What is the relationship between the end times and the world of work? In other words, when we think about what goes on at work – where we spend most of the hours of the week – how does that matter to the way God’s grand story concludes?
The way we think about the end of the story (or eschatology, as theologians call it) matters for our work. But why?
I recently had the opportunity to explore these questions with students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with Romans 8:18-23 and Revelation 21:23-26 serving as key texts for guiding us.
Christians face two major temptations as they think about the end of the story and their work.
The Messianic Temptation: This is when we think so much of our work, and so highly of it, that we think and act like it’s responsible for bringing in the kingdom of God.
The Temptation of Meaninglessness: This is when we view culture and the world of work as useless because we believe that “it’s all going to burn up in the end.”
Our work is not meaningless, but neither is it responsible for ushering in the kingdom. God is responsible for that. How can we avoid these temptations? Certain passages from Romans and Revelation can help us.
God Won’t Obliterate Everything
Romans 8:18-23 suggests there will be some continuity between the heavens and the earth as they are now, and the new heavens and the new earth. It other words, it’s not “all going to burn.”
Paul writes in verses 20-23 that,
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
These verses give us hope: we know what it feels like to be subjected to frustration. When Paul says the whole creation is groaning, we know why – in our distress and frustration, we groan too. We long for things to be the way they were meant to be.
Romans 8:18-23 tells us that all this distress is going somewhere. It’s possible that what we do in our work lives is an expression of the groaning of creation, and will one day be restored. Something will happen (I can’t tell you what), but somehow God will renew the heavens and the earth.
We can bring glory to God through our work lives. What we offer through our work is not perfect – it’s not messianic, and it won’t bring the kingdom. But neither is it meaningless. What we accomplish in our work can be something valuable, and even good.
This leads us to Revelation 21:23-26.
The Glory of the Nations
Revelation 21:23-26 – verses 24 and 26 specifically – suggests that manifestations of the good and valuable things we offer through our work will be included in the new heavens and the new earth. John uses the phrase “the wealth of nations” here. What does this mean?
What is this glory and honor of the nations? It has to be something that distinctively comes from the nations that expresses glory and honor. This probably means the best of humanity’s diverse creative works, the best products that people from the nations have created. Perhaps the best artistic works, the best of our engineering, and the best of other human endeavors will be for us to enjoy for all eternity.
The things we produce that glorify God and express the flourishing of his created order are what will be present at the end of the story. We’ll see the glory of the nations in the new heavens and new earth because the work we do now matters to God.
A life of discipleship extends to every area of our lives. Work is an expression of discipleship, and that expression matters in the end.
What are your views of the end times, and how does that impact how you view your work?