The end of the world is nigh, and it’s not just the men with clapper boards on high streets that are saying so. Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, gave humanity a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st century in his aptly entitled book “Our Final Century”. Meanwhile, entrepreneur Elon Musk has staked his vast fortune on interplanetary travel and his plan to preserve humanity by building a colony on Mars. Now, with the doomsday scenario of 1.5 C warming in global temperature predicted to happen in 2027, some gloomy climate activists are suggesting that we have already passed the end of the world and are living on borrowed time.
So far so depressing. That’s the way with the end of the world, it’s never a barrel of laughs!
Christians have promulgated our own pessimism about the future over the years. Consequently, our imagination of what is to come is colonised by frightening images of Armageddon and apocalypse, tribulation and terror. Much of the responsibility for this can be laid at the door of J N Darby, and his inventive interpretation of the biblical end times. For 200 years his scheme has been preached globally and popularised through writers like Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsay, musicians like Larry Norman, and even through a string of terrifying and graphic comic books.
The soundtrack to my first Christian steps was “I wish we’d all been ready” and fears about being “left behind” gave me rapture anxiety. The return of Jesus was, for me, riddled with fear. I troubled myself with thoughts of how to endure pestilence, what to do in the case of an outbreak of thermo-nuclear war and what the sinister mark of the beast might be.
Paul, however, takes a different tack. “Encourage one another with these words” he commands (1 Thess 4:18). Yes indeed, encourage with words about death, judgement and the end of the world!
The fact is that Paul’s vision for the end of all things is decidedly upbeat. The focus of his vision is not a coming tribulation, but a coming king! His vision is glorious. The future has Christ at the centre, bringing all things together in, and under, him. Jesus is, as Robert Capon calls it, “the ultimate gravitational force in the universe”. He promises to come to renew and reorder. This is hope for humanity. It is the hope of a kingdom body, so deeply and supernaturally human that our earthly bodies are shadows of what is to come. This is hope for the world. The promise of a reckoning which will deal with every offence and remedy every injury. This is hope for creation. The prospect of the renewal of all things, whether things on earth or in heaven (Matt 19:28, Acts 3:21).
So how then should we live in the light of such a bright and dawning hope?
French Theologian Jacques Ellul says.
“Every Christian who has received the Holy Spirit is now a prophet of the return of Christ, and by this very fact he has a revolutionary mission … for the prophet is not one who confines himself to foretelling with more or less precision an event more or less distant; he is one who already lives it, and already makes it actual and present in his own environment.”
As we wait his glorious return let’s already live the hope we proclaim.