2020 has been an intense year. We began with boiling tensions between the U.S. and Iran, moved on to devastating fires in Australia, and finally life has progressively shut down as COVID-19 has affected every corner of the globe. The back-to-back nature of all these catastrophes is unsettling, and rightly so; many of us attempt to live sheltered from the brokenness of this fallen world. Such uncertainty naturally leads people to look for answers, and to try to place current events into a meaningful bigger picture.
As a result, a persistent question has sprung up: is COVID-19 a sign of the End Times? Or is it just another tragedy in a sinful and broken world? Rabbi Elliot Klayman takes a look.
COVID-19: More Birth Pangs or the Beginning of Labor?
COVID-19 is certainly the continuation of the birth pangs that precede the Day of the Lord, or the Great Tribulation. But it is not the absolute sign of the end times that are marked in the Book of Revelation and other Scripture. There are several events that must occur as the time of this earth draws to a close:
“For nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes, in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt 24:7-8).
These signs must all together coalesce with intensity, but even then it is not the end but rather the beginning of labor pains. There are terrifying signs in heaven, like the moon turning blood red and the sun black (Luke 21:11).
Another sign which we have not seen as yet is the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, as prophesied by Daniel. This is the Antichrist! To date there is no temple for him to occupy.
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall ever be” (Matt 24:21).
In Daniel 9:27, the Antichrist signs a peace covenant with Israel; that too has not happened. Although we are experiencing pangs, it is not yet the sign of the tribulation period upon us.
Remember, “[i]n the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). As much as living can be filled with joy and gifts from God, we also must struggle with the reality that life—the only reality we’ve ever known—is not how existence was meant to be. By nature of living in a world broken by sin, we will experience disappointment, danger, and death. And as disciples of Yeshua, we are called to be set apart from the world as well. But as Yeshua said in the very same verse, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Even though times may be uncertain and our lives are filled with loss, we can be joyful because we have been told the bigger picture: despite the suffering and death in the world, Yeshua’s sacrifice has redeemed us. Because of HaShem’s overwhelming grace and love, eventually we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where all things will be as they were meant to exist.
How Shall We Then Live?
“What manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and good news” (2 Peter 3:11)? Distress often brings out the worst of us. Quarantine and self-isolation, the pressures of unstable or non-existant income, and the possible loss of loved ones all tend to put us into high-stress mode. Psalm 120, the first Psalm of Ascent, speaks of three stressors: slander, disconnection and discord, all which are certainly present in many who struggle with these modern changes in their lives. The yetzer hora, the evil inclination, that abides in us all can tend to erupt, and start engaging in blame shifting. “Who did this to me?” leads to a plethora of possibilities. Different theories gain traction and like-minded theorists band together to form a critical mass of slanderers and blamers, which sinks into “end time” rhetoric and wild claims about the various actors in this pandemic drama.
None of this is edifying. The focus should not be on “who did this to me?” Rather, our better angels should instead focus on how we can join together to help each other in resolving the problems related to this virus. Blaming the government, the political parties, or individual actors (often based upon political affiliation) only exacerbates the problem. We should hold those in power responsible; however, we are not powerless nor should we scapegoat those in charge. Such blameshifting sinks us into a state where the enemy wants us to be: angry, entitled, and resentful towards God.
This also has more than just spiritual consequences: especially when it comes to plagues, it is not uncommon for society to blame the Jews. It happened during the Black Plague, during recent Measles outbreaks in NYC, and now—conspiracy theories are circulating blaming COVID-19 on George Soros or Zionists. Speculation, griping, and ranting contributes to a culture that feeds scapegoating and anti-Semitism. Let us not fall into or encourage such resentment but through this pandemic let us yield to our better angels and demonstrate the love of God in the midst of this pandemic. How much more will the light of God shine into this world if—despite the challenges and the losses—we remain selfless, resilient, and positive. This is not to say that we cannot experience the negative emotions accompanied by a worldwide pandemic. But as disciples of Yeshua we do not need to let anxiety consume us; we can see the larger picture of God’s eventual redemption of this world.
So “what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and good news” (2 Peter 3:11)?. Though the world is likely not coming to an end yet, such a significant shock to our daily lives can seek to remind us to live out of our faith in Yeshua and faithfully observe his commandments. As Yeshua encourages us: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
This article was written by MJTI CFO Rabbi Elliot Klayman. For more by Rabbi Klayman, read his series on the meaning of salvation, his drash about Parasha Veyetze in three acts, or his testimony from his trip to Israel.
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