Some people think that the earth will never come to an end. They may quote the scripture that says “the earth abides forever” (Ecclesiastes 2:4) without understanding the context in which the word “forever” is used.
The Earth Abides “Forever”
In that context (Ecclesiastes 1:4-8), Solomon is observing that some things change while other things remain constant. The sun rises and sets, the wind blows from the south, then from the north, seasons change, etc., but the earth remains “forever”, i.e., constant.
Although the word “forever” is generally used in the Bible in an eternal sense, it is sometimes used in a temporal sense. Several examples will illustrate that the word “forever” is sometimes used temporally.
Under the Law of Moses, a servant might choose to serve his master “forever” (Exodus 21:6). Of course, in this instance “forever” would not be in an eternal sense, but only until the end of his lifetime.
Again, after Samuel was born, Hannah told her husband that after her child was weaned, then she would take him to Eli the priest, “that he may appear before the Lord, and remain there forever” (1 Samuel 1:22). Of course, she did not mean for eternity.
Again, people have often expressed their desire that their ruler would live forever (Nehemiah 2:3), by which they meant a long time, not throughout eternity. The expression, “O King, live forever” (Daniel 2:4; 3:9; 5:10; 6:21) is a sentiment still commonly expressed in some places.
In many other instances, the term “forever” is often used in contemporary cultural contexts to mean lengthy, but not necessarily eternally.
The World Will End
That the world will indeed come to an end was declared by the apostle Peter. He said:
“…that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:5-7).
Moreover, he wrote that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
Paul also noted that “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
When Will These Things Occur?
Peter had been among the apostles when they were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives a short while before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had informed his disciples that the temple stones would be destroyed.
Then the disciples asked, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7).
This question about “when will these things be” actually consisted of two parts, both of which relate to the coming of the Lord. However, the coming of the Lord can be understood in two different ways.
One has to do with the coming of the Lord in judgment during the temporal existence of this world, and the other has to do with the coming of the Lord at the end of the age.
The question the disciples asked deals with both aspects of the coming of the Lord. The first aspect related to when “the sign of your coming,” would occur in a temporal sense, that is, when the stones of the temple would be removed. Jesus’ answer to that question is given in Matthew 24:4-35, Mark 13:5-31, and Luke 21:8-33. That event, i.e., the removal of stones from the temple, was fulfilled with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman army which was completed in 70 AD.
The second part of the disciples’ question about “when will these things be” related to when “the end of the age” would occur.
Only the Father in Heaven Knows
Jesus’ answer to this part was “of that day and hour no one knows, not ever the angels of heaven, nor the son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32; see also Matthew 24:36).
The “end of the age” about which the disciples were concerned was their present age. It was the age when Jesus lived on earth and the church was established. It is referred to as the “last days” (Hebrews 1:2; Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2:28) or “latter days” (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Daniel 2:28; 10:14; Hosea 3:5). It is the age in which we are presently living. Inasmuch as “the end of the age” is the last age, and inasmuch as the last age comes to an end, then Jesus and his disciples are talking about the end of the world.
Watch and Be Ready
Because no one knows when the last age will come to an end, Jesus admonished his disciples to “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42; see also Mark 13:33).
Jesus, by telling several parables, urged his disciples to be prepared. These were the parables of the faithful and wise servant (Matthew 24:43-51), the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
In the parable of the faithful and wise servant, Jesus noted that for the unprepared, there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).
In the parable of the ten virgins, the bridegroom tells the five who are unprepared that “I do not know you,” and then Jesus again admonished his disciples to “watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:12-13).
In the parable of the talents, the one who had but one talent and did nothing with it was declared to be a “wicked and lazy servant.” As an “unprofitable servant,” he was to be cast “into outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26, 30).
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the king will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), but to those on his left hand, he will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Several things will happen when the world comes to an end, all of which will occur within the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
Jesus will return (John 14:3; Hebrews 10:37), the dead will be raised (John 5:28-29), all will be judged (Acts 17:31; Hebrews 9:27), and everyone will go to their eternal destiny (Matthew 25:41, 46).
For many the end of this world has already come, inasmuch as many have already died (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). We, too, may die before this world is destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10).
While we live we must prepare. Are you ready?