I was not yet born at the time of the Second World War, but I am certain that at the time, it must have looked very much like the end of the world was at hand. If there has ever been an anti-Christ figure, certainly Adolf Hitler very much looked like he was the one. His brutality, his indiscriminate killing of innocent people—especially the Jewish people, and even his ability to deceive many who called themselves Christian, all of this made many other Christians believe that Hitler was the antichrist.
And the people of the day prepared. They built bomb-shelters in their back yards. They armed themselves, and they horded ammunition. They put up stocks of food.
I may have done the same. I am not so egotistical that I would have said any different.
Preparing has again come into vogue. “Preppers”—that is the moniker that has been given to those who are preparing themselves for what is yet an unknown threat. You can go online and read all sorts of articles about the best way to prepare. You can also look at catalogues of companies that want to sell you items to help you prepare.
The threat is unknown, but there are many conspiracies out there of what the impending menace may be. These range from environmental catastrophes to great technological failures, to oppressive political disasters. Some of these ideas seem a little far-fetched, but the point is, many people in these days have an inner sense of a looming crisis of some kind.
I am not saying that I think it is foolish to prepare for what may look like difficult times ahead. Actually, I think it foolish not to prepare in some ways. But by placing their importance in all the food, all the armaments and all of the reinforced concrete—well…they all miss the true issue.
But if not those, what is the true issue? What have we missed?
In the past several Sundays, we have been seeing what the Scriptures teach us about the unfolding of God’s plan—or, as the Bible puts it, how God is bringing all things to fulfillment. I spoke last Sunday of how God calculates time not only by looking at the calendar on the wall, but also by noting the progress in the filling of his plan. God is working for the fullness of time for his entire plan to be revealed.
This fulfillment is much deeper and much more extensive than we can imagine. It is summarized in the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians. Paul calls this plan “the mystery of God’s will.” This is a plan for the fullness of time, which God has put in place by means of Jesus Christ. His plan for these final days is “to bring all things together in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
Paul is speaking of all things. That means not only everything in heaven is brought together in Christ, but it also means an earth that finally functions in harmony under the authority of Christ.
It must be obvious to all that this present earth does not function in harmony. It is why we watch the news on TV. We want to hear about the latest bad thing that is happening. Our world is one that is in constant trouble—it is obvious. Only slightly less obvious to us is that it is becoming increasingly apparent that our present earth never will function in harmony.
Despite countless government attempts at world-wide peace treaties, countless government programs to attempt to correct social injustices, countless government international trade agreements, and countless international attempts to combat common environmental problems, it must be clear that our system of world governments does not seem to be able to answer the most serious issues of life. Often, rather than alleviating our problems, the interventions of our governments only exacerbates the situation.
In its present form, our world will never function in harmony. In fact, not only will it never function in harmony, it is on the path that would lead it to eventually consume itself. I have a sense that if left to ourselves, mankind would eventually bring about our own apocalypse, like the subject of many popular books and movies. But in fact, the world will not end in self-destruction.
It is true that Paul writes that “This world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31), and John agrees by also writing “The world is passing away, along with its desires” (1 John 2:16). This “passing away” may not be a death from self-destruction, but neither is it like the passing away of an old man in his sleep. The passing away of the earth will indeed be with a violent end.
Peter tells us that “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).
This is not self-destruction, but destruction from without. The destruction is not by ungodly men, but of ungodly men. It is something that we read about from the prophet Zephaniah:
The LORD declares, “I will completely sweep away everything from the face of the earth. I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, and the idols with their wicked worshipers. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth.” (1:2-4 BSB)
The destruction of this present earth will come from God. Whatever means he has proposed to use for this destruction, when it comes, there will be no doubt that it is He who imposed this incineration of the earth.
It is something that other prophets also write about—this one from the prophet Micah:
For behold, the LORD comes forth from His dwelling place;
He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth.
The mountains will melt beneath Him, and the valleys will split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. (Micah 1:3-4 BSB).
Thus, stocking up your pantry and in other ways preparing for future eventualities and difficulties in this world may be of some small benefit in the short run, but if you are preparing for a future beyond this present life, then you must think beyond this earth we are now living on.
Preppers for the Apocalypse
But how do we prepare? Stocking up on food reserves would make no sense, nor would any kind of disaster shelter—bomb shelter or otherwise. The destruction of the present earth will be so complete that there is no earthly shelter or any quantity of reserves that would help anyone survive.
So then, what do we do? If one expected a great famine, he could prepare himself. It is what Joseph did to help the Egyptians through seven years of famine in their land. If one expected a great flood, he could prepare himself. It is what Noah did at the time of the Great Flood of his day. Even if one expected a nuclear holocaust, one could prepare himself. Many have even done this in their back yards or in their back forties.
