Obviously, clearly, the world isn’t going to end tomorrow. Most likely you’re reading this some point well past the not-really-what-they-predicted-but-whatever Mayan Apocalypse and you’re probably wondering whether people actually were concerned about the end of the world. Really? Did people actually tremble with fear at the thought of world shattering earthquakes and tidal waves? Well, people reading this in the future, no, no they didn’t. But the language used to describe the end of the world was very much that of fear, terror, and anguish. Obviously right? You’re going to fear the end of the world and life as we know it, apocalypses are scary and even post-apocalyptic wastelands, though cool to visit, are not where you want to live.
And yet. The Christian hope, during persecution, and sin, and the fallen state of everything is that the end of the world is nigh. Soon Christ will return and rescue his people and renew the heavens and the earth, and sin and death and tragedy will all be away with. We look forward to the glorious coming of our saviour because he is the great hope, he is the answer to the evil in this world. Whereas naturally we should fear the end of the world, now through Christ Jesus we can cry out “come, Lord Jesus” and eagerly look forward to his coming again.
This isn’t an original observation, Athanasius put me on to this when in “On the Incarnation” he speaks about death in a similar way (though a way that’s probably alien to us privileged Western Christians).
“All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead. There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?”
(Athanasius – On the Incarnation, a couple of paragraphs into chapter five.)
His logic is that since Christ came back from the dead, he over-turned death. Since then, whoever trusts in Jesus knows that death is not a terror, but a means to life. And so instead of being feared it is mocked. And so it should be with the end of the world. Outside of Christ the end of the world should be a terror. Death and the end of human endeavour and judgement, but now we see Jesus reigning over the end of the world and using it to bring about his new kingdom.
We Christians look to Christ and so trample on the end of the world. It is no longer a thing to be feared but rather a thing —like all things— that Christ is using for our good. When someone says the end of the world is nigh, we have no reason to fear, but instead a reason for great joy. A time is coming when “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:6-8). Amen. Come Lord Jesus.