December 20, 2012

What if the World Ended Tomorrow?

by Nathan Busenitz

MayanThe doomsday deadline is finally upon us . . . 12/21/12.

Depending on how one interprets the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the world is supposed to end tomorrow.

Or not.

Let’s be honest, we all know that the world won’t really end tomorrow. (If you don’t believe me, we can talk more about it on Saturday.) Common sense alone tells us the prediction is suspect. If the ancient Mayans were that good at foretelling the future, wouldn’t their empire still be at the height of its power?

In all seriousness, we can confidently state that the world will not end tomorrow because the Bible tells us how this world is going to end. And God’s eschatological calendar includes a number of important events that have yet to transpire before this world is finally destroyed.

Nonetheless, the whole topic got me thinking: What if you knew that your time in this world was going to end tomorrow? Or stated another way, What would you do today if you knew it was going to be your last?

After all, the world may not end tomorrow, but death could come at any moment.

In spite of the inevitability of death, non-Christians generally adopt an Epicurean approach to life. The famous slogan, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” might overstate the type of hedonism that characterized Epicurus and his followers; but it still serves as an adequate starting point for understanding their view. Rather than concerning themselves with eternal realities, the Epicureans focused entirely on avoiding suffering and pain while finding joy and happiness in this life.

A beer company’s slogan from several years ago summarizes the Epicurean theme: “You only go around once in this life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can get.” Obviously many Americans share that same perspective. And while that kind of attitude might sell alcohol, it does nothing to offer real hope to sinners on the brink of eternity.

The believer’s approach could not be more different. As Paul stated so succinctly, “To live is Christ.” And because that was true, he could add these important words, “and to die is gain.” The imminent possibility of death was not a paralyzing reality for Paul. After all, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.

Moreover, knowing that life is short (and eternity is near) is a motivating reality for those who follow Jesus Christ. Consider, for example, several of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards:

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

Edwards was committed to living in such a way that, if it were his last day or even his last hour, he would have no regrets — doing everything in his power to serve the Lord with zeal and faithfulness.

The apostle Paul exhibited similar sentiments. He told the Romans, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7-8). He similarly explained to the church in Corinth, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent [e.g. whether alive or dead], to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10).

So, how would you live if you knew today was your last day on earth?

The Mayan Long Calendar helps bring that question into focus, since our entire society is asking that question today. But the reality is that, as Christians, we should be prepared to answer that question everyday, not just today. The hope of the gospel gives us certain confidence as we face the future; and the joy of one day standing before Christ motivates us to continued faithfulness.

Of course, no discussion of the end of the world would be complete without including a reference to 2 Peter 3:10-15. In that passage, the apostle Peter vividly describes the way in which our world will actually be destroyed: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (v. 10). At that time, God will create a new earth in which righteousness dwells, and on which His people will dwell with Him for eternity (v. 13).

In describing those future realities, Peter offers three implications for his readers. First, make sure you have made peace with God (v. 14). Second, for those who have come to saving faith, pursue a life of holy conduct and godliness (vv. 11, 14). And third, share the good news with those who are lost — since God’s patience toward sinners (and the offer of salvation that accompanies it) will not last indefinitely (v. 15a).

So, is it good to think about the end of the world? Absolutely — as long as that thinking takes place within a biblical framework.

And when you do, be sure to consider how to make the most of each day, not for the sake of the passing pleasures of sin, but for the honor and glory of Christ.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Oh no no, the world won’t end tomorrow. Rather the planet Eutycus will come into view and aliens will visit and will usher in a new age of joy and happiness (at least, I think that’s how the conspiracy goes.)

    But is it good to think about the end of the world? In a sense. I think, rather, it’s good to be anxious about the return of the King, and how glorious that time will be.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right. The return of Christ is the center of our eschatological hope. Peter places that concept together with the “end of the world” in 2 Peter 3. As long as we are thinking biblically about the future of our planet, our perspective will necessarily orbit around the blessed hope of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior.

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