The End Is At Hand

1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Imagine asking a friend for advice because you’d recently been wrongfully terminated for pointing out the embezzling of a coworker, because the following day you’d been evicted from your apartment because your landlord had lost your rent money at the casino and lied about it to the owner, and because the following week you’d been ticketed for speeding while driving an critically wounded neighbor to the hospital. Imagine asking for advice and help because you were in all kinds of trouble for doing good. How would you expect your friend to respond? What kind of help and advice would you expect to receive?

Well, that’s largely the background of this letter. Peter’s readers were being persecuted in significant ways solely because of their faith in Jesus. Peter was writing to offer help and advice. The help and advice he gave, however, isn’t what most of us would expect (or probably want) to hear.

Let’s pray that God would help us hear and heed Peter’s advice even more clearly and joyfully this morning.

PERSPECTIVE
If you remember (or in case you weren’t here), last week’s sermon ended at the beginning of this text. I don’t mean that it was a sermon on 1 Peter 4:6. I mean that it was a sermon given to provide the proper context for this text. It was a sermon on 4:7-11 in the sense that it communicated (what I believe to be) a foundational principle for truly understanding 1 Peter in general and 1 Peter 4:7-11 in particular.

The simple message of last week’s sermon—the foundational principle—was that because of the gospel, honoring God in this life (especially when it comes to honoring God in times of suffering) is far, far more about having the right perspective than it is the “right” circumstances.

The example that stands out most to me is the story (in 2 Kings 6:8-17) of Elisha’s servant. In this story we find a calm Elisha and a panicked servant. From the servant’s perspective Israel is entirely surrounded and outnumbered by the evil, blood-thirsty Syrian army. From his vantage point panic is, at the very least, understandable. His perspective, however, was limited. He couldn’t see everything around him. Elisha prayed for God to open his servant’s eyes and God answered. What had been invisible became visible.

With proper vision Elisha’s servant was able to see the Syrian army entirely outnumbered by a mountain full of heavenly chariots of fire. The text doesn’t tell us how the servant responded but it isn’t difficult to imagine that with proper vision his fear would have been driven out entirely and replaced with confidence, hope, and awe. Elisha’s servant thought he needed a change in circumstances (“alas, what shall we do?”). What he really needed, all he really needed however, was a change in perspective.

If we’re honest we’ll admit that when suffering comes our way, our perspective tends to drive us to try to escape the suffering as quickly as possible by whatever means possible—to focus on changing our circumstances. When we ask for advice and help we want advice on how best to get out of our suffering and we want help to do it. The heart of Peter’s advice in in this letter, however, was that his suffering readers didn’t need their suffering to end nearly as badly as they needed to see their suffering as an opportunity to highlight the truthfulness and transforming power of the gospel—to have a more gospel-illuminated perspective. Instead of “help me figure out how to get out of this,” help me figure out how to get the gospel into this”.

Again, understanding all of that is necessary if we are to properly understand and apply this explicitly perspectival passage. That is, while this entire letter was written to help the elect exiles (Peter’s readers) change their perspective on their persecution, v.7 Peter further defines/clarifies the kind of God-honoring, gospel-centered perspective that he’s calling his readers to have; namely, the perspective that they are living in a time when “the end of all things is at hand”.

I mean to answer three questions about this perspective, from this passage: 1) What, specifically, are the end times, 2) How does having an end-times perspective help us honor God in our suffering, and 3) What does it look like to practically live in light of that perspective. I’ll get to the first two in this sermon and the third in the coming weeks.

WHAT ARE THE END TIMES?
Again, Peter asserts in 1 Peter 4:7 that his readers must understand (have the perspective) that they are living at a time when the end of all things is at hand. Developing this perspective was necessary if they were to honor God in their persecution.

But what, specifically, does it mean that the end of all things is at hand?

In the most simple terms, the New Testament writers divide history into three main time periods: 1) the time before the foundation of the world, 2) this age, and 3) the age to come.

