Does the Truebsal come before or after Armageddon
Is the corona crisis a sign of the end times?
The Corona crisis calls end-time specialists on the scene. There is speculation in blogs and internet forums as to whether the coronavirus is one of the end-time plagues from the Book of Revelation. Conspiracy theories are circulated and unreflectedly connected with eschatological statements in the Bible. Governments had ordered the lockdown to find out how easily the masses could be manipulated in the end times. Epidemics would increase dramatically worldwide. Economic crises as a result of the corona crisis could lead to wars and famines and thus fulfill the end-time speech of Matthew 24-25. The situation will get out of hand for the governments. The Corona crisis could pave the way for a unified world government under the leadership of the Antichrist, of which the Revelation of John speaks.
It is nothing new that end-time scenarios are making the rounds in times of crisis. In connection with the Corona crisis, end-of-time timetables that were already popular in the middle of the 20th century are being reactivated. This was last the case during the two Iraq wars and before that during the Cold War. (1)
Is the corona crisis a sign of the end times? Can current events be associated with biblical prophecies? With the following remarks I would like to offer a biblical orientation.
Can future events be foreseen from the prophetic statements of the Bible? Again and again one encounters the belief that through intensive preoccupation with biblical prophecy, end-time events can be brought into a chronological sequence. Is there an eschatological "timetable" in the Bible?
It is not uncommon for biblical prophecy to be equated with "predicting the future". This leads to a hasty connection between prophetic statements of the Bible and current events.
Biblical prophecy is multifaceted. The main concern of the Old Testament prophets was to lead Israel back to God. They acted as mediators to enforce the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. (2) Their main task was to be foretellers of God's will for the people of their time. Some of the prophets were commissioned by God to be predictors of the near and distant future. They spoke of the coming of the Messiah, his dealings with the people and the end of history. Forward-looking prophecy is just one aspect of what we commonly call prophecy. So prophecy cannot simply be equated with “predicting the future”.
When and how a prophecy will be fulfilled is more difficult to pin down than many assume. Often it is only in the light of fulfillment that it becomes clear how a prophecy is fulfilled. This happened to the disciples. They believed in Old Testament messiah prophecy. But only when they stood in the light of fulfillment and Jesus opened their eyes to the Scriptures after his resurrection did they understand the prophetic promises of the Old Testament. (3) Linking current events with individual biblical prophecies usually fails because the Bible is interpreted from a limited historical point of view that may be obsolete tomorrow.
Prophecy is not given to satisfy our curiosity. Rather, it wants to shine into the present as light and encourage action:
1 PETER 4,7-10
The end of all things is at hand. So be sober and sober and pray. Above all, hold on to love for one another, because love covers up many sins. Serve one another as good stewards of God's multiple grace.
According to Peter, knowing about the end should not lead to waiting, but to action. We should pray, love and serve, that is, stand in the middle of life, regardless of whether the end is near or far. Determining when and how a prophecy will be fulfilled is difficult because our knowledge is piecemeal:
1 CORINTHIANS 13: 9-12
Our knowledge is piecemeal, our prophetic speaking is piecemeal. But when the perfection comes, everything disappears piecemeal. Now we look in a mirror and see only puzzling outlines, but then we look face to face.
The phrase "face to face" is used in the Old Testament to describe the face-to-face encounter with God. (4) That encounter will take place for Christians when Jesus appears on this earth. Until then, our knowledge remains “piecemeal”. It literally means that our knowledge consists “of parts”. In the Bible, God reveals to us parts of his plan, the meaning of which we can only partially grasp on this side of the Second Coming.
Biblical prophecy is not a roadmap for the future, but a light of orientation for the present. Christians don't have a timetable, they have hope.
THE END TIME
For many Christians, the term "end times" has a negative connotation. The end times are understood as a time of decline that immediately precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ. When asked what they mean by the end times, many Christians would say something like the following: “In the end times, the catastrophes will increase. Many will turn away from the faith. The Antichrist will arise and persecutions of Christians will increase. " Such an understanding of the end of the day is at least one-sided. The Bible speaks not only of negative, but also of positive signs of the end times.
The term "end times" has its roots in various phrases used by the prophets of the Old Testament:
"Afterwards", however, it will happen that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh ... I will also pour out my spirit on servants and maidservants "in those days".
"At the end of days" it will happen: the mountain with the house of the Lord is firmly established as the highest of the mountains. He towers over all the hills. The peoples flock to him.
In these and other texts, the idea of the end prevails. The term “end times” was formed from expressions such as “the end of days”, “the last days” or “at the end of times”.
