Dr Steve Orr
We’re going to look at 1 Peter 4v7 this morning. Peter says: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”. That consists of an opening statement and a resultant exhortation. The statement is “The end of all things is at hand” and the exhortation is “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”. We’ll consider each in turn.
Peter begins by saying: “The end of all things is at hand”. Now, you don’t see it so often nowadays but there was a time when it was not uncommon to see men walking around the streets with sandwich boards proclaiming “the end is nigh!” Many people would have sniggered at them or mocked them or dismissed them as fools or fanatics. Some of them probably were. Nonetheless, that is the message that Peter seems to be declaring here at the beginning of verse 7. Just as when you see a placard saying “the end is nigh!” I expect most people would take that to mean that the end of the world is coming soon. The world is about to be destroyed and they’ll think in terms of doomsday or Armageddon or the apocalypse. However, here we are some 2000 years later on and the world continues. Was Peter some sort of crank? Was he misguided in saying that “The end of all things is at hand”? Was he mistaken? Well, this is the inspired Word of God so what Peter said must be true but, clearly, it’s also true to say that the world did not end soon after Peter wrote his letter so we need to ask what Peter actually meant when he said that “The end of all things is at hand”.
A more literal translation of the Greek text would be “But of all the end has drawn near”. Firstly, notice that word “But”. It’s been omitted in the ESV and the NIV but it is in the Greek text. The word “But” suggests a connection between the statement that “of all things the end has drawn near” and what Peter said previously. So, this isn’t a stand-alone statement. It relates to what Peter has just been saying. In verse 6 he’d said: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does”. There he’d referred to “those who are dead”. He meant those who had heard and received the gospel and had subsequently died physically. His point was that everyone, even believers, eventually die. Death is at hand for all of us. In going on to say “But” he’s signalling the fact something even bigger is at hand. There’s something even more significant, even more momentous at hand.
Next, it is helpful to note where the emphasis lies in this statement. Our translations say “The end of all things is at hand” and that gives the impression that the emphasis is on “The end”. However, the word order is actually “of all the end has drawn near”. So, the emphasis is not so much on “The end” or on the nearness of “The end” but on “all”. Now, the word “things” is not in the Greek text. That has been supplied by the translators. The text doesn’t actually specify what the word “all” is referring to so it’s not necessarily intended to mean this world but it is clearly speaking of something that is complete. It carries the idea of totality. It’s emphasising that Peter’s statement has a comprehensive sweep.
Then the text goes on to speak of “The end” of this totality. The Greek word that’s been translated here, quite reasonably, as “end” is “telos” and it has various shades of meaning. When you think about it our English word “end” does too. So, when a football referee blows his whistle that signals the end of the match. The match is over; it’s no longer continuing. The players leave the pitch and the crowd goes home. Or, if you watch a film, eventually, the words “The End” come up on the screen to signify that the film has finished. There are no more pictures, there is no more dialogue, there is no more plot. The film is over. But, the word “end” can also have another meaning. The famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”. In that context, the word “end” means “purpose”. The word “end” can also refer to the final stage of a process. So, in speaking of “The end of all things” Peter could be referring to the purpose of a comprehensive process.
That that is the sort of thing that he has in mind seems to be confirmed when we notice that, rather than concluding with the words “is at hand” or “is near”, the text actually says “has drawn near”. That speaks of movement. It’s not just stating a static fact that this “end” is near. It’s not the idea that the whistle is about to be blown and a termination will be imposed. No, this “end” has “drawn near”. That suggests that there has been movement to reach that point. That speaks of a process nearing completion so that its comprehensive purpose is about to be realised. The idea is that everything has moved or progressed to the point at which all that remains to happen is the final consummation. We are now on the brink of the conclusion that everything has been moving towards. We’re in the final stages.
So, when Peter says “The end of all things” he’s not merely talking about all things ending, he’s talking about the purpose of everything and in saying “The end of all things is at hand” he’s saying the purpose of all things is reaching its culmination or fulfilment. The purpose of all things is about to be realised. To put it another way, we are now in what the Bible refers to as “the last days”. Peter has already alluded to that. Back in chapter 1 verses 20 and 21 he said, speaking of Jesus: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”. Saying that Jesus was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” means that He was the pre-ordained, chosen Saviour from eternity past. Saying that He was “made manifest” means that He came to Earth and fulfilled His preordained role as Saviour through His death and resurrection. It was God’s plan from eternity but it wasn’t “made manifest” until Jesus came. And, you see, His coming and being “made manifest” as the Saviour ushered in “the last times”. All the major events in God’s plan of redemption have now taken place right up to the formation of Christ’s church with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. So, we’re now in the church age or “the last times” and we await the final consummation of God’s plan. When Peter was writing the church was about thirty years into “the last times”. Now, we’re more like 2000 years into the last times but the fact remains that the next big thing to happen will be the realisation of the fulfilment of God’s great redemptive purpose.
