Eschatology (End Times)
Chapter One of the Great Story
In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
The Chess Painting
Bishop Kenneth Ulmer is the pastor of a church that meets in Los Angeles at the Forum where the Lakers used to play basketball. He
tells the story of two men in a museum who see a painting of a chess game. One character in the painting looked like a man; the other looked very much like the devil. The man was down to his last piece. The title of the painting was Checkmate.
One of the two men looking at the painting was an international chess champion. Something about the painting intrigued him. He began to study it. He grew so engrossed that the man with him got a little impatient and asked what he was doing.
The chess champion said, “Something about this painting bothers me. I want to study it awhile. You go ahead and wander around.”
When the friend came back after a while, the chess master said, “We must locate the man who painted this piece. We must tell him he must either change the picture or change the title. I have determined there is something wrong with this painting, and I am an international chess champion.”
His friend asked, “What’s wrong with the painting?”
The man replied, “It’s titled Checkmate, but the title is wrong. The king still has one more move.”
Homecoming & The Hope of Resurrection
In her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel reflects on the nature of home in a transient age. In this short excerpt, Michel describes the central longing in both Tolkein & Lewis’ fiction:
In their stories of hobbits and orcs, fauns and beavers and Father Christmas, Tolkien and Lewis told the story of home as the Scriptures tell it: the world has fallen from its original perfection, but it will one day be restored. The enduring legacy of these stories testify to the resonance of their hope.
Humans long for the thaw of winter and the return of the king.
They want to go home. Acquainted with the early grief of losing a mother, both Tolkien and Lewis knew the longing for a world in which death and injustice did not triumph.
Devout Christians, both men knew the consolation of that desire in the story of Jesus Christ—because Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. As the Zaleskis write, “When Sam Gamgee cries out, ‘O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!’ we are not in the realm of escapism, but of the Gospel, in all its strangeness and beauty.”
How the World Might End
For centuries there have been innumerable theories as to when and how the world might end. Here are some highlights gleaned from alleged prophecies:
In 960 Bernard of Thuringia, a German theologian, calculated 992 as the most likely year for the world’s end. As the time approached, panic was widespread.
German astrologer Johann Stoffler predicted an overwhelming flood on February 20, 1524. Believers started constructing arks. One man is said to have been trampled to death by a mob attempting to board his specially built vessel. When nothing happened, the calculations were revised and a new date given—1588. That year also passed without any unusual rainfall.
Solomon Eccles was jailed in London’s Bridewell Prison in 1665 for striding through Smithfield Market, carrying a pan of blazing sulfur on his head, and proclaiming doom and destruction. Although the end of the world did not follow, the Great Fire of London did, in 1666.
After studying both the Bible and the mystical messages of the Great Pyramid, in 1874 Charles Taze Russell, founder of the sect that became Jehovah’s Witnesses, concluded that the Second Coming had already taken place. He declared that people had 40 years, or until 1914, to enter his faith or be destroyed. Later he modified the date to “very soon after 1914.”
Herbert W. Armstrong, publisher of the magazine “The Plain Truth,” declared that January 7, 1972, was undoubtedly the date to watch. The utter failure of his prediction did not diminish his zeal.
The 16th-century seer Nostradamus is said to have favored 1999 as the year of a Martian invasion, while an 18th-century French prophetess, Jeanne Le Roger, established the year 2000 as the definitive one.
Adapted by Chris Stroup, from “Facts and Fallacies,” Reader’s Digest (1988);
I Can’t Be Lost
An elderly gentleman was out walking with his young grandson. ‘How far are we from home?’ he asked the grandson. The boy answered, ‘Grandpa, I don’t know.’ The grandfather asked, ‘Well, where are you?’ Again the boy answered, ‘I don’t know.’ Then the grandfather said good-naturedly, ‘Sounds to me as if you are lost.’ The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, ‘Nope, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.’ Ultimately, that is the answer to our lostness, too. We can’t be lost if He is with us.
The End is Nearish
PRESS RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 1, 1993
We didn’t make a mistake when we wrote in our previous releases that New York would be destroyed on September 4 and October 14, 1993. We didn’t make a mistake, not even a teeny eeny one!
