Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 4

Part 4 – Will the World End or Be Renewed?

Click on the following links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

end-of-the-worldAnother question that comes up when we consider the end times is: Will the world as we know it end, or will it be renewed?  Those who are my age or older will remember the days of the Cold War, when the fear and realization that the world could end due to nuclear warfare seemed pretty widespread.  Since the fall of the USSR and communism in Eastern Europe, though, fears of nuclear annihilation have mostly subsided, the attempts of North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons not withstanding.

Along with this a new optimism seems to have arisen about the longevity of our world.  Christian books published in recent years teach that the old pessimism about the world ending is misguided and that we can expect our earth to be here for, well…eternity…or at least a very long time.  A few examples are The Sacred Romance and The Journey of Desire (now simply Desire) by John Eldredge and Heaven by Randy Alcorn, all of which teach that God is not going to destroy the world, but instead will renew and restore it.

The question, though, is: What does the Bible say?  None of the books I mentioned really give a biblical rationale for their view, or deal with passages which seem to give a different picture.  This is unfortunate. We can’t just engage in wishful thinking.  We need to investigate God’s Word in order to see what He has to say about this.  In today’s post I will share several passages and then comment on their significance toward the end.

As we’ve said previously, one good place to start is with the words of Jesus himself, who is the very Word of God in flesh.  What did Jesus have to say about this topic?

In Matthew 24:35 Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (see also Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33).  We’ve also already looked at a verse just before that, Matthew 24:29, in which Jesus says that  “Immediately after the distress of those days” (that is, after the great tribulation),

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'”

The next verses, Matthew 24:30-31, tell us that

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So if taken literally verse 29, especially with its language about stars falling from the sky, seems to describe at the very least a cataclysm in the heavens at the time of Jesus’ second coming, which is described in verses 30-31 (for more on these verses, see Parts 1 and 2 of this series, linked above).

Another New Testament passage that seems to speak very clearly on this subject–probably the most clearly of all–is 2 Peter 3:3-13.  I’ve placed the most pertinent verses below in bold type.

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

These verses would seem to settle the issue.  Consider the things they say:

  1. The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly. This is a fire of judgment (verse 7).
  2. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, so that the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (verse 10).
  3. Everything will be destroyed (verse 11).  The words “destroyed” and “destruction” appear four times in these 11 verses.
  4. The heavens will be destroyed, the elements will melt in the heat, and they will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (verses 12-13)

Now, 2 Peter is one of the more obscure books of the Bible.  I would wager that many people have never read it, or even if they have, it may not be the first Bible book that comes to mind when they think of passages they’ve memorized (though 2 Peter 1:3-9 is an awesome passage about our inheritance in Christ–you should learn it if you haven’t already!).

2 Peter may also seem obscure because it was one of the last books to be accepted into the Bible, and there have always been questions, even in the early church, about whether or not it was really written by the apostle Peter.  However, there’s no conclusive evidence Peter wasn’t the author.  Moreover, since the Holy Spirit led the early church to include 2 Peter in the canon of Scripture, we can rest assured it is no less inspired and authoritative than the rest of the Bible.

Nevertheless, perhaps because of 2 Peter’s obscurity, its testimony has not always been taken into account by those considering this topic.  None of the books I mentioned above by John Eldredge and Randy Alcorn even mention these verses or engage the challenges they raise to these authors’ view that the world will not end.  Yet since these verses are part of Scripture, they need to be considered.

Another passage which seems to speak clearly about the question at hand is Revelation 21:1-4 (again with pertinent parts in bold):

21:1 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. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 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.”

The language of a new heaven and a new earth here mirrors one of the statements we read in 2 Peter 3: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (verse 13).  So we see a common thread between 2 Peter and Revelation.

These are about the only New Testament passages which talk about the world ending.  However, there are some in the Old Testament, too.  Consider these verses:

Isaiah 13:9-13
9 See, the day of the Lord is coming
— a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger —
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold,
more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the Lord Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.

Isaiah 24:1-6
24 See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants —  2 it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor.  3 The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word.

4 The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. 5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Isaiah 24:18-23
The floodgates of the heavens are opened, the foundations of the earth shake. 19 The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken. 20 The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls — never to rise again.
21 In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. 22 They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. 23 The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously.

Isaiah 65:17-19
17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Zephaniah 1:14-18
14 “The great day of the Lord is near — near and coming quickly.  Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”

Isaiah 34:1-4
34 Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The Lord is angry with all nations;
his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

Joel 2:1-11
2 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand —   2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.

3 Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them,  a desert waste — nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. 5 With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle.
6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. 7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. 8 They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. 9 They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.