The New Testament ties in with the Old Testament discourse from the last few days. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the end times as the time in which he and the recipients of his letter lived:
Many times and in many ways God spoke to the Fathers through the prophets. But in this "end time" he spoke to us through the Son.
In his first letter, Peter points out that the coming of Jesus ushers in the end times:
1 PETER 1: 18-20
You know that you were ransomed from your senseless way of life, inherited from your fathers, not for a perishable price, not for silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without blemish or blemish. He was destined for this even before the creation of the world and because of you he appeared "at the end of time".
Paul also assumes in his writings that the end times have dawned. (5) For the authors of the New Testament, the end times were not a period that lay in the future. They knew themselves in the middle of the last days that the prophets announced.
From a New Testament point of view, the end time is the entire time between the first and second coming of Jesus. This period is accompanied by negative and positive signs. In negative terms, there are persecutions, wars and unrest. (6) In positive terms, however, the end times are also shaped by God's devotion to people, by the work of the Holy Spirit and by the preaching of the gospel all over the world. (7)
In the parable of the tares and the wheat, Jesus sums up what will mark the total time of the end times: the wheat grows and bears fruit. At the same time, the weeds, which are torn out and destroyed during the harvest, grow. (8)
The figurative word says: Good (the wheat) and evil (the weeds) grow side by side until the harvest (Judgment Day). Evil matures and becomes recognizable as evil over time. At the same time good grows and will eventually triumph over evil. The end times are therefore only understood biblically where they are perceived not only in their negative, but also in their positive imprint. So Jesus speaks of the fact that in the time until the Second Coming God's kingdom will spread like a leaven and that God's rulership is like the growing of a small mustard seed into a big tree. (9) The forces of evil will not erase the good. In the end, God's rule will prevail. God will triumph over the forces of evil and thereby keep the age-old promise that he will crush the head of evil, that is, that he will crush it. (10)
THE END TIME SPEECH
The eschatological speech of Matthew 24-25 serves as a justification for many people for an eschatological pessimism. The focus is on the beginning of the speech, where Jesus tells his disciples that wars, famines and persecution will come. (11) Based on these statements, the future is depicted in gloomy colors. Does this approach have biblical support?
The statements of Jesus must be understood in the context of the entire end-time discourse. The speech consists of two parts: 24: 1-31 deals with events that were to occur while the disciples were still alive. At the same time, they point ahead to the course of history until Jesus comes again. 24,37-25,46 exhorts in the form of seven parables to be vigilant and instigates action for the returning Lord.
The end times discourse begins with Jesus telling his disciples that no stone would be left unturned in the Jewish temple. This prediction came true in AD 70. when the Romans ravaged the temple and city. The disciples now ask Jesus:
Tell us when will this happen and what is the sign of your arrival and the end of the world?
In response to the disciples' question, Jesus gave four prophetic warnings. The first warning concerns religious seduction:
MATTHEW 24: 4-5
Be careful that nobody misleads you! Because many will appear under my name and say: I am the Christ! and they will mislead many.
The New Testament reports that this prophecy came soon. (12) The second warning concerns various kinds of visitations and tremors:
MATTHEW 24: 6-8
You will hear of wars and rumors of war. Be careful, don't be frightened! It has to be done. But it's not the end yet. Because people will rise up against people and kingdom against kingdom and in many places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all of this is just the beginning of labor.
The Roman Empire was ravaged by unrest in New Testament times. It came in Jerusalem in AD 49. to riots, also in Syria and Egypt. Under the Roman emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) there was a great famine, which is also reported in the New Testament. (13)
Greece, Rome and areas of what is now Turkey were hit by earthquakes.
The third warning concerns the hasty anticipation of the Second Coming. The disciples' question "What is the sign of your arrival and the end of the world?" shows that they were immediately awaiting the end of the world. Jesus told them it wasn't. Wars and hardships were “not the end”, but only “the beginning of the labor pains”. So it would be a long time before the story came to an end.
The fourth warning relates to the Church:
MATTHEW 24: 9-13
Then you will be brought into great trouble and you will be killed and you will be hated by all peoples for my name's sake. And many will fall and hand one another over and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and they will mislead many. And because lawlessness prevails, love will grow cold in many. But whoever stands firm until the end will be saved.
Persecution and confusion in faith still arose in New Testament times. (14) The time of the early Church was on the one hand a time of rapid expansion of the gospel. On the other hand, there was a dramatic outbreak of heresy. The letters to the Colossians, Timothy, Thessalonians and John deal largely with the defense against false doctrines.
