CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The World is Coming to an End

Feb 9, 2010

Most cultures and religious traditions have as part of their beliefs and overall worldview the idea that the current world will in one fashion or another come to an end. There are various apocalyptic scenarios out there, some more negative than others, and some more alarmist than others.

If the world is indeed going to wind down or come to some cataclysmic end, the interesting question is how do people respond to this realisation? How do people cope if they are convinced that life as we know it may not last much longer? I saw just recently one way in which people might respond.

The ads during the American Super Bowl are often just as amazing and entertaining as the game itself. They have to be, given that the screening of just one 30 second ad can cost up to a cool $3 million. Thus some of the most remarkable ads ever seen usually come out during this three hour extravaganza.

Some of these ads were featured in yesterday’s Australian telecast of the event. One of the ads caught my eye. It featured a number of workers in an observatory. A scientist, peering through a telescope, looking at an incoming asteroid, proclaims that it’s going to destroy the earth.

The response? Six-packs of Bud Light beer are passed around as the men and women decide they will have a wild party while they await their doom. Well, that is one way to deal with the end of the world. And it is not a very novel approach. The saying, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’ has been around for quite some time.

But that is not the only way to prepare for the end of the world. Jesus for example had much to say about the topic. Indeed, the Bible as a whole has plenty of discussion about this theme. There is far too much material to cover here, so let me focus on just two passages.

The third chapter of 2 Peter is all about the end of the world, or more accurately, the Day of the Lord. It specifically addresses those who question Christ’s return, and in fact mock the very notion. Says Peter, “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 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’” (vv. 3-4).

Here the idea is that the world will keep going, so why worry? Jesus had mentioned similar things in the Olivet Discourse when he said that when he returns, it will be just like in the days of Noah: people will be carrying on with their normal activities, and will be oblivious to what is about to occur (Matt. 24:36-39).

So too Peter states that most people will be just carrying on with business as usual. They not only do not believe in the Lord’s return, but scoff at the very notion of future judgment as well. But Peter argues quite the opposite: Christ certainly will come in his own time, and he will come as judge.

The fact that he has not yet returned is not an indication of his slowness in keeping his promises, but is in fact a period of grace, allowing more time for more people to repent (vv. 8-9). His advice is the opposite of that given in the Bud Light commercial. He says that given that Christ will one day certainly return, what sort of people ought we to be?

He encourages sober, holy living, in the light of the return of Christ (vv. 11-14). If the end is nigh, that is not a reason to party, but to get our act together, and be prepared to meet our coming Lord and judge. Instead of scoffing at the delay of his return, be grateful that he is allowing us more chances to get right with him.

The second passage is addressed more to believers than non-believers. But its message is desperately needed, because so many believers are in fact using the doctrine of Christ’s second coming as an excuse to opt out of, instead of into, the battles of the day.

That is, many believers are banking on things getting worse, and then Christ coming back, so let’s just forget all about any social or political obligations we might have. Let’s just pluck a few more souls from the fire, and get our bags packed for the Rapture.

The idea is you don’t polish brass on a sinking ship. You don’t rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If everything is going down the tubes, then why get involved in trying to make this a better world?

Now this is quite a complex and hotly debated issue. I have partly discussed it elsewhere, so I will not repeat all my arguments here. See for example, billmuehlenberg.com/1997/10/10/the-case-for-christian-social-involvement/

And Christians with strong biblical convictions can and do fall on different sides of the debate over eschatology. Some can be Pre-Mill and some can be Post-Mill and so on. If you don’t have a clue as to what I am referring to here, don’t worry. This just has to do with how we understand the millennium of Rev. 20 and other eschatological and theological issues.

But that big debate is really not what I am interested in here. And I do need to get back to my second passage. It is the Parable of the Ten Talents (Minas) as found in Luke 19:11-26. The relevant bit is the opening three verses:

“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas, “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back”’.”

The KJV renders the last bit, “Occupy till I come”. The point of the parable is to use the gifts God has given us, and be faithful in our stewardship until the king (Christ) returns. As you will recall, the servants who used the money well and put it to good use were commended by their master. But the servant who hid his talents, burying them in the ground, was strongly rebuked.

Part of the message here is that God expects us to wisely use the gifts, talents and callings he has given us, and to use them right up until he returns. There is no thought here of packing our bags, putting up our feet, and waiting for Christ to return. We are to be busy with the work of the Kingdom. We are to be fully engaged in occupying till he comes.

Thus both these passages give us quite different instructions than does the Bud Light ad. Knowledge that this world is soon coming to an end is not to be an excuse for moral laxity and going on a bender with wild parties. Nor is it an excuse to sit back and do nothing.

