We write during a time unprecedented in your experience and ours, but not unknown to the church in the past. When we were on holiday last December, Dick read Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, written after the “Great Plague” in England (1665), little imagining that within a few months, much of our world would be in the grips of another “great” epidemic. The aptness of the old prayer book (1662) collect comes to mind as it prays, “so may it now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and this grievous sickness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And to that we all add our “amen”.
We managed to get to Ghana and Egypt respectively at the end of February for a conference (Caroline) and the Overseas Council Australia Mile Deep Strategy meeting (Dick). We thank the Lord for the fruitful sessions and for getting back just before travel bans started.
Since then, the seven training workshops planned for 2020 have been postponed and we are now working from home trying to convert our materials for online delivery using virtual classroom software. It is a massive task, especially as we also have to transform our normal teaching and supervision work at George Whitefield College (GWC) for online delivery. We hope to run our first online lecturer training in June.
Home and family
Our family and grandchildren are all well in self-isolation in the UK. Our daughter Helen gave birth to baby Astrid prematurely at 29 weeks on 20 February. We are grateful that mother and baby are now home and doing well.
In South Africa, a five-week total lockdown will soon end, but the number of infections is increasing so restrictions will only be lifted slightly. Many people, who are without the daily labour that sustains them, still cannot go back to work and are hungry. This has led to rioting, but we are thankful that there are also many initiatives to get food into the communities.
Reflection from Revelation
Since the beginning of the total lockdown in South Africa, we have been doing a morning Bible study in the book of Revelation. Our goal is to read it with fresh eyes in the light of COVID-19. We are using the Bible Speaks Today commentary by Michael Wilcock, which cuts through much wild speculation regarding Revelation and interprets it in the light of the internal biblical witness. We are finding it helpful. Here is a reflection Caroline wrote as we started the study:
Revelation 1:1–3 (ESV) “The time is near”
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
“How should we interpret the book of Revelation?” This is probably the most common question asked by students in theological colleges.
Across the years, I have tried to answer it by taking students on a journey through the theological meaning of the book, because really, that’s what Revelation is about. It gives the church a perspective on the time between the ascension of Jesus and his second coming in images and pictures that were commonly understood in its time, but which we do not necessarily understand.
That means we must read Revelation through the lens it gives us, not through our own 21st century lens. In these opening verses, it’s made quite clear how we are to read it. The revelation belongs to God and it was given to Jesus, who gave it to an angel to give to the apostle John and the apostle John wrote down all that he saw for us to read (1:1–2). We must read it therefore as a message from God, about God and his actions in the world we live in. That includes the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Revelation is not only for scholars and theologians. It is for everyone, to be read aloud, to be heard and obeyed (1:3). It is a message that brings blessing to those who hear and obey it. Why? Because “the time is near”. What time is this? In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel was given a revelation about “what will be in the latter days” (Dan 2:18). He saw a picture of the establishment of an eternal kingdom that will never be destroyed (Dan 2:44). For him, it was something that would happen in the distant future.
Using the ideas from Daniel, but changing the wording, John writes about, “what must soon take place” (1:1), referring to the time of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth as something that is now “near” (1:3). The establishment of the eternal kingdom of God that was predicted by Daniel, began when Jesus ascended to heaven from earth and will continue until he returns. The message of Revelation is therefore about the establishment of the kingdom of God and of his Christ. It is about the times in which you and I live today. Its purpose is to assure us that, irrespective of everything that happens, God is still steering history and bringing about his purposes.
Thank you all for your generous gifts for our ministry in 2019. Our mission partner budget targets were met. We thank the Lord for his constant provision and look to him as we seek to continue to strengthen the delivery of theological education online during 2020.
With our love,
Caroline and Dick Seed