Round Table: Eschatology
Human beings have long been interested in discerning what the future holds. Throughout recorded human history, people have sought to understand “the End” and what that event entails. Some worldviews adopt an attitude of pessimism regarding the end of the things, theorizing the utter destruction of planet earth by nature or humanity. Other perspectives take a more positive approach, trusting that the ills of the world will be remedied before life ceases on planet earth.
The basic Christian approach to the End focuses on the return of the King and God’s final judgment on humanity. Yet this basic knowledge has not prevented Christians in every time and in every tradition from offering more precise explanations of the manner in which Christ will return and the end will come. Today’s Round Table reflections address the question, “How and when will the world end?” Answers to this question have often been labeled eschatology, the study of end things. Readers familiar with this field of theological reflection will find some of the traditional Christian perspectives on this question represented below.
As always, Round Tables are intended to demonstrate the variety and unity of Christian perspectives on a particular topic and to stimulate further dialogue. As you reflect on the perspectives below, consider commenting on the things with which you agree or disagree.
This age of Gentiles ends in divine thievery. Then the world will be made new.
In summary, Daniel 9:24-27 appoints 70 sevens to Israel. At the end of 69 sevens, the Anointed was cut off. Then the people of the ruler who will come destroyed the Jerusalem and the sanctuary. The ruler to come will make a covenant for a seven, but in the middle of the seven, abominations will occur which cause desolation until the consummation.
Daniel 12:11-12 “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.”
Revelation 11:2-3 “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Revelation 13:5 “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.”
John’s prophecies in the Revelation show that Daniel’s 70th week had not yet been fulfilled when he penned the Revelation near the end of the first century. 69 of the 70 sevens were fulfilled by the time that the Anointed (Christ) was cut off, but the final seven is unfulfilled. Since Jesus said no one knows the day of His arrival (Mat 26:13), something unprecedented will have to happen before the final seven begins in order to remove the usefulness of the timetables in Daniel and Revelation.
Jesus prophesied divine thievery would end this age. He compared His arrival with a thief in the night. He referred to His arrival as “days” (e.g. Luk. 17:26) in some places and as a single day in others (e.g. Luk. 17:24). He described the time of His stealing people from the world as occurring in a time of great peace (Luk. 17:26-28) followed by great destruction (Luk. 17:29). Those who love the world will find it stolen from them (Mat. 24:48-51) at our Lord’s arrival. Those who love their Master will be stolen from the world in the peaceful days which precede His wrath. Through the distinction in Jesus’ prophecies of His arrival, we can see how the day of His arrival might not be calculated from Daniel and Revelation: those most qualified to identify the prophesied timetable of the day of their Master’s arrival in Daniel and Revelation will not be here to calculate, since they will have been stolen in a time of peace.
When the age of Gentiles ends (Rev. 11:2-3), the world as we know it will pass away, being replaced with a new and glorious world (Rev. 21:1).“Show
When Christ returns the age (αἰών) will come to an end. Beyond that, I know very little and I think it unwise to speculate. Our focus should be on how we live the life of Christ today. As we (Orthodox) say every morning in our prayers,
Suddenly the Judge shall come, and the deeds of each shall be revealed, but with fear we cry in the middle of the night,
Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou O God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy. (12 times)1“Show
What a delightful way to introduce myself to the Conciliar Post. As for the exact time that the world will end, I will go ahead and keep my answer sweet and short. As a Christian, I believe that no human knows when the world will end. Only the Father knows the exact moment in time that this event will occur. I do however believe the world will never actually “end.” I believe that the earth will be redeemed, remade, or born again if you will. Many of us refer to this time as the apocalypse, or the end of times; though I like to think of it as merely the beginning.
If you have ever tried to read the book of Revelation to get a better idea of what will happen during this time, you might end up being even more confused after you set down your Bible. Many scholars argue over this particular book of the bible, and with good reason. Ten headed dragons and beasts with lion heads and bears feet emerging from earth’s heavens and seas can get a bit confusing, and to be quite honest, overwhelming. One thing that does give me hope is a wonderful concept called symbolism. I am not claiming that everything in the book of Revelation is symbolic, though it can be clearly stated that some passages are. In Revelation 17, the angel shows a vision to John about the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters. At the end of the chapter, the angel explains to John that the prostitute represents the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth, and the waters represent all the peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. Remember that revelation is all a vision, a prophecy if you will. Also, if you look back to other visions and prophecies in the bible, a lot of them are also symbolic. For example, see Pharaoh’s dreams and Daniel’s dream about the four beasts. In Daniel’s dream there was also a beast with iron teeth and ten horns, but many now know this beast symbolized the Roman Empire. So if all the talk of dragons and multi-headed beasts scares or confuses you, at least know that there is a good chance that it could be symbolic. Or maybe it is not, for the wisdom of man is stupidity in the sight of God, and the things to come will be far beyond anything our minds can imagine.
