In recent days I have heard the question asked several times, “is the coronavirus predicted in the Bible?” or “is the coronavirus a sign of the end times?” The short answer to both questions is “no,” But I thought it might be helpful to write a blog explaining why not.
It is understandable why some would wonder. The Bible speaks of worldwide plagues in association with the end times, and a global pandemic would seem to fit this bill. But there are many reasons to take a step back and ask, “or would it?” Let me explain a few factors, some historical and some biblical, why I do not believe the coronavirus is a sign of the end times.
First, people have been associating large scale catastrophes with the end times since Christ ascended into heaven, and thus far, every prediction has been wrong. This kind of dot connecting has given those of us who interpret prophecy literally a black eye and caused many to take a more symbolic approach to biblical prophecy. For myself, I want to be very clear that I favor a more literal approach to biblical prophecy, and thus strongly believe in a future sequence of events including the rapture of the church, seven year tribulation period, return of Christ to earth, millennial kingdom and eternal state. I believe a clear and compelling case can be made for each of these events, but of course, this blog is not the place for that. The point is that dot connecting is not inherent to these exegetical views, a point that is, alas, often lost on lovers and haters of literal interpretation.
During the Islamic advance over the former Byzantine Empire, many thought it was a sign of the end times. When the Ottoman Empire threatened to overrun Europe, many thought it was a sign of the end times. During the French Revolution, Napoleonic wars, Russian Revolution, World Wars, etc., Many thought the end times were at hand. As to sickness, when the black plague wiped out 60% of the population of Europe, many thought it was a sign of the end times. And I must say, there was a much better argument to be made for that than the coronavirus. Then there are the things that nobody thought were signs of the end times even though they were much better candidates than the coronavirus. When European diseases wiped out over 90% of indigenous populations in the New World, so far as I know, no one said this was a sign of the end times. We can guess at the reason and shed a few tears. Then in a pre-vaccination world, yearly death tolls from diseases like the smallpox far exceeded the percentages of the coronavirus, but this was fairly normal, so no one said it was a sign of the end times.
Given so many patently wrong predictions, one would think the apocalypticists would give it a rest. But they won’t! They never shall. There seems to be a morbid fascination, coupled with a desire to know what cannot be known, that drives the bad biblical interpreters on and causes a mass of people to listen to them with itching ears. But for those who have a modicum of interest in approaching the question with sanity, I offer the following reasons why, from a biblical perspective, we should not be quick to identify the coronavirus, or other disasters, with biblical prophecy.
The New Testament often speaks of the entire church age as “the last days.” This is because the giving of the Spirit was signified what we sometimes call a “dispensational change.” From the perspective of the Old Testament, what happened at Pentecost signified what we might call “the beginning of the end.” From that perspective, we must realize that the last days last a long time. However, when most Christians speak of “the end times,” this is usually coming of the perspective of dispensational pre-millennialism. Among other things, this system of theology teaches (correctly, I believe) that there is a future period of God’s wrath, poured out on the earth, which will last seven years. Following the King James Translation, this period is usually referred to as “the tribulation.” This event is described in many places in the Bible but gets the greatest detail in the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation.
Our discussion will begin the Olivet Discourse because here is where the misunderstanding begins. While Matthew 24:7-8 do not speak specifically about sickness, these verses are often misused to create an end-timesey feel in the hearts of the masses. In verse 2, Jesus had predicted the destruction of the Temple. In response his disciples had asked him three questions, apparently thinking they would happen at the same time: “when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The disciples wanted a basis to predict the end times events. A summary of Jesus point in in Matthew 24:4-8 would be something like “do not, under any circumstances, try to use false religious movements or large-scale disasters to make end times predictions. The passage reads:
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (ESV).
Note that verse 7 begins with the conjunction “for” (Greek = γὰρ). For reasons I cannot fathom, some English translations ignore the existence of this conjunction, but it is all important to understanding verse 7-8. Why? Because it is what is called an explanatory conjunction. It further explains the statement Jesus made at the end of verse 6, “the end is not yet.” Wars, rumors of wars and natural disasters like earthquakes and famines will be happening throughout the age between Christ’s ascension and His return, any anyone who is buying into the line that these things are signs of the end is letting someone lead them astray (v.4).
Some would look at the phrase “beginning of birth pangs” as saying that these events are the beginning of the tribulation period, but this misunderstands the biblical metaphor of birth pangs. Natural disasters happen because the world has been broken by sin, and the coming re-creation of the world is like a new birth. Therefore, the effects of sin on the natural world are like labor pains awaiting this coming glorious re-creation. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s description of this dynamic in Romans 8:18-22:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
I am not going to give a full treatment of the Olivet Discourse in this post because it is about the coronavirus and not the details of end times prophecy. I simply observe that this passage is often used to make end times predictions when the actual point is “whatever you do, don’t do that!”
We must now address how the book of Revelation relates (or doesn’t) to this question. The reason many connect the coronavirus with Revelation is that Revelation is full of plagues. The problem is that the definition used for “plague” by our end times predictors is medieval idea of “really bad sickness.” But in the context of Revelation, a plague is a divine judgement. Divine judgment can take the form of sickness, but comes in many other forms as well.
As I mentioned above, I do interpret Revelation in a more literal way. The primary (though not the only) biblical background for the plagues in Revelation are the ten plagues God used as a judgment on Egypt (See Exodus 7-11). I think it is clear that the Egyptian plagues were intended to be understood literally, so we have every reason to think that the plagues of Revelation are intended to be understood literally. But this actually makes it far less likely that the coronavirus has anything to do with them. Why? Because only one judgment in Revelation has to do with physical sickness. Revelation 16:1 tells us, “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” Then, 16:10-11 adds “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (cf. Exod 9:8-11). I believe that the fifth bowl judgment is the darkness (cf., Exod 10:21-23), but the sores are still the same ones from the first bowl judgment. The point? The only sickness judgment in Revelation involves painful sores. The fact that the coronavirus does not cause painful sores shows us that it is not predicted in Revelation. Does that mean that any sickness with painful sores is predicted in Revelation? Of course not. There have been many sicknesses with this symptom throughout history. The point is that we can prove that the first bowl judgment is not the coronavirus, and Revelation gives us no other candidates.
that my more literal approach to biblical prophecy is not shared by all
believers, but for those who do favor this approach, it is very important that
we do not get caught up in end times fervor and try to connect the dots between
current events and prophecy. Please, please, please don’t do this! It is a huge
waste of time and it gives biblical literalism a bad name. Jesus explicitly
said we cannot know the time of his coming: “But
concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor
the Son, but the Father only”
Large scale disasters
are a time for us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are
thinking more deeply about life and death, and they are a time adorn the gospel
by helping those in need due to the consequences of the disaster. Let those of
us who name the name of Christ put our attention on those things during this
 Or “idealist.” For a scholarly critique of the idealist approach to interpreting the book of Revelation in particular, see my essay “The Hermeneutics of the Revelation: A Canonical Approach,” available online at https://www.academia.edu/30092057/THE_HERMENEUTICS_OF_THE_REVELATION_A_CANONICAL_APPROACH
 Vik, “The Hermeneutics of the Revelation,” 5-6.