How should we interpret the plagues of Revelation?

How should we interpret the plagues of Revelation?

I recently published an article at Logos about interpreting the plague passages in Revelation. There are a lot of misunderstandings about these texts, and I thought it would be helpful to write up something that would shed some light on how to interpret them. Some people point to modern health crises (such as Covid, monkeypox, ebola, etc) as fulfillments of biblical prophecy. I think this is a mistake. I don’t think we should look to Revelation for specific predictions about these sorts of things. Revelation is not a play-by-play of future events. To read it this way is to misunderstand the very nature (genre) of the text itself.

Below is a snippet from my article, which you can read in full here: “Monkeypox and the Plagues of Revelation: Is There a Connection?”

“. . . So, let’s ask: Is an old virus like monkeypox a specific sign for our generation? . . . Part of the answer to that question is due to the assumptions prophecy teachers have about Revelation. Many of them, for example, assume Revelation is all about future events. It’s true that Revelation describes itself as a “prophecy” (Rev 22:19). But this doesn’t mean everything in it concerns our future. We need to ask whether John (the author of Revelation) was referring to just his future or to his future and our future. For example, in Revelation 2:10, a prophecy is given to the Christians at Smyrna that some of them will be persecuted and imprisoned. This seems to refer to an event that would occur sometime in the first century—hence, to John’s future but our past. But if we’re looking at Revelation 22:12, which refers to Jesus’s second coming, then this would obviously refer to both John’s future and our own. The point is that just because Revelation may, at times, speak about “the future,” it’s not necessarily talking about our future.

But what about Revelation 6 and 16—the plague passages mentioned above? Do these passages make predictions about how the world is headed toward tribulation—a future time in which earth will experience disease, pestilence, and viruses like monkeypox? The problem is in the question itself: it assumes a wrong idea about the tribulation. Contrary to what many may think, Revelation doesn’t teach that the end-times tribulation is a future event. It says instead that it has already arrived.”

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