The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, emerged in China towards the end of 2019. Just a few months later it had raged around the world, infecting and killing millions while spreading to every country.
The lightning fast spread of COVID-19 created panic around the world. People were unsure what to do in light of this pandemic. But before vaccines emerged, medical professionals insisted that success in containing COVID-19 hung on one big strategy. Everyone on the planet practiced social distancing and quarantine. This caused authorities around the world to setup lockdown and isolation rules.
In most places people could not meet in large groups and had to keep at least two meters distance from others. Those who came in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 had to completely isolate themselves from contact with others.
Simultaneously, medical researchers raced to find a vaccine. They hoped that vaccinated people would develop resistance to the coronavirus. Then the spread of COVID-19 would be less fatal and slow down.
These extreme procedures to isolate, quarantine, and develop a coronavirus vaccine, provide a living illustration of another procedure to treat a different virus. But this virus is a spiritual one. That procedure is at the heart of the mission of Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. The coronavirus was so serious that societies across the planet attempted drastic steps to protect their citizens. So perhaps it is worthwhile to also understand this spiritual counterpart. We do not want to be caught unaware by this threat like the world was with COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates abstract Biblical themes like sin, heaven, and hell, but also the mission of Jesus.
First how the infectious disease illustrates sin…
A Deadly & Contagious Infection.
No one really thought that COVID-19 is pleasant to think about, but it was unavoidable. Likewise, 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 a spreading infectious disease. Like COVID, it describes sin as going across the whole human race and killing it.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.Romans 5:12
All of us have become like one who is unclean,Isaiah 64:6
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Epidemics are diseases but are not the cause of the disease. For example, AIDS is the disease; HIV is the virus that causes the disease. SARS is the disease; SARS Coronavirus-1 is the virus that causes the disease. COVID-19 is a disease with its symptoms. SARS Coronavirus-2 is the virus behind it. In the same way, the Bible says that our sins (plural) are a spiritual disease. Sin (singular) is its root, and it results in death.
Moses & the Bronze Serpent
Jesus linked an Old Testament event connecting disease and death to his mission. This is the account of snakes infesting the Israelite camp in the time of Moses. The Israelites needed a cure before death overwhelmed them all.
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.Numbers 21:4-9
Throughout the Old Testament, one became unclean either by infectious disease, by touching dead bodies, or by sin. These three are associated with one another. The New Testament sums up our situation like this:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.Ephesians 2: 1-2
Death in the Bible means ‘separation’. It involves both a physical (soul separates from the body) and spiritual death (soul separated from God). Sin is like an unseen but real virus inside us. It causes immediate spiritual death. This then leads to a certain physical death over time.
Though we would rather not think about it, the Bible treats sin as real and deadly as the Coronavirus. We cannot afford to ignore it. But it also points to the vaccine…
The Vaccine – Through the death of the Seed
From its beginning, the Bible developed a theme of the 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 it builds large molecules of specific shapes (proteins). In this sense, it is similar to a vaccine, which are large molecules (called antigens) of a specific shape. God promised that this coming Seed, announced from the beginning, would solve the problem of sin and death.
And I will put enmityGenesis 3:15
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
See here for details on the woman and her Seed. God later promised that the Seed would come through Abraham to go to all nations.
In your (Abraham’s) seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.Genesis 22:18
In these promises the Seed is singular. A ‘he’, not a ‘they’ or an ‘it’, was to come.
The Gospel reveals Jesus as the promised Seed – but with a twist. The seed would die.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.John 12:23-24
His death was on our behalf.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.Hebrews 2:9
Some vaccines first kill the virus in it. Then the vaccine with the dead virus is injected into our bodies. In this way, our bodies can produce the necessary antibodies. Our immune system can thus defend our bodies from the virus. Similarly, the death of Jesus enables that Seed to now indwell us. So now we can develop an immune defense against that spiritual virus – sin.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.1 John 3:9
The Bible continues to explain what this means:
Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.2 Peter 1:4
Though sin has corrupted us, the life of the Seed in us takes root and enables us to ‘participate in the divine nature’. The corruption is not only undone, but we can be like God in a manner impossible otherwise.
But, without an adequate vaccine our only option for Covid is quarantine. This is also true in the spiritual realm. We know that quarantine more commonly 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 the earth to protect ourselves from each other. Everyone has locks on their homes, some with advanced security systems. We lock our cars and tell our kids not to speak to strangers. Every city has a police force. We vigilantly protect our online data. Think of all the systems, practices, and procedures that we have put in place in our ‘kingdoms on earth’. Now 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.
Exclusivity of Paradise
If God set up a kingdom of ‘heaven’ and then made us 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. God must root out the sin in us just like societies try to eradicate COVID-19 for society to be healthy. Not one person who ‘missed’ (the meaning of sin) this perfect standard could enter God’s kingdom. Because then he would ruin it. Instead, God needs to enforce a quarantine so sin would not wreck heaven.
What then for those whom God quarantines and denies entry? In this world, if you are denied entry to a country you cannot also participate in its resources and benefits. (You cannot 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. These include such basic and taken for granted things as breathing the air, seeing light like everyone else.
What separation from God finally is
But who made light? The Bible claims
‘God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’.Genesis 1:3
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.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’Matthew 22: 13
If there is a Creator then most of what we take for granted and assume is ‘ours’ is really His. Start with such a basic entity as ‘light’, the world around us, and go on to our natural abilities such as thought and speech. We really did nothing to create these and our other abilities. We simply find ourselves able to use and develop them. When the Owner finalizes His Kingdom He will reclaim all that is his.
When COVID-19 breaks out bringing 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
And besides all this, between us (in Kingdom of God) and you (in Hell) a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.Luke 16:26
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 entering the body is an antigen, just like a virus infection. The normal treatment is to try to suck the venom out. Then bind the bitten limb tightly so that the blood flow ebbs and the venom does not spread from the bite. Finally, reduce activity so that the lowered heart rate will not quickly pump the venom through the body.
When the serpents infected the Israelites, God told them to look at the bronze serpent held up on a pole. You might imagine some bitten person rolling out of bed, looking 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). This is the size of a large modern city. Chances were high that those bitten were several kilometers away, and out of sight from, the bronze serpent pole.
The Counter-Intuitive Choice with the serpents
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. To do that they would have to walk several kilometers, raising the blood flow and spread of the venom, before looking on the bronze serpent. The trust or lack of trust in the word of Moses would determine each person’s course of action.
Jesus referred to this when he said
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him may have eternal life.John 3:14-15
Jesus said that our situation is like that serpent story. The snakes that infested the camp are like sin in us and society. We are infected with the venom of sin and we will die from it. This death is an eternal one requiring Quarantine from the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus then said 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. They would have to act counter-intuitively by not slowing the heart rate. It was their trust in what God provided that saved them.
Our Counter-Intuitive Choice with Jesus
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.
However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.Romans 4:5
Rather than trusting our ability to fight off the infection, we 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 life-saving 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
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.John 1:45-46
The Gospel invites us to come and see, to examine that Seed. Here are some articles to help you do that including:
- the resurrection,
- reliability of the Bible,
- overall summary of the Gospel,
- viewed through a love story.
- Viewed through the lens of the Zodiac.
- Going methodically through Each day of Passion Week
Come and see like Nathanael did so long ago.