The Lord’s return is meant to spur us on to both moral living as well as to dedicated activity for the Kingdom. Peter wants to impress on us the need for holy living and serious discipleship as we await the Lord’s return. And Jesus reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done before he returns. We need to roll up our sleeves and get busy with the work God has assigned for us to do.

So while the Bud Light ad may have been quite funny (as have been so many of the other expensive Super Bowl ads), it is clearly amiss in terms of the message it is sending. It fits well into a hedonistic, secular and cynical culture. But it does not at all fit in with the real world, and the biblical worldview.

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22 Responses to The World is Coming to an End

  • Hi Bill,

    You Americans are a strange people. The end of the world is nigh, and you choose to drink … light beer!?

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks Mansel

    I am afraid it gets even stranger than that: in America light beer means light on calories, while in Australia it means light on alcohol. So evidently the Bud message is, if the world is going to end, you can drink all you want, and not put on any weight – or something like that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Maybe we’ve misunderstood the ad and it has a sound message for us after all? Surely drinking any Bud beer, particularly light, IS to repent of one’s hedonistic past in a very practical way. “To beat the body and make it my slave” as Paul would put it, or the modern day equivalent of sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

    OK, I’ll be serious from now on; promise.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks Mansel

    OK, one last ‘lite’ comment from me as well – then no more. I am still trying to get a handle on the differences between Americans and Australians in this regard.

    It seems that Americans don’t mind getting drunk as long as they can stay thin, while Australians don’t mind getting fat as long as they can stay sober. Or something.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Excellent post and very encouraging.

    I often think of the “scoffers” and “mockers” verse when dealing with “new atheism” as this is an accurate portrayal of them.

    Stuart Mackay, UK

  • Just yesterday i was reading that parable about using our gifts and i finally got it. It finally hit me. We really have to get on with it, dont we. But im no good at this? Neither was Moses. When were weak, he is strong. Walk out onto the water i say …
    Daniel Kempton

  • Bill and Mansel,

    Haha, nice one! Mansel, I think you’re right about drinking Bud beer is, indeed, a repentant act. If they were serious about being hedonistic, I think they would have pulled out some Kilkenny.

    Bill, nice article. I think you’re spot on. While you hinted at some confusing eschatological terms and moved on (and fair enough), I think this discussion is worth the time if anyone is interested in the premil, postmil, amil debate, or can’t make head-nor-tail of it.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/2009/4262_An_Evening_of_Eschatology/

    I recommend watching the video. It’s fun seeing them all get fired up.

    Simon Kennedy, Victoria

  • Thanks Simon

    Yes perhaps I as well should pen a piece on various options in eschatology soon.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good article, Bill. I have been enjoying your blog for a while now.
    This issue has concerned me for sometime. It seemed to me that there was a lot of preaching and high expectation of the second coming in the 70’s. Because there was an expectancy for everything to get worse, the church seemed to give up on the long term social good. Now my impression is that things have gotten worse, our culture has lost its way, and there is little preaching on the second coming. Having moved from a biblical worlview consensus the west is seemingly on the verge of collapse under seige by increasing vociferous atheism and islam.
    The history of revivals give us hope for the possiblities of what God can do in transforming societies. It seems that we could be seeing the end of all things shaping up, but somehow we must still work and strategise for “occupying till he come” as if that could still be another thousand years. We need the balance.
    Keep up the good work. I think your site helps us be alert to what is happening and to think through the issues. Thanks,
    Greg Cadman

  • Bill,

    I’m mystified why some Christians concern themselves with eschatology, or why they get so passionate about arguing for their opinions on end times, when none of us can actually know what lies in the future.

    For the billions (there are estimates as high as 106 billion) of people who are already dead, this world is no longer relevant. For the 6.8 billion who are currently living, the end of the world will likely be our own death, and this truism could well apply for thousands of future generations, or millions of years into the future.

    It is somewhat egocentric for anyone to imagine that Armageddon will occur in their own lifetime, as the many so-called prophets who have wrongly predicted the end of the world have found to their grief.

    The Rapture movement in America is truly scary, and does little to portray Christianity in a positive light. In fact, I often think that “American Christianity” in general is quite loopy and has lost the plot.

    Far better that we focus on our own times, doing what we can to preserve our planet for future generations, and striving for peace between nations. For the probability is that we will go to Christ real soon, rather than that He will come back to the world.

    Mike Robertson, NSW

  • Mike: “…the end of the world will likely be our own death, and this truism could well apply for thousands of future generations, or millions of years into the future.”

