Pastor's Blog

Sunrise over a field of grass

Apocalypse Now?

Is this the end? Considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest throughout the country and the entrenched political polarization, I have had this question posed to me on more than one occasion. And now as I sit down to write this article, I am watching the attack on the Capitol Building with horror and disbelief that this is happening in the United States of America. Is this the end, indeed? 

When I look up synonyms for the word, apocalypse, the suggestions I get are destruction, disaster, catastrophe, Armageddon and Judgement Day. This word that comes to us almost without change from the Greek – apokalypsis – has most comprehensively come to mean, the end of the world. 

Spoiler alert! I do not know if this is the end, or the beginning of the end, and neither does anyone else. And yet, as our guest speaker this past Sunday (January 3), Pastor Steve Babbitt, from Spring Valley Community Church reminded us, our lack of information about the time of the end – and in our Christian context, the return of Christ – has not stopped people throughout the centuries predicting both the end of the world and the precise date of Christ’s return. Further, I am sure you can imagine with me that people throughout the ages that have faced various devastating natural disasters and brutal wars, easily convinced themselves that they were living in the end times and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent.  

In his highly informative and thoughtful message from the book of Daniel, Pastor Steve also reminded us that the actual definition of apocalypse is simply appearing or unveiling. Thus, the title of the last book of the Bible that we know in English as Revelation, in the Greek, apocalypse, is the revelation or the unveiling of the creation restoring purposes of God in and through Jesus Christ. Pastor Steve went on to powerfully proclaim that what we need to learn from all the fantastic and mysterious imagery in the biblical apocalyptic literature – specifically Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation – is that in spite of your circumstances, God is in control. 

What an encouraging, needed word for the hour in which we are living!  

To build on Pastor Steve’s message; as we eschew apocalyptic predictions and lean into God’s sovereign control and care, we are freed to give ourselves fully to the purposes of God here and now, while we patiently await the consummation of his kingdom at the return of Christ. After Jesus rose from the dead, and just before he ascended back to the Father, the disciples excitedly question Jesus as to his plans to restore the kingdom of Israel (their version of end-time predictions). In this time of conflict and eschatological angst, it is important that we reconsider Jesus’ response to his disciples recorded by Luke in Acts chapter one: 

“He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7–8 (NIV) 

Thus, while Jesus forbids apocalyptic speculation, he directly commissions his followers into a task that is more important than they could have imagined and that will thrust them out of their social and geographic comfort zones. To paraphrase Jesus’ words to us today, “Stop guessing and start working!”

In the gospel of John, as the disciples try to discern who is at fault for a man being born blind, Jesus states emphatically:  

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:3–5 (NIV) 

Interestingly, in Matthew chapter five, Jesus, speaking again to his disciples, says clearly: 

 “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14–16 (NIV) 

Taken together, these two verses along with Jesus’ words to his disciples in the book of Acts, should motivate us that while we are not to waste time prognosticating about the end while we await the return of Christ, our waiting is active, not passive. We each have a God-given job to do with accompanying God-given gifts and talents, and we have the opportunity to be filled with and empowered by the very Spirit of God to accomplish everything that he has called us to do! 

Let me conclude with some apocalyptic – revealing – words from Jesus himself. In the 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses frightening and symbolic language to warn his disciples of coming judgment. The immediate fulfillment of his words is regarding the Jewish Temple, the city of Jerusalem and the entire Jewish religious system that would literally be destroyed by the Romans in A.D. seventy, approximately forty years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  

However, in a mysterious way that is not easy to interpret, Jesus is also prophesying about his return and coming judgment on the whole world. In verses 23-27, Jesus warns and proclaims: 

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you ahead of time. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.  For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:23–27 (NIV) 

My conviction is, that we have been in the last days ever since the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. And, in this passage from Matthew, Jesus assures us that his second coming will be impossible to miss. So until then, let’s be diligent in prayer, faithful to our families, excellent in our occupations and let’s use all of our spiritual gifts and God-given talents to work together for the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors near and far until he comes!