Two Strands in the Bible

Ajith Fernando
National Director, Youth for Christ/Sri Lanka
The primary aim in descriptions of the end-times in the Bible is to help us live faithfully in the present. The Bible presents various strands of end-time events couched in figurative language which are sometimes difficult to harmonize—resulting in numerous debates about the end times. There are two such strands which I want to discuss here. While we may not be able to harmonize them fully, both place before us some implications for action which we must take seriously.
The first is the strand which describes the earth being destroyed (2 Pet. 2:10-13) and our final home being in “other-worldly” mansions (John 14:1-6). Associated with this strand are those texts which teach that those who do not repent of their sin and those who are not born again will not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). These passages propel us to the work of evangelism which seeks to bring people to repentance, to receiving eternal salvation and to yielding to Christ’s lordship. The Bible entertains the hope of a great turning of large masses of people to Christ’s salvation at the end of time (Rom. 11:25-32).
The second strand talks about the creation as being redeemed in the end. It is represented by texts which describe the creation groaning, as in the pains of childbirth, as it awaits its redemption (Rom. 8:18-23); those which describe all of creation being brought into a unity under Christ (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:20); and those which talk of the day when all of the animal kingdom lives in harmony (Isa. 11:6-8)—especially those presenting humans living in perfect harmony under God (Isa. 2:3-5). In case we think that this is talking about a situation where the world will get better until all humanity is saved, our optimism is moderated by the fact that the context of both the passages in Isaiah just cited is that of judgment.
I have been greatly encouraged by the statement: “The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into [the New Jerusalem]” (Rev. 21:26). Something beautiful from Sri Lanka is going to be taken into the eternal kingdom. Sri Lanka is rapidly deteriorating owing to corruption, violence, and the ravages of an ethnic conflict. Life here is very frustrating and sometimes dangerous. Yet I am excited by the prospect of Sri Lanka contributing something glorious to the eternal kingdom. I am encouraged to stay on here and do my part in preparing that contribution. The prospect of a redeemed creation causes us to be committed to doing all we can to make this earth a better place.
Jesus said that God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields (Matt. 6:26-30). So when we care for the environment we are doing God’s work. The original call for humans to care for the creation (1:28) was not cancelled when we sinned, for it is repeated in the Psalms (8:6-8). However, in the passage just cited from Matthew, Jesus also said that humans are of greater value than plants and animals and that God is committed to feeding and clothing them. This shows us the importance of meeting the material needs of humans (social concern). Elsewhere Jesus said that it doesn’t profit a person to gain the whole world—that is, have all his or her material needs meant—but lose his own soul (Matt. 16:26). This shows how important evangelism is.
Does the argumentation above suggest that those doing social concern are more important than those committed to environmental concerns; and that those doing evangelism are more important than those doing social concern? The Bible does not teach such a hierarchy of service functions. But we can say that, while it is very important to be involved in protecting the environment and meeting human needs, we must guard against the natural tendency to neglect evangelism. Such a warning is especially relevant today because evangelism is frowned upon by many in our pluralistic society.