    You know that, do you?? I fear this mentality represents the same fallacy as that that of the date predictors: we can after all know future chronology. Dispensationalists and Futurists have a special interest in affirming the nearness of the Lord’s coming, while post-millennialists and others have a special interest is asserting its farness.
    I do not hold with futurism or rapturism, but the NT is definitely on the side of asserting and insisting on the nearness of the Lord’s coming. See Phil.4:5; James 5:8; Rev.1:3 etc. Your line as expressed above is therefore out of line with the NT. I insist that every generation must hope for and expect the Lord’s return in their lifetime, and conform their lives accordingly. 2 Peter 3:11-12. We must live our lives in that expectation.
    It is all too slick to dismiss second coming expectation along the lines of “there have been many expectations in the past, and they’ve all been wrong.” One day such expectations will prove to be right, and those who glibly dismiss it all will then be caught unawares. This whole line is really that of the scoffers about whom Peter warns in 2 Peter 3.
    Frankly, when I hear your sort of sentiments I am astonished at the brazen denial of Scripture teaching on eschatology and the second coming that they involve. Consider how this great event is at least mentioned in all but four NT books, and often at some length. The four exceptions are: Galatians, Philemon, 2 & 3 John. The first because of its very focussed subject matter, the others because of their sheer brevity. So let’s have Biblical truth – in Biblical proportions!!
    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Thanks guys

    Yes there seem to be two extremes to avoid here. We all know of prophecy freaks who devote all their time to setting dates, identifying the Antichrist, watching the prophetic clock, and so on. Some are simply obsessed with the issue, and it becomes an all-consuming passion for them. And yes, plenty of false predictions and faulty analyses have taken place as well.

    But on the other hand, the Bible certainly does contain a lot of material on prophesies and discussion of the last things (eschatology means the study of final events). Indeed, whole books are devoted to this, such as Daniel and Revelation. All believers should have a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches about heaven and hell, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, the new heaven and new earth, and so on.

    But believers can far too easily major on minors here, and get bogged down in secondary issues instead of primary issues. As I said, I may need to pen a few introductory articles on these various issues.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I just finished a bit of a short study on Daniel but the thing I remember the most is what the book tells us about the man and his mission from God. I found a few verses – somewhat innocuous ones possibly given the rest of the book – that spoke to me, especially in view of the fact that he was serving in an earthly pagan kingdom that did not acknowledge God.

    Dan 8:26-27 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.

    Dan 12:9-10 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”

    Dan 12:13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

    It seems to me that one of the hardest things to fight as a Christian individually is the selfish notion that we are the centre of the universe. Daniel was given a special place in Israel’s journey – he would probably have been aware of it to some extent – but as far as his historical biblical place was concerned, that time had passed and he was told to just ‘get on with it’. I’m challenged by the notion that Daniel served where he did on earth without compromising, yet he was directed and blessed by God in that serving. The tension of being aliens in exile speaks volumes to me.

    Additionally, I’m aware of the fact that God has deliberately withheld knowledge from us for our own good (“…the words are closed up and sealed…”) and seeks for us to go on with our lives regardless as much as he has directed us. Daniel was simply told to get on with ordinary life and leave the rest to God. Perhaps God wants it that way because it is precisely the fact we don’t always get clear signposts about our lives that directs us to rely on Him more for guidance and help. (note the word – “refined”! That takes time.) But we need to be reassured that the end of the world, whenever that comes, is in the hands of God. Murray is right, we need to live as if it was going to happen today.

    Mark Rabich

  • Murray,

    Every generation, from the earliest Christians, has expected Christ to return during their lifetime, so how can we know what “near” means? And I didn’t say I knew it was a long way off, I said it could be.

    On the other hand, we know with absolute certainty that we will die soon. How should we live our lives differently, or what should we do differently, to prepare for Christ’s coming compared with preparing for our own death?

    Mike Robertson

  • Hi Mike,

    I agree that it is a possible the world could go on for millions of years more. But consider the Biblical timeline for milestones in God’s history so far: The flood occurred only c.1,500 years after creation. Jesus’ incarnation occurred only 2,500 years after that. And now we are already 2,000 years later than that.

    So given God’s past timeframe, it seems that we are more likely due for the next chapter in God’s history rather sooner than later.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Mike,
    Two points:
    1. Whatever the words “near” and “at hand” mean, it is a far cry from postponing the Lord’s coming thousands, even millions of years into the future, such that this prospect is all but dismissed. The NT says constantly, “live in the light of His coming (e.g. 2 Peter 3:11-12); you do not know the time, and it may be sooner than you think.”. In total contrast you say, in effect, “for all practical purposes, forget it!” And you would counsel against any concern with such matters.
    Just what to make of these expressions in regard to the Lord’s coming is a problem, I admit. But we DO NOT solve this problem by simply ignoring it and even saying, albeit under our breath, “The NT writers believed that His coming was imminent, but they were wrong, and hence we can quite legitimately forget it.” I submit that this outlook is entirely unBiblical.

