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The Moral Implications of the End of the World

by Brant Pitre February 19, 2021 0 Comments

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Transcript (from 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2nd Reading):

Thankfully, Peter does not leave them there. He says, “Okay, so if that’s going to happen, what’s the Christian response to the doctrine of the end of the world?” And he says:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness…

So this is really crucial for us to understand—that eschatology has a moral implication. Eschatology is not just cool speculation about what’s going to happen at the end of the world, what’s going to happen to humanity, what’s going to happen to the cosmos. It has a moral imperative, and that is: if the world is going to end, if this is true, then it follows that Christians should live lives of piety and holiness.

So you hear a lot these days about the universal call to holiness. Well, one reason there is a universal call to holiness is because the universe is going to be destroyed. And so detachment from the visible, material created realities of this world is a reasonable response to the revealed truth that they’re all going to pass away. And what holiness is in its essence….the word “holy” both in Hebrew and in Greek— hagios in Greek, kadosh in Hebrew—means to be “set apart.” Set apart from sin is the negative connotation, but set apart for God—that’s the positive connotation. You could also describe it this way: set apart from this world—you live in it but you’re detached from it—and set apart for the world to come, for the new heavens and the new earth. That’s our home. That’s where we belong. That’s what we’re heading toward; that’s what we’re living for. That’s the essence of holiness, according to 2 Peter chapter 3.

So holiness is a response to Christian eschatology. And if you wonder why does there seem to be a diminution or a diminishment of holiness in our contemporary secular context...well, one of the reasons is that secularism comes from the word saecula—it means “this age” or “this world.” And by definition, people who live in a secular context live for this saecula, this world, and not for the world to come. They don’t set themselves apart for some greater future reality. They attach themselves to—we attach ourselves to—this world and its pleasures and its delights and its beauties and make them our end instead of making the world to come.

This is why secular people don’t rest on Sunday. You look at Sabbath, you look at early Christianity—Sunday rest, over and over again, the early Church Fathers would talk about Sunday rest as a way of honoring the first day. Sunday is the first day of creation in Genesis 1, but it’s also the eighth day. It’s the day of the resurrection. It points forward to the new creation. So every time a person rests on Sunday, it’s a way of anticipating the new heavens and the new earth. It’s a way of anticipating the new creation, which begins on the day Jesus rises from the tomb on Easter Sunday.

So if you really believe Jesus rose from the dead, and if you really believe that His bodily resurrection is a foretaste of a new creation, then you should live that way every single week, reminding yourself this world is passing away and there’s a greater world coming.

And you don’t have to take the word of Peter for this in 2 Peter, you can...he’s getting it from—I mean, you do, because it’s revealed in Scripture. But it’s not a novel idea. This is from the book of Isaiah. So the greatest prophet of the Old Testament that Jesus quotes over and over again—Jesus Himself quotes—in Isaiah 65, verse 17, God says:

“For behold, I create new heavens

    and a new earth;

and the former things shall not be remembered

    or come into mind.

Isaiah 66, same thing, verse 22:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth

    which I will make

shall remain before me, says the Lord;

    so shall your descendants and your name remain.

So this is Jewish eschatology. The Scriptures revealed in its greatest prophet that this world, the former things, they all pass away, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth, as Peter says: which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:13-14)

So notice, the upshot of this reading is that we are waiting for the new Advent. We’re waiting for the final Advent. We’re waiting for the new creation, and therefore we need to strive to live lives that are blameless and that are holy...that are pious and that are zealous. Zeal—where does our zeal come from? It comes from the hope of a new creation—not just the faith to trust that we’ve been forgiven for sins. That’s the mystery of redemption. But the mystery of the new creation should move us to hope for the things that we don’t see but are still to come.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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