Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As a pastor, I have repeatedly been asked the same question. Namely, “Is it the end of the world?”
I was asked it in 1991, 1993, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2008, and recently, too. Before I was a pastor, people told me we were “end times” a few times going back to 1977.
So here goes, “Is it the end of the world?”
Short answer: “No.”
It is understandable that people imagine themselves at a pivotal time in history. Since the end of the first century, some Christians have been convinced that they are at the culmination of all history.
If you look to the Bible, you see that many people thought that Jesus would return while some people were still alive from the days of his public ministry. In 64 AD, when the Roman Empire started its wholehearted persecution of Christians, people thought that Jesus would return at any moment. When John of Patmos wrote the book of revelation sometime between 70 and 100 AD, people also thought that Christ’s return was imminent.
I can understand the appeal of reading about predictions based on prophesy. It has wide appeal inside and outside of Christianity. It can be exciting to think that you have “inside knowledge” that is only held by the chosen few. But biblical prophecy doesn’t foretell the future that way. In the four Gospels, prophesy affirms that Jesus is the messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it did not help anyone to expect him. No one was camped out in Bethlehem with a lavish house set aside for his birth. No one came to Nazareth expecting to find the “Son of Man.” In fact the first-century interpretation of all the prophesies were wrong. Jesus was not at all like the messiah they expected. He was not a warrior. He did not come to lead a battle against the Roman invaders. Jesus did not act at all like king David and did nothing to bring back the good old days when the kingdom of Israel was a power to be reckoned with. Jesus actually indicated that other prophesies applied to him, beyond what was thought of the new king, he called himself “the Son of Man,” a judge of humanity. The term “Son of man” appears in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Job, and other books and implies a kind of strength through weakness.
To put it simply, it can be fun, exciting and profitable (financially) to speculate on the time of Christ’s return, but it is mostly a vain action. “Vain” in both sense of the word; pointless and self-centered.
To make the point very clear, we have this scripture:
Matthew 24:36-39 [Jesus said], “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
So, anyone who claims to know the time of the second coming, is claiming more authority than Jesus, and that is sacrilege. [a word we seldom use] We can only claim to know when it isn’t the end… because others have said it is.
Martin Luther, the German Reformer once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” He meant, that no matter what we expect, it would be good for God to find us being faithful by doing our work to make the world a better place for our children.
And now, for the thing that really needs to be said: The Bible is not some sort of terrible tragedy that predicts a worse tragedy to come. It is a book of hope. We are not waiting for the end of the world, but for its rebirth. We are not waiting for death, we are waiting for life and eternal life.
[Paul writes,] ” I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
The world may look pretty grim at the moment, but if you pay attention to history, there have been much worse times to live in. The “end of the world” has been predicted for every year since long before the birth of Christ. There was 1348, when the Black Death killed a third of the population of Europe in 18 months. Other nominees for worst years were 1000, 1492, 1836, 1876, 1863, 1916, 1919, 1930, 1943, and 1968.
In the days of the book of Daniel, in 536 B.C. there were large volcanic eruptions that caused a continual overcast that blocked the sun so much that it seemed like continual night for months in a row., causing temperatures to crash, worldwide drought and crop failure. In china that year, it snowed heavily… in July.
As for me, I believe that God is always with us. I believe that God is always the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. I wait for Jesus to come back, but I also believe his word that he is already “with us always” (see Matthew 28:20). In some ways, the world is always ending, but it also always beginning. I don’t know details of how Christ fits into future world history, but I know that someday much sooner, I will face the end of my personal history. The world ends every day for someone, but it is also true to say that people are reunited with God every day. God is always our source, our companion, and our destination.
I end with a quote from George MacDonald, a 19th century Christian writer from Scotland, “Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it.”