Then the end will come, when (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father
after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. –I Corinthians 15:28
In this verse Paul is writing about the end of the world. “Then the end will come…” he says. When I was a child, I was quite sure that the end would come any day. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s during the hottest days of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other 200 times over and it looked like it was only a matter of time before they would do so. Now things are different. There is no Soviet Union anymore, and the United States and Russia are getting along a little better. But that does not mean that we are safe.
In 1948, just three years after the only hostile use of nuclear weapons, C. S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled, “Living in an Atomic Age.” Much of what he writes could also be applied to ‘living in an age of terrorism.’ He begins by asking, “How are we to live in an atomic age?” He replies, “Why, (just) as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, (heart attacks), or car accidents… Believe me,… you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death long before the atomic bomb was invented; and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.” (Present Concerns, p. 73f)
However, one might say, what is new and different about nuclear war is that these bombs could destroy all of civilization, even all of life. The lights may be put out for everyone, forever. But Lewis goes on to point out that this also is no different than it has always been. Everyone who knows even a little science knows that with or without the atomic bomb the whole story of this universe is going to end in nothingness. Scientists hold out no hope that this planet will be permanently inhabitable. Resources will be used up, the sun will burn out, and everything will become cold and lifeless. The whole universe is running out of energy and will not last forever. Nature does not, in the long run, favor life. If nature is all there is, or in other words if there is no God, then history will end in a cold and dark universe from which all life is banished with no possibility of return. Nuclear war would greatly reduce the time left for life on this little planet, but war or no war, human history can be no more than a brief drop of time in the vast ocean of eternity.
Many years ago, an old prophet who knew nothing about nuclear war or modern physics wrote these words (Isaiah 51:4a,6): “Listen to me, my people, lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth below. The heavens will vanish like smoke. The earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die like flies.” That is how it will end, said Isaiah writing in 600 B.C. and C. S. Lewis writing in 1948. That is how it will end, and each day we move closer to that end. So the most important question is not whether or not nuclear warfare will obliterate civilization. That is indeed a big question and we must all hope that the leaders of the world keep working to prevent that. But what is most important to know is if this universe is all there is, or if there is something more.
Jesus once asked his followers that same question from a different angle. Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Was Jesus just a man, a part of nature, like us, here for just a little while and then dead and obliterated into dust and ashes forever? Or, was Jesus who he said he was, someone from above and beyond this fragile and temporary world, and thus someone we can look to for something more? “Who do you say that I am ?” asks Jesus of each of us. Immediately following all that dreadful talk about the world wearing out like a garment and people dying like flies, the Almighty God said through Isaiah: “But my salvation will last forever and my righteousness will never fail.” And Jesus said in the Gospel of John (chapter 14), “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And I will come back and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be also.”
This world is a pretty good place in which to live– for a while. But it is not going to last. Jesus speaks of another place that is beyond all that we can see, beyond this world that is wearing out and can be made uninhabitable by nuclear bombs, beyond this universe that is growing ever colder, and this natural world where death rules. When the scientists speak of the end of this universe, that means the end of all life and they can offer no further hope. But when the Bible speaks of the end of this world, it is always in the context of this hope and promise of that new and greater place that will never die or wear out. Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that all creation looks forward this time when it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.” Therefore, in our fragile life on this temporary little planet, we must trust in God who says from the throne in Revelation 21, “Behold, I am making all things new,” and in Jesus who said, “I am going on ahead to prepare a place for you.”
Jesus has told us that we need not fear those who can only kill the body, for they cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). C. S. Lewis once said: “Anyhow, when the bomb falls there will always be just that split second in which one can say, ‘Pooh! You are only a bomb, but I am an immortal soul’” (quoted in Light on C. S. Lewis, Gibb and Barfield, p. 64,65).
Isaiah 51:6 — Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.
Matthew 10:28 — (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 16:15-16 — “But what about you?” (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Merciful God, be gracious to me. I know that even when I have done my best, I am still a miserable sinner and deserve nothing but your displeasure. But regardless of my past life, I am comforted knowing that Jesus Christ has died for me, and that in Him I have the forgiveness of all my sins. For I have indeed been baptized in your name; and, I have heard the Word through which you have called me, commanded me to believe, and assured me of grace and life. With these blessings I will gladly die, without anxious doubts and fears about what will happen to me then. For I now live in the assurance of the gracious promise which God has given me from heaven: ‘He who believes in the Son of God has eternal life.’ Amen. –Martin Luther