Now, that will include the end of the world as we currently know it. Speaking of Jesus, the Son of God, the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 1 verses 10 to12: “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end”. You see, the heavens and the earth, the whole of creation as we know it will come to an end but the writer also says that it “will be changed”. The world as it currently is will be destroyed but there will be a new world in its place. That is all part of the final consummation that we look forward to. It begins with the return of Christ and the general resurrection. It includes the destruction of the world and the final judgement that Peter had spoken of back in verse 5 where he spoke of giving “account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead”. It culminates in the ushering in of the new heavens and new earth in which God dwells with men. That’s the end. That’s God’s ultimate purpose. It’s the restoration of perfect fellowship between God and man.
We have some helpful insights into this great consummation in 2 Peter chapter 3. He says in verses 1 to 3: “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, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires”. So, he’s speaking of “the last days” in which there will be “scoffers”. In saying that, he doesn’t mean people who eat too much although, judging by the current obesity epidemic, that is probably true as well! He tells us about them in verse 4 where we read: “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation””. You see, the last days lead to the promised coming of Christ but these scoffers pooh pooh the idea. So far as they’re concerned, day continues to follows day, life goes on as it always has and it always will. That’s the way in which most people live their lives today isn’t it? They block out the possibility of tragedy, they ignore the certainty of death and they certainly don’t entertain the notion of final judgement and having to one day give account to God. But, you see, they’re foolishly and deliberately deluded. Peter continues in verse 5 and 6 by saying: “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished”. Things can and do change in big ways. God sent the flood in the days of Noah so there is a precedent for God sending catastrophic judgement. Peter goes on in verse 7 to say: “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”. You see, in these last days, “the heavens and earth” are being “stored up for fire”. That’s their certain end. That’s what’s in store for them. Why hasn’t it come yet? We’re told it’s because the heaven and earth are “being kept until the day of judgment”. Why are they being kept? Why the delay? Peter goes on to tell us in verses 8 and 9 where we read: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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”. The delay is because God is gracious. He doesn’t want people to perish and the only way to avoid perishing is through faith in Christ. So, He’s patient. In His great love and mercy, He’s allowing plenty of time for people to come to repentance and faith in Christ. However, His patience won’t last forever. Peter makes that clear as he continues in verse 10 by saying: “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”. Make no mistake, “the day of the Lord will come”. These last days in which the Lord is being patient won’t last forever – “the day of the Lord will come”. Notice that Peter says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief”. That suggests a couple of important things.
Firstly, a thief doesn’t let you know when he’s going to break into your house. He comes without warning. Likewise, we don’t know when “the day of the Lord will come”. So, be very sceptical about those develop elaborate plans about the end times and predict when the end will be. The JWs have an impressive record of failure in that respect. They’ve given various dates for the end of the world and all have passed without incident. It’s not surprising that they’ve got it wrong because Jesus Himself said in Mark 13v31-32: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.
Secondly, the statement that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” is saying that it will come, we don’t know when so it could be at any time. The fact that the Lord has waited for 2000 years or so doesn’t necessarily mean that He will wait much longer. So, in Mark 13, Jesus went on to say in verse 33: “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come”. In other words, we must be prepared for the end to come at any time.
Then, in verses 11 to 13 of 2 Peter 3, Peter says: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 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! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”. You see, the end includes judgement and destruction but the ultimate result is the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”. John tells us more about that in Revelation 21v1-4 where we read: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away””.
So, Peter’s opening statement that “The end of all things is at hand” means that the next major event in God’s unfolding purpose will be its culmination as Jesus returns, all of the dead are resurrected, this present world is destroyed, the final judgement takes place and the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells is established. Next, let’s consider Peter’s:
Why did Peter make that statement that “The end of all things is at hand”? Well, remember that Peter was addressing believers who were suffering as sojourners and strangers in a hostile society. He certainly wasn’t providing a sort of riddle or conundrum for them to try to solve. It wasn’t intended to be a distraction to help them keep their minds off their sufferings. All too many get engrossed in trying to devise intricate schemes and plans and trying to put dates to what’s going to happen in the future. Frankly, that’s an unhelpful distraction from what should be the real impact of knowing that “The end of all things is at hand”. Peter’s intention was much more practical than that.
