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The Spirit and the Bride say 'come'. Why do we long to go back to a 'normal' that wasn't that great? A 'normal' that contained tears, injustice, greed, poverty, starvation, plagues and brokenness? Why do we not realize that the Covid-19 crisis has shown up the pathetic weakness and foolishness of our existence? Why would we not accept an invitation to a much better and eternal life? Seek and you shall find.
Revelation is not a timetable of the End. No, it's a book that tells us about how all the evil things in this world, including Covid-19 are defeated by Christ. Jesus shall reign - and for more than a thousand years! Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.
David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com