There’s something almost irresistibly fascinating about the concept of “end times”— hypothetical scenarios for worldwide catastrophe or even the final end of life here on earth. “Post-apocalyptic” literature, films, and shows, each premised on the harrowing struggle to survive after a global catastrophe, are pretty much guaranteed an audience. Why is that?

I love the genre as much as anyone (AMC’s The Walking Dead comes to mind as one such post-apocalyptic show that I binge-watched on the edge of my seat), and personally, the appeal has to do with the way that kind of severe global catastrophe brings into sharp focus our greatest fears and hopes. Are we insignificant victims of the whims of the universe, or do our lives and choices matter?

And the question of whether our choices matter never feels starker than when placed in a context where the stakes couldn’t be higher. The reason, for example, that Walking Dead worked as a show was because it wasn’t really about zombies; it was about complex characters and how they responded when confronted with (literal) living death and despair: How would they respond? Who would they become?

Those are the same kind of questions that come to mind for me when questions about “the end times” or “signs of the times” are raised from a Christian perspective. Curiosity about what the Bible might or might not say about the fate of human civilization is a natural, maybe irresistible, response to crisis. But when I think about the complex way the New Testament interacts with the idea of “the end times”—more accurately, the beginning of life on earth after Christ’s return—I get the sense that specific details of future events are not what’s most important to the writers of Scripture. In fact, attempts to find greater clarity about such details are repeatedly chastised –eg., Matthew 24:36, John 21:22.

For the inspired authors of New Testament Scripture, the reality that Jesus would return, once and for all, to bring full healing and restoration to God’s creation—was tremendously important and practical; details of when and how, less so. What seemed to matter most was how followers of Jesus responded to the reality that his death and resurrection revealed. Wright and Bird (in their New Testament survey The New Testament in Its World) put it this way, “the point is not vague speculation about ‘the life beyond’ . . . but because what we believe about the future tells us something about the God we worship, what that worship should look like, and how the fact that God’s new creation has burst into the present time with Jesus’ own resurrection can and must energize and shape our work as his people” (p. 295).

There’s a sobering gravity to that statement of the kind of calling we share if we consider ourselves followers of Christ. It’s a calling that, for me, requires an abrupt stop to any self-indulgent and over-confident speculation I might have about Christ’s final return. If I really believe that Jesus died and rose as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection of creation (1 Corinthians 15:20–28), then what matters most is how I respond to that reality. Do I live in a way that shows I really believe such resurrection is not only possible, but certain? And is my life anchored in the kind of self-giving love that, in Christ’s death and life, made this future possible?

And when tragedy strikes our neighborhoods, our country, and even our world globally, what matters most isn’t whether it is a specific fulfillment of prophecy. As I write, we are in fact struggling through a global pandemic, and the devastation and terror it’s causing are very real. Maybe it would make me feel better, make me feel less vulnerable and helpless, if I identified what’s happening as the fulfillment of end-times prophecies. But if it’s Christ-like love we’re pursuing, then self-protection and distance from pain are the opposite of the kind of hearts we want to share with the world.

When we come face to face to life’s greatest tragedies, what matters most is whether we have the courage to look them in the eye and still testify to love. As believers in Jesus face this new particular terror, how are we responding? Who are we becoming? Only when we humbly fall to our knees in reliance on the Spirit can we hope to answer that question with, “More like Jesus.”

Monica La Rose

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