Now That We’ve Come to the End of the World

And although in the course of their long history Christians have much too often forgotten the meaning of the cross, and enjoyed life as if “nothing had happened,” although each one of us too often takes “time off” – we know that in the world in which Christ died, “natural life” has been brought to an end.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World.


By age 19 I was living in a Christian commune – with a “radical” take on the Christian gospel. These were the days of what the American media called “the Jesus Movement.” I was by no means alone in my view of the gospel. As protestants, those young men who comprised the commune to which I belonged, had great gaps in the understanding of the Christian faith. We certainly repeated many errors of the past. Among those errors was a commonly held assumption that we were approaching the end of the world.

For myself, I could not imagine that the second coming of Christ could be more than five years away. The nature of that error was its complete misunderstanding of the character of Christ’s first coming and the consequence it brought to the world. Like cultural protestantism, we assumed that time moved along in a linear fashion – simply the flow of history. That we thought such a flow was soon to end was not nearly so great an error as how we perceived time itself.

The experience, however, was not without insight. It was the first time in my life in which most material questions seemed nonsensical. With joy, we gave away whatever we had and practiced a level of hospitality that was truly evangelical.

My abandonment of that way of life changed the radical nature of my faith, and postponed my expectations of a soon end to all things. But, I maintained the same understanding of time itself. In the first case, my behavior was changed by the reality of my expectations. In the second, much less needed to change – with additional time it was possible in many ways to live “as though nothing had happened,” to take “time off” from radical expectations and settle in to a place within the American “religion scene” (I went to seminary and was ordained as an Anglican priest).

Fr. Alexander’s observation that with Christ’s death on the Cross, “natural life has come to an end,” is an example of an understanding of time that is deeply contrary to the linear, historical model that dominates modern thought. His observation is, in fact, the proper Christian perception, taught within the New Testament. The Cross of Christ has initiated or revealed a change that does not render a “radical” response absurd – within a proper understanding – such a response is demanded. If “natural life has come to an end,” then whatever life we now live is necessarily of a character that reveals such an end as well as revealing what has brought it to an end.

This very understanding can be seen many times in the New Testament. One of my favorite examples is found in Hebrews 12:18-24. Here the author, reflecting on Exodus 19, makes this observation:

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

His contrast of the followers of Christ with those who followed Moses is the contrast between the fulfillment and the promise, between reality and type.

Of particular note is the statement:

You have not come to the mountain that may be touched…but you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn…to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant…

How can such a statement possibly be true? The text does not say that we will come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, etc. Instead, we are told that we have come. This can only be true if the end of all things has already come among us. And this is precisely the proclamation of the Christian gospel: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” That Kingdom is made present and breaks into our world with the Incarnation of the God/Man, Jesus Christ. Throughout His mystery, the “natural life” is constantly “ended” and transformed into the Kingdom. The lame walk, the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, lepers are cleansed, sins are forgiven. In other instances, bread and fish are multiplied to feed thousands. The Sea of Galilee bears the weight of Christ (and St. Peter for a short time). With Christ’s death and resurrection all such things come to their fulfillment. He who is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, shatters and transforms even time itself. Forever after, His followers are invited into this reality which has been birthed among us.

It is in this context that the commandments of Christ begin to reveal their true character. Christ’s commandments are not a recipe for the good ordering of the “natural life.” They are commandments that indicate to us the life now to be lived on this side of His death and resurrection. They are the commandments of the Kingdom of God. Those who obey them reveal by their actions that they now stand at Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, before an innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the firstborn.

Now that we’ve come to the end of the world, we forgive our enemies, we are kind even to the unjust and the evil. We take no thought for tomorrow. We give to those who ask without expecting in return. The martyrs who despised death and preferred it to the lies of tyrants reveal that the Kingdom is among us and has ended “natural life.” As Christ said to Pilate, “If my kingdom were of this world, then my followers would fight.” In short, the “radical” nature of Christ’s commandments are only radical if one perceives themselves as standing within the long span of historical time. But we have not come to such a place.

It sounds extreme to describe all of this as coming to the “end of the world.” I do not discount nor disbelieve the doctrine of Christ’s second coming. But when He appears in that manner, His coming will reveal the righteousness of those who have lived their lives as a foretaste and witness to what will then be manifest to all.

St. Paul’s admonition to the Philippians is quite appropriate:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Before the Cross of Christ, I pray for this assembly of the Church of the firstborn: that they may do all things without complaining and disputing – becoming blameless and harmless – holding fast the word of life. Such would indeed be the “end of the world.”

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19 Responses to “Now That We’ve Come to the End of the World”

  1. Karen Says:

    Amen. What I need as much as a future hope is a present life. I’m so thankful this is made available to us here and now in Christ.

  2. joshuaseraphim Says:

    “Christ’s commandments are not a recipe for the good ordering of the “natural life.” … They are the commandments of the Kingdom of God.”

