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The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, emerged in China towards the end of 2019. Just a few months later it is raging around the world, infecting over 5000000 people, killing over 280000, and spreading to every country.
The lightning fast spread of COVID-19 has created fear around the world. People are unsure what to do in light of this worldwide infectious disease outbreak. But medical professionals are saying that success in containing COVID-19 hangs on one big strategy – social distancing or quarantine. This has caused authorities around the world to setup lockdown and isolation rules. In most places people cannot meet in large groups, must keep at least two meters distance from others – and if you have been in contact with someone testing positive for the coronavirus then you must completely isolate yourself from any contact with others.
Simultaneously, medical researchers are racing to find a vaccine. The strategy is that once a vaccine is developed it can be injected into people so that their bodies can develop resistance to the coronavirus.
These extreme procedures to isolate, quarantine, and to develop a coronavirus vaccine, provide a living illustration of another procedure to treat a different virus – a spiritual one. That procedure is at the heart of the mission of Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. If the coronavirus is of such concern that societies across the planet are taking drastic steps to understand the coronavirus and protect their citizens, then perhaps it is worthwhile to also understand this spiritual counterpart, so that we are not caught unaware by this threat. The COVID-19 pandemic is instructive in understanding the gospel in terms of sin, heaven, hell, but also the mission of Jesus.
First the infectious disease…
A Deadly & Contagious Infection.
Just as COVID-19 is not pleasant to think about but cannot be avoided, the Bible talks a great deal about sin and its consequences – another topic we prefer to avoid. An image the Bible uses to describe sin is that of an infectious disease that has spread across, and is killing the human race.
Moses & the Bronze Serpent
A story connecting disease and death, which Jesus linked to his mission, is the account of snakes infesting the Israelite camp in the time of Moses. A cure was needed before they were overwhelmed by death.
Throughout the Old Testament one became unclean either by infectious disease, by touching dead bodies, or by sin. These three were associated with one another. The New Testament sums up our situation like this:
Ephesians 2: 1-2
Death in the Bible means ‘separation’ and involves both a physical (soul separates from the body) and spiritual death (soul separated from God). Like a virus inside us, sin causes immediate spiritual death, which then leads to a certain physical death over time.
Though we would rather not think about such things the Bible treats sin as real as COVID-19, but it also points to the vaccine…
The Vaccine – Through the death of the Seed
From its beginning, the Bible developed a theme of a coming seed. A seed is essentially a packet of DNA that can unfurl and develop into new life. The DNA in a seed is specific information from which large molecules of specific shapes (proteins) are made. In this sense it is similar to a vaccine, which are large molecules (called antigens) of a specific shape. This coming seed promised from the beginning would solve the problem of sin and death.
See here for details on the woman and her seed. The seed was later promised to come through Abraham to go to all nations.
In these instances the seed is singular. A ‘he’, not a ‘they’ or an ‘it’, was to come.
In the Gospel, Jesus is revealed as the promised seed – but with a twist – the seed would die.
His death was on our behalf.
In some types of vaccines the virus is killed and then injected into our bodies so that our bodies can produce the necessary antibodies. Our immune system can thus defend our bodies from the virus. In a similar way the death of Jesus for us all enables that seed to now indwell us so we can develop an immune defence against that spiritual virus — sin.
1 John 3:9
Without an adequate vaccine our only option (as with COVID-19 since no vaccine has yet been developed) is quarantine. This is also true in the spiritual realm. That quarantine is more commonly known as Hell.
How is this so?
Quarantine – Separation of Heaven & Hell
Jesus taught on coming of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. When we think of ‘heaven’ we often think of its situation or milieu – those ‘streets of gold’. But the greater hope of the Kingdom is a society with citizens of completely honest and selfless character. Reflect on how much we build into the ‘kingdoms’ of earth to protect ourselves from each other. We all have locks on our homes, advanced security systems; we lock our cars; we tell our kids not to speak to strangers. Every city has some police force. We vigilantly protect our online data. When you think of all the systems, practices and procedures that we have put in place in our ‘kingdoms on earth’ and realize that they are there simply to protect ourselves from each other then you may get a glimmer of the problem of sin in heaven.
