The beauty of a couple of interstate bus trips and a return flight to Brisbane over the past couple of weeks, is that I’ve been able to find time to do some more reading. And the brief books from the Questions Christians Ask series have been ideal travel reading—far better than most stuff you pick up at the airport bookstores!
How will the world end? And other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ by Jeramie Rinne takes us into some hotly debated topics among Christians. We are very good at dividing over millennial positions, the meaning of world events, identification of the anti-Christ, when the end will happen, and more. Careful reading of the Bible is paramount to understand God’s intentions in these matters.
The book starts by affirming that the end of the world will arrive according to God’s design and purpose. It won’t be the result of arbitrary forces of the universe, nor the inescapable consequence of human failure to care for our planet.
The problem facing the human race is not that it’s on a collision course with an asteroid. Our problem is far worse: we are on a collision course with a holy God who is coming to judge a sinful world. (p13)
God has promised to address our sin and rebellion and to bring us to account. In fact, we could not describe God as ‘good’ if he was to ignore sin and tolerate evil forever. His judgment reveals that he cares about this world that he has made and the people within it. Though we don’t know when, God promises that he has set a day when he will judge this world through his Son. This is the day when Jesus will return.
Rinne discusses what will happen before this day when Jesus returns to judge the world. He does so with special reference to Matthew 24. We are warned that there will be false messiahs; many who oppose Jesus; wars and disasters; persecution of Jesus’ followers; wickedness and evil; growth in the gospel. These things are not the end—but they are signs that the end is on the way. The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is that we are in the Last Days now. Not because we live in 2014 when there is evidence of these things all around us—this has been true of every age since Jesus first spoken these words. Jesus came to inaugurate the last days and he will bring them to an end when he returns.
A chapter of this book is devoted to helping Christians understand and navigate the various millennial perspectives that arise from Revelation 20. This provides a clear and helpful introduction to people’s thoughts on this matter. He concludes the chapter saying:
It’s probably all too much to hope that this chapter would clear up all the questions. But I hope that it did at least three things:
- I trust this chapter lifted you above the trees to see the forest.
- I pray this section increased your humility and patience toward others with different views.
- I hope this chapter increased your appetite to learn more about God’s word.
As your mind works to make sense of the details, may your heart swell with excitement that our Lord is returning! (p65)
How will the world end? draws heavily on the book of Revelation to make it’s case. However, I am always a little cautious about going to Revelation as the primary place to build my theological understanding. My rule of thumb tends to be ‘check my theology of Revelation with what I can verify clearly from the rest of Scripture’. Having said this, I do believe that Rinne handles Revelation faithfully and clearly.
From Revelation 20 we’re reminded that when Jesus returns to judge there will be ‘the books’ and the ‘book’. The ‘books’ will contain a record of our thoughts, words, and deeds. These will provide the incontrovertible evidence that God’s judgment is fully-informed, just and true. There is no hope for anyone in these books. It is the ‘book’ that offers hope. This is the Lamb’s book of life—what matters is whether our names are recorded in this book. The book of life reveals all who have trusted not in our deeds, but only in the sacrificial death of Jesus in our place. Is your name in this book?
For those not listed in the Lamb’s book of life the future is very grim. Images of hell and judgment speak of an everlasting judgment on all who reject God’s offer of rescue through Jesus. It is impossible for us to appreciate the magnitude, or indeed the rightness, of God’s judgment because we don’t have any sense of the gravity of our crime. (p76).
The closing chapter explores how we should live as we wait for Jesus’ return. He starts with the basics—because Jesus is returning to judge, we need to turn from our sins and put our trust in Jesus now. As we trust in Jesus, he doesn’t merely save us from our sins, but his grace transforms us and teaches us to live godly, Christ-like lives while we wait (Titus 2:11-14). We are urged to pray (1 Peter 4:7) and encourage one another to pray. We’re to remember our calling to take the good news of Jesus to all nations. As this world is passing we should not be too attached to stuff (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). We should remember that whatever trials and suffering we will face in this life, they are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
It is far too easy for us to live our lives stuck in the moment, to assume this life is all we’ve got, to lose sight of the end that is coming. This book is an important corrective.