The warnings from Jesus became a reality already in New Testament times. At the same time, the end-time discourse looks beyond the New Testament. Because of this double point of reference, one cannot infer from the end-time discourse that the world is getting worse and worse. Wars, hardships and persecution are signs that can always be more or less present. They are a characteristic of the end times as a whole. Nowhere is it said that these signs are to be found always and everywhere. Things can get worse in our time, but they don't have to, because not only do weeds grow, but wheat also flourishes. Using the end-time speech as a blueprint for a bleak future goes beyond the scriptural text and is not convincing.
The second part of the speech (24.37-25.46) deals with the right behavior until the Second Coming. Here Jürgen Moltmann's proposition proves true that eschatology (doctrine of the end times) is a prospect and orientation towards the future and a departure and change in the present. (15)
The first part of the end time speech is prospect and forward alignment. Jesus announced to the disciples what was to come, so that they would not be surprised by the violence of the tremors. The second part is the departure and change of the present.
In seven parables, Jesus shows his followers how they should live in the light of the coming events. It is about loyalty to God, vigilance in faith and the service of mercy to the needy. The second part is almost half the length of the first and more haunting in tone. The proportions of both parts show: Jesus does not train “experts” who speculate about what is to come, but followers who act in the light of what is to come. Jesus wants his disciples (and we) to understand what we are for in the world. If dealing with the eschatological statements of the Bible does not lead to action being moved by hope, it will miss its goal and is not biblical.
THE REVELATION OF JOHN
The Revelation of John is one of the most popular and misunderstood books in the Bible. For centuries, the Apocalypse of John, as it is called in technical jargon, has been used for gloomy future prognoses. This is doing her injustice, because she is a book of consolation. The key to understanding this extraordinary book is that Revelation is an apocalypse. It is a literary form common in Judaism at the turn of the ages, in which the message is clothed in images and symbols. (16)
In times of crisis, the temptation is great to combine individual statements of Revelation with daily political events. Martin Luther saw concrete events of his time in individual statements. So he interpreted Revelation 17:16 as the sack of Rome.
You saw the ten horns and the beast. They will hate the whore, take everything away from her until she is naked, eat her flesh and burn her in the fire.
In 1527, three years before Luther wrote his interpretation of the Revelation of John, Rome had been sacked by an army of twenty-four thousand men made up of German compatriots and Spanish mercenaries. The soldiers killed, tortured and raped. Half of the population perished. Churches, palaces and hospitals were set on fire.
Luther saw this event foretold in Revelation 17:16. He believed he was immediately living in the time of the end. Ten years earlier, in Advent 1521, he had said in a sermon that he did not want to urge anyone or make them believe that Judgment Day was not far off. But he does not allow himself to be deprived of this conviction either, because since the birth of Christ he has not found anything that is like the last hundred years in this world.
Luther's interpretation of Revelation is one example among many that reminds us that we should be very reluctant to relate statements of Revelation to our time.
In connection with the Corona crisis, attention is drawn to the seven sealed courts of Revelation 6, where it says:
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being call out: Come! Then I saw a pale horse, and the one sitting on it is called "Death", and the underworld followed him. And power was given to them over a quarter of the earth, to kill by the sword, and by starvation and death, and by the animals of the earth.
The fourth seal brings "death". Well-known interpreters such as Gerhard Maier and Gregory Beale translate “death” in Rev 6: 8b as “plague” or “plague.” (17) Disastrous developments such as wars and epidemics belong to the end times.
Is the corona virus one of these epidemics? Is Covid 19 a sign that the end is near? Such a conclusion is premature for two reasons:
For one thing, epidemics have always existed in human history.The plague in the Middle Ages swept away almost half of the Catholic West. The Spanish flu a hundred years ago killed millions. Cholera and Ebola and other epidemics claim human lives. If epidemics keep recurring, a single epidemic like the corona virus can badly serve as a sign of an imminent end. We just don't know if this is the final plague.
On the other hand, a biblical understanding of Revelation does not allow jumping to conclusions. As I understand it, the sealed dishes describe the entire time between Ascension and Second Coming. This follows from a careful reading of the seven sealed judgments and from the introductory words of Revelation:
Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what "soon" must happen. And through his angel, whom he sent, he showed it to his servant John ... Blessed is he who reads these prophetic words and who hears them and who keeps what is written, for the time is "at hand" .
In Greek, “soon” in 1.1 stands for “en tachei”. The word «tachometer» (speedometer) is derived from this term. The term means “in a hurry” or “suddenly.” (18) This is about the way in which the announcements of Revelation come true. Judgment will come upon people suddenly and unexpectedly. 1.3 then says that the time of fulfillment is "near". Here, in a direct sense, near means temporal proximity. The original recipients were to see for themselves how the revelation began to be fulfilled. This expressly does not seal the book for the time of the end. At the same time, Revelation looks to the end of history. (19) It refers to a very long period of time that has now lasted two thousand years. In this long time disease and wars will come and go.