If God were to setup a kingdom of ‘heaven’ and then invite us to become citizens of it, we would quickly turn it into the hell we have turned this world into. The gold on the streets would vanish in no time. The sin in us must be rooted out just like COVID-19 must be rooted out for society to be healthy. Not one person who ‘missed’ (the meaning of sin) this perfect standard could enter the kingdom – because then it would be ruined. A quarantine would have to be enforced.
What then for those who are quarantined and denied entry? In this world, if you are denied entry to a country you cannot also expect to participate in its resources and benefits (receive its welfare, medical treatment etc.). But all in all, people around the world, even terrorists on the run from all countries, enjoy the same basic amenities of nature, such as breathing the air, seeing light like everyone else.
But who made light? The Bible claims
If that is true then all light is His – and it turns out that we are just borrowing it now. But with the final establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, His light will be in His Kingdom. So ‘outside’ will be ‘darkness’ – just as Jesus described Hell in this parable.
Matthew 22: 13
If it is true that there is a Creator then most of what we take for granted and assume is ‘ours’ is really His. Starting with such a basic entity as ‘light’, the world around us, and going on to our natural abilities such as thought and speech – we really did nothing to create these abilities — we simply find ourselves able to use them. When the Kingdom is finalized the Owner will reclaim them.
When COVID-19 breaks out and threatens death and havoc among us all we hear no argument when experts insist on quarantine. So it is no surprise to hear Jesus teach in his parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that
Taking the vaccination – Jesus’ explanation of the Bronze Serpent
Jesus once explained his mission using the story above about Moses and the deadly serpents. Think about what would have happened for the people bitten by the snakes.
When bitten by a poisonous snake, the venom that enters the body is an antigen, just like a virus infection. The normal treatment is to try to suck the venom out; bind the bitten limb tightly so that the blood will not flow and the venom will not spread from the bite; and reduce activity so that the lowered heartrate will not quickly pump the venom through the body.
When the serpents infected the Israelites they were told to look at the bronze serpent held up on a pole to be cured. You might visualize this as some bitten person rolling out of his bed to look at the nearby bronze serpent and then being healed. But there were about 3 million people in the Israelite camp (they counted over 600 000 men of military age) – the size of a large modern city. Chances were high that those bit were several kilometers away, and out of sight from, the bronze serpent pole. So those bitten by the snakes had to make a choice. They could take standard precautions involving binding the wound tightly and resting to restrict blood flow and spread of the venom. Or they would have to trust the remedy announced by Moses and walk several kilometers, raising the blood flow and spread of the venom, to look at the bronze serpent on the pole. It would be the trust or lack of trust in the word of Moses that would determine each person’s course of action.
Jesus referred to this when he said
Jesus is saying that our situation is like that story. The snakes infesting the camp are like sin in us and society. We are infected with the venom of sin and this will result in our death – an eternal one requiring Quarantine from the Kingdom of Heaven. He then makes the connection that his being lifted up on the cross was like the bronze serpent lifted on a pole. Just as the bronze serpent could cure the Israelites of their deadly venom so he can cure ours. The Israelites in the camp had to look at the raised serpent. But to do that they would have to explicitly trust the solution provided by Moses and act counter-intuitively by not slowing the heart rate. It was their trust in what God provided that saved them. It is the same for us. We do not physically look at the cross, but we trust in that provision given by God to save us from the infection of sin and death.
We do not trust our ability to fight off the infection, but trust God who made the vaccine in the Seed. We trust him with the details of the vaccine. This is why ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good news’. Anyone who has been infected with a deadly disease but now hears that a vaccine is available and given for free – that is good news.
Come & See
Of course we need a reason to trust both the diagnosis and the vaccine. We dare not give our trust naively. As one of the earliest discussions on this theme records
The Gospel invites us to come and see, to examine that Seed. Many articles here do that, working through various questions we may have, including the resurrection, reliability of the Bible, and the overall summary of the Gospel. Come and see like Nathanael did so long ago.