We bring this series of articles on the apocalyptic nature of God’s dealings with man to a close with a look at what will arguably be the greatest apocalyptic event of all: the literal end of the physical world in which we now live.
Recall that an apocalyptic event is a catastrophic, sudden event in which God drastically intervenes in the human situation in order to destroy evil and to establish righteousness. In such an event, what is not according to God’s will is addressed, the wicked are publicly condemned and punished, and the righteous are publicly vindicated and rewarded. Even though the event itself is sudden and drastic, it does not come without prior warning from God, and its goal is to demonstrate the power and righteousness of God Himself.
We have noted in previous installments of this series that there are several events in the Bible which rightly and clearly qualify as apocalyptic. In fact, I have argued that the “apocalyptic scenario” is the default or standard way by which God deals with the world, and it is the way in which God is depicted by all Biblical authors. Beginning with the creation itself, God has repeatedly acted according to this scenario, with the great climax coming in the sending of Jesus to this earth to fulfill the plan of God in a radical and relatively abrupt way. Jesus’ work was an apocalyptic judgment and victory over evil, the effects of which we Christians are still enjoying today.
But one more apocalyptic event awaits. God has begun the process of “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2.10), and he has cleared the way for his children to come to Him through the work of Jesus. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3.18). Jesus’ death and resurrection removed the barriers of sin and death which previously kept us separated from God. With these barriers broken, the way to God is now open for all who will come to Him. But removing the barriers is not enough. God wants us to be with Him, in the closest possible way. So God has promised that the day is coming in which the Lord Jesus will come to gather the faithful of all the earth to Himself, and He will then bring us all to God in heaven. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4.16f). At that time this earth will have finished its purpose as our temporary home, and with its purpose finished it will no longer need to exist. The earth itself will be destroyed (2 Pet 3.10-12), and God will bring His children to their true home, the heavenly city, “the Jerusalem above.”
The author of Hebrews describes it this way: “And His voice shook the earth then [at Sinai], but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ [Haggai 2.6] This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Heb 12.26-27).
Like all apocalyptic events, this last one will happen suddenly and will result in a drastically different situation when it is over. “In the twinkling of an eye” the dead will be raised (1 Cor 15.52). The earth will melt away “with intense heat” (2 Pet 3.10). The wicked will be judged (condemned) and the righteous will be vindicated before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5.10). Then we will be with our Father, without separation. We will be in the very presence of God and Jesus. We will “see His face” (Rev 22.4), which denotes being as close as we can be to God. We will be all the way home, no more sojourning, no more stops, no more waiting. The journey will have ended, and we will be at the place where God has always wanted us to be.
There are at least two practical things that come from all of this. First, our knowledge that such a day is coming ought to instill within us a mixture of both fear and eager anticipation for that day. Fear, so that we will not be caught neglecting the master’s work when it happens. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. … For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.” (Matt 24.43-46). Eagerness, because it will mean the end of all the hardships and problems associated with this world.
Second, knowing that such a day is coming ought to give us a sense of calmness and serenity as we face the trials and difficulties of this life. While we must fight against a world that is filled with unfairness and injustice, where wickedness sometimes reigns and evil people abound, we must never forget that this situation is only temporary. The day is coming when it will all end. This is not to say that the day will necessarily come within our lifetimes, but we can rest assured that although evil may appear to have the upper hand at times, this is not the way things must or will always be. God has warned the world and one day He is going to destroy all evil. Justice will be served, and righteousness will be upheld. God is in control, and the great events of the last day will prove it to everyone beyond all doubt whatsoever.
We live in the shadow of the greatest apocalyptic event that will ever happen. Are you ready for it?
A hymn: “Christ Returneth”