In response to various statements from certain religious figures – mainly on the Internet – to the effect that the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic was foretold in the Book of Revelation in the Bible, NZ Catholic asked Te Kupenga – Catholic Theology Institute Scripture lecturer Fr Kevin Waldie, SM, for comment. His response is below.
Fr Waldie: The title itself indicates how we should regard this last book of the Bible. It is not, as I often hear, the book of “Revelations”. It is a unified literary piece that presents God’s unfolding Word imaginatively by using layer upon layer of symbolism to convey its central message. That symbolism takes many forms, like numbers, colours, animals and representative characters of good and evil. Because of its complexity, the symbolism is often naturally difficult to fathom. And that warns against any kind of fundamentalist reading that is not respectful of the book’s literary genre set within the historical context of the late first century CE. Its purpose is not to predict future events, catastrophes or world-shattering phenomena. Rather, it should be remembered that this work of literature belongs to a popular form of writing, known as Apocalyptic, and that its main aim was to give Jewish and Christian believers hope for the present, despite many social difficulties and trials endured during this earthly existence of ours. In that way, it served to encourage the intended audiences to remain loyal and strong members of their faith tradition. With an emphatic focus on the risen Christ’s victory over death present in passages like Rev 1:12-20, 5:1-14, 19:11-21 and 22:6-21, its dominant message is one of hope for our eternal future. Of significance here too is how Revelation begins (chapter 1) and ends (chapter 22). For in these two chapters, the author signals how to regard the whole book and hear a truly comforting message for our own time of trial and tribulation.