“Is the Coronavirus a modern-day plague?” This question arose at a Tuesday morning training session for young gospel workers. We’d been studying Exodus and had reached chapters 7-11 which describe plagues that the Lord sent to decimate Egypt and make his name known in all the earth. Around the same time as the Coronavirus was picking up steam, the news was published that locusts were decimating crops in East Africa. Of course, to students of Exodus, an army of crop-devouring locusts rings a bell (Exodus 10:1-21). Are destructive powers like the Coronavirus and the locusts in East Africa modern-day plagues?
Of course they are. But we must be careful what we mean (and don’t mean) by this. The Coronavirus is a ‘plague’ in the general sense of the word. A plague, according to the dictionary means, “a serious disease that kills many people.” It can also refer to a “large number of insects or animals which cause damage or unpleasant conditions in an area.” Of course, the coronavirus is a plague in that sense. But is the Coronavirus a ‘plague’ in the Exodus sense? Let’s put it like this – has the God of the Bible ordained the Coronavirus as judgment upon the world. Is it a plague in that sense? The book of Revelation is revealing…
As you know, Revelation stirs much debate about how to interpret it, but it ought not. It’s about the gospel. The Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 5) is on the throne, ruling world history. He will ultimately bring it to a glorious climax for his people and destroy those who oppose his rule. The message of Revelation could be summed up in two words – Jesus wins.
Revelation is not mean to be interpreted literally. The book obviously reveals truth using symbolic language. The multi-headed beasts symbolize political powers, for example. We know that, not because we’re clever, but because we let Scripture interpret Scripture. (Daniel 7:1-8 uses such imagery). I also don’t think that the symbolism is meant to symbolize particular events in history. In other words, you will not find the Coronavirus specifically in Revelation. But what do we find?
In Revelation, we find clear allusions (references) to the Exodus plagues. In Revelation 16, the Apostle John hears a loud voice in heaven telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” Notice what John sees next…
Seven angels, under God’s direction (16:1), pour out bowls of God’s wrath.
The first angel poured out his bowl on the earth, “and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshipped his image” (Revelation 16:1). This seems to allude to the sixth plague (Exodus 9:8-12) in which painful boils break out in sores on man and beast.
The bowls of wrath poured out by the second and third angels (Revelation 16:2-4) undeniably allude to Exodus. In Exodus, the first plague is that the Nile River and all water sources turned into blood (Exodus 7:14-25). In Revelation 16:2-4, the seas and rivers and springs of water become blood.
The fifth bowl of wrath (Revelation 16:10-11) may also refer to the ninth Egyptian plague, darkness (Exodus 10:21-29).
The seventh bowl (Revelation 16:17-21) seems to symbolize the Lord himself appearing. The flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, earthquakes, etc. take place when the Lord appears, as he did on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20).
What we learn from Revelation 16 (and other places in the book of Revelation) is this: before the Lord returns, God will pour out judgments on the earth (including ‘natural’ disasters) and that this will ultimately climax at his return when he will judge the living and the dead.
The Coronavirus, which is under God’s control is, in a general sense, God revealing his wrath before the final judgment. This does not mean the Lord will return in our lifetime – we don’t know. It also does not necessarily mean that if someone gets the Coronavirus, that person is, as an individual, being judged by God for something particular. It also does not necessarily mean that a particular place – New York City, for example, which is facing many more Coronavirus cases than other places right now – is more sinful than other places. Jesus himself warns his disciples not to make hasty conclusions like this. Take a look at Luke 13:1-5.
“There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
It’s not our place to try to interpret why God has sovereignly ordained that the Coronavirus hit certain places harder than others. What we do know is that God is sovereign over everything including the Coronavirus. We also know from Revelation, that He is pouring out bowls of his wrath on the earth before the ultimate Day of the Lord. So it’s safe to say that the Coronavirus is a plague — it’s God’s general judgment on the earth. But beyond that, we dare not speculate.
What we ought to do instead is listen to Jesus – take a look at ourselves, how we’re relating to God, and repent. Turn to the risen King Jesus, who died for the sins of all his people, and ask him to forgive us and rule us, before it’s too late.