The time before the foundation of the world refers to the time before time—prior to God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. We see this in passages like 1 Peter 1:20 which says, “He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” It’s also in passages like Ephesians 1:3-4 (“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”) and others.

Next, the NT writers regularly speak of the other two periods (“this age” and “the age to come”) in contrast to one another.

Consider Matthew 12:32, which records a message from Jesus that Peter would have been present to hear, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Likewise, we see this contrast in Ephesians 1:20-21. In it Paul wrote, “[The Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

“This age” refers to the time between creation and the second coming of Jesus, while the “age to come” refers to the time from Jesus’ second coming on.

Consider this simple diagram…

What time period, then, does Peter have in mind when he writes, “the end of all things is at hand”? This phrase is synonymous with a few others that we find in the bible.

In 1 John 2:17-18 we read, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour…”

In Hebrews 1:1-2 we see another, more common, phrase, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (clue).

This same phrase (“last days”) is used by Peter in a speech he gave in Acts 2:16-17 on Pentacost.

But again, where does this fit on our timeline?

In Galatians 4:4 we find a clue and another phrase which means the same thing, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

We see the same type of clue from Peter himself earlier in this letter in the second half of a verse we read earlier (1 Peter 1:20), “He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times…”.

In short, when Jesus became incarnate he ushered in the kingdom of God and “the end of all things” (or “the last hour” or “the last days” or “the fullness of time” or “the last times”). The end of all things, then, refers to the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. We are living in the last days now and will continue to until Jesus returns.

All of that leads to our second question…

HOW DOES HAVING AN END TIMES PERSPECTIVE HELP US HONOR GOD IN OUR SUFFERING?
What was Peter’s aim in sharing this with his readers? How did he expect this perspective to help the suffering saints? How does knowing this affect or change us?

As I consider the context in which the NT authors—and especially Peter—make reference to the “last days” it seems to me that there are three primary ways in which this perspective matters.

  1. That we are in the last days, and that the last days refer to the time of the coming of the Messiah, matters “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20) whose coming ushered in the last days. It matters because in the last days God’s chosen means of promise-keeping had arrived. God is God and so his promises stand. However, his promises pointed to a time, long awaited, where send a Savior, one who would undo the curse, who would crush the serpent and redeem God’s people. Knowledge that they were in the last days meant living in light of the reality that that time had come.

    Jesus’ birth was the physical manifestation of God’s truthfulness. Jesus’ person was the exact imprint of the Father’s nature and the ultimate source of God’s promises. Jesus’ teaching and miracles were the demonstration of God’s unlimited power to keep his promises. Jesus’ purpose was an expression of the goodness and loving-kindess of God’s promises. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension were the ultimate confirmation of and seal on the Father’s acceptance of his sacrifice. And again, all of this came to pass as the inauguration of the last days, the end of all things.

    In short, when his readers considered the suffering and persecution that followed them, from the perspective of living in the last days (and all that meant), Peter meant them to find hope and strength in the knowledge that victory was certain and defeat was impossible; in the knowledge that because of Christ’s sacrifice “to him belong [definite, unchallangable] glory and dominion forever and ever!”

    And so it is for us today, Grace. We too are in the last days. And therefore we too share in the victory of Christ that it ushered in. Therefore we too have complete confidence that not one ounce of our faithful suffering or persecution will be wasted. Therefore we too endure hardship in the knowledge that an imperishable, undefiled, unfading treasure awaits us in heaven as we continue to hope in God.

    The next time you are persecuted for your faith, the next time you encounter some type of trial, remember that your main aim is to point people to Jesus. And remember that there is great help to do that in the knowledge of the certainty of victory of the faithful who are living in the last days. There is unimaginable power in this perspective. The last days represent a new and living hope for all whose hope in wholly in Jesus, the Lord of all days.

  2. How does knowing that we are in the last days help us honor God in our suffering? First, it helps in that provides confidence in the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, we will not and cannot lose. Second, it helps by providing us with an ever-present, powerful reminder to speak the words of life to the unbelievers around us. That “the end of all things is at hand” means that soon no one and no thing will be left unaccountable to the King.

