So often we act like this world will continue forever. Even we Christians seem intent upon amassing wealth and building houses and estates for ourselves, as if the world would go on and on. Today there are whole Christian doctrines built upon the theme of worldly prosperity. We have surely forgotten the many warnings of scripture concerning the fire that is to come. No longer do our preachers deal with the subject of the coming fire. Our many books, commentaries and study lessons no longer deal with it either. The subject is uncomfortable, unsettling and perhaps embarrassing. However, now that everything is being shaken, and we can almost feel the heat from the world’s approaching end, perhaps we had best take time out for a closer look at the matter.
THIS PRESENT WORLD WILL BE BURNED UP
The Old Testament virtually ends with this warning:“‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them’” (Mal. 4:1). Even the appearing of the Lord Jesus (Yeshua) is pictured as a coming fire: “…This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thess. 1:7).
Quite simply, the world as we know it will not survive this end-day fire. It will be destroyed according to the sure word of God. In 2 Peter 3:7-13, the Apostle deals at length with this subject. He relates to us how the present heavens are “…reserved for fire being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v.7). He also assures us that while the day of the Lord will come as a thief, at the same time “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (v.10).
Concerning the nature of this fire, the Bible leaves this to our speculation. Some Christian writers feel certain that the earth will end with an atomic conflagration. The Old Testament might even support such an idea. When the prophet Joel speaks of the last days he speaks for God saying: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke” (Joel 2:30). The word for “billows” in Hebrew is the word for “palm trees.” When we look at a palm tree that has been untended for several years, it has the distinct shape of an atomic mushroom cloud. Today we know that there are perhaps thousands of Moslem suicide bombers intent upon destroying our western and so-called Christian world. We are also told that they probably have access to atomic weapons, even atomic suitcase-sized bombs. After the Twin Towers Attack, we know they are not afraid to use whatever weapons they have. This information makes the idea of the world’s destruction seem much closer and more realistic than it has in the past.
Now, is God just going to do away with the world he has made and the whole universe as well? Probably not. The idea in scripture seems to be more closely related to a purging than to a total destruction. At least one early Christian writer, Methodius, presents this view as well. The Old Testament on several occasions speaks of the earth as being established forever (Psa. 78:69; 104:5; Eccl. 1:4). What seems to be passing away is the form of the world as we know it, or the present evil age. In 1 Corinthians 7:31 we read: “…For this world in its present form is passing away.” There is some good news. Early Christians looked for the coming of Jesus in precisely this time frame. They also looked for the present earth to be renewed. In 2 Peter 3:13 we read: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home
SINNERS SHALL BE BURNED UP
We have already seen in some of the above mentioned passages that the end of the world seems designed specifically to destroy sinners. That which is coming will burn them up not leaving root or branch (Mal. 4:3). At the same time, Malachi mentions that the righteous will somehow survive and even tread on the ashes of the wicked (Mal. 4:3).
It appears that the Lord has means of keeping evil men until they can be punished by this fire. In 2 Peter 2:9 we read, “…the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” Of course, the punishment of the wicked will also continue forever in hell as the scriptures clearly state.
We may think that because we are Christians we have no worries over the last day fires. Paul assures us that this is not so. In 1 Corinthians 3:13, we read that each person’s work “…will be shown for what it is…It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” Paul tells us in this passage that if our work survives we will receive a reward and if it is burned up we will suffer loss, although we ourselves will be saved like one escaping the flames. The spiritual things in our lives will survive this fire. However, all the fleshly things, in which we take so much pride and give so much attention, will go up in a puff of smoke.
So, it appears from scripture that the Lord will destroy the present world while at the same time sealing his own people from the disaster (Rev. 7:3). The Bible is replete with warnings about this. The Book of Revelation speaks of the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world (Rev. 3:10). The Apostle Paul advises us to put on the full armor of God that we can stand in THE evil day (Eph. 6:13). It is only Jesus who can keep us in that day, as Paul says to Timothy: “…I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE SHOULD WE BE?
In 2 Peter 3:11-12 the apostle says: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…” From what we see in the New Testament and in church history, the earliest Christians were a simple folk who cared little for the world’s things. They knew for a certainty that the world around them would not last. Still they were not pessimists. They were full of optimism and joy because their eyes were focused on Jesus and his coming kingdom.
Do we know that the world will not last? If so, we need to start living as if this were true and start holding the things of earth lightly. We need to make this truth known to our families, friends and associates. It might shock some of them into altering their lives.
We should not only tell people that the earth will be burned up, but we should help rescue those already aflame with the passions and delights of the world. In Jude 1:22-23 we are admonished: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by
We had best start viewing our pilgrimage here as nothing more than a refining process. God is burning the flammable things out of us and purging us until our lives resemble the purest gold. That is what so many of our trials and tribulations are designed to do, that is if we treat them properly. The apostle Peter speaks of this in 1 Peter 1:7: “These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
In light of these things, we Christians need to adopt a radically different world view. We need to understand without a doubt that this present world is passing away with all its lusts (1 Jn. 2:17). We need to realize that this could happen in our lifetimes. The only survivors will be those doing God’s will. It is these meek and righteous who will inherit the new earth. In view of this, may we eagerly offer up our lives in the fire as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). After all, this is our reasonable and expected service.
– Jim Gerrish
Original publication date, March 2002
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, warehouse fire in Finland. Photo by Petteru Sulonen.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.