The Bible and the End of the World

What does the Bible say about the end of the world?  Absolutely nothing.  That phrase is never found in Scripture.  So where does the idea come from, and why do I have several books on my shelf with ‘end of the world’ in the title?  Jesus frequently speaks of the ‘the end’ – but he’s not talking about the end of the world, rather ‘the end of the age’ (Mt 24:3).  That’s an entirely different thing!  The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that when Messiah came, he would overthrow the oppressors, raise Israel to its former glory, and establish a new age of peace and righteousness in the world, where their king would reign forever.  Right here, on earth.

They weren’t wrong! It’s all there in the Old Testament.  As Christians, we believe the same thing – and look forward to Christ’s ‘coming again’ when ‘the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever’ (Rev 11:15).  Yet somehow we’ve come to interpret this as a heavenly kingdom or a ‘new world’, with little relationship to the present one.  Why?  Partly because it’s accompanied by prophecies of catastrophic destruction.  But we need to understand that in prophetic tradition, ‘cosmic disturbances’ and ‘apocalyptic language’ were symbolic of God’s mighty power being exerted in the world – in judgement.  That judgement was directed at sin, wickedness and evil. But salvation was promised for the faithful.  An ending – and a new beginning.

So what’s meant by ‘a new age’?  2 Pet 3 describes the catastrophic judgement to come by comparing it with ‘the age of Noah’ and the flood.  That ‘world’ was destroyed – but was it?  The whole point is that God preserved Noah and his family – and indeed creation and all creatures – through the destruction of the flood!  The ‘world’ did not refer to planet earth, but to the world of human wickedness.  Another ‘new age’ came with the cross – yet the world hardly noticed.  Catastrophe for Satan, sin, and death – salvation for all who believe.  The Jews had no idea that the ‘coming’ of the Messiah would be divided into two parts, stretched over 2,000+ years.  The new kingdom Jesus proclaimed didn’t fit their picture.  But they were right about the continuity.  The new age he promised is coming.  Not the end of the world.

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