    This also means that our understanding of “morality” is fundamentally different from the sort of Western “Enlightenment” tradition that governs our modern subjectivity, doesn’t it Father?

    I think that this slippage in understanding Christian morality – both by Christians and non-Christians – is a great stumbling block for our modern, “rational” minds, don’t you?

    It’s as though many people (myself, at times, included) cannot articulate the reality that Christian morality reveals and behaves in response to, and so are forced to “evaluate” the morality of Christians through this empirical/ rational, reductive, function-oriented paradigm. This is why, I think, folks tried to inculcate The Gospel with a “social” element in the first place, and why many non-believers chastise Christians for a seeming aloofness to social injustices. Also – on the flipside – it is why many Christians distance themselves from the moral act of working to alleviate the suffering of others.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    I’m not sure about not “working to alleviate the suffering of others” as an accurate description. The history of Eastern Christianity is replete with examples of ministry to the suffering – and it falls well within the commandments of Christ. But often in our culture, to help the suffering of others can be political code-language of “help me in my political plan.” For instance, socialism often justifies its actions under the heading of caring for the poor, but is often ineffective in this, sometimes tragically so.

  4. Yannis Says:

    Giving in the Eastern Tradition focuses more on the giver rather than the given or the receiver. It is an expression of the Self rather than the ego, a clear sign that one is on the perpetual battle against the ego. Benefiting others is of course important, and right giving is interwoven with compassion and the desire to help through that. But it is not so much what is achieved by the giving to others but what is happening in the giver that makes it important.

    Hence the commandment to benefit even people that we disagree with or dislike – our enemies. This does not make any sense in the cause-and-effect sense that is intrinsically related with politics. There is no utilitarianism in that, at least not as much as in the west.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Indeed. Utilitarianism has no proper place, it seems to me, in the Kingdom of God.

  6. Yannis Says:

    Indeed F.Stephen, its the dividing line.

    The world seems devoid of meaning for worldy people that subscribe strongly to the utilitarian view. The gap they feel (that often becomes apparent at deaths of loved ones, grave illnesses and other such ills that shake the feeling of control they think they have over life) is that the world has meaning in itself – in a certain sense it is the meaning.

    But for them that they view it just as resources, as the means to the ends of the human ego for a life time, its difficult to appreciate this. Hence they fall from the stars.

    Actually, this turn of events happened to me too : )

  7. Yannis Says:

    …and boy was that fall scary!… :)

  8. mike Says:

    …But often in our culture, to help the suffering of others can be political code-language of “help me in my political plan.” …..the same can be said of the many endevors plotted under the auspices of noble christian charity…sadly there is frequently an agenda cloaked under the guise of “helping others” and that is usually self aggrandizement..of a church and/or it’s minister….we could say i suppose in either circumstance the poor are helped and good done regardless of the motives involved but this no basis on which to build a utopian society much less “heaven on earth”…

  9. Simeon Says:

    Honestly, this whole different view of the “end of the world” or “last days” or whatever is still very hard for me to swallow. Not that I don’t believe it, I just think in my ignorance I don’t get it. I really do want to. I think the part of Christians living on a day to day and not worry of tomorrow flows against the common thinking of the Protestant idea of the end of time or the soon return of Jesus Christ. Really, in my understanding, it is more of something I need to confess and take to confession. It comes down to a matter of my belief and faith.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, it is difficult – though very much at the root of the Tradition and thoroughly Biblical. The linear model of time, superimposed on the work and teachings of Christ make us misunderstand much. But the liturgical Tradition of the Orthodox faith teaches us that the Eucharist (for instance) is indeed the “Marriage Feast of the Lamb.” Oddly, we actually give thanks for the Second Coming “and all these things which have come to pass.”

    Schmemann’s For the Life of the World is wonderful on the topic.

  11. Micah Says:


    Like Fr. Stephen suggests, holy tradition and the linear model of time are quite at odds with each other.

    It is the End of Days not the End of the World that rightly points to the fulfillment of all law and prophecy in Jesus Christ — who sits at the right hand of God.

    Imagine the pitfalls of thinking we can somehow immanentize the eschaton apart from Him…

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    I certainly do not suggest that we immanentize the eschaton apart from Him. I suggest rightly, that He Himself is the eschaton and that we should come to understand what it means that the End has come among us and is already among us.

  13. mike Says:

    …i think what Fr. Stephen is saying and alluding to in his post might be better phrased in the vernacular of the back hills here in kentuck…”It’s all over but the shoutin”………..:)

  14. Yannis Says:

    For those of us who are not familiar with Kentucky colloquialisms, but are truthfully and really interested in them, could you expand please Mike? :)

  15. mike Says:

    ……are you a funnin me…..?

  16. Yannis Says:

    …nope, me no funnin’, really askin’…

  17. tess Says:

    Father, bless.

