“According to the apostles, what was supposed to happen to the whole world happened first to Jesus through his death and resurrection. Jesus introduced the beginning of the end, the ‘already and not yet’ of the Kingdom of God.” Eventually, it will be too late to follow Christ.
The end of the world is described in the Old Testament, demonstrated at the cross, and depicted in Revelation to drive home the finality of The End and also depicts a post-Rapture reality for those who do not believe and will be taken by Satan. The End of the World will not look exactly like the cross, but there will be some similar features.
The Meaning of Revelation
The most obvious place to look for descriptions of the End Times is in the Book of Revelation. John wrote,
“I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth” (Revelation 13:1-2).
Images from John’s vision depict demonic beasts, one of which “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words” (v.5). Revelation 6:12-13 describes natural disasters:
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.”
Armageddon is going to be violent, bloody, and chaotic. The devastation will be on a scale not seen before.
The End Times in the Old Testament
Daniel 12 offers a startling, imagistic picture of the End of the World. God tells him “there shall be [...] trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But [...] your people shall be delivered, [...]. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (vv.1-3).
God tells Daniel that evil people will do what one would expect — more evil. Daniel lived several hundred years before Christ. He was a righteous man who did not reveal all that he knew because he was told by God to “shut up the words and seal the book” (v.4).
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:30-31).
These words in Joel are partly history — God led his people out of Egypt by pillars of smoke and fire — and partly prophecy. We are not told clearly whether the End is Christ’s end, or the events reported later in Revelation, but the Lord gets his point across either way: I am to be feared. I am your Lord. I rescue, but I also judge and condemn. Remember my power and keep my commandments because the end will come, and it will not be pretty.
The End of the World in Christ
Christ was insulted by his tormentors. He was the object of haughty and blasphemous words. “‘Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (Mark 15:32).
Nature itself recoiled and trembled at the horror of the crucifixion. When Christ was about to give up his life at Calvary, the sky went dark (Mark 15:33). Matthew 27:51 says that, at his death, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
Societies have repeatedly believed they were seeing the words of Revelation fulfilled in their time. Cycles of peace followed by war, hunger, economic depression, and the breakdown of society are eschatologically suggestive.
Calamities such as earthquakes, fires, and floods must feel like the hand of God sweeping over entire nations in a statement of judgment.
The disciples had lost hope. They did not expect Christ to rise: when he came back “they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Luke 24:37). The disciples of Christ had come to the end of themselves, and they feared for their lives, which suddenly had no meaning or purpose.
They had no idea where to go now that their Rabbi was taken away. There was such despair immediately prior to Jesus’ resurrection, as though the End was already upon them, and they had been forsaken. Hadn’t Christ also called out to the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
The Bitter End
Christ’s death and resurrection is a picture of our reality as Christians. Temporal life for those who are alive when the tribulation starts and continue to proclaim Christ even unto death will be horrible, but these individuals will rise to be with Christ. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).
For unbelievers the end brings hopelessness. The bleakness of a life without God will shatter all the illusions of plenty and of peace; of unity and of self-sufficiency, which fill the hearts and minds of people who reject Christ. Life will lose its meaning.
The Holocaust, sex trafficking, natural disasters, revolutions, and wars: no wonder the Rapture seems close. Early Christians believed they would live to see Christ’s return. That is why Paul taught the church at Thessalonica “that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
The preface to End Times will resemble the great evils of history, but to greater extremes, and on a wider scale. Reassuringly, as John Piper says, “Not all have grown cold at the end of the age, because it will not be cold people who take the gospel to the nations at the cost of their lives.”
As we know, great wickedness and catastrophe have not ushered in the End of the World. There must be more to eschatological imagery than we understand. Meanwhile, Christians can use the sense of urgency and mortality inspired by catastrophe and evil to inspire greater boldness in sharing the gospel.
Symbolic Writings of John
So much of the writing in Revelation is thought to be symbolic. “Our method of interpretation should always match the literary genre the author used. For Revelation, this means we should avoid taking picture language literally. When we try to force literal interpretations on picture language, we run the risk of perverting the author’s intended meaning.”
We would be wise to resist the temptation to dismiss Revelation because it is such a challenging book to understand, but also be prepared for some of what John wrote to be figurative and elusive.
The beast might not appear physically ugly, but his heart is black because he was not made in God’s image. The Mark of the Beast might not be a physical tattoo or chip but a spiritual marking instead.
John did not know all the details but conveyed imagery he was shown, such as God employed when showing Ezekiel dry bones coming to life (Ezekiel 37), or when he referred to his people as sheep in need of a shepherd. Jesus’ parables were frequently metaphors.
We are not sheep gone astray, yet we are warned to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (2 Peter 5:8). When Peter wrote this, he did not mean Satan was literally an animal, but that his ways were heartless and predatory like those of a mere beast.
God used figurative language, which helps his people to understand his message within the limits of human imagination. The events, which will accompany the End of the World will far exceed our waking nightmares of the Apocalypse.
An Element of Mystery
In spite of these teachings, there is still mystery associated with the End. We are not permitted to know when it will take place or the exact details.
Whatever the end really looks like, it will usher in a time where those who do not know God will have to make a quick decision to follow him or spend eternity in that darkness where positions are reverse — God is not in the tomb, they are, and there will be no rolling the stone away a second time.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.