(Alternate title – The End Is Not Nigh)
I joined the church in the mid-1990s. Millennial fervor was high as the end of the century approached. I lived in Silicon Valley, so in addition to the church talk of the end of the world and the second coming, I also got the secular talk of Y2K and how the computer bug would spell the end of life as we know it.
I didn’t think that Jesus would return on exactly January 1, 2000, but I did think that He would return sometime in probably my young adulthood. My YW leaders and seminary teachers and institute teachers assured us that we would be the generation to see the second coming. Scriptural evidence was presented, focusing chiefly on the Book of Revelation and the discussion of the seven seals. It was assumed that we were right at the end of the sixth seal and that Jesus was right around the corner.
I was a junior in college when 9/11 happened. This dialed up the apocalyptic fervor even higher. I finished college and left on my mission. Missionaries spend a lot of time discussing esoteric gospel theories because there really isn’t much else to do for entertainment in our rare down time. The end of the world was a common topic. (The second Iraq war started right around the time I left on my mission, so that was more apocalyptic fuel.) By that time, I still thought that the second coming would be within my lifetime, but I figured middle age by then. I saw that there were some of the signs of the times that were still unfulfilled. The gospel hadn’t been preached to every nation. There hadn’t been a 2 1/2 year war in Jerusalem, and two prophets hadn’t been killed in the streets and resurrected.
The other missionaries still thought it was a matter of years, not decades. A visiting general authority came to a mission conference about halfway through my mission, and when he was talking, he asked for a show of hands of who thought it was possible that the second coming could be tomorrow. I was the only person in the room who didn’t raise my hand. His response: “How long does a 2 1/2 year war take?” and all the hands sheepishly went down. I don’t remember the rest of his talk. I only remember that one line.
Apocalyptic rhetoric in the church seemed to wane after my mission in favor of other topics like reminding singles that we forgot to get married. Where food storage used to be a monthly or quarterly topic of discussion at church, it then became more like annual if at all. I noticed a brief uptick in 2020 when Covid hit, but the end of the world rhetoric seemed to wane quickly. I thought about the second coming from time to time, and several years ago I settled on my pet theory.
I now believe that the end of the world will be at the literal end of the world. According to our best understanding of science, the earth is about 5 billion years old, and the sun has about 5 billion more years left before going nova and destroying the solar system. The church teaches that Jesus was born in the meridian of time, i.e. somewhere in the middle of the earth’s existence. When we’re talking billions of years, 2000 years is nothing. It’s roughly the middle now, and it was roughly the middle 2000 years ago when Jesus lived.
Descriptions of the destruction preceding the second coming are consistent with what would happen when a star goes nova – the sun darkening, the moon turning to blood, the stars in the heavens appearing to cast themselves from the sky, the earth reeling to and fro like a drunken man, the earth becoming like a sea of glass, and finally silence. A new heaven and a new earth.
Additionally, although I was always taught at church that we’re living near the end of the sixth seal, my read of Revelation 6 is more consistent with us still being in the fifth seal. The fifth seal is where the church is building up and is on the face of the land. The sixth seal is the cataclysmic destruction of the earth as described above.
I knew peers when I was in college who felt that planning for the future was futile because the world was going to end soon anyway. They were hesitant to live their lives because they didn’t think they would get to have them. By contrast, my view that the end of the world is still billions of years off has given me hope and an ability to plan to live for many decades more.
In the grand scheme of things, though, it matters little whether the second coming is 5 years away or 5 billion years away. In the end, we all die, and we all meet our Maker. And if we live good and holy lives and repent when we fall short, the end result will be the same either way. Either we will be caught up to meet the Lord, or we will die and be brought into His presence with the words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”