Monday, March 23, 2020

Is COVID-19 the Fulfillment Written in Revelation 6:8?

Almost 2 weeks ago when I visited a private Biblical Hebrew forum, someone posted about COVID-19 and used Revelation 6:8. Aside from this, I read a blog which has an interpretation similar to the first post. However, the second one was more critical because the writer connects it to Revelation 18:4 and insinuates that all Catholics must leave the Catholic Church so they will not be punished by God. Is this way of understanding and analyzing the texts of the Bible correct?  

"I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth"(Revelation 6:8).

If we look at carefully, others who read Revelation 6 can interpret these calamities in a different manner and depict the vision of the four horsemen as different occurrences. Yet, many scholars say the fourth calamity appears to recap the negative outcomes of the previous three. In fact, the biblical prophecy often considers these afflictions as God’s way of judgment, suggesting that the four horsemen must be interpreted as single picture of divine judgment.

The Septuagint (LXX) uses “Death” and “Hades,” a combination of synonymously the references to the region of the dead. The four judgments are ways where the dead is executed.  The Greek word used in this verse is  Thanatos  and this word in Septuagint was translated in the Hebrew Bible as דֶּבֶר (deber) meaning “plague, pestilence.”  But the word, Thanatos in Revelation 6:8 has a general meaning. 

According to other Biblical scholars, the vision of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse comes from Zechariah 6:1-5, which refers to horses of various colors-red, black, white, and dappled gray which we can also read in the commentary of Bruce Metzger (Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation). But most scholars connect this to Ezekiel 14:21. 

"This final specter may resemble the angel of death of Jewish tradition. Lists of judgments such as this horseman brought are common in the *Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jer 14:12; 24:10; 27:8; Ezek 6:11; 7:15; 12:16) and, less related in form, some judgment lists in the *Sibylline Oracles; this list is closest to Ezekiel 14:21" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Craig S. Keener).

"The sequence of the forms of destruction wrought by the horsemen, sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals, appears in a list of punishments of sinners in Ezek 14:12-21"  (The Paulist Biblical Commentary, p. 1586).

My point is that we must be careful in interpreting what is written in Revelation. There have been plenty of plagues more devastating than Covid-19, e.g. the Spanish flu in 1918.

Apocalyptic literature is a future-tense narrative that is really about the present world. Looking for fulfillment of a vision is like asking who was Cain's wife. A waste of time. The question we should be asking of any passage in Scripture is "What is God seeking to communicate to us for the sake of salvation?" (see Dei Verbum #11). God is not trying to give us a road map to future events like some kind of Nostradamus. Seeking after such knowledge represents an anxiety-driven need to know and gain a sense of control so that one need not trust in God because one knows the future instead. Reading COVID-19 into Scripture is a dangerous game. These 'end-times-are-now' readings of Revelation generally are, and they make a basic mistake about what kind of literature Revelation is.

Apocalyptic literature is among the strongest examples of this type of literature: description of the present trouble with a "prediction" of God's deliverance soon. Daniel is a very good example of this. Because of the persecution of Antiochus IV (175-163 BCE), "Daniel" of long ago "predicts" domination of the faithful Jews by a series of future evil empires, culminating in the victorious kingdom of God; but he is really writing at the time of Antiochus, recounting the ancient history of the Babylonian-Median-Persian-Greek subjugation of the Jews, and hoping for deliverance (freedom) in the near future; see Daniel 12 — esp. 12:11-12.


This is what is written in Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, Bruce M. Metzger, pp-58-59:

"God does not approve of famine and death and hell, but they are what must follow if people persist in opposing God's rule. God wills community, which is the consequence of caring and love. Ignore physical laws, like stepping off a cliff, and disaster follows. Neglect moral laws, and disaster ensues just as surely. The woes described here are the result of not taking seriously God's command to achieve community and justice. God does not will the woes, but as long as we are free agents God allows them. So the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are brilliant little vignettes of God's judgments working out in history. This is what happens in the sphere of politics whenever men and women oppose the will of God; and this is in military sphere; and this is the sphere of economics. There are few chapters in Revelation that speak more directly to our time than this part of chapter 6." 
Aside from that, this is what we can read in another commentary:

"Without denying the role of Satan’s malice, what characterizes the specific evils mentioned here—conquest, violence, economic problems that lead to food shortages, disease, and death by all these means—are for the most part disasters that result from sinful human actions rather than divine intervention. The indication that power was “given” to these riders suggests that God has allowed the human will to power, violence, and selfishness to run its course, an expression of God’s permissive rather than his positive will (e.g., Ps 81:11–17; Rom 1:24–32)" (Revelation (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) By Peter S. Williamson).

It is not only the people who go against the will of God are affected by calamities, wars, hunger, the ravaged economy, pestilence, and death but God’s people as well. 

"Unlike some later judgments in the book of Revelation (9:4; 19:19–21), nothing in the visions of the four horsemen suggests that the calamities of war, economic difficulty, famine, plague, and death will not afflict God’s people. Sin and its consequences have infected our world. )"(Revelation (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) By Peter S. Williamson)


This interpretation of the Bible is wrong. No scholar in his right mind will say that Revelation 18:4 refers to the Catholic Church. It is really a mean-spirited abuse of the Biblical text. 

"And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues"(Revelation 18:4).

For the information of everybody there are no logical Bible scholars in our time will say that COVID-19 is a fulfillment of the Revelation 6:8. 

"In pronouncing judgment on Babylon, Jeremiah warned his people who were supposed to be at home there in the short term (29:4-10)-to flee from the city's midst, because God would destroy it (51:6, 45; cf. Zech 2:7); even the presence of some of the righteous would not stay the judgment (cf. Gen 19:17). (In the *Dead Sea Scrolls, the righteous were to "separate" themselves from the "children of the pit"; in one *Essene commentary on Nahum, when the iniquity of those who were leading people astray was exposed, the righteous of Ephraim would flee from among them, joining the forces of the true Israel.) Getting out of an imminently doomed city was common sense for anyone who believed the *prophecy (cf. Tobit 14:8; Ex 9:20-21)"(The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Craig S. Keener).

Revelation 18 is about pagan Rome, nothing to do with the Catholic church. 

Be careful in interpreting the Bible. Let us not immediately conclude that all these happenings are 100 percent fulfillment of what is written in Revelation. 

"Plagues" are among the dangers Biblical texts identify as part of the challenges facing people at any time.  We are called to trust in God's provident care for us in danger.  But I don't think the author of Revelation is referring to COVID-19 any more than any other plague. I think we should be very wary indeed of identifying specific events as predicted in Scripture. People have done it over and over in the past and have always been proved wrong.  

1 comment:

Was Jesus Crucified on a Cross or Stake?

 1.) According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Lord Jesus was crucified on a torture stake and not the cross.  Their view is not based on the la...