The fundamental reason why God’s people are aware of the end of all things is that they are pilgrims and strangers on this earth. If this earth were our permanent and only home, we would not think about its end. We would not want that end to come, would not notice that it is coming, and would not be ready for it. However, as pilgrims our focus is on our eternal, heavenly home. We realize we are just passing through. We are conscious of the reality of the end of all things.
The Scriptures admonish us to be conscious of this. Interestingly, it is most often the Lord Jesus Himself who calls us to be aware of the end. Time and again during His earthly ministry He pointedly admonished His people to be watchful, so that they would be ready for His return.
We also find this admonition in the New Testament book that addresses us specifically as pilgrims and strangers on this earth. There we read (I Pet. 4:7), “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
What does it mean to be aware of the end?
The pilgrim’s awareness of the end involves understanding what that end is. The “end” of all things is literally the “goal” of all things. The end will not simply be the last thing to happen in a succession of events. Nor will it come about simply because this world cannot continue to exist (because it is worn out, or because man has ruined it). The end will come because God’s goal for all things will have been reached. And that goal is God Himself and His own glory. All things were planned and created by Him so that He might be glorified through the salvation of His elect church. Now, in time and history, that purpose is being accomplished through absolutely everything that occurs. When it has been fully accomplished, then God’s goal will have been reached, and the end of all things will come. When the last child of God has been gathered into the church, there will be no more reason for the world to continue. Nothing more will need to happen on earth. Christ will return and bring it all to its final end.
This has an effect on the pilgrim. It especially does so by giving him the proper perspective on life. God’s purpose with this world and with earthly life is not us—it is much larger, much broader, much more grand. We are not here below so that we might have an enjoyable and ease-filled life. We are not here to seek after every possible earthly pleasure and to accomplish our own desires and goals. But we are on earth, as is everything and everyone else, for the sake of God’s glory. Life is not about us, but about God. Even if we do not see or understand how all things serve our salvation, we believe it, and in quiet trust wait upon our almighty Father.
In close connection with what we have just considered, the pilgrim’s awareness of the end involves the realization that most things in this world are unimportant. Since the end to which all things are headed is the salvation of the church, everything else is simply a means to that end. At the center of world history is the church, and all else is simply a scaffold. That scaffold is necessary for the building process to take place, but once the building is finished, it is no longer needed and thus useless. The scaffold is also ugly, and detracts from the beauty of the building. For this reason it is torn down and destroyed. This means that once the church has been saved, all that surrounds it will be destroyed — all earthly creatures, all man’s accomplishments, every building on this planet, all our possessions, all the heavenly bodies, even the whole universe. Then finally the church will be revealed and seen in all its beauty and glory.
This also has an effect on the pilgrim. He realizes that the things of this world have no value in themselves, but are worthwhile only insofar as they serve the building of the church. Why be attracted and attached to things that are fleeting and temporary? Why love the things of the world when the only certain thing about them is that they will be burned up and destroyed? Why lay up for ourselves treasures that cannot be taken along into eternity? We belong to a heavenly kingdom with treasures that are eternal. And the things of earth so easily distract us from our spiritual treasures in Christ. Faithful pilgrims do not focus on the scaffold, but on the glorious building to which they, by God’s grace, belong.
The pilgrim’s awareness of the end also consists of being aware of the nearness of that end. It is near in three ways.
It is near first of all because at any time our earthly pilgrimage could end through death. At any time, for each of us, Christ could return and separate us permanently from all that is earthly. In this sense, the end is always near.
It is near, secondly, because it is next. The coming of the end is the last great event in the history of the salvation of the church. There have already been a number of great events that the people of God looked forward to in the past, such as the flood, the establishment of the Old Testament church in Canaan, and the first coming of Jesus Christ. But since Christ’s ascension, there is nothing for the church to look forward to but the second coming of Christ. No other great event in the history of salvation will occur. The end is near because it is next.
The end is near, in the third place, in terms of actual time. This is made clear to us through the precursory signs. More than ever, we see these signs being fulfilled. The clear speech of Christ through it all is that He is returning soon. His footsteps are heard in the signs we see in the church, in the world, and in creation. Loudly and clearly Christ makes us know we are living in the end times. The history of this world cannot and will not go on much longer. Things are rushing to the end. Soon it will all be over. The pilgrim is watchful and notices the signs. Through them he is constantly reminded, “The end is near!”
The effect of all this on the pilgrim is a life lived in the awareness of the end. Knowing the end is coming makes all the difference. Then the pilgrim is not troubled by great or unexpected events in the world or in his own life. He does not conclude that things are going wrong. He understands that all things are a necessary part of God’s plan to save the church and glorify Himself. No matter what occurs, he has a proper response of humble submission to the good will of God. And all these things serve to strengthen his desire for the return of His Lord.
The pilgrim’s awareness of the end also equips him, by the grace of God, to be ready for the end to come. He does not make his earthly life more permanent than it ought to be. He does not sink his roots down into this physical world. He does not build himself a kingdom and amass to himself earthly treasures. He is not gripped by the desire to have and enjoy the things of this earth. Rather, he acknowledges that there is nothing permanent about that which is earthly. The end is coming. This world and all that is in it is just a shack compared to his heavenly mansion. The pilgrim hopes for the return of Christ. He is ready to be taken by his Lord to his eternal home in the heavens. He longs for the day of his full and eternal deliverance. His daily prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”