Almost every culture has some belief that in some way, the world as we know it will eventually end. Some people believe that God will exact justice and destroy His enemies in an epic display of His might and power and glory. Others believe that there will be some kind of war between equally matched spiritual forces of good and evil, even including good and evil gods, and the outcome of this battle, though uncertain, will result in the destruction of the world. Some people believe that there are no spiritual forces at all, but that the world will be destroyed by war or global warming or cybergeddon. Others, though they deny the existence of angels and demons, say that our destruction will be at the hands of malevolent creatures from other planets. Whatever the culture, we all seem to believe that this world will not last forever.
Even amongst all those varied beliefs, is a just as varied when and a just as varied what, that must take place for the end to actually come about. Some believe that the end could happen at any time. Others believe certain things must first happen before the end, others believe that the end is billions of years away and we unnecessarily worry ourselves in thinking about it.
Even through all of that, it seems that many people are, for lack of a better term, obsessed with the end. Have you ever heard of the Mayan Calendar? Nostradamus? The Bible Code? Those things may be dating me, but not as much as if I had asked about “The Late Great Planet Earth” or “88 Reasons the Rapture will be in 1988”.
What about something closer to home? What about COVID and its vaccine? Or Clinton? Or Obama? Or Trump?
What about red heifers?
How many magazines in the checkout aisles of grocery stores or articles coming across your news feeds have you seen that predict the end or doomsay about it? There is a large sea of belief about the end of the world, and the waters are choppy at best and dangerous at worst.
But is there real truth about the end? And if there is, can we know it? And if we can know it, where do we go to find it?
The answers to those questions are “yes”, “yes”, and “the bible.”
If there is any truth to be found regarding the events and timeline of the end of this creation, we must go to the creator of this universe and everything in it. We must listen to the voice of the one who has planned everything that has already come and that is to come. We must go to His word, which He has protected and preserved for us.
Isaiah 46:8–11 (8) “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, (9) remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, (10) declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (11) calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (ESV)
2 Timothy 3:14–17 (14) But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (15) and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (16) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
Though it’s tempting to go to the headlines or the movies, and they are manifold, we must go to the bible.
Because even Hollywood, though thoroughly secular, has proven that the bible is the place to go and that people eat this stuff up to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. All of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, have been exposed to clips, phrases, types, and shadows of what the bible says will happen at the end of things by seeing how Hollywood has borrowed from Christianity. I can’t count the number of movies I have seen that have borrowed truth to make an exciting movie and have gotten some of it right, but most of it wrong.
But Hollywood twists the truth.
How many times has the “ultimate evil” been, not an alien or a machine, but Satan or some other “super demon?” How many movies have you seen that exploit mystical things from the bible, like “666” or “wars and rumors of wars?”
Matthew 24:6–7 (6) And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. (ESV)
Revelation 13:18 (18) This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (ESV)
But how many of these movies borrow the final truth from Christianity – that the victory comes not by the hands of man, but by the nail-pierced hands of the resurrected Son of Man?
Matthew 24:30–31 (30) Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (ESV)
I have never seen a movie (outside of explicitly Christian movies) that accurately depicts God, let alone His utter and absolutely unmatched power. He has no equal. We even see this mirrored in superhero comic books and movies. There are mutants, heroes, villains, etc., that wield unfathomable power but refuse to use it because if they did, the comic book would only be a page long.
Or a sentence or two.
Revelation 19:20–21 (20) And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. (21) And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (ESV)
Borrowing from a popular belief structure like Christianity is comfortable for many people because the vast majority of people in this country have at least heard something about what the bible says about the end times. However, this marginal familiarity results in mass confusion about the truth hidden behind the scripts, superstars, and special effects. Even Christians can fall into the hype of Hollywood and begin to believe Nostradamus over Scripture. We’d do well to take this warning from Jesus to heart…
Matthew 24:24 (24) For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (ESV)
Besides the Hollywood hype, another ditch we fall into is assuming that a study of the end times is the same as a study of the book of Revelation. Many people are drawn to study Revelation because it is apocalyptic and contains wonderful imagery, typology, metaphor, and symbolism. But it’s too often the case that the very things that draw people to study that book are the same things that cause many people to misunderstand it and misapply it.
There are many different types of literature in the bible – poetry, history, allegory, apocalyptic, prophetic, literal, symbolic, and so forth, and we must read those types as they are intended. We cannot, for example, read symbolic texts as literal texts. If we did, passages like this…
John 10:9 (9) I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (ESV)
… would be rather strange indeed!
The same is true for books like Revelation. There is great blessing to be had by studying Revelation, in fact, that book opens with this exhortation…
Revelation 1:1–3 (1) 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, (2) who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. (3) 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. (ESV)
But far too many people see Revelation as the be all and end all of biblical prophecy. They even read it next to their favorite commentary – The New York Times. They see Revelation’s “locusts”, “horses” and “fire in the sky” in helicopters, tanks, and nuclear bombs and miss the bigger picture…the blessing.
And we forget that John had an original audience.
And that his original audience wasn’t us.
Revelation 1:4–6 (4) John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, (5) and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (6) and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
John was writing to seven churches in Asia in the first century, not to prophecy clubs and reporters in the 20th. That doesn’t mean that what he wrote to them is irrelevant to us today, quite the contrary, we are closer now to the end of this age than they were back then! However, it would be wise to take great care in how we interpret the symbols in Revelation and books like it – maybe the locusts John saw were a kind of demon that he couldn’t describe. But maybe, just maybe, John actually saw locusts in his vision and not things that looked like locusts. Wouldn’t we be surprised if, instead of waves of helicopters swooping down to attack, it was really a swarm of locusts? Would you be “prepared” if, for all of your life, you were taught to watch for coming helicopters and a gathering Chinese army, and a man in a blue turban, but instead, swarms of locusts came?
That’s just something to keep in mind when reading symbolic texts and the care that must be taken when studying the symbols.
As with any dive into the bible, what we learn ought to change us, and studying the end of time is no different. One goal should be to learn both what the bible says and what it does not say regarding the end times. But more than that, our main goal must be to understand how what we learn impacts our worship, our discipleship, and our outreach.
“Am I living in a way that would please Jesus if He were to return right now?”
“I was taught that Christians will be saved from the great tribulation, but am I prepared to live through it if what I was taught was wrong?”
“Because I love Jesus, and I love people, does the fact that He could return tonight make my evangelism more urgent?”
These types of questions are what we should be asking ourselves, especially in light of a study of the end of all things. It is my prayer that as we walk through this together, God would cause us to worship as we have never worshiped, live holier lives than we ever have, and proclaim His victory as though each day were the day of Christ’s return, precisely because we do not know the day or the hour.
Because ultimately a study of the end of all things is a study of the victory of Jesus, the Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.
And how He wins!
So where are your eyes and heart drawn?
Are they drawn to the rider on the white horse who wins the battle with a mere word?
Or are they constantly flitting between this prophecy and that headline? Prone to wander indeed!
May the words of this old hymn encourage you…
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face! And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!