Knowing the end of a story is a pretty big deal. If you’ve ever attempted to watch a complete TV series on your favorite streaming service or DVD collection, you understand this well. A good story has characters with depth and life (the kind you want to continue to hear more about when the story is over – you were thinking the Gilmore Girls weren’t you?), drama, suspense, intrigue, heroes, villains, a climax and some sort of restoration, justice or peace in the end. Until you understand how the end plays out, you’re left hanging – it feels like something incomplete and in a way it almost gnaws at you like a puzzle missing the final piece.
The bible is God’s story. Many books and outlines have been produced to explain God’s story, which go into much greater detail than I do here (you could read about a couple of them here or here) – suffice to say for this post, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by 40 authors over a 2,000 year time period yet when understood, is really a single story by a single author, God himself. The story is about God’s creation (characters, setting), the fall (conflict), redemption (climax and solution), and restoration (resolution, made new). As I write this in December of 2020, the best estimate for where we are in God’s story is somewhere between the redemption and restoration, with hopes that we are very near the restoration.
There is a lot more depth to God’s story than a simplified outline or bullet list can properly explain, which is why it is insufficient for understanding God’s story. You have to actually read God’s story as well. Being between 2,000 and 4,000 years removed from the events of what was written about also means there may be a lot of context that you don’t understand. It may not come as simply as sitting down and reading the book like you would the latest true crime fiction best seller. For the purposes of this post however, let’s use the basic outline just to make general statements about how to understand or interpret when and how God’s story might end, and why that matters –
- Creation – this occurs in Genesis 1 and 2 of the bible, though it could be argued that creation is more than just the physical creation of the world, and rather the creation of God’s people, which would be most all parts of the Pentateuch, Torah, or first 5 books of the old testament.
- Fall – this also occurs in Genesis (Chp. 3) when Adam and Eve first sin, though could be understood throughout the entire old testament as we see that no matter what order, land, ruler, riches or powers are put into place, people cannot obey and follow God sustainably. People always fall and are unable to do what God commands.
- Redemption – the redemption is prophesied in Genesis (Chp. 3) when God tells us that a descendant of Adam will crush the serpent’s head. Throughout most all of the old testament there is allusion, and prophesy to the coming redeemer, (see blood guilt offerings, sacrifices, the Passover, the kinsman redeemer Boaz, the small and humble David made king, Jonah “dead” in a whale for 3 days, Isaiah the prophet listing out exactly how Jesus would die and events that take place on the day of his death, Daniel being told by an angel the exact number of days from the time a command is given to rebuild the temple and the time the savior will come, and so on and so on). But the event of redemption, though spoken of throughout the old testament does not occur until Jesus’ death on the cross which is chronicled in the gospels of the new testament. Jesus redeems God’s people – he pays for their sins by his sacrifice and by him we are granted righteousness and acceptance in God’s eyes. Jesus achieves what no other person could.
- Restoration – A new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem are being prepared for God’s people (who will also receive new bodies) to dwell in with God himself. Because this has not been finished or completed yet, there is much debate about both when and how this will occur. This is the final “chapter” of God’s story and concludes with the end of evil, and all things made new as they were intended to be, dwelling in God’s presence with him forever and ever.
Why Is The Final “Chapter” of God’s Story So Interesting?
A good final chapter ties up all the loose ends, it answers all the outstanding questions, and it also sees everything set right – justice served, safe and sound, happily ever after, and all of that. This is precisely what happens in God’s final story, according to prophecy, and people want to know what it will look like. Beyond just how the story ends, it is interesting for a number of other reasons:
- Watching a prophesy come true validates faith in the prophesy and the one who made it. When you see something that was written down thousands of years ago unfolding on the pages of the newspaper it validates your faith and in a way provides something tangible to an otherwise seemingly intangible faith we have. Our hope as Christians is in the life to come after our life on earth has ended, most actions are made on faith and not by sight. One could speculatively say that Jesus came to earth and performed miracles prior to the age of YouTube for the express purpose of requiring faith to believe in him rather than watching a video playout and believing based on sight. When we see prophecy come true, we are observing with our own eyes the story of God come to life.
- We want to be with The Lord. Since the ending of this story sees us reunited with God in heaven for eternity, we wait eagerly for this, like a child on Christmas eve night waiting for the morning. When we see the events of prophecy taking place, we know that “Christmas morning’ is nearly here. We were made to be with God and to worship him forever and ever. Seeing his return means being able to do what we were made to do and it will be wonderful. We love Jesus and can’t wait to see him face to face. There is no greater reward.
- Justice served is good. The end sees Satan and his followers thrown into hell (judgement) which has been reserved for them. The followers of Jesus have suffered unjustly, like Jesus himself, at the hands of the wicked for millennia and seeing an end to this, and punishment given to those who are unrepentant and wicked is a good thing. Just as it is good to see the villain of a story meet their demise, so too it is good to see the devil and his followers put in their rightful place of hell, which is separation from God, the giver of life, for all time.
Poor Reasons To Look Forward To The End
Within each of these good and wonderful reasons to look forward to the end are very poor or even wicked reasons to look forward to the end. The wicked reasons are birthed when we twist the hope from being primarily about Jesus, to being primarily about us.
