Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How does the world end? Is there anything after?

That clip came from one of the big films of 2009/2010, 2012 was a disaster movie that explored what would happen if in 2012 the world as we know it ends in a series of cataclysmic events which wiped out mankind. The film is based on an ancient Mayan prophecy which predicts that the world will end on 21st December this year. It’s not the first prophecy that the world will end, some thought it would happen at the turn of the new millennium, a guy in the States last year predicted it would end in March, then revised it to October and has probably revised it again since.

It’s a question worth asking though isn’t it, how does the world end? Because science would tell us the world will end; be it because the sun will burn out or go super-nova consuming the solar system, or be it a new ice age, or a biological weapon or nuclear threat, or an asteroid impact or similar inter-stellar event.

One day the world will end. But what does the bible have to say about it? The bible says that the world will end when Jesus comes again not as a figure in history born in a manger in a backwater town with little fanfare, but when he comes in all his power and might and everyone sees him at last for who he is, So when is it?

The bible doesn’t give us a date, Jesus uses the picture of a burglary to describe what it will be like; “If the owners of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” So Jesus says it will happen, it is definite but it isn’t a date someone knows, it will happen on a day like any other. But more important than when Jesus says be ready!

But the question is actually bigger than just the end of the world isn’t it, because for each of us the world will end. In December 2008 Hiscox, an insurance company in London, installed a counter outside its London Office, it was started at midnight on 1st Jan 2009 and ran until 11.59pm on 31st December. It caused quite a stir because it was a death counter, counting the number of projected deaths worldwide increasing at almost 2 a second until reaching its total of 55million. Whether we are around when the world ends is in some ways irrelevant because for all of us the world will end. The question is what happens next and are we ready.

There are a number of popular ideas:
· Reincarnation – you keep on being reborn as something new, something better if you’ve been good, something worse if you’ve been bad, until eventually you just disappear.
· You die you rot – That is most atheists position, there is nothing after death. We live we get old, if we are lucky, we die we become worm or plant food.
· Some vague better place – I guess this is the most popular but least thought through, it’s pretty much the standard response given – they are up in heaven looking down on us. I was chatting to someone recently who said he granddad was up in heaven with a pint watching the rugby – given the way England are playing that is not heaven! The belief that actually when people die they go to heaven from where they watch the rest of us struggling on. It’s vague and provides comfort of sorts, but we have to not think about it too much.

None of those are particularly satisfying are they? None really gives us hope or something to live for, either we rot, or we come back as something else until we evaporate, or we go to something nebulous and unknown. Something deep inside us feels that death is wrong, but also that none of these is right. What we need is someone who has come back from the dead to tell us what it is like, what there is afterwards. That is where Christianity stands unique because Christians claim that Jesus died and was resurrected again, here are 5 pieces of evidence as to why I believe that:

1. No other theory holds up (swoon, mistaken tomb, stolen body)
2. Women find the tomb – if you were making it up they wouldn’t, their testimony isn’t valid
3. Disciples die for belief – (you don’t die for a lie)
4. Conversion of Sceptics – including Jesus brothers they die for their new belief
5. Spread of Christianity ever since.

Jesus as the resurrected one who has conquered death can speak authoritatively about life after death. So what does the Bible say about life after death?

Heaven isn’t the goal.
The popular depiction of heaven is not very exciting is it, it’s sitting around on clouds, with optional wings and/or harp, it’s pretty dull! But that is not what the Bible says our future is, in fact the Bible says our ultimately future isn’t heaven at all, the ultimate future which we were created for is a new creation.

Revelation 21:3-5 gives us a picture of what the new creation will look like and it is described in physical terms, in terms that mirror a perfect world. It is like the world we live in now but also utterly unlike it, it is everything we enjoy now but perfected. Did you spot how it is described – no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. It goes on to say there is no curse – everything bad that has ever been in the world and our experience of it will be no more. No terrorism, no crime, no war, no loss, no heartbreak, no self loathing, and all those things are just the by-products, because the truly amazing thing about the new creation is that it is a world marked by God’s presence with his people, face-to-face.

How do I get life after death?
That is great news isn’t it. There is life after death and it is better than we can ever imagine, it is secure, it is eternal, and it is marked by relationship. What makes it good is that we relate to God rightly, but in order to ensure it stays that way Rev 21 goes on to say “Nothing impure will ever enter it...”

Entry isn’t automatic, we don’t go there by default; if impurity or rebellion entered such a perfect world it would ruin it. That means that you and I are barred from entry because we would rebel against it, because we are by nature selfish, we want things the way we want them, when we want them. It’s what road rage is all about, have you ever found yourself in a car shouting at the car in front of you, or in a queue at a shop and you can’t believe the sheer imbecility of the person at the check-out who is so slow. All little glimpses that we want the world the way we want it when we want it, and we aren’t above manipulation or action in order to ensure we get it. But the new creation will be free from all selfishness, it will be perfect and that bars us from entry!

But God knows that and so in his great love he sends Jesus to give us a glimpse of the world that we all want and to enable us to be part of it.

In the early chapters of Mark’s gospel we see a glimpse of this new creation as:
· Mark 4:35-41 Jesus calms the storm
· Mark 5:1-20 Jesus restores a demon possessed man
· Mark 5:21-34 Jesus heals a sick woman
· Mark 5:35-42 Jesus raises a dead girl to life

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is showing people a world where there is no more insecurity, pain, crying, mourning or death. But Jesus does more than just give us a glimpse of the world we all want. Jesus comes to provide a way for us to enter the world we all want, he comes to die in our place to pay for our rebellion, to pay for our selfish hearts that want to rule and reign in our world our way. In fact Jesus faces death as the punishment for our sins and he gifts us his perfect record with God so that God views us as if we have always loved him and loved others perfectly.

The world will end whether we are here for Jesus return or not. But Jesus comes to get us ready for that end, he dies and rises again as proof that by trusting him we are credited with his perfect record and can be sure of enjoying his new creation, and life to the full now.

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