I conclude from all these considerations: The biblical support that the Corona crisis is a sign of the end times and that we will reach the end of history with it is extremely small.
ACT IN HOPE
Crisis is a test case for faith. Christian faith is alive where it gives comfort, strengthens faith and inspires action for the returning Lord. Paralyze end-time speculation. They cause people to retreat to the Christian ghetto. The world is left to the devil. Faith understood in this way is a distortion of biblical hope.
Jürgen Moltmann speaks of the fact that the biblical promises do not want to carry the train after reality, but want to carry the torch forward. (20) Far too often, Christianity has carried the train after reality. Christians should hold the torch up to reality by pointing out God's reality and acting in burning hope.
The Bible's predictions for the future aim to convey comfort, strengthen faith and enable people to act in hope. This is especially true for the last book of the Bible. As various passages show, Revelation was written during a time of persecution. (21) The Revelation is not a timetable for the end, but a book of comfort for the suffering Church.
At the center of Revelation is the slaughtered lamb. In the heavenly vision of chapters 4 and 5, John sees a "slaughtered lamb" before the throne who receives a sealed "scroll" from God. The slaughtered lamb is Jesus, who gave his life on the cross for humanity. The scroll symbolizes human history. John is told that no one in the whole of All can break the seals and open the scroll but the Lamb alone.
One of the elders said to me: The lion from the tribe of Judah, the scion from the root of David, has been victorious. He can open the book and its seven seals.
Here we are at the central message of Revelation. It is not Satan, not evil, and not the Antichrist that is in control of history, but the Lamb. The power of attorney for the course of history is given to the winner of Golgata! Revelation in apocalyptic language says nothing else than the Gospels say in ordinary language: Jesus is given all authority in heaven and on earth. (22) In this sense, Christians can confidently go into the world and love, pray and act . You do not leave the domain of your master, he is in control of everything.
At the end of Revelation, we look beyond history to the new creation. God will dwell among people. There will be no more tears, no more death and no more mourning. (23) The hope of the perfection of all things inspires Christians to bring a piece of heaven to earth now. Christian hope is an active hope. She is the same as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said: «It may be that tomorrow will be judgment day. Then we want to put the work for a better world down - but not before that. "
It doesn't matter how long it will be before the new creation is there. The corona crisis will pass, if not without pain and loss. It will not be the last epidemic and crisis. But there may still be times ahead of us when conditions will improve and humanity can take heart. For it is still true that God “loves this world so much.” (24) He loves it so much that one day he will free the sighing creation together with us. (25) For all who have the certainty that Lord comes, what matters is not when it will happen, but that it will happen. The sentence passed down from the Church Father Augustine: «It is not someone who loves the Second Coming of the Lord who says that it is still a long way off; not even the one who says it is imminent; but the one who awaits her with serious faith, firm hope and ardent love, regardless of whether she is far or near. "
Dr. Roland Hardmeier is the author of the book «The King's City. A Biblical Theology of Hope »(2020). He works as an independent lecturer and speaker and teaches theology at the Institute for Congregational Further Education (IGW) and at the International Seminary of Theology and Leadership (ISTL).
Version 1.2 R. Hardmeier, April 2020
(1): Hardmeier, Die Stadt des König, 16ff
(2): 1 Kings 19:10
(3): Luke 24:45
(4): Genesis 32: 30f; Exodus 33:11; Ezekiel 20:35
(5): 1 Tim 4,1-2; 2 Tim 3: 1-5
(6): Matthew 10.17ff; 24.6ff
(7): Matthew 11: 4-5; Joel 3,1-5; Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10
(8): Matthew 13: 24ff; For more information, see Hardmeier, Der Triumph des König, 334ff
(9): Matthew 13: 31ff
(10): Genesis 3:15
(11): Matthew 24: 6ff
(12): Acts 5:36; 8.9f; 21.38
(13): Acts 11:28
(14): For persecution: Acts 4: 6ff; 14,1ff; To confusion in faith, 2 Tim 2:15; 4.10; 2,17f; 3.9ff
(15): Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 12
(16): For more information, see Fee and Stuart, Effective Bible Study, 292ff
(17): Maier, The Revelation of John, 328; Beale, The Book of Revelation, 382
(18): Pohl, The Revelation of Johannes, Wuppertal Study Bible, 68f
(19): Revelation 6: 12-17; 21.1ff
(20): Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 14
(21): Revelation 1,9; 2.13; 3.10; 6.9-10; 17.6; 18.24; 19.2; 20.4-6
(22): Matthew 28:18
(23): Revelation 21: 1-4
(24): John 3:16
(25): Romans 8: 18ff
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