- Watching prophecy comes true means we were right and doubters were wrong. It is surprisingly easy to hope these prophecies come true not because we get to be a part of observing them, but because we believe it proves us right and other people wrong. The heart of that is a belief that we are better than others – that others are wrong and stupid and we are right and superior. This makes it all about us and not about Jesus. This is a poor reason to look forward to the end. There is also a sub reason within this one which is somewhere along the lines of feeling power over others by knowing the future and somehow even expecting to use this knowledge to enrich yourself somehow, or better position yourself over others. An analogy for this could be like a prepper who is constantly expecting “the grid to go down” and stockpiling weapons and MREs. If or when that actually happens, the prepper will be in a better position than those who didn’t prepare for such an event making them feel somehow superior.
- We want to be in heaven because we think it will give us everything we want. Don’t get me wrong, desiring heaven is a good thing. The problem here is when our idea of heaven is primarily about what it can do for me and we begin to make it more like our wildest imaginations that benefit primarily us rather than a place to be under God’s rule and reign, with him forever and ever. Heaven is not a place like Disneyland or Las Vegas where you can satisfy your every hedonistic desire. If you aren’t excited about the idea of being with God and worshipping him, you may want to ask yourself whether you fully understand what heaven is (it’s God’s kingdom, not ours), and whether you really want to submit yourself to his Lordship.
- Revenge on our enemies sounds sweet. If you are looking forward to God inflicting pain and punishment on those whom you consider your enemies or the evil ones, you may not understand the gospel of grace and that we are all deserving of punishment and not the grace God has made available to those who believe and accept his son. While it seems to be a human desire to want revenge on our enemies, this is not the heart of God who is “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” We should not look forward to punishment for the wicked – instead while they can still be saved we should pray for them and ask God to change their heart to receive the same grace we have been shown.
So When Is The Story Going To End and What Are We Doing Now?
When Is the End?
So glad you asked. This question is simple enough – nobody knows! Not even Jesus himself claimed to know the day or hour when Jesus would return and restore all things unto himself, only the Father. Jesus did however give us some signs to expect at the end and told us that when you see them you know the end is near. Now, what Jesus’ definition of near is and what mine is, may not be even close. In the instant gratification generation we are in, we expect things in a hurry – if you suddenly got up and left and told me you were going to be right back, I would likely assume something was amiss if I had not yet heard from you after only a few hours had passed! Since we have been waiting for Jesus for 2,000 years now it feels overdue. But this is because we think of God’s story in terms of our story. We understand stories to be a book with 200 pages that can be read in a few evenings, or a 90 minute movie we consume before we fall asleep Sunday night. We approach God’s story with that incorrect context around story – we’ve read most parts of the Bible (not Leviticus) and understood the events that have transpired so far, which took ~ 6,000 years to accomplish and expect the remainder should be wrapped up within our lifetime. But why should that be the case?! God’s story is considerably bigger than our story. Our story is a tiny nearly insignificant subset of His story – it is an absolutely unreasonable expectation that the timeline of God’s story should be shrunk down to the timeline of our lifetime. Because of that, we should understand where we exist in God’s story and work toward his plan for that part of His story.
Where We Are In God’s Story
God has made a way for man to be reconciled to Him. The battle has been fought, and the victory has been won. God is coming to bring us to where he is, so that we can live with him forever. Until he comes, he has made it the work of those who believe to share the news of his victory and the opportunity to be made right with him. The part of the story we live in which makes up a part of our identity is the building of God’s Church. Before Jesus was crucified, he told Peter:
“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:18-19 CSB
After his resurrection also instructed his disciples to:
“”Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ” – Matthew 28:19-20 CSB
Our story, because of the place in time in which we find ourselves in God’s story, is to make disciples and build up His church so that he has a big family (or harvest to use one of Jesus’ analogies) at his return. While it is extremely interesting and helpful to know how the story ends, we may be better to focus on the part of the story in which we find ourselves – like reading the page of the book our bookmark is on instead of flipping to the end.
So What Good Is It To Know The End Then?
Jesus thought it was important or he wouldn’t have shared it with us. If for no other reason, it is at least important to know so that we can pass the story down to each generation so that the message is made available to the generation upon which the end does fall. But it may be more important than just that.
One could make the argument that for the first century disciples of Christ, it was of no value to know that one day an either allegorical or literal Babylon would be destroyed, or that the mark of the beast is 666 or that there are 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. However, I would submit that it is an extremely useful element of our faith to have been given the pages of the final chapter even though it may not play out in our lifetime. Here are a few reasons why:
- Jesus lets us know how the story ends. In his graciousness Jesus has shared with us how the story ends even if we don’t get to see it firsthand. Wouldn’t it be weird if we didn’t know? There would be nothing to look for or nothing to go on as we await his return. There would be no “Christmas star” to follow. By giving us the piece of the final puzzle, though we may not yet see it put into place, we see how it fits together and we know what to expect. We can have faith that it will happen as Jesus has said it will happen.
- Jesus shows us the plan is already written and will happen as God has ordained. We aren’t left to wonder if something has gone wrong, or if perhaps the disciples didn’t hear Jesus correctly, or if perhaps there really was no resurrection at all. By sharing with us the final chapter, we know that there is a plan in place and it is being played out on God’s timeline under his authority. Isn’t it great when you know there is a plan in place? How much better when its a plan that cannot be shaken or moved. God’s plan is set and he’s working it out, this is a great encouragement to our faith.
- Jesus helps us to not be afraid. There is a lot of crazy stuff that is going to happen in the world (and a lot that has already happened – black death, the dark ages, world wars, nuclear bombs, citizen surveillance, covid-19, the list goes on). Since Jesus tells us what will happen, we do not need to be afraid when these things happen, as if something strange were happening in the world that is unplanned or greatly terrifying. It produces faith in God’s people when we can be fearless in the face of things that are scary to the world.