As for events and how they will occur during this time, I am afraid that I am no prophet, and will not be able to help much in this category either. As I mentioned earlier, however, I do not believe our world will ever actually end. To get a better grasp of this concept, consider Christians and our renewal process. We must first die to be reborn; first spiritually in our everyday lives, then literally at a hopeful old age. The Bible is clear about this process. We are fallen creatures and we must die to be restored. For this restoration to take place we must first pass through death. We must do away with the old to make way for the new. Yet, when we are made new, we will still in some ways be the same. The man I will be in heaven will be, to a certain degree, the same man that was born into this world on December 18, 1992. Once we are are restored to our intended glory, then and only then will we truly begin our journey. Our life on this earth can be compared to the the cover of a book, with eternity as its pages. I like to apply this concept to our earth as well. When mankind fell, the earth fell as well. Just like God is restoring mankind at this very moment, he will also restore the earth to its intended glory as well. As beautiful as our earth is, it is nothing compared to what it was before the fall. So in Revelation, I like to think that the stars falling from the sky, and everything else that is seemingly destroying the earth is in some way part of her restoration. She must end to be reborn.
It also says in Revelation that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that the first heaven and first earth will pass away. Just like our old bodies and old ways will pass away, keep in mind that we will still be ourselves when given our new bodies. I assume that the same can be said about the earth. For it is our home, it is where God intended for us to live and reign. (Spoiler alert: heaven is not a place where we will all float around on clouds forever) Heaven is when we are in God’s presence, and it is clear that God’s plan is to dwell on His new earth ruling over His favorite creation someday. When that day will come, how it will happen, and how long it will be I do not know. One thing I do know is that it will either be the very worst or very best day of our existence when it does arrive. I recall C. S. Lewis to put it in better words:
“God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.” – Mere Christianity
This I also know, that God is coming back, though not to end the play. Oh no, the history of mankind as we know it is only a misstep in our journey. We have just been created, and we are in mid stumble right now. Once God comes back and straightens us out, then our journey will begin. The world will be reborn, and earth will finally spin right again.
“How and when will the world end?” My answers to this query are short and (likely) less nuanced than others might like. The world (at least, the world as we know it) will end through the paradigm altering, cosmos bending, history fulfilling, and cataclysmic event of the Lord Jesus returning. His return will usher in renewed reality. Things that are not as they should be now will be made right. Christ’s words in Revelation 21:5 will be fulfilled: “Behold, I make all things new.” What this looks like in more detail, we are not told (more on that in a moment). As for when this will occur, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). To speculate concerning when Christ will return is folly, an empty prophecy undermined by the words of I AM. There is no checklist of socio-political events that need to occur before Jesus is able to return. God is not waiting on humanity to force the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple or create a one-world order or anything else. At any moment “the Lord himself will descend with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (I Thessalonians 4:16).
Now two additional points, the first concerning my caveat that “the world as we know it” will end when Christ returns. This phrasing is deliberate, for I am not entirely convinced that the current cosmos will be entirely destroyed. Yes, there are plenty of biblical passages about heaven and earth passing away and the formation of a “new heavens and new earth.” Yet there is also plenty of biblical language about the renewal of the heavens and earth1, not the least of which is Jesus says he will make “all things new” not “all new things.” The cosmos as we know them will certainly be fundamentally transformed when the Lord returns in glory. But humanity was created for this universe and this planet. If God does not make mistakes, it seems more likely that Christ’s return will involve renewal rather than replacement. C. S. Lewis’s final words in The Last Battle convey this idea well:
“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Second, once I lay out this (admittedly) simple explanation of how and when we can expect the world to end, I am often asked about how I interpret the Apocalypse of Saint John (i.e., Revelation). Basically, I conform to a “historicist” interpretation of Revelation 1-19. That is, most of the contents of Revelation were written for the early Church and have already come to pass in the persecutions of Nero, destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, and the persecutions of Domitian. These portions of Revelation were originally intended for the edification of the Church as she was undergoing these persecutions, and they continue to speak to the faithfulness of God amidst the trials and dangers of this world. Revelation 20-22 are prophetic chapters2 which speak of the reign of the Church, final judgment, the new (renewed) heavens and earth, and final victory of God. These chapters offer readers of Revelation hope—that God will be victorious in the end of all things—hope that encourages and comforts followers of the Lord as they wait for his return.“Show
2 Note how general the descriptions become.