Neither was it to make us feel that we can drop out of this world and its social obligations and necessities. It seems that some of the Thessalonian believers did that. They assumed that Christ’s return was imminent so they might as well give up work and other responsibilities and just wait for Him to come. Paul gave them very short shrift. He said in 2 Thessalonians 3v10-12: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living”. Apparently, when someone asked Martin Luther what he would do if the end was coming today he replied that he would “plant a tree and pay his taxes”! It makes you wonder how many trees he planted during his lifetime but, in essence, he was saying that he would carry on as normal because he sought to live every day in the light of the end.
Making the statement that “The end of all things is at hand” certainly wasn’t intended to frighten us. Look at Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4v16-18 where he said: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words”. Paul drew attention to the end as a means of encouragement and, by “encourage one another”, he didn’t just mean to cheer one another up. It wasn’t like saying “have a nice cup of tea and you’ll feel a lot better. He meant to spur one another on in living the Christian life and serving the Lord.
Invariably, whenever the New Testament speaks of the end it is in order to encourage and exhort believers to be godly in their living. So, in 2 Peter 3v11 we saw that Peter said: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”. In our text we see that, having said that “The end of all things is at hand”, Peter went on to say “therefore”. The word “therefore” is really saying “in view of the fact that the end of all things is at hand” or “in the light of that” certain things should follow; you should respond in a certain way. If someone was to come to you and say “You’re suffering in this world at the moment but the end of all things is at hand so…”. What would you expect them to say? Fill in the gap. Well, Peter went on to give a series of exhortations. For now, we’ll just look at the first of those exhortations. What would you expect to be the top priority? Well according to Peter, as he continues in verse 7, it’s: “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”.
So, Peter is urging them, and us, to “be self-controlled and sober-minded”. That might sound like two different things but the two Greek words used here have very similar meanings. That’s really reflected in the fact that whereas the ESV has “be self-controlled and sober-minded”, the NIV has “clear minded and self-controlled”. In this instance, we can’t say that one is better than the other. Both translations are perfectly acceptable. Taken together, the two Greek words suggest the idea that Peter is exhorting his hearers to be calm and collected. That might bring to mind the second world war motivational slogan: “keep calm and carry on” that was rediscovered and is now commonly seen on mugs and tea towels all over the place. But, that slogan was really evoking the British stiff upper lip. It was a call to stoical endurance against overwhelming odds. However, these Greek words convey the sense of being calm and collected by being realistic and rational and clear headed. Peter is exhorting them to see things in the light of Jesus having died and risen and in the light of the sure hope that they have in Him so that “the end of all things” isn’t something for them to fear but rather something for them to long for and look forward to with confidence.
Why does Peter urge them to “be self-controlled and sober-minded”? Well, it’s not just for their well-being and peace of mind. We see that he goes on to say that it’s “for the sake of your prayers”. So, in the light of the fact that “the end of all things is at hand”, Peter is saying that our primary need is prayer and that to pray aright we must be rational and realistic and well-informed. He’s highlighting prayer as the top priority for believers as they look to “the end of all things”. Why? I think it’s because prayer acknowledges and shows our dependence on God as we live our lives in theses last days and it deepens our relationship with Him as we prepare for the time when we will be with Him.
Now, the NIV has “so that you may pray” but the ESV is correct in saying “for the sake of your prayers”. So, this is telling us that proper, effective, appropriate prayer is dependent on us being “self-controlled and sober-minded”.
A A Milne, the writer of the Winnie the Pooh stories, wrote a well-known poem entitled “Vespers”: It goes as follows:
Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.
God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.
If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.
Mine has a hood and if I lie in bed,
And put the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.
Oh! Thank you God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember. God bless Me.
We probably find that to be a humorous and charming account of a child’s prayer but I wonder to what extent our praying can actually be a bit like that?
How much of our praying is what we might call Procedural Prayer? Christopher Robin was praying because it was bed time. How often do we pray for no reason other than that it’s our set time to pray?
How much of our praying is what we might call Predictable Prayer? Christopher Robin prayed for Mummy and Daddy. How much of our prayer time is spent in habitually praying for the same predictable things?
How much of our praying is what we might call Preoccupied Prayer? Christopher Robin’s mind was elsewhere wasn’t it? How often do our thoughts stray to the equivalent of the hot and cold taps or the colour of Nanny’s dressing gown?
There’s an old hymn that starts “I often say my prayers but do I ever pray?” Christopher Robin was saying his prayers but was he really praying? How often do we really pray? Perhaps we really pray when we’re faced with a crisis. We might call that Panicky Prayer but what about the rest of the time?
May the knowledge that “the end of all things is at hand” so galvanise us that we are “self-controlled and sober-minded” so that we can pray in a way that is realistic and rational and well-informed. That’s the priority in the light of the fact that “the end of all things is at hand” but Peter also gives other imperatives and we’ll go on to consider them next time.