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Misusing the Revelation

by Tim O'Hearn

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Several companies have offered vaccines as a way out of the pandemic. And yet there are people who oppose taking the vaccine. Opposing vaccines, like opposing eating meat, is a personal choice. That is their right. Some, however, go beyond simply opposing the vaccine for personal reasons and try to manufacture a biblical justification for not taking it. Some try to find a biblical justification, and in so doing try to shame those who choose to take the vaccine. In so doing they step over the line established in Romans 14:3. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”

One justification equates taking the vaccine with Israel’s worship of the golden calf in Exodus 32. The argument goes something like this. In 1796, Edward Jenner proved that people inoculated with cowpox pus were rendered permanently immune to the more virulent smallpox. Because he used cowpox, he proposed that the process be called vaccination (from vaca:cow). Louis Pasteur proposed that the term be used for any inoculation to prevent a disease. Those seeking a biblical objection to the process point out that the term means “from the cow,” and point to the golden calf. They argue that the coincidence of the word cow and the idol must mean that vaccination is idolatry.

That argument stretches credibility. There are many other terms using the word cow to which they do not object. In Spanish-speaking countries one who herds cattle is often called a vaquero, which in English is cowboy. Almost nobody accuses cowboys of idolatry, except maybe idolizing the money they made from their profession.

Another argument calls mass vaccination “the mark of the beast.” (Rev 13:16-18) Out of a fear that anything the government mandates or requests of everyone must be part of “the New World Order,” mass vaccination must be the mark of the beast. It is a mark you receive in your right (or left) arm. Although it is not required by the government, it is highly recommended.

There is nothing wrong with basing one’s objections on government interference or “mind control.” The problem comes when they use the Revelation to justify their objection. Why is that?

This argument assumes, in spite of what the book itself says, that the prophecies of the Revelation are yet to come true in our time. If that were the case, then the book has had no meaning for almost two millennia. People have been trying to interpret the symbols of the Revelation based on their own time and experience ever since it was written. They have been consistently wrong. What makes anybody think that our time any more likely to be the right time than every other time? Why was the year 1900 or 2000 any more likely to be the time than 1000 or 1500?

More importantly, the book itself gives the time for its fulfillment. Four times it says that the events it talks about are soon to come to pass (Rev 1:1; 22:6) or “at hand” (Rev 1:3; 22:10). If a mother asked her child to take out the trash and the reply was “I’ll do it soon,” she would not expect to wait a week for the trash to be taken out. Likewise, if the first century readers of John’s Revelation were told the events would happen soon, they would not expect to have to wait 2,000 years. It is unclear what these people think vaccines have to do with Nero Caesar.

Every prediction of the Revelation has been fulfilled. Notwithstanding, the message of the book of the Revelation that is for everyone is clear. The saints will win. There is no need to read into it any more than that.