PRESS RELEASE DATE: APRIL 4, 1994 All the dates we have given in our past releases are correct dates given by God as contained in Holy Scriptures. Not one of these dates was wrong . . . Ezekiel gives a total of 430 days for the siege of the city . . . [which] brings us exactly to May 2, 1994. By now, all the people have been forewarned. We have done our job . . . We are the only ones in the entire world guiding the people to their safety, security, and salvation! We have a 100 percent track record!
Press releases from Neal Chase, representing the religious group Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, in “The End Is Nearish,” Harper’s, February 1995, 22, 24.
The Parable of the Theater
The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each show is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theater is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion.
The audience thinks this is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and the fun-loving audience with it.
“And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”
Paul’s term for the return of Jesus is called the parousia. Parousia was used to describe an imperial visit by a king to a city. People would send a delegation outside the city gates to greet the dignitary. Those who went out to meet the dignitary always returned with the dignitary into their city. So Paul is describing “an escort to earth.” When Jesus returns, those who are alive will rise to greet him and accompany him on his descent. Then the dead in Christ will rise to meet them. In other words, it is a big party—on earth.
A Phone Line to the Grave
I hate to admit it, but there is actually a minister in a city in America who has a phone line connected from his wife’s grave to his office because before she died, they had agreed that if she was privy to any inside word that Jesus’ second coming was imminent, she would call him so that he would be the first to know.
There is a deep longing in every human heart to return to our ancestral home. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sing about this in their song “Woodstock”: “We got to get ourselves back to the garden.” This is part of God’s purpose for his people: a return to the place where we began. It is a place of relationship between man and woman and fellowship with God—a place of light and life, of trees and water.
This is the home where we have always belonged, and always will. In the words of Chad Walsh, a literary critic who came to faith in Christ through the witness of C. S. Lewis, “I believe man once lived in utopia, but does no longer, and that he is always trying to return. The name of his first utopia was Eden. . . . It is a part of our heritage. We want to go back. . . . We are haunted by memories of the original garden. . . . We are Displaced Persons, but our old homeland burns and glows in our hearts.”
Taken from Phillip Graham Ryken in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, p.124. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
Saying “Thy Kingdom Come”
There are a great number among the Christian people, who, in the Lord’s prayer, when they pray, “Thy kingdom come,” pray that this day may come; but yet, nonetheless, they are drowned in the world: they say the words with their lips, but they cannot tell the meaning of it; they speak it only with their tongue: which saying is to no purpose.
But that man or woman who says these words, “Thy kingdom come,” with a faithful heart, no doubt they desire indeed that God will come to judgment, and to amend all things in this world, and to pull down Satan, that old serpent, under our feet. But there are a great number of us who are not ready.
Some have lived in this world fifty years, some sixty; yet for all that they are not prepared pared for his coming; they think always that he will not come yet. But I tell you that though his general coming is not yet, yet for all that he will come one day, and take us out of this world. And, no doubt, if he find us ready, and in the state of salvation, no doubt we shall be saved for ever, world without end. Therefore it is right for every one of us to take heed. Let us not tarry too long with our amendment, lest we come too short.
Hugh Latimer, A Reading from a Sermon on the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Advent (Luke 21:25).
The Sense of an Ending
Life is short, and we can accomplish only so much. Much of what we do will remain unfinished. For now. In one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Leaf by Niggle,” author J. R. R. Tolkien provides us with a fascinating idea of what we might be doing in the next life. And it is not floating on clouds playing harp music! It is an unforgettable story about Niggle, a man whose passion is painting trees. The only problem is that Niggle is too distracted to paint the whole tree; he spends all his time painting leaves. He is never satisfied with the leaves he has painted, so he works on them endlessly.
He never gets past the leaves! One day Niggle dies and awakens in an unfamiliar place. He comes upon a bicycle with a yellow label tied to the bars with “NIGGLE” written on it. Niggle gets on the bicycle and begins riding through the meadow. He looks ahead and sees something so startling he falls off the bicycle. He sees the tree, the tree he had been painting his whole life but never finished. Here it is, finished! And it was not a painting; it was alive, real, swaying in the wind. Niggle had so often wondered how it would look. He gazes at the tree in wonder, slowly lifts his arms in praise, and utters, “It is a gift.” What did Niggle realize? That his art—the work he did in his life—was a gift. But even more, he discovers that the work he did in his life would find its full completion in the life to come.
