“Dad, come quickly; you have to see outside!” My daughter yelled breathlessly from the front door. I said, “What’s up honey? What’s going on outside?”
With great exuberance she shouted, “The sky is on fire!”
“What? The sky is on fire?” I wondered as I made my way to the front door. Before I got there, I saw light shining through the window, painting the living room burnt orange. I made my way outside and looked at the sky in wonderment and fear. The sky truly looked as if it were on fire. The smoke from the Bobcat wildfire near Pasadena mixed with the sun to create a scene one might see in an apocalyptic science fiction movie. I felt as if I were with Matt Damon in the movie The Martian.
As I continued to stare up, I thought for the first time, “Is it the end of the world?” Since the quarantine began in Southern California on St. Patrick’s Day, people in the congregation, friends, family, and acquaintances have continually asked if we are living in the end times. They are searching for answers and comfort, and why wouldn’t they be? 2020 has been a scary year, with little encouragement that it will get better.
Jesus says in Revelation 22:20, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Ever since these words were recorded nearly 2000 years ago, believers have been fascinated with the end times. Christians of every generation have believed that Christ will return in their lifetime. At the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, World War I, and World War II—in each era people looked for signs of “the end of the age.” Now in 2020, we ask the same question.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24, Jesus teaches about the end of the age. One only needs to read through the chapter once to see that this world is going to get worse, much worse, before it gets any better. He speaks of the political realm: “…wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation… kingdom against kingdom” (24:6-7). The earth will show signs of distress: earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, pestilence and more (Mark 13; Luke 21). These distresses of the world are compared to birth pains. Jesus says that, like a birth, the end will certainly come. But it hasn’t arrived yet.
There will be lawlessness and immorality. People will reject authority, and the love we should have for our neighbor will grow cold. The Apostle Paul tells us what this decline of morality will look like:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… (2 Timothy 3:2-4).
Our culture today mirrors the immorality prophesied by Paul.
The Church will suffer. Jesus gives us the sad news that there will be an intensification of persecution against the Church, Christians, and God’s Word. This will lead to false teachers (prophets and religions) that will deceive people into rejecting Jesus and God’s Word. These teachings will fool many non-believers. Unfortunately, it will also cause some who proclaimed Christ as the Son of God to reject the faith.
California has certainty seen many of these apocalyptic signs of the end of the age: disease, drug abuse, sexual immorality, homelessness, hunger, earthquakes, wildfires, drought, lawlessness, oppression, protests, riots, vandalism, false teachers, false religions, idolatry, and political malfeasance. (Plus, a lot of the beaches and Disneyland are closed!)
Therefore, as I looked up at the burnt orange sky, I thought of these signs and wondered, “Is it the end of the world?”
That thought led to some fear, yet the feeling passed quickly. Why? People in North America and throughout the world are seeing these same signs. It’s only natural that our first emotion is fear. However, for Christians these signs shouldn’t bring fear. Rather, we find joy and comfort because these signs are indicators that God is truly faithful to his Word.
Current events are a call to open our eyes and see these signs as promises that Christ’s return is imminent. Not necessarily imminent in our timing, but imminent in God’s timing:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness… (2 Peter 3:8-9a).
Jesus tells us that no one will know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). When we think about the end of the age and Christ’s return, we ought to adopt the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Live as if it might be today. It could be tomorrow, two weeks, two months, or 2000 years. No matter, we should be prepared and live each day as if it will be the day.
This does not mean that we are idly waiting. We are to continue to follow our Lord’s Great Commission despite distress, suffering, even persecution. We must keep going, teaching and preaching God’s Word, even though it’s hard to live in this distressed and suffering world. For there are people who still haven’t called Jesus their Lord or even heard his gospel. Therefore, every day when we wake up it’s a new day to love and help our neighbors by leading them to Christ.
After all, that’s why God gave us another day, “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).
“Is this the end of the world?” No matter how many times we may ask the question, God’s answer is always the same: “It is not for you to know.” What is for us to know is that we can trust God that these signs, these birth pains of the world, are proof that God’s Word is true, and that he keeps his promises. If we love God, let us open our eyes to these signs and look forward to his Son’s promised return. As Paul tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people… [So] we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11,13).
Rev. Seth Leivestad is Pastor of Calvary Community Church in Fullerton, California.