    2. I did not say that you knew that the coming was not for millions of years (or whatever), but I asked the question. All right, it was semi-rhetorical, but you spoke with such confidence, and dismissal of any concern with eschatology that it was an appropriate question.

    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Hi Mansel,

    That may be your interpretation of Genesis, but I am unable to accept it because it is contradicted by the physical evidence. On the cosmological/geological timescale, 2000 years is nothing, and to an infinite God time doesn’t even exist.

    I don’t want to turn this into another tiresome creationist argument. You are entitled to your opinion, but there are other opinions, and as I keep saying, why does it even matter? How are we to live our lives any differently? What is the point of arguing over a question that no one can answer?

    Mike Robertson

  • Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your response.

    You say: “That may be your interpretation of Genesis, but I am unable to accept it because it is contradicted by the physical evidence.”

    I’m glad that you concede that the plain reading of Genesis is for the timescales I have mentioned. Unfortunately you admit that rather than accept the authority of the Bible you accept the authority of today’s scientific consensus. May I suggest that this is a very dangerous position to be in. Once the authority of the Bible is let go of, there is no logical reason to stop the reinterpreting just with Genesis. Ask yourself: what does today’s scientific consensus say about the possibility of a virgin giving birth, or of a man rising from the dead?

    May I suggest you take an honest look at the website http://www.creation.com which is a very good resource giving good Biblical answers to scientific questions. I was once in the same position you are now, but I was set free to believe fully in God’s word by such ministries.

    You also say: “as I keep saying, why does it even matter? How are we to live our lives any differently?”
    It matters very much, because the authority of God’s word over all else is what is at stake. The extent of how ones life would change depends on how much of God’s word is not believed. Those who believe the Bible’s timescales, for instance, are expecting the Lord’s return quite soon, those who don’t are not.

    Finally you say: “What is the point of arguing over a question that no one can answer?”

    Why do you think no-one can answer the question? The Bible gives a very clear answer to the age of the Earth if only people would believe God’s word. The physical evidence too, when interpreted without an a-priori belief in long-ages, is entirely consistent with these timescales.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks guys for all your comments

    But I have two fears here. The first fear is that this article will lead to all sorts of rather heated arguments and debates over fine points in eschatology. That may be beginning to happen here. If so, I want to nip it in the bud. While these issues are important, and can and should be discussed and debated, I don’t want it to become a place where everyone is pushing his or her particular hobby horse, and doing the very thing I warned about – becoming so obsessed with a particular view onf the end times that more heat than light starts to be generated. So as the moderator here I will have to keep an eye on how things progress here. OK?

    The other fear is an ongoing one – that of going off on unnecessary tangents and heading down rabbit warrens. This piece is about future events, not past events, so we may not really need to yet again enter into the age of the earth debate. It is not the real topic at hand here, and has been debated countless times both here and elsewhere. OK?

    I certainly don’t want to squash proper discussion and debate here, but neither do I want things to spin out of control either. If you cannot appreciate the difficulty of my position, just start your own blog site and see how difficult the job of moderation can be! OK again? Thanks for helping me out here guys.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • To Mike, for what its worth i agree. All that really matters at this point is our life it God’s eye’s. Even if we perceive to win an argument here, have we really won anything? Jesus is the answer, we all agree on that.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Whilst on the topic of the Superbowl…

    Here’s a positive story. A Pro Life advertisement played during the Superbowl. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BIOTItUwvk

    It caused a lot of controversy but it is a miracle that such a thing was played in the light of the current state of the media.

    The football player featured was born after her mother, a missionary worker in the Philippines (correct me if I’m wrong), was recommended an abortion by doctors who said having the child would be bad for both her and the child. He played in the game that this commercial first aired.

    Hew Sandison

  • Contra the prophecy freaks, here’s a meta-view:

    In Biblical prophecy (particularly Daniel, Jeremiah and Revelation) we are given a broad-stroke picture of things to come. With a few notable exceptions (such as naming Darius hundreds of years before he was born) we are not given intricate detail.

    Given the absence of detail, it is hardly profitable to surmise that as being accidental, which leaves the focus on this summary: our team wins the spiritual war.

    We don’t know about every individual battle in this war, so speculating on those is close to pointless, but we have been given some underlying principles.

    From a logistic perspective, the most obvious message is to focus on those principles, ask yourself how close to right you’re getting them, ask above for better ability to perceive and to achieve those principles.

    To assume that we know precisely what is going on and exactly how to deal with it is to fall prey to the initial big lie. The alternative is Proverbs 3:5-8, which I strongly recommend.

    Leon Brooks

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