10 Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 11 The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

All these passages from the Old Testament contain imagery that speaks of judgment coming on the earth in the form of signs in the heavens–the sun and moon being darkened, and stars falling or going out (similar to that in Matthew 24:29), as well as destruction coming on the earth similar to what we see in 1 Peter.  In this regard Isaiah 24 is the most striking.  I quoted some of its verses above but the entire chapter is worth reading to get the full impact.

Likewise in Isaiah 65:17-19 we find language about a new heaven and a new earth identical to that which we see in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1.  No doubt Peter, and John (who wrote Revelation), were guided by these words from Isaiah (John of course, was also speaking about a personal revelation he had from Christ himself).

A theme we observe in many of these verses is that of the “day of the Lord,” a day on which God finally comes to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous (i.e., those who have remained faithful to God).  We see this theme also in 2 Peter 3 and in other passages we’ve already examined like 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.  It is a day of judgment but also a day on which God’s people are vindicated and rescued from evil once and for all.

From these verses and the consistency we see between them, it would appear that Scripture does indeed teach that the world will end one day; that God will finally intervene in history, bring evil to a close, and rescue his righteous ones and carry them to a new place.  The heavens and the earth we know will be destroyed, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created to take their place.  Unlike this fallen world, the new heaven and the new earth will be untainted by sin or evil.  It will be the abode of the righteous and of God himself, as we see in Revelation 21:3-4 ~ “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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.”

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we saw that Matthew 24:29-31 speaks of the return of Christ, which occurs after the tribulation:

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

The signs in the heavens in verse 29 refer, then, to the end of the world.  Judgment comes on the nations of the earth, while the people of God are gathered from the four winds to meet Jesus in the air and be taken to the new earth.  This is the event commonly known as the rapture (for evidence of this claim, see Parts 1-3 of this series).

I’ve made it clear in this series that I hold to a post-tribulation rapture view.  Now, there are many post-tribulationists who believe that following verse 31, after the angels gather God’s people from the ends of the earth to meet Jesus in the air, Jesus brings them right back down again to inaugurate the millennium, his 1000-year reign on the earth, spoken of in Revelation 20.

Now, this could be the case.  However, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that, following signs of destruction in the heavens, Jesus would rescue his people in the rapture, only to turn around again and bring them back to the earth for the millennium.

In Matthew 24:29 the heavens seem to be breaking up (stars falling, the sun and moon no longer giving their light).  A cataclysm is coming on the world.  In verses 30-31 Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven to take his people away.  And that appears to be the end of the story.  The rest of Matthew 24 is explanatory material giving more information and admonitions about certain aspects of what he’s already said, but the narrative of end-time events ends with the rapture in verse 31.  The same is true in the Mark and Luke versions of the passage.

We see this same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which we’ve already shown to be describing the same events as Matt. 24:30-31 (see Part 2 for more on this):

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (emphasis added).

Just as in Matt. 24:31, this is the end of the story.  And it says “so we will be with the Lord forever,” not “and so we will reign with the Lord for 1000 years.”

I will deal with the millennium in another post.  Suffice to say for the moment that, while I do hold to a post-tribulation rapture position, I don’t believe the rapture will be followed by the millennium.  Instead, as I’ve already said, I believe it will occur as this world is meeting its end and the new heaven and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1 is being created.

Let me add parenthetically: I don’t believe the end of the world will come as the result of something like a nuclear holocaust.  For one thing, a cataclysm like that could possibly destroy the world, or at least render it uninhabitable; but it wouldn’t be able to destroy “the heavens”.  I believe the destruction of the world described in the Bible will come about as a sovereign act of God intervening in history and the affairs of the world, not as the result of anything humanity does.

Now, someone reading this may feel I’ve made an awfully dire prediction for the world.  And you’re right: I have.  I believe it is based on what is taught in the Bible.  A message of judgment it not popular these days.  Everyone wants to hear only comforting messages about God.  People want to hear about God’s love, not his wrath.

God is a loving God, but he is serious about dealing with sin and evil and evildoers.  The Bible is clear that the wrath of God is coming on the world (see John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Romans 2:5-8, Ephesians 5:5-6, Colossians 3:5-6, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9).

However, in his love, God has provided a way of escape from his wrath.  That way of escape comes through giving our lives to Jesus Christ.  Just as Noah built the ark to save his family from the flood, so God has given his Son as a way of escape from the judgment coming on the world.  I implore you to place your faith in Christ so you can know that you will be able to go with him when he returns.

Regarding the passages I’ve cited which speak of the destruction of the heavens and the earth, there are some who interpret them symbolically rather than literally.  I will share that point of view and respond to it in my next post.  In that post I will also share a couple other passages of Scripture which are interpreted to reveal a different outcome for the world when Jesus returns than the one I have professed here.  So I hope you will stay tuned.

Up next: “Part 5 – Will the World End or Be Renewed?–A Different Take”

If you’ve found this post or this series helpful, please share it on your social networks via the Share buttons below.  Thanks!!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s