What we know about the end of the world [Series summary]

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

The goal of this post is to summarize my recent 4-Part teaching series called Armageddon: What we know about the end of the world (and the difference it makes). To get us all on the same page, here’s the 40-second intro video in case you missed it:

Part 1: Getting our Bearings with Dr. Brian Irwin

For Part 1 I interviewed Dr. Brian Irwin, my Old Testament professor from seminary. Brian holds degrees in Near Eastern Studies, Historical Geography of Ancient Israel, and Old Testament from the University of Toronto, Jerusalem University College, and the University of St. Michael’s College respectively. He has taught in Toronto and New York City and is currently Associate Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures at Knox College. He teaches a course on end-times speculation and has also written a yet-to-be published book on the subject.

In our discussion, I asked him what question he gets asked most about end-times speculation, what the biggest misconception is about this topic, and also for an important biblical insight for us to keep in mind as we begin our series.

Here’s the audio for the discussion:

Part 2: Why will the world end, and how?

I started Part 2 by briefly answering some preliminary questions like, ‘Where does the name ‘Armageddon’ come from?’ ‘Are we living in the end times?’ and ‘When will the world end?’

After that, I explored the question ‘Why will the world end, and how?’

To understand the ‘why’ we need to see the larger trajectory of human history in six sections or chapters:

  1. God created a beautiful world where people are in peaceful relationship with him
  2. Sin enters the world and corrupts God’s good creation
  3. God chooses and works through Israel to bring blessing to all people
  4. God comes personally to us in Jesus Christ in a great loving act of rescue, reconciliation and restoration
  5. The church of Christ continues this mission in the power of the Holy Spirit
  6. Christ returns to finally and fully restore God’s beautiful creation to be in peaceful relationship with himself: “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1)

As you can see, we are currently living in chapter five. As John Stott has said, “History is not a random series of meaningless events. It is rather a succession of periods and happenings which are under the sovereign rule of God…”

The reason the world as we know it will come to an end is because our world is broken. But God will restore his beautiful creation to what it was originally designed to be, to again be in wonderful, peaceful relationship with himself. This new reality will be called “a new heaven and a new earth.”

But how?

It will occur:

  • With the personal return of Jesus
  • Suddenly
  • Publicly
  • With Jesus as Judge and Saviour

Lastly, by looking at Revelation 19:11-16, we discover more about the big-picture significance of Jesus’ return:

  • When Jesus returns he will triumph over faithlessness and deception
  • When Jesus returns he will judge evil, sin, injustice
  • When Jesus returns he will save his people
  • Everyone will know that Jesus is the one true Messiah and Lord

In short, the Maker will make it right!

Here is the audio to the full message:

Part 3: Are there ‘signs’ that the end is coming?

People often ask me if the world’s increasing environmental problems and society’s general moral collapse are signs that the end is coming sooner than later. This kind of question is included in Part 3.

More specifically, I took us through Matthew 24, it’s historical context, and how the ‘signs’ Jesus speaks about likely point to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D., but also to his return.

Some of these ‘signs’ are false messiahs and prophets, war and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, rising Christian persecution, the increase of lawlessness and decrease of love, and expanding evangelism. I talked about these signs in the first century, and also in more recent days.

Did you realize these signs are currently happening, including people claiming to be the Messiah, environmental disasters, and millions and millions of Christians being persecuted annually?

In many ways, Matthew 24 sounds like a ‘doom and gloom’ text of apocalyptic warning. But we need to remember that apocalyptic writings—which flourished for 250 years before and after Jesus—were meant to give encouragement and hope to those experiencing hardship. Considering the fact that the Jerusalem Temple was soon to be destroyed, this text would have done that. The good news is that God is still in charge, and also that Jesus replaces the temple as the embodiment of God’s presence, power and hope in the world.

Jesus says: “All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Think of a woman in labour. A wonderful gift is given at the end (a new baby). But the time leading up to the delivery is harder and more painful for the mother. That’s like the signs toward the end as described by Jesus. A wonderful gift is given at the end (a new heaven and a new earth; see Revelation 21), but the time leading up to that moment is harder and more painful for Christians and for the world in general.

This makes me think about a helpful nurse during the delivery of my own firstborn child. How she acted can be instructive for us as we anticipate the end of the world as we know it:

  • She knew what to expect (just as we do because Jesus tells us)
  • She was ready to communicate what she knew (just as we should be ready to communicate what we know about Jesus)
  • She was loving (just as we are called to be loving in all circumstances)
  • She was calm and ready (just like us; after all, Jesus says we should “be alert” and “be ready,” Matthew 24: 42, 44)

Here’s the full audio to Part 3:

Part 4: The daily difference any of it makes

For Part 4 I took us through 2 Peter 3:1-18. In it, Peter gives some practical wisdom about how to faithfully await Jesus’ return, the end of the world as we know it, and the new heavens and the new earth.

English Bible scholar Tom Wright says, “People who believe that Jesus is already Lord and that he will appear again as judge of the world are called and equipped (to put it mildly) to think and act quite differently in the world from those who don’t.” So that’s what I explored in this text.

First, it makes a mental difference.

Peter tells us that God is in charge and working according to a plan. Despite claims that God is absent, or at least delaying, events are unfolding according to a plan. In fact, Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (verse 9).

Second, it makes a daily difference in how we act.

Peter encourages us to have “holy conduct and godliness” (verse 11). To be holy has nothing to do with being ‘holier than thou,’ or being perfect, or having all the answers. It means being set apart or distinct. Christians are made on purpose and for a purpose: To know, serve, love and glorify God as the hands and feet of Jesus as we get in on the ways he is renovating the world with his love and truth. This is central to our vocation and calling no matter who we are, how old or young we are, or what we are doing in life. Life is short; don’t shortchange your life.

Third, we are to share and show what we know about Jesus.

I’ve already highlighted how God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Further, Peter encourages us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (verse 18). We share this not only in our conversations, but in our light-giving actions. We’re also wise to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Humble Holiness

A good phrase to keep in mind is this: Humble holiness gives hope.

  • We are humble because God is in charge (not us), and it is his plan (not ours).
  • We are holy because we are set apart for this special purpose.
  • Living like this isn’t only faithful; it is a gift to others in how we share and show Jesus in this way.
  • Lastly, it offers hope: God is in fact going to make all things new, bring an end to tears, mourning, crying and pain (Revelation 21); and everyone who believes in that can be a part of it. In his book How will the world end? Jeramie Rinne says, “The end of this world is not the end of the story.” How incredible hopeful for so many people!

I ended the series with a short prayer used by the early church. Paul records it for us in Aramaic in 1 Corinthians 16:22. He offers no explanation for it which probably means it was widely used and understood, at least in Corinth: “Marana tha.” It means “Our Lord, come.”

May we pray, think and live in a way that is filled with God’s hope, for the healing and renovation of his world.

You can hear the full audio for Part 4 here:


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