Just Passin’ Through? (What the Bible says about the “end” of the world)

This month’s edition of Mennonite Brethren Harald (Canada based) features an article that I wrote about the “end” times.  I thought I’d share the introduction with you here.  If you would like to read the whole article, you can follow the link provided.  Also, here are my “Recommended Resources” that continue to inform my view of eschatology:

  • N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and The Mission of The Church
  • N.T. Wright, Romans: New Interpreters Bible
  • John E. Towes, Romans: Believers Church Bible Commentary
  • Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness – Following the Lamb Into the New Creation
  • Timothy J. Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories

Thanks for reading!

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I guess we’ve all been “left behind.” According to what might have been the largest collaborative prediction of the return of Christ, we missed the rapture on May 21, 2011. Either everybody on the planet failed to pass the authentic Christian litmus test, or the predictions of Harold Camping were wrong. The rest of the world watched and mocked Christianity as May 22 dawned.

I grew up in the church. Most of what I recall from those early years brings good memories. People taught me that loving Jesus matters more than anything else. I learned that the world is corrupt, and the place we truly long for – heaven – is far, far away. So, we are to love Jesus and hate the world. This wasn’t hatred for the people who inhabit the planet, but a sincere belief that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”

Are we simply passing through? So many issues plague this world. Creation is dominated by violence, ecological disaster, preventable disease, hunger, and injustice. These things could certainly lead us to desire an escape from the darkness.

But is this how the Bible sees it? Paul’s perspective in Romans 8 will help us explore this question.

Hope for this world

Paul knew suffering, more than any other apostle, and in Romans 8, he reflects upon it.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (v. 18–21).

Present sufferings are nothing compared to future glory. And perhaps this is the same glory that was lost when humanity chose rebellion. In the early chapters of Genesis, we’re given a picture of shalom, present when the whole cosmos exists in beautiful harmony. Humanity, in God’s design, lives in right relationship with God, each other, and the earth.

When Adam and Eve decided to rebel against this creational pattern, they initiated consequences for us all: alienation. Something deep in our bones tells us: “This isn’t right!” We long for a world, for a life, where these broken relationships are put back together.

Paul tells us that the “creation waits in eager expectation… [to be] …liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (v. 19–21). John E. Toews, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary, explains: “Creation and humans share a common fate and destiny – they suffer together, they are renewed or saved and transformed or glorified together.”

Whereas the tendency in many escapist views of faith is to believe this world will one day be destroyed to make way for the final spiritual bliss of heaven, the vision of Romans 8 yields hope for this world we inhabit.

Heaven on earth

Paul continues: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies”
(v. 22–23).

Creation is groaning. Christians groan. In fact, the passage goes on to tell us that even the Holy Spirit groans (v. 26). For Christ-followers, the Spirit draws our longings to the final day when our bodies will be resurrected in a healed creation. A day is coming when God will judge evil, and restore our fractured world to be the kind of place where his kingdom is fully present. Heaven will come to earth!

Many of us have been conditioned to believe in escapism, instead of working with God to bring healing to this world. So is this reading of Romans 8 inconsistent with other parts of the New Testament? (To read the rest of this article, follow this link)

  • Nate

    Great Article Kurt… but it is in the HERALD… not the Harold :D

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @13f560e66eec4baf44b6e2fb10babe1b:disqus … thanks… fixed…

  • http://twitter.com/awgonnerman Adam Gonnerman

    Great article!

  • KingsofZion

    Although I think we’re stuck here which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t such a hostile environment (in all respects); not everyone who feels that they will be delivered from an end time war or tribulation of some kind also thinks they do not have to be active Christians in and for the world. 

    The Catholics have always been so great when it comes to missional activities.  It’s kind of ironic that those responsible for the reformation didn’t seem to focus as much on mission as they did getting their theology together after breaking free from the tyranny of the religious leaders of their day.  They were after all supposed to be the enlightened ones. It probably had something to do with not having the backing and economy of their predecessors. I see a lot of Christians serving all around the world today though.  Most credible church groups are active in some form of outreach. 

    It’s probably more a matter of keeping those in Christ motivated to keep on keepin’ on whether they are in agreement with one another on end times or with regards to exactly how God plans to do things in any given situation.

    In my experience with scripture, any type of future event/events that were apocalyptic in nature were without exception confusing to many and misunderstood/misinterpreted as well. I’m not sure why that is, but I suppose as with everything else God does, He has His reasons.

    He does say that He does nothing unless he reveals it to His servants first. I can say that He hasn’t revealed anything to me personally (Not to say He should. Just sayin’), and I would be reluctant to believe anyone who claimed to know God’s future plans with any great detail and certainty as much predictive scripture still seemed confusing to many and wasn’t what it seemed even after its fulfillment.  I’ve said about it, “that’s what that meant?” “I would’ve never interpreted that out of that prophecy, etc.”        

    I’ve had my own flaky moments, but the May 21st thing is definitely in the top 15though on the prophetic blunders of the 20th century list. Wow. That’s gotta hurt to have that as part of your learning curve.

  • Evelyn

    I just wrote an essay on this for my theology degree :-)
    http://blazingambo.blogspot.com/2011/12/pauls-eschatological-vision-and.html
    Blessings,
    ~ Evelyn


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