Corona crisis stimulates reflecting upon end-times


Christian Life

L. Vogelaar, RD

Photo Unsplash, Johannes Plenio

Partly as a result of the corona crisis, thinking about the end times, the Bible book of Revelation, the sign of the beast, has received a major boost. Also among Reformed and Evangelicals. Two Dutch pastors respond.

“Don’t listen to strange complot theories”

Partly because of the corona crisis, interest in the end-time expectation seems to be growing. “A Christian should not allow himself to be rushed”, says the Rev. W. Visscher. “We should be sober and vigilant. And not listening to all kinds of strange theories."

Rev. W. Visscher. Photo RD, Henk Visscher

There are plenty of theories like that. "As if the corona crisis is a big, premeditated plan. Or that people have unleashed the pandemic to change the world order. If you think about it soberly, this is highly questionable. The Dutch Prime Minister Rutte and Health Minister De Jonge are not the masters of a dark power, they are just looking for the good for the country. Of course, you can argue about whether they are doing the right thing, but that is another matter. Many conspiracy theories are based on quicksand. What could be the point of locking up the economy anyway?"

The pastor of the Reformed congregation in the city of Amersfoort is regularly asked how current events in the world should be interpreted. "That is understandable. Throughout history, when major events occur, you see people thinking more about the end times and asking for Bible-based interpretation. That was the case with the plague epidemics in the past, and it is also true of other disasters. This is understandable, because the events make people uncertain. The Bible also speaks of the signs of the times.”

According to Rev. Visscher, a Christian must remember that the end times already started with Pentecost. “Throughout the centuries there has been a wave motion of highs and lows. Two tasks apply to Christians of all times: watch and persevere until the end; holding fast to the gospel of God's grace in all circumstances. The Second Coming could still be a long time away. The Lord Jesus points out in Matthew 24:1-14 that the circumstances on earth can become very serious. But a Christian must not panic. Neither should he fall into all kinds of strange theories.”

This calls for balance. "On the one hand, there are many Christians who do not live with the end times. There is a lot of complacency. We have become prosperous people. We live with our smartphones and all the other pleasures we have. We also have a comfortable church, nicely heated. We go there every week, and we'll see. We feel quite at home in this world.

Such an attitude is perilous. And not only for the listeners. As preachers, we must have the deep awareness that we are standing among the dying. With all those people, we will soon stand before God's judgment seat. That must carry weight. The Lord may well return at any moment.”

No panic

On the other hand, we must not act as if the end of times is almost upon us, says Rev. Visscher. "No calculating and panicking, as if we can predict what is going to happen and when. Paul says: Be vigilant, but do your work, for he who will not work will not eat. But know that you can suddenly be brought before God's judgment seat. Be prepared. You can think about that all your life, because we are only right before God through true faith in Jesus Christ."

Among Christians, the Amersfoort pastor encounters three attitudes in this corona crisis. "In part, you see protest. People are resisting government measures. Nowhere in God's Word do I see that this is allowed. The Bible says: Obey the government, unless it forces you to say that Jesus is not the Saviour. As Reformed people, we must be careful not to become a rebellious people.

A second attitude is: return to the old normal as soon as possible. As if the Lord does not want to say anything to us with these events. Of course, God does want to say something.

A third attitude is that of Daniel in Babylon: open windows to Jerusalem. This is necessary. It was in a situation of exile. There was no temple service, no church. Most of the Jews in Babylon were absorbed by the nations. Only a few remained standing. Open windows, a life of prayer and perseverance until the end – that must be the attitude of the church."

"Being cautious and sober, awake and vigilant at the same time"

A lesson from history is that we should not link events in the present too quickly with signs of the times in the book of Revelation.

So says Rev. L. J. Geluk, Reformed emeritus pastor in Rotterdam. “We should not interpret them in such concrete terms, because many mistakes have been made in this regard. Be sober. But at the same time be vigilant, because there are events that give us pause for thought.”

Rev. L. J. Geluk. Photo Guido Benschop

This tendency to fill in the blanks is of all times, says the minister. "In times of need, people think that the last days of the world have come. That was how it was in the Middle Ages, when shocking events and major changes took place.”

These included health crises. "The plague appeared here and there. Around 1350, 25 million people died from that disease. That was a third of Europe's population. Such a pandemic stimulated thinking about the future and the end times."

Several times it was predicted that the return of Christ would take place. "The year 1000 was mentioned, and other years." The Reformation corrected that. "At first Luther even had little interest in the book of Revelation, I noticed in his introduction to that Bible book from 1522. Eight years later this was clearly different. He remained cautious about speculations about the future but interpreted this book primarily in terms of the past and wrote that despite "all plagues, beasts, evil angels, Christ is with and in His saints, and at the last overcomes." Nowhere did I find in Luther’s work that he saw the plague as a sign of the end times. He did live in longing for "the dear last day."

The restraint in predicting the future remained, especially with Zwingli and Calvin. "In this you can see the influence of humanism on the Reformers. It was also a reaction to the Anabaptists, who wanted to start the millennial kingdom in advance. That led to excesses that gave the Reformers an almost panicky fright.

The Swiss church's creed explicitly stated that speculation was not appropriate. In his Confession of Faith of around 1560, Beza calls the belief that he can determine the day of the final judgement "frenzied fabrications" and speaks of "self-inflicted speculations." In the bitter years of the Counter-Reformation, wars, pestilence and famine, the longing for the coming glory was very much reinforced, as is evident from many church songs of that time. But there was no speculation about a date."

In later times, the Lutheran theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) did. He named 1836 as the year of the Second Coming. "His followers had to learn to cope with the disappointment when this did not come true," says Rev. Geluk. "Dutch pietists have also made calculations. In particular, theologians from the school of Lampe and Coccejus have concretely predicted when the Lord Jesus would return."

Around 1800, the French Revolution gave an impetus to thinking about the end times. "Napoleon was sometimes mentioned as the antichrist. Bilderdijk and especially Da Costa had chiliastic ideas, the idea that after the Second Coming there would be a Thousand Year Kingdom. The evangelical Zoeklicht movement of Joh. de Heer gave a strong impulse to this in the last century.

Reformed theology distanced itself from it. "You do see that preachers often referred to disasters as punishments from God. And there was always the call to repentance. You could see that very clearly with smallpox and cholera epidemics and with the Spanish flu. In sermons and publications from that time, I have not come across any references to the end times. It was not the concrete mention of the signs of the times, but the warning element that characterised the preaching: Repent, for life is uncertain."

Struggle against Christ
This restraint is a lesson, says the preacher. "Theories, including conspiracy theories, are now spreading rapidly around the world. We must consider the possibilities of exerting global influence in a short period of time, also to the detriment of the cause of the Lord Jesus and of the believers. Digital developments also give us pause for thought. Without an ATM card you can't do anything these days. New inventions can be used to exclude people. The Last Days are drawing nearer. We know that Christ is coming, but not when He is coming. There is a battle going on against Christ, so we must be sober, awake and vigilant. And let events strengthen our longing for Him Who is coming."

This article was previously published in the Dutch Reformatorisch Dagblad on October 25th, 2021



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