The End is Near // A Devotional Thought on Christ’s Return
Prof. John F. Brug, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Every age thinks that the end is near. Since at our death our fate is sealed, I have often wondered if the imminence of the Last Day has to do more with the day of our deaths, which we cannot know, versus only the final Day of Judgment.
As you said, when people die they immediately go to heaven or hell (Luke 16:22; 1 Peter 3:19,20). Already at the time of their death, God can assign people to heaven or hell without any investigation or trial, since he knows the heart of every person.
In several places the Bible speaks of conscious reactions of souls in hell or heaven. The rich man is afraid that his brothers will join him in hell (Luke 16:22-23). Jesus descended to hell to proclaim his victory to the spirits of those who had died in the flood (1 Peter 3:19-20). Jesus promised the repentant thief that he would be with him in Paradise–today (Luke 23:43). The souls of the martyrs live and rule with Christ in heaven (Revelation 20:4) and pray for his justice to come upon the earth (Revelation 6:10). In this sense, “our fate is sealed” at the day of our death.
The Bible, nevertheless, teaches us to look forward to the day of resurrection and judgment. Our goal is not to die and to have our soul go to heaven. Our goal is to have our soul and body joined together again as God created them to be. Our goal is not just to escape the injustice of life on earth through death, but to have injustice on earth come to an end. As we saw above, even the saints in heaven pray for Judgment Day.
The passages that refer to the nearness of Christ’s coming (such as James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:3; 22:10,12) do not seem to be pointing so much to the day of our death as to the day of Christ’s appearing. If nearly 2,000 years have passed, how could this event be said to be “near” already in the days of the apostles?
In saying Christ’s return is near, God is not measuring days on a calendar, but completeness of the preparations.
Certainly, one factor is that God’s way of looking at time is not the same as ours (2 Peter 3:8-9).
But a more important factor from our perspective is that the Bible treats everything since Christ’s first coming as “the last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2). To put it another way, we could say “Christ’s return is near” means “everything is ready for Christ’s return.” All of God’s plans for salvation have been completed except for the one event that remains, Christ’s return.
The clearest expression of this is in Hebrews 9:26-28. In saying Christ’s return is near, God is not measuring days on a calendar, but completeness of the preparations. Everything is ready. God’s banquet is ready. He needs no more time to get ready. But in patience he is giving the people of the world time to get ready.
Yes, for all practical purposes the day of our death is the Last Day for us. But the Bible teaches us to eagerly await the Last Day for this earth when Christ’s assignment as Savior is completed and God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). That day is near.
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