The End Is Near…ish?
The world is going nuts right now. Just pick a spot on the map; chances are good that something legitimately frightening is going on there at this very moment. Europe is in a state of unease while Russia hovers over Ukraine. China, North Korea, and others are actively censoring the information available to their citizens online. African warlords own fleets of bulletproof cars while their people languish in poverty, the Middle East is perpetually one big-red-button press away from nuclear winter, and there’s an active genocide everyone keeps forgetting about in the Sudan.
Oh? What’s that? You’re saying there’s nothing going on in the oceans right now, so the whole “pick a spot on the map” thing was a little exaggerated? Yeah, that’s a fair point. I guess there’s not really much to worry abou—
OH WAIT EXCEPT FOR PIRATES.
With what we know about prophecy and end-time events, every breaking news story makes it hard not to wonder: Is this it? Is this the end? The world is so alarmingly perched on the brink of self-destruction; we must be close. Right?
Generations of hope
Maybe. I don’t know. No one does, if they’re being honest. Christ was pretty clear about no one knowing the day or hour of His return (Mark 13:32), with an arrival as unpredictable as “a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). We can talk all day about probabilities, but the simple fact is we just don’t know—and that’s good, because it raises a question:
What if the end isn’t near?
I know how things look right now. It’s almost crazy to suggest the return of Christ might be farther away than we think. But consider this: Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about “we who are alive and remain” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) at Christ’s return. The apostle Paul, trained by the resurrected Christ Himself, at one point seems to have believed that he would live to see his Savior’s return to earth.
That was nearly two thousand years ago. Paul died, and Jesus never returned. Generations of faithful Christians lived and died in the faith, many of them sharing Paul’s belief that they would live to see the end of this age. But they died too. None of them lived to see the moment they so fervently believed would occur in their lifetime.
A more important question
That’s the thing. That’s the hard truth we have to face as Christians. We all want to see our Lord return within our lifetime. We all want to have our time as strangers and pilgrims cut short as world peace is ushered in by the Son of God. But statistically speaking, that doesn’t happen for Christians. Statistically speaking, we die waiting for it.
Are you prepared for that?
Sometimes we talk about whether we’re willing to die for the Kingdom of God—and that’s good, because we need to determine just how important our calling is to us. But we might not consider as often whether we’re willing to live for it. Are you prepared to live the duration of your life in a world whose light will only grow fainter and weaker? Are you prepared to spend years, decades, half a century or more surrounded by a society determined to mirror the moral depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah? Are you prepared to spend the duration of a long and natural life hoping for something that your eyes never see on this side of the grave?
I’m not saying it’s wrong to hope for Christ’s return, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we stop keeping our eyes open for the signs preceding it. What I’m saying is that looking to His return within our lifetime as a certainty is just as irresponsible as ignoring the possibility of it. We don’t know when it’s coming, so we need to be ready for anything. With that in mind, let’s look at three things to consider in preparing ourselves for taking the long road the Kingdom of God:
1. The end is not the goal
The end of this age is just a step in God’s plan, and it’s vital to remember that we were called to the Kingdom of God—not the return of Christ. It’s not about whether we’re physically alive when our Savior’s feet touch the Mount of Olives; it’s about whether we’re going to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Living until that moment isn’t worth it if the only thing Christ has to say to us is, “You wicked and lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26).
This is an unconditional way of life. We didn’t make the commitment to follow God’s truth until Jesus returns to the earth; we made the commitment to follow it from now into eternity. Whether we live to see that return or we’re resurrected at that moment, the goal is the same thing it’s always been: eternal life as a child of God in a Kingdom of peace. Remember what we’re striving for!
2. Check your compass, not your clock
We’ve been warned in advance that “as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37). The days of Noah, you might recall, were a time when the world was so engulfed in wickedness that God decided the best course of action was to destroy the vast majority of humanity and start over with Noah’s family. That’s where the world is headed. The moral and ethical foundation of the entire planet will only continue to degrade until it can be said that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
If we’re not careful, it’s going to be a powerful temptation to use the world as our measuring stick—to tell ourselves that as long as we’re better than the wickedness around us, we’re doing okay. The problem here is that “better than the world” can easily mean “plummeting at a slightly delayed rate.” You’ll still hit the ground, just a minute or two later than everyone else. What we need is to be always measuring ourselves against the unchanging standard of God’s word. Trying to figure out how close we are to the end of the world won’t help us build the Godly character we need—but following the example set for us by our older Brother will.
3. Extra time is a gift
In a cautionary parable, we read about a steward who, tired of waiting for his master’s return, “begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk” (Luke 12:45). Upon returning, the master is less than pleased with his steward’s rampant abuse of privileges and has the steward put to death. The steward had been charged with a heavy responsibility and had severely neglected it, having grown tired of waiting for his master. The parable ends with a sober warning: “to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
Christ hasn’t returned yet, and you’re reading this, so you’re not dead yet. You and I are stewards of the word of God, charged to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Our master is taking longer to return than many of us expected—the choice we have to make now is what to do with the time we didn’t expect to have. Because Christ will return. Whether the tribulation starts tomorrow or ten thousand years from now, He is coming—and on that day, will He look back on your stewardship and find you faithful or unfaithful? Will He see the life of someone who saw they had extra time and squandered it, or who seized the opportunity to develop a deeper and more powerful relationship with their Father in heaven?
Getting to the goal
When is Christ returning? I don’t know. I really haven’t the foggiest idea if I’ll be standing before Him in three and a half years or in a hundred thousand years. But it doesn’t matter, because what I need to be focusing on—what we all need to be focusing on—is being prepared for that moment. It would be amazing to watch the Mount of Olives cleave in two, but what I really want to see is the New Jerusalem descending from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. Where I really want to be is beside my brothers and sisters in the family of God for all of eternity. That means I have to use the time that I’ve been given to work with God on a lot of things in the here and now—and that’s the only way I’m going to get where I want to be.
The end may be near. But if it isn’t, are you prepared?
Until next time,
Join the Sabbath Thinkers!
Sabbath Thoughts, right to your inbox, every Friday evening!
(Unless something goes wrong.)
(Which it frequently does.)