The little man in the comics wandered the busy sidewalks, placard resting securely on his shoulders. “The End of the World is Near,” the sign always read. The Doomsday clock is ticking.
Since 1947, the non-profit organization, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), adjusts its symbolic clock to represent how close we are to destroying civilization as we know it. In 2020 the clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to the theoretic end.
According to a poll conducted by the Joshua Fund, about 44% of Americans see the coronavirus pandemic and this year’s economic roller coaster as either a wake-up call to faith, a sign of God’s coming judgment, or both.
According to a YouGov survey gathered last year, about one-third of American adults believe that an apocalyptic disaster will occur in their lifetime. About 17% of these warriors say they have a survival plan for their families. The Pew Research Center poll shows that 40% of American adults believe that Jesus is going to return by 2050. This number includes about one in five people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Every poll speaks the same thing: we think the end is near.
What will be the likely cause of the global end? Americans are almost equally divided in their responses: 19% believe it will come at the hands of a global pandemic; another 19% feel climate change will be the culprit; 17% foresee a nuclear disaster; while another 13% explain the end will come by the skies splitting open ushering in the final judgment day.
Doomsday predictions are not new. Dec. 21, 2012, marked the end of the Mayan calendar. Many misinterpreted the event to mean the end of all time. A man in China built a modern-day ark to prepare for the end.
Another recent prediction of the end times was made by Harold Camping. Camping actually had publicly prophesied the apocalypse 12 times. He saw the end coming on May 21, 2011, because it would be exactly 7,000 years after the flood of Noah. When the date passed, he announced his math had an error and pushed the date to Oct. 21 of the same year.
Are you old enough to remember the commotion around the turn of the century? Computers were supposed to shut down, throwing the world into a technological tizzy. Many believed we would be without power, communication and the ability to survive. Looking back, the worst thing about that year was Windows ME.
The narrative of a coming “end of the world” disaster is told beyond Christianity. Judaism, Islam and Buddhism join the Christian faith in anticipating an event to end all events. The Greek word apokalypsis means an unveiling, revealing something that was hidden. The faiths believe that the apocalypse will usher in a new life. But is it possible to miss the event?
For the last couple of weeks, we have been following Paul’s second missionary journey, stopping at some of the locations where Paul spent time. This week’s stop is in Thessalonica. Today Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece. It has become one of the most important business centers in Southeastern Europe. Greater Thessaloniki boasts over a million inhabitants. Paul wrote two letters to these Christians that are preserved in the New Testament.
Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth about AD51. Only a few months had passed since Paul had been preaching there. Chased from the city by an uprising, Paul was uncertain how persecution and incorrect teaching would affect their newly formed faith. 2 Thessalonians appears to follow a couple of months later.
These two epistles provide Paul’s clearest teaching about the end times. Many were concerned that the death of their loved ones signaled the end of their hope. Paul taught that before the actual end of time and judgment, Christ himself would return. The dead who had believed will rise first, followed close by the living faithful. This gathering in the air will begin an eternity with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Others were bothered by the constant persecution and suffering they were enduring. While Jewish and Roman persecution provided real threats, Paul warns them the real persecution is a part of a spiritual battle. Comparisons with passages in Daniel, Matthew and Revelation lead many to foresee an Antichrist working hard to thwart the message of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Many others were afraid they had missed Jesus’ return. Paul assured the readers the second coming of Jesus was not going to be an event they could sleep through. Trumpets blaring, lights like fire blazing, all people will be drawn into an event to end all other events. Paul wanted the insight into the future to dictate the faithfulness and obedience of their present. He urged them to encourage and strengthen each other with these words.
When society slips away from a basis of morality and ethics, and solely focuses on political strength and material security, people fail to notice the spiritual moorings that need to anchor life. Paul urges discipline and self-control to form the borders of a life filled with love and faithfulness.
The apostle to the Gentiles was concerned that believers in Thessalonica stood firm in their faith in spite of persecution and false teachers. Their hope in the return of Jesus in the future should serve as encouragement and motivation for their faithfulness and obedience. Paul expected to see them faithful until the end. He expects no less from us.