Classic depictions of the apocalypse herald a day to be feared. The earth becomes overrun by evil and destruction. Wars rage throughout the globe and fire falls from the sky as divine judgment is rendered upon a wicked humanity. The phrase “hell-on-earth” is usually connected to this popularized depiction of the end times. The End Times is a time of judgment, wrath, and condemnation.
While such things make for exciting movie scripts, does this picture coincide with the biblical depiction of the End Times? More specifically, for those who belong to Christ, is the End Times something we should fear? How does faith in the unyielding love of God, and the message of reconciliation through the cross, change the way we await the culmination of all history?
Despite these popular depictions, Christians need not fear the End Times. In fact, for Christians, the End Times is a time of hope, a time of promise. Christ’s second coming is a day we anticipate, long for, and look to. If you are tempted to be gripped in fear when thinking about the End Times, here are three things to consider.
1. It Is a Time of Loving Redemption
When we speak of the End Times, we must acknowledge a certain tension that exists in the scriptural witness. On one hand, we cannot escape the reality that the end of the age brings about God’s righteous judgment.
The end of the age is when God deals a final blow to the power of sin and death. Sin is defeated, as is the dehumanizing work of the devil. Because of this judgment, the end of the age is sometimes expressed negatively.
The prophet Malachi, for example, cries “who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? He will be like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap” (Malachi 3:2). God’s visitation upon the earth addresses sin, not just in the world, but also in ourselves. Undoubtedly, this is not a comfortable experience.
Yet Malachi is profound in the image he puts forward. Malachi speaks of the End Times as a time of refining and purifying. The refining of metal involves the burning away of impurities so that the metal’s original glory may be revealed. The purpose of refining and purifying is to restore the metal, not to destroy it. As uncomfortable as this process may be, this is an image of redemption.
The End Times, therefore, heralds God’s unyielding love. It is a mistake to associate the End Times with the vengeful wrath of God. God is loving toward God’s creation and extends love to all whom God has made.
Jesus says, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 22:27-28).
We do not fear the coming of Christ because our sin is covered by the blood of Jesus. We are forgiven. There is nothing to fear because the End Times brings about the full realization of our redemption.
2. It Is a Day of Recreation
The Book of Revelation is one of the primary places where the End Times is articulated in Scripture. Many mistakenly see John’s vision as one of destruction and wrath. Yet this is not the reality of John’s apocalyptic vision. Rather than a mystical experience of endless destruction, John’s vision of the End Times is infused with God’s grace and love.
Near the close of the book, John writes,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-6).
This is the ultimate vision of the end. God recreates a New Heaven and a New Earth. “Look, I make everything new,” declares the one seated upon the throne (Revelation 21:3).
John’s vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth directly mirrors the original creation found in Genesis 1-3. Like the Garden of Eden, John observes a great river and a mighty tree standing in the center of the New Jerusalem. The river gives life, and the leaves of the tree bring healing, not separation. The meaning of this is clear: the world lost through sin and deceit, back in Genesis 3, is now recreated.
This is exactly what “apocalyptic” means. An “apocalypse” is when God brings one era to a close so that another can begin. This is what occurs with the second coming of Christ. Christians do not fear the End Times because the apocalyptic end of this age is merely the time where all creation is restored, and we are ushered into God’s endless reign.
3. We Live in the End Times Now
We often speak of the End Times as occurring in the far distance. In fact, we may even doubt whether the “End Times” will occur at all. Theologically speaking, however, we live in the End Times today. Theologians classify our present time as the “now but not yet.” While we live in the full reality of God’s kingdom, we still await the culmination of God’s salvation in the world.
The End Times is a present reality because we live in anticipation of Christ’s return. Jesus spoke of this very dynamic in the Gospel of Matthew. When asked about what signs might indicate the end of the age,
Jesus responded, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:6-8). Jesus is clear about what takes place upon the earth prior to the full establishment of God’s reign.
Christ’s description is eerily contemporary. Scan any news channel and you will inevitably hear about “wars and rumors of wars.” The globe continues to shake, violently at times, and hurricanes continually wreak devastation throughout the world.
Moreover, the gap between “the haves” and the “have-nots” continues to widen, and famine, poverty, and hunger is a sad reality for many throughout the world. We currently wade through the waters of a global pandemic.
Ultimately, to say we live in the End Times is merely to say that we live in a world in desperate need of the healing power of Christ. We live in a world in need of redemption. Even today “all creation waits in expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19).
The call of Christians is not to fear the End Times, or to flee from them, but to engage them in the power of the Spirit and the testimony of the gospel. Not only does the love of Jesus surround us, but the Spirit also empowers us to live faithfully in this time.
Why Should We Not Fear?
We can never plunge into the depth of this what the End Times fully means for us in our life of faith. In the end, the End Times speaks to the culmination of God’s work of redemption. Such things will always be beyond the full understanding of our finite minds.
Until the day where we shall “know fully as [we are] fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12), we are called to recognize that the End Times speaks to the sovereignty of God. God is in control, and God’s redemption is secured. Of that, we can be confident, and thus, we need not fear.
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Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.