But if one expects the conflagration of the entire planet, what actions would one take? Jesus describes that condition like this:
There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among the nations, bewildered by the roaring of the sea and the surging of the waves. Men will faint from fear and anxiety over what is coming upon the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27 BSB)
How are we to prepare for such a thing as that?
The Next Major Event of Fulfillment
Do you recall from last week when I spoke of the verse in Second Peter about a day to the Lord being like a thousand years, and conversely a thousand years is like a day? Here is a bit more complete reading of that passage:
Beloved, do not let this one thing escape your notice: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and its works will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:8-10 BSB)
This is a reiteration of what we have already read. It is what the prophets have told us. It might be a disturbing thought to some. We may have some ideas on how we might prepare for disasters that might come upon us which are caused by man, but how are we to prepare for the final disaster—one that is not by the hand of man, but by the very hand of God!
Like a Thief
As we have just read, Peter says that the destruction will come upon the earth suddenly, “like a thief.” This is something that Paul also mentions:
Now about the times and seasons, brothers, we do not need to write to you. For you are fully aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 BSB)
These two words from two apostles have given rise to the popular notion that Jesus will come suddenly, at a time when no one can expect. He will come, according to this thinking, “Like a thief in the night.”
Some words that Jesus said also have given rise to this idea:
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come. But understand this: If the homeowner had known in which watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. For this reason, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44 BSB)
While the stress in many teachings is placed on the thief in the night phrase, notice that the main thrust of what Jesus was saying in these verses actually is not that we must live in fear, thinking that surely the end may be near, but only that we “must be ready.” We must be prepared,
Paul also speaks of this readiness in the continuation of what we read above in his words about the Day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night:
But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief. For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not sleep as the others do, but let us remain awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night; and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of our hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-7 BSB)
The point that Jesus made and also Paul is that the watchful believer will understand the times. He or she will be ready and will see with expectation what is about to happen. The coming of Jesus will not be a shock or a surprise. We will also see that the times are being fulfilled, and know that we must be diligent to be prepared.
The Apocalypse, or the Salvation?
Rather than living in fear of these events, for the Christian who is truly following Christ, these are hopeful signs. To continue the words of Jesus after he spoke of the great disasters that are to come upon the earth, he goes on to say, “When these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 BSB).
The first thing that we must realize is that we should not be surprised if and when we see disasters coming upon the earth. We have had a year of unprecedented natural disasters in the United States. They do not approach the level of disaster that Jesus speaks about, but they have been severe enough that they have gotten many thinking about what may be coming.
And that is just the point. The calamities that are destined to come are not only for the destruction of evil men, but it is also to awaken those who have been lulled into complacency in their walk with God. And Paul has said, these are “Like labor pains on a pregnant woman.” All of it should confirm in our minds that we need to prepare for what will eventually happen.
Rather than dreading such a day, and despite what initial and temporary troubles it may bring, for the one who is living and looking for the fullness of time, Paul calls these days our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). We need not fear any disaster that may come in the final days of the earth, for Paul also writes that, rather than fear, we “eagerly await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“He will sustain you to the end,” Paul writes, “so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9 BSB).
“Stand up and lift up your heads,” Jesus tells us, "your redemption is near."
Preppers for Eternity
But even with all of these words of promise, we must prepare for these times that will surely come. The preparation is not the same as if we were preparing for a lengthy lock-down or a mere earthly catastrophe. After Peter writes of the disasters that will befall the earth, he then asks the penetrating question: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?”
The answer that he gives this question is how we are to prepare for eternity. It has nothing to do with hording or accumulating any kind of worldly goods. This is an inward preparation. This is a preparation of our heart. Peter continues:
You ought to conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness as you anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13 BSB)
The modern day preppers that we read and hear about, and perhaps even are ourselves, prepare themselves so that in case of disaster, their lives can continue with minimum changes. That is perhaps fine for our earthly citizenship, but at the deepest level, one who follows Christ has an even greater citizenship.
“Our citizenship is in heaven,” says the Apostle Paul. “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21 BSB).
The prepper for eternity recognizes that his or her true life is not in an earthly citizenship, but in a heavenly one. In eternity, that which gives security and has meaning is not how many preserved foodstuffs you have managed to hoard, nor is it an armory full of guns and ammunition. Rather than these things that may serve us in an old earth, there it is a new heaven and a new earth, and it is there where righteousness dwells.
It will be in that new heaven and new earth where we will finally see harmony. All conflict will be gone, all prejudice will disappear, all inequalities non-existent. There will be no disasters of nature.
In the fullness of time and with the final fulfillment of the plan of God, it is righteousness that will reign. This is God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ.”
It is why Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
And it is why Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12 BSB).