Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 10th
The end of the world is rarely thought of as a positive thing these days. Catastrophic global warming, total nuclear annihilation, or a massive asteroid strike, the stuff of apocalyptic movies and prepper-paranoia are feared. But for early Christians, the end of the world seemed not only imminent but a wonderful thing. In today’s reading, we see the apostle Peter encouraging the readers of his epistle to wait patiently for the end of the world. He assures them that the Lord is not slow about fulfilling His promise, but rather the Lord is patient with all our failure to come to repentance. It is not that we must wait for God’s good time, but that not wanting any human being to die unsaved, the Lord waits for all of us.
Especially when Peter describes it as a terrifying day of sudden and total destruction, why were the first Christians so eager for the end of the world? Here is the passage rendered in the appropriately ominous tone of the King James Version:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
Not the sort of day I usually look forward to, but the day of the Lord is to be hoped for because it marks the end of everything evil. The heavens and the earth are to pass away so that all the sin and death and grief and pain which fill this world can be brought to a close. The old passes away only for the creation of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” While we fear the end of the world because it marks the destruction of what we know and love, it is important to note that, for Christians, nothing good will be lost at the end of the world.
The end of the world is the end of the false and sinful order we take part in. All the beauty, goodness, and truth of this creation will endure in the new creation and what will be lost is everything wrong with it. That’s why Peter not only told his readers to patiently expect the end of days, but to hurry its arrival along. Peter calls us to live with a holiness fitting the new creation to come. We are to live according to the sort of repentance that the Lord waits for before He fulfills His promise to set the world right. The sooner we human beings get our act together, the sooner God will come and fix creation.
To us though, this is a tough message from Peter because we have come to think of the end of the world as the end of everything. We imagine some asteroid or war killing absolutely everyone and leaving a dead rock floating through space. That is a sort of end, which we certainly have no business hoping for or hastening. Instead, we must come to think of the end of the world as a good and wonderful thing, as the end of all suffering and death. For Christians, the end of the world is not a meaningless astronomical event or the culmination of mankind’s capacity for destruction, but rather, it is God’s final saving act. We look forward to the day when in the words of Revelation:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (21:4)
That is the future which Christians should hope and pray for. The Advent season is meant to be a time when we set our hearts and minds on the return of Christ. This is the time when we remember not to become too attached to the ways of the world, because there is another even better world, a new heaven and a new earth, which is coming any day now.
Greg Scalise ’18 is a Philosophy and Classics joint concentrator in Pforzheimer House.