By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
In light of current events surrounding the nation-wide or even world-wide pandemic COVID-19, emotions are running high along with the fear of uncertainty and rapidly changing information. Furthermore, social media is ablaze with all sorts of conspiracy theories and proclamation of doom and gloom and warnings of impending prophetic fulfillment of the end-times. There are many who see these current events as “signs of the times” and are drawing all sorts of unwarranted and ill-thought out conclusions with regards to what they think the Bible teaches. However, given our current situation, I think this provides a great opportunity for apologetic application along with a cautionary word.
There has been no shortage of date setters and prophetic prognosticators throughout the history of the church. These are folks who seek to discern the times by looking at the world around them and reading their interpretations of world events into the Bible to create prophetic fulfillment where there is none. This is called eisegesis. Eisegesis is when meaning is read into the text as opposed to deriving meaning from within the text itself. Often times people come to the text of scripture with an already preconceived vision of what they think the “end” will be and read that vision into the text. In the attempt to interpret the times in light of global events the integrity of the Bible is dragged through the mud as predictions are made, interpretations are established as irrefutable biblical fact, only to be shown fallacious later on. Jesus doesn’t come back when predicted, the rapture doesn’t occur when calculated, the supposed antichrist turns out to be no such thing and on and on it goes.
The famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russel once asserted that Jesus was a false prophet and therefore not the messiah given the fact that he was wrong about when he would return. After delivering his longest prophetic utterance in the “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13), Jesus caps his prediction of the “signs of the times” with the emphatic, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). The “all these things” referred back to the previous verses which included the events leading up to an including the “end of the age” and the “coming of the Son of Man on the clouds”. Since that “generation” passed away, and apparently those things did not occur, Russel reasoned that Jesus could not have been the messiah and the divine Son of God.
Of course, I would take issue with Bertrand Russell’s take on those biblical passages as well as some of the interpretations and responses posited by many Christians, but the point is, the issue of prophecy, current world events and certain interpretations of those events in light of some interpretations of scripture, the issue of prophecy and ill advised interpretations of world events in light of prophecy have become very much an apologetic issue. Given so many wild-eyed speculations in the garb of sound biblical exegesis, there is then a need to defend the integrity of scripture from these would-be experts. For when their interpretations are demonstrated to be fallacious, the idea that the Bible therefore cannot be relied upon is magnified all the more hence giving ammo to the enemies and critics of the faith. Now the purpose of this article is not to attack any particular eschatological1 position but rather, to provide some words of wisdom and caution.
It does not help the cause of the kingdom to latch ourselves to sensationalistic end-times interpretation of scripture. We must be very careful to be leveled headed and grounded in the Word of God, allowing it to speak for itself as opposed to interpreting the scriptures in light of what we see and hear on the news. We interpret scripture in light of scripture, we do not interpret scripture in light of the news and our current events. Is COVID-19 a judgment of God? Who knows? For one thing, viruses are not an abnormal experience in that there have been pandemics and epidemics before. Indeed, many were dying of deadly illnesses prior to this breakout, however, we tend to magnify the significance of it all when we ourselves are in the midst of risk and exposure. The reality is, that we live in a sinful and broken world. God can and often does allow the results of sin to play itself out. Think about it. The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The existence of death is the result of sin (Romans 5:12), and since all sin therefore all die. Hence, whether it is by virus, natural disaster, or other means, God has allowed the results of sin to run its course.
It does no good to panic, but rather, it is a great opportunity to show the world what it means to have “peace” with God in Christ Jesus. When the world seems to be falling apart, let the children of God demonstrate the reality of genuine peace of mind as we seek to trust in the Lord in these difficult times. Furthermore, let it be our prayer that in the midst of all this craziness, the expression of our peace with God is a tool that God uses to bring others into a true knowledge of that peace as well.
1. Eschatology is the study of “Last Things”, or end-times.