On the final page of the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia, some of the children who have been to Narnia lament that they once again must return to their homeland—the Shadow-Lands. But Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) has the best news of all for them:
[Aslan spoke to the children,] “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended; this is morning.”
And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Introduction by Chris Stroup, C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Thinking about the Life to Come
The manner in which Christians have thought about life after death, or about the world to come, has varied considerably from century to century and from place to place. It is easy enough to understand why. Christians who have few of this world’s goods or who face the stress of perennially threatening persecution are more likely to long for the “home” of the new heaven and the new earth than are Christians who live remarkably secure and comfortable lives.
Christians who think about these things at a period in history when talk about “end times” is all the rage are more likely to stretch their imaginations into eternity (though how accurately is another question) than are those who focus on other doctrines.
The Time Between the Time
In a very real sense, the Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stable in Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory, to judge the living and the dead.
In the Time Between, “our lives are hidden with Christ in God; when Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires….The disappointment, brokenness, suffering, and pain that characterize life in this present world is held in dynamic tension the church lives its life.
A Transfer of Funds
When Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on Earth, it’s not because wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. No exceptions. Imagine yourself near the end of the Civil War. You’re a Northerner, stranded in the South by the war. You plan to move home when the war is over. While in the South, you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Suppose you know for a fact that the North is going to win the war soon.
What will you do with your Confederate money?
If you’re smart, you’ll immediately cash in your excess Confederate currency for US currency—the only money that will have value after the war. You’ll keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs.
As a Christian, you have inside knowledge of an eventual worldwide upheaval caused by Christ’s return. This is the ultimate insider trading tip: Earth’s currency will become worthless when Christ returns—or when you die, whichever comes first. (And either event could happen at any time.)
Investment experts known as market timers read signs that the stock market is about to take a downward turn, then recommend switching funds immediately into more dependable vehicles such as money markets, treasury bills, or certificates of deposit.
Jesus functions here as the foremost market timer. He instructs us to transfer our funds from the fallen Earth (which is ready to take a permanent dive) to Heaven (which is insured by God and will soon replace Earth’s economy—forever). Though Christ’s financial forecast for Earth is bleak, He’s unreservedly bullish about investing in Heaven, where every market indicator is eternally positive!
A Watchman at the Gate
Editor’s Note: The following was an imagination exercise used while preaching on Matthew 24:36-44, I began by inviting the congregation to close their eyes.
Imagine you are a watchmen (or woman) standing guard of an ancient city. You are currently under siege, because, as you may know, most ancient battles took the form of a siege, with a foreign army camped outside your city, you, inside the city are protected by your gates, your city walls, but they are waiting, hoping, praying, that you will give up because you have run out of water and food.
You’ve been on guard for 32 straight days and the work is getting to you, you hope that the invaders will give up, but you don’t really know if you have enough supplies before your sister city can bring reinforcements, but will they have the courage to face such a formidable foe?
And so really, more than anything this has become your new normal, it’s slightly boring, monotonous, just watching, hoping they don’t try to enter by your entrance to the city. And so, you just kind of doze off, you didn’t mean to, but you’ve been doing this for over a month now and it just kind of happened.
You wake up to the sound of grapples catching the top of the bulwarks and the sound of crashing lumber, as ladders clank against the wall. All of sudden, the monotony of the last 32 days has been transformed into the most desperate, intense moment of your life, as you realize you have fallen asleep and everything is about to change.
This is a glimpse of the picture Jesus is painting in this morning’s passage (Matthew 24:36-44).
The picture of the second coming is one where normal life that is interrupted in a moment, and then everything changes, and the question is: how will we respond?
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Wedding of the Lamb
There were two important steps to a Jewish marriage: the betrothal (the promised agreement to marry) and the actual wedding ceremony. These two events were often separated by an extended period of time during which the couple remained faithful to one another though the wedding ceremony was not yet finalized.
Our betrothal to Christ takes place at the point of salvation. But the wedding ceremony occurs when Christ, the Bridegroom, comes to take his bride.
Quest Study Bible, “What Does the Wedding of the Lamb Represent?” Commentary on Revelation 19:7.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Eschatology.