    My husband and I have been talking recently about Christ’s acts of redemption, and one of the (poorly articulated) thoughts that has come up is this: That since Christ makes all things new, that since all of time and creation is redeemed through His incarnation and resurrection, then our understanding of “the past” as something fixed is somewhat erroneous. In contemplating the sufferings in our pasts (the real ones, not the egoistic ones), it seems to me that at the end of all things there are some events that simply cannot be written in stone without suffering and pain being carried into eternity. Of course, I know that it’s somewhat speculative, but does it sound outside the realm of what we believe? That even history can be rewritten?

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, I think in some way “history” is “rewritten.” “And He shall dry away all tears,” must mean more than we’ll simply not care anymore. The “frozenness” of history, I sometimes equate with death and Hades (since, as people say, death is inevitable). The resurrection is the greatest revearsal of history I can possibly imagine. If it is carried into eternity – then it is changed. “Death is swallowed up.”

  19. Marc Trolinger Says:

    You have hit upon the key problem in the correct understanding of the eschaton Fr. Stephen. Those of us who are members of the Church, the Body of Christ in this world, live both in time and eternity. The Kingdom of Heaven to which we belong is eternal, yet until the Lord physically returns to this earth there remains a linear element of time and a sequence of events yet to take place. These events cannot be properly understood without a correct understanding of the Book of Revelation, and the Book of Revelation cannot be understood in a linear manner. This failure to understand the Book of Revelation has led to inconsistent teachings in the Church. One of the most obvious inconsistent teachings is that the Antichrist will appear three and half years before the Second Coming, yet we are rightly taught that we can never know when the Second Coming will take place.

    The Book of Revelation has remained shrouded in mystery primarily because none of its previous interpreters have fully understood its unique sequential structure. St. John wrote down the revelations of our Lord in the sequence that they were given to him. However, from chapter four onward St. John received these revelations from a Heavenly perspective where past, present, and future events are indistinguishable from one another. When the text of these chapters are arranged in a sequence that follows the related historical and prophetic passages of the Holy Scriptures, it becomes very clear that St. John was given twelve distinct visions. These twelve visions encapsulate the entirety of the story of God’s relationship with mankind; from the beginning, to the end of this age. This is why our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ begins and ends His Revelation to St. John explaining: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Rev. 1:8,11,17; 22:13).”

    The Holy Apostolic Tradition of the Church also provides three keys of understanding to unlock some of the deeper mysteries of Revelation. First, God’s love for mankind is so great that He has done everything possible to save us from our own self-destruction, except to deprive us of His gift of free will. Second, there is only one family of God and one dispensation of His grace. True Israel is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Finally, God’s wrath and judgments are always remedial, never vindictive.

    Using these guidelines and keys to interpret Revelation allows the Bible and history to refute five widespread pernicious misconceptions. First, the great tribulation spoken of in Matthew and Revelation is not a time limited to three and a half or seven years, but is rather the condition of the Church from the first century until our Lord’s Second Coming. The singular and plural form of the word tribulation is used many times in the New Testament, almost always in reference to the continuing condition of those in God’s Church. Daniel 9:27 is not referring to the great tribulation, but rather to the seven years that Jesus Christ confirms the New Covenant; beginning with His earthly ministry, then ending with the Day of the Lord. Second, the Day of the Lord is not a standard twenty-four hour day, but is rather the period of time which begins when Jesus Christ returns in glory, then continues for one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days until the confirmation of the New Covenant and the harvest of the resurrection are completed. The last chapter of Daniel and much of Revelation consists of prophecies about what will happen in Heaven and on the earth during this period of judgment. Third, the temple of God referred to in the eleventh chapter of Revelation is not a third temple yet to be built upon the temple mount in Jerusalem, but is rather the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which now stands upon the holy site of our Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Fourth, the prophecy in second Thessalonians concerning the “falling away” and the “man of sin” is not yet to be fulfilled, but rather was fulfilled by the events leading to, and then following the Great Schism of 1054. Fifth and finally, the Antichrist will not be manifested before the Day of the Lord begins, but rather after the initial worldwide chaos of the Day of the Lord begins to subside. The Antichrist is not a single person, but is rather an evil trinity of Satan and the two beasts in chapter thirteen of Revelation. One of these beast represents the political leader of the last empire of Satan’s dominion on the earth, and the other represents Satan’s false prophet, the last “man of sin,” who will deceive many people during the Day of the Lord.

    The Book of Revelation completes the Holy Scriptures given to the Church by God the Word, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It summarizes the historical revelations that begin in Genesis, then focuses on the Incarnation of the Son of God, His Gospel message, and the continuing great tribulation of His Church on the earth. Revelation concludes by focusing on the future, and the prophesied events that will take place during and after the resurrection harvest of the Day of the Lord.

    Although we can never be certain when Jesus Christ will come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead, the weight of all the Biblical and historical evidence indicates that no further prophecies remain to be fulfilled before His Second Coming. Understanding this, and Revelation’s visions, adds deeper meaning to our Lord’s admonition: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”

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