If you believe doomsayers or John Cusack movies, the world will end Dec. 21. That’s the date of the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, when an important cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar draws to a close.
Not to worry. End-of-days predictions have made and broken pundits and self-proclaimed prophets for millennia. Not to be outdone by religious fanaticism, contemporary culture embraces the drama of a cataclysmic end to the world.
For example, in the 1979 film “Mad Max,” a shortage of fossil fuels drives the breakdown of society, prompting leather-clad motorcyclists to terrorize anyone with a full tank of petrol.
In “Planet of the Apes,” astronaut George Taylor discovers he has traveled through space and time, returning to an earth where humans are mute and loud-mouthed armor-wearing apes are in charge.
In Ray Bradbury’s frightening short story, “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” a robotic house continues to serve its human tenants long after they have become burnt silhouettes on the wall, presumably the victims of a nuclear holocaust.
In “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Arthur Dent wakes up to learn his home has been slated for demolition to make room for a new bypass; worse, the planet is set for destruction because officials from Earth never made it to Alpha Centauri to protest the demolition orders.
Whether frightening or funny, the end of the world is a topic of considerable interest and much debate. World religions and cults often contrive detailed apocalyptic views, including specific dates that, when missed, leave their leaders disgraced and their followers asking neighbors to return the cookware they thought they would never need again.
Seven biblical truths
In truth, Christians know that this sinful and fallen world – that is, the world order alienated from God, in rebellion against Him, and under the rule of Satan – will pass away. The Bible tells us so. And while evangelical Christians may debate the order of events yet to unfold, we can all agree on seven biblical truths about how the world will end.
First, the world will end when the Father says so. Jesus makes this clear in His narratives and parables. He tells His followers, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). The first-century Jew hearing the parable of the 10 virgins understands that no wedding begins until the father declares everything is ready. Meanwhile, Jesus cautions us to “be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
Second, the world will end with the return of Jesus. It’s important that we look for His physical and visible return. An unseen return in 1914, as Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, strips Jesus of His physical resurrection and thus His finished work of redemption. Remember what the angels tell the disciples as they witness Jesus’ ascension: “This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Third, the world will end with the resurrection of the dead. Christians are divided as to whether all people will be resurrected at the same time, or whether there will be multiple resurrections stretching across 1,000 years or more. But let’s not allow our interpretations to get in the way of Jesus’ plain teaching that “a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out” (John 5:28-29).
Fourth, the world will end with the final judgment of all people. Believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be rewarded for our faithfulness (2 Cor. 5:10). Unbelievers will stand before the Great White Throne and punished for their works against the kingdom of God (Rev. 20:11-15).
Fifth, the world will end with a separation of God’s people from those who have rejected Him. Jesus promises His followers, “I will come back and receive you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). Unbelievers, however, are cast into hell, which Jesus describes as “outer darkness,” a terrifying depiction of eternity far away from the Light of the world.
Sixth, the world will end with the creation of new heavens and a new earth. Peter gives us the image of a fiery purging in which our sinful and fallen world is refined into new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). Rev. 21-22 provides further details of a restored creation.
Seventh, the world will end as human history began – with God dwelling with us. The restored earth will be our home and His throne. John hears a loud voice from God’s throne declaring, “Look! God’s dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).
So don’t sweat Dec. 21. The end of the world, and its new beginning, are in the hands of its sovereign Creator.
This article appeared Dec. 4 in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.