The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
1 Peter 4:7 ESV
The end of all things is at hand. This phrase that may have been so easy to read without thought a few weeks ago now has a more definite sense of gravity to it. Times of crisis certainly have a way of forcing reality upon us. War, natural disasters, pandemics, and other such circumstances require us to consider our own mortality, the often purposely ignored fragility of this life. While this may sound morbid, it is actually quite a blessing. Lewis notes this well through the mouth of the demon Screwtape as he describes to his nephew, Wormwood, the danger that war poses to the demonic kingdom:
Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.The Screwtape Letters, 23-24.
A pandemic such as the coronavirus can indeed be just as dangerous as World War II was in Lewis’ day. Such catastrophes feel like the end of the world because they are, in fact, the end of the world for a great number of people. The Black Death, for example, may not have ended with the return of Christ, but by that plague, one-third of Europe left this world to enter into either eternal life or eternal death. But, of course, within a couple of generations, the rest of those survivors also met their end.
We rightly yearn for eternity. It has been etched upon our hearts. Yet because of the curse of sin, death now haunts our footsteps. Even when we have distracted ourselves to the point of exhaustion through our endless streams of entertainment, the lingering shade behind us whispers again in our ear, “memento mori.”
But Peter didn’t just say the end of us is at hand; he said the end of all things. Nearly two thousand years later, we may begin to wonder whether the apostle knew the meaning of the phrase at hand. Yet by the Holy Spirit, Peter did not speak incorrectly. Two thousand years ago, he was living in the last days.
And so are we.
This is the end of time, the final epoch of history as we know it. We are living in the final age. All that remains to happen is the return of Christ and His remaking of the heavens and the earth. Could Christ return in the midst of this pandemic? Certainly. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows” (Matthew 24:36). For the Jews of Jerusalem, the destruction of the city in 70 AD under Titus must have felt like the end of all things. For much of the world, the sack of Rome in 410 must have felt like the beginning of society’s collapse. Or perhaps we can look to the Black Death again. Or to the war that was supposed to end all war but was eclipsed by an even larger sequel within a few short decades. Or maybe we just need to consider how the 20th Century forced us to create the word genocide in order to accurately describe many of that century’s events.
The end of all things continues to remain at hand, and its lingering is not slowness on God’s part but His patient granting of time to repent and cling to salvation in the blood of His Son. Whether Christ returns in our lifetime or not, is only known to the Father, but regardless of the timing, within a century, we will each reach the end of our time in this world.
Notice that our recognition of the countdown clock should result in us being self-controlled and sober-minded. The realization that time is short (as even a life of 100 years is but a drop in the bucket of time) should cause us to wake up from our sleepwalking. It should awake in us the desire to live a life of significance, a life of meaning and worth. It should cause us to look away from the transient things wasting away around us and instead to fix our eyes on the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Jesus Christ alone is “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Do not waste this season of coronavirus (and the time that most of us have in “self-quarantine”) as simply an opportunity to binge watch Netflix, take up a new hobby, or (perhaps especially) to cast yourself into despair. Instead, use this time as a sobering reminder that your days are numbered and find hope and peace in the face of Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith.