Everyone seems to agree on the fact that the end will come. Sometimes our lives fall into a dull routine, a seemingly endless, profitless monotony that stretches ahead of us like a dark tunnel. But no one seriously doubts that it will, in fact, end. The disputed points are: how and when.
How will it end? Will a sudden environmental disaster overwhelm the earth? Will we all die gradually of disease or natural causes and vanish into oblivion? Will the Mayan apocalypse annihilate everything?
The short answer to all these questions is No. I don’t mean that bad things can’t happen on our planet; we have to take care of the earth and treat it right. But The End, the final moment of history: we’re not in the dark about it; we know exactly what it will involve. The carpenter of Nazareth will come in glory, and He will judge every man.
Can we be certain of this? Yes. After all, Jesus either is God, or He isn’t. A lot of things have happened that support our belief that He is. Countless miracles, His own resurrection from the dead, the invincible perseverance of His Church through history. He explained that final judgment has been given over to Him by His Father. So, either Jesus Christ is a raving lunatic, or He will, in fact, judge us all. He does not appear to have been a lunatic. Ergo, we can take the Second Coming of Christ to the bank, so to speak.
When? When will He come? Don’t we hear Him say: This generation will not pass away before the angels gather the elect from the four winds? So The End seems imminent. Actually, more than imminent: He first spoke these words many generations ago. Didn’t the people with whom He spoke already pass away?
But we also just heard Him say that the signs to look for will come like a fig tree’s branches grow tender, and leaf. Then the fruit grows, ripens, and softens, like a little bundle of eiderdown. So The End seems gradual.
In other words, the Judge Who will certainly return to conclude the history of the earth—He has said some mysterious things regarding when it will occur. Even though He knows everything, He even at one point claimed not to know when He Himself will return in glory. “Only the Father knows.”
When the Babylonians drove the Israelites into exile at the end of a whip, and God’s chosen people had to leave the Holy Land, they did not know if they should hope to return someday, or if they should despair and die. The prophet Jeremiah told them: The People of God certainly shall return to Mount Zion. But we cannot hold our breath. Settle down in Babylon for the time being. Build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children. But don’t get too comfortable. (Jeremiah 29)
Before Christ came, neither the earth nor the netherworld had any peace, because no man could stand pure and just before God. The world groaned under confusion and perpetual uncertainty, and the departed souls waited for a holy sacrifice that could atone for their sins.
Then the divine Redeemer came in the flesh and offered the perfectly just sacrifice of Himself. He descended to the netherworld to rescue the souls who had hoped for His coming. Then the light of the final resolution of all things dawned on the earth.
Thus began our age, the Age of the Church. On the one hand, it’s all already over. By His perfect obedience unto death, Christ has conquered Satan’s pride. All that has to happen for us to get to heaven has already happened; it all happened in the springtime of 33 AD. If we confess our sins and serve God as best we can, we have nothing to fear from the Judge. We know that the most fundamental criterion of truth He uses to judge us is His own infinitely merciful love.
On the other hand, The End seems to be coming with a kind of slow gentleness, rather than with crashing thunder. The Lamb reigns in glory on high and commands the terrifying angels. But we see the Lord’s sacred and undying flesh only in the mystery of the Breaking of the Bread. He does not descend on us now with a blinding blaze of fire. Rather, He comes under the veil of the simplest imaginable meal.
Christ never said anything untrue. The generation that saw Him walk the earth did not pass away without seeing The End. They died—and saw Christ the Judge in all His awesomeness. Our generation, too, can hardly pass away without passing away. Which brings us full-circle, back to the absolute certainty we have of The End. The End will come, more surely even than taxes.
But The End we are talking about really just means the end of bad things—assuming that we are not bad ourselves. If we are bad ourselves, then The End means the beginning of an eternity of hard justice.
But if we have been made good by Christ, then “The End” means that everything stops—except life, love, truth, generous friendship, beauty, and happiness. The End means the beginning of joy without pain, jolly inebriation without hangovers, desserts without diets, rides through the country without flat tires or high gas prices, wins without losses, music without discord.
So let’s repent of our sins and live in peace while we wait for the figs to ripen.