    I (obviously) cannot state the significance of this better than Peter did in his second letter.

    2 Peter 3:1-12 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?… 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly… 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

    The thought of countless millions perishing eternally under the fiery wrath of God ought to grieve us. The thought that the end of their opportunity to escape that wrath is dwindling ought to terrorize us, held back only by the grace of God.

    Grace, let me challenge you to begin praying every day for at least one non-Christian in your life. Pray that God would grant them repentance. Pray that he might use you, motivated by the knowledge that you are in the last days and that judgment is coming, to bring them the words of life.

    Judgment is coming at the end and so we must plead with people—especially those causing our suffering—to repent and believe. Encountering our suffering with this perspective motivates us to use our suffering as a rescue mission of the most urgent kind.

  3. Finally, third, knowledge that we are in the last days helps by providing us with a powerful motivation for righteousness. (That’s what the next few verses in this passage—the next few sermons—will address.) As we all know, the end of things tends to shine a bright light on the things that matter and overshadow the things that don’t. How many people have you met on their deathbeds who are worried about wearing the latest trends? How many men holding wounded buddies in foxholes are worried about catching up on the latest sitcom? How many mothers of cancer ravaged children care one iota about the brand of their purse? They’d give 1000 stupid $1000 dollar purses if they could to save their child.

    At 18 years old I was one of the most prideful, self-centered, surface-level young men that you’ve ever met. And yet, I remember looking down at my grandpa as he was dying of cancer and feeling the ridiculousness of my vanity. It didn’t last long, but the effect was unmistakable while I was in his presence.

    The deep heart-cry of one truly looking at the world we live in, in the knowledge that the end of all things is at hand is: Father, don’t let me waste my life. Don’t let me give myself to trivial things. Don’t let me wander down the countless deceitful, deadly paths of worldliness. Let me stay on the path of life.

    To those who’d been driven from their homes for loving Jesus, Peter wrote, “prepare for action” (1:13), “set your hope fully on grace” (1:13), “don’t conform to the passions of ignorance” (1:14), “be holy as God is holy” (1:15), “love one another” (1:22), “put away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander” (2:1), “be subject to the Lord’s sake to every human institution (2:13), “live as servants of God” (2:16), “honor everyone” (2:17), “be subject to our wicked, abusive employers” (2:18, 20), “imitate Jesus” (2:21-24), be subject to our disobedient spouses (3:1, 7), have unity and humility of mind (3:8), don’t fear anything that is frightening (3:13), “always be prepared to make a defense” of your faith to your persecutors and other skeptics (3:15), stop sinning (4:1), and, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, “…be self-controlled and sober-minded… 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly… 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…” (4:7-10)… in short, live only in righteousness.

    Those things, of course, are challenging when it’s legal to do them, when we’re in a healthy church, when we have the support of family and friends. They’re made much harder in times like Peter’s when it meant getting driven away from everything you knew. Where do we find strength for such a calling? Peter’s answer: you find strength in Spirit-empowered knowledge, perspective. Knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ—his death on behalf of all who weren’t able to do those things on our own—and knowledge, as this verse says, that the end of all things is near.

    Grace Church, don’t waste your life in things that you won’t have or care about in eternity. Senior saints, don’t waste the remainder of your lives. Run away from the deadly notion that 65+ is the time for leisure. I’m only in my early 40s so I don’t pretend to know what it looks like to run fast after Jesus in the knowledge that the end of my physical life is near along with the end of all things, but I do know that you need to figure it out and I’d love to help and learn from you.

    There is power for righteousness in the knowledge that the end of all things is at hand. If we are to honor God in the suffering required in these last days we must, Peter wrote, learn to view the world from that perspective.

CONCLUSION
We are in the last days. The last days are the days between Jesus’ first and second comings. Peter wrote of this to his readers in order to further shape their perspective to match God’s and insodoing help them endure their suffering with confidence of certain victory, an urgency to bless their persecutors, and walk in righteousness.

All this (1 Peter 4:11) “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ… Amen.”

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