It’s amazing how many people are convinced that the world is going to end in their lifetimes….if not in the next year. Many Christians are convinced that Jesus will return any day (and he was indeed very clear that we should live our lives expecting as much).

But the fear and fervor surrounding the end of the world extend well beyond followers of Jesus simply longing for his return. There is a deep fascination amongst many religious people with being able to figure out the exact time the world will end. But also among some non-religious people, there is a definitive belief that climate change, starvation, disease, or nuclear war will annihilate the human race sooner rather than later.

To put it simply, we do not live in an optimistic age.

Gaining Perspective from History

Apocalyptic fever is something that is not new to western culture. Consider some events in history that caused people to definitively predict that the world was about to come to an end.

  • 9/11 led many people to predict the end of the world.
  • Saddam Hussein had people convinced that he was the anti-Christ.
  • Edgar Whisenant convinced millions with his book “88 Reason Why the Rapture will take place in 1988.
  • The Cuban Missile brought the reality of nuclear annihilation to the forefront.
  • World Wars 1 and 2 shattered the dreams of global peace.
  • Napoleon was seen as an unstoppable force.
  • British colonists viewed catholic Quebec as an outpost of the anti-Christ in their own backyard. This was a driving force leading to the American Revolution.
  • The chaos of the English Civil War led people to declare “the world was turned upside down.
  • The fall of Constantinople in 1453 led many to believe that Islam would dominate Europe. 
  • The Black Death eliminated half the population in the mid-1300s.
  • Invasions by pagan Danes, Saxons, Wends, Magyars, etc. were all seen as precursors to Jesus returning around 1000 AD. This only ended when each of those people groups became Christians themselves.
  • The sackings and invasions of the Roman Empire by the Goths, Franks, Huns, Lombards, etc. led many to predict the end of the Christian era before 500 AD.

Look for Patterns

I hope you see a pattern. Cataclysmic events are predicted. Cataclysmic events happen. People are convinced that the end of the world is near. The world, the church, and the Gospel continue to survive and thrive.

Jesus had a very specific message of coming judgment and destruction on Jerusalem. His predictions came true in the events around 70 AD. But Jesus’ purpose in telling us these things is to give his followers a game plan as to how we should respond when earth-shattering things occur in the world. After all, the curse of sin in the world implies that tribulation will be a theme until the return of Jesus.

A Different Response

Jesus had a very different way for his followers to react. If there were ever a counter-cultural message to the hysteria that grips our world and country today, it would be the words of Jesus to his disciples from Mark 13:1-23.

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you see “apocalypse fever” gripping our world?
  • Do humans tend to underreact or overreact to earth-shattering events?
  • What is the significance that Jesus issues the teaching in Mark 13:5-23 privately to his disciples?
  • How should a Christian’s reaction to tribulation be different from the world’s?
  • What is the mission of the church in the midst of tribulation (vv. 9-13)?
  • Why do you think Jesus is warning his disciples about things yet to come?
  • Is there anything in this text that surprises you?
  • What are some practical steps you can take to avoid being led away by “false christs” (vv. 22-23)?