The End of the World?
Last week, in the late hours of Wednesday night and early hours of Thursday morning, Laura made landfall as one of the more powerful hurricanes in U.S. history. For us in Houston, there was some relief that the storm had moved a bit further east than anticipated and so we were spared the worst of her damage. Our neighbor, Louisiana, was not so fortunate as Laura has devastated homes and livelihoods. In the grand scheme of this year, with a pandemic, the horrible reality of racial injustice, dangerous riots, widespread forest fires and so on, Laura is yet another devastating catastrophe. In the unfolding of all of this have been conspiracy theories and various claims that it is the beginning of the end of the world. I watched one such video online that tried to claim that Jesus was coming back in the next couple of years, though the videographer wouldn’t put an exact date on when. All using scripture as the necessary ‘proof.’
“It’s the end of the world.” But is it?
In Luke 21:9-11, Jesus says: “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
It’s easy to do bad math. To add together our present experience, hijack texts like the above, and end up with the conclusion Jesus is coming back imminently. We conclude it must be the literal end of the world. Yet that is an escape from both what is really going on in scripture and what’s really going on today: it is, in many ways, the end of the world as we know it. We have heard, again and again, about the “new normal,” which will eventually take place over what life was like before. Things are changing in seismic and lasting ways. That is the sense in which we could call today the end of the world.
Luke 21 describes the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in 70 AD (cf. v.20) as a declaration of God’s judgement for the religious leaders’ rejection and crucifixion of His Son. It wasn’t the end of the world Jesus prophesies, but it was the end of their world as they knew it. This kind of ‘apocalyptic’ language is used throughout scripture to describe the end of these kind of worlds, often as a sign of judgement on empires or those in power. And the instruction for God’s people? More or less “keep calm and carry on.” Don’t get led astray by false prophets (and conspiracy theorists). Don’t panic, but “by your endurance you will gain your souls.” (v.19) Hold steadfast to Jesus, do not get swayed and do not buy into the false promises the world has to offer. Be peacemakers, salt and light, love one another, and care for the desperate, the grieving and the vulnerable, all as you press in to Jesus. Trust Him—make space for Him—and lean in. Do the work of a disciple. As Jesus said in John 16:33: “Take heart; for I have overcome the world!”