Sermon preached on 1 Peter 4:7-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/17/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 4:7-11
“End of All Things is at Hand”
The “End is Near.” If you see someone holding a cardboard sign with those words hand written on it, it’s likely you might scoff a bit inside. We’re used to seeing on TV or movies all sorts of doomsdays preachers that hold up signs like that or shout that in the city streets. Just recently Harold Camping and his followers said such things, and are still essentially saying such things. Others have before them as well. But let us be clear. We can disagree with Harold Camping setting a date. We might disagree with the approach and tone of people holding up cardboards signs. But the biblical truth is that indeed the end is near. That’s our very first verse for today. Verse 7 says here, “But the end of all things is at hand.” The NIV translates that as “The end of all things is near.” Same thing. Not just of some things. The end of all things has drawn near. That’s a biblical truth. And Peter says it should inform how we live right now.
And so this will be our study for today. We’ll consider first the nearness of the end. Second, we’ll consider the general response commended here, based on this reality. In other words, how do we live in light of the end of the world. Third, we’ll hone in on one of those responses – we’ll consider in more detail the serious and watchful prayer commended in verse 7.
Let’s begin with considering the nearness of the end. That’s verse 7’s bold pronouncement. Since Peter said this about 2000 years ago, it’s a fair question to ask what he meant by this. If the end was so near back then, how come it hasn’t come yet? So in this first point, I want us to understand in what sense the end has drawn near. Let’s start with the translation. The NKJV does a very good job with the translation here. To say that the end of all things is at hand, it to say how the end has drawn near. It expresses in one sense, the imminence and closeness of it, while at the same time acknowledging that’s it not here yet. Jesus used this exact same language with regard to the coming of the kingdom. The gospels start out recording Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Well, I think there’s a helpful parallel there in thinking about the kingdom of God being at hand, and the end of all things being at hand. These things are closely connected. At the final end of all things, that’s when the kingdom of God will come in its fullness. And yet when Jesus teaches about the coming of the kingdom, we see there is a present dimension to it as well. There’s a sense in which the kingdom has come already through Christ’s ministry, especially his death and resurrection. His kingdom rule already operates by his Spirit and through his church, reigning from heaven at the right hand of God. His kingdom advances ever forward on earth, having a definitive victory already over Satan at the cross, as souls are won for him. And yet there’s clearly a sense in which the kingdom of glory has not come yet. That will happen in its fullness on Christ’s return. And so Christ’s kingdom has come, already, and not yet. It’s so imminently at hand, that in part we already taste of it, though not in its final fullness and glory.
Well, that’s very similar with the end of all things. The New Testament talks about us being in the last days. Let me mention just a few. John says in 1 John 2:18 that it is the last hour. Hebrews 1:2 says that we are in the last days.
James 5:3 says we are in the last days. It’s the implication of Jude 1:17 and Paul in 2 Timothy 3:15. Acts 2:17, quoting a passage from Joel, said that we are in the last days – that was a sermon by Peter. I could easily go on. The perspective of the New Testament is that we live in the last days, and as Peter says here, the final last day is at hand. So just like the coming of the kingdom is already here in part, and the final realization is coming soon. So too with the end. The end of all things is in many ways here, though the final end is yet to take place – but it’s soon. Christ is coming back soon to put and end to this world, to usher in the final Judgment Day, and to bring his people into the new heavens and the new earth.
So in what way are we in the end times? In what way is the end near? Well, we have to understand that Scripture is talking about this in light of the picture of salvation history. When you read the Bible, it’s telling a story of world history. It’s a story of creation, fall, and redemption. It’s the story of a promised Messiah who’s coming to save his people from their sins. That story is introduced literally in the opening chapters of the Bible. It’s repeatedly told and developed by prophet after prophet. You read the Old Testament and there are a lot of details there, but it’s all developing this plot. It’s a rescue story, and Jesus is the long awaited hero. And so this story came to a climax with the coming of Jesus. Jesus secured the promised salvation through his death and resurrection. On the cross he died to pay the debt of sin. And so where we sit now in redemptive history is in the final chapter. Everything that needed to be accomplished for our salvation has taken place. That’s why Jesus on the cross could say, “It is finished!” So much had taken place to get to that point.
You see, all that remains now in the story is what we call the end times. Jesus described the end times in passages like what we read earlier in the gospel. When you read Jesus’ account of the end, you see that we’re already experiencing many of the signs he mentioned. That’s because, as we said, we are living in the last days. During these last days the Bible says that the church will be bringing the gospel to the world amidst persecution. At the very end, a final Antichrist will show himself and try to afflict the church, but then Christ will return. At that point the resurrection of the dead will happen. At that point there will be a final Great White Throne Room judgment. Then the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire for ever, and those who have been saved by Christ will go to be with him, in a new heavens and a new earth, forever. So do you see, that all that’s really left to happen is what we cover in our eschatology books! We are in the final chapter of human history; in salvation history. The story has unfolded. It’s almost done. The end of all things is at hand!
One of the things that is probably difficult for us is that we’ve been in this final chapter for so long. For some 2000 years. Yet, when Jesus himself described in Matthew 24 the signs of the end of the age, he described many signs first that we’ve already seen. But in Matthew 24:6 he said that these things are not the final end. No in 24:8 he said that they are just the beginning of the sorrows. Back when Peter made this statement here, they were just at the beginning of the end. I can only imagine that we are nearer to the end of the end, than the beginning! But why does he wait so long? Peter was already answering that question in his day. In 2 Peter 3:4 he responds to that question. Peter predicts that people will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” The main way Peter answers that question is in 2 Peter 3:9. There he attributes it to divine patience. He’s giving time for all to come to repentance. God has his holy elect that he has planned to save. That’s primarily what’s going on in this last chapter of salvation history. God’s patiently giving the church the opportunity to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth. It’s this same patience Peter just mentioned at the end of last chapter when he mentioned Noah’s day. God was patient back then in bringing final judgment upon that former world. Now he is patient again here as the end of all things approaches. Let me really make this personal for us. He didn’t come back years and years ago, in part, because he was waiting to have you be born so he could save you. If you belong to Christ, you are part of the story of salvation. He chose you from before the world was even here!
So that’s a little bit about the nearness of the end. Verse 7 then goes on and has the word “therefore.” Let’s turn to think now about the “therefore.” Whenever you see in Scripture the word “therefore,” you have to ask what it’s there for. It’s saying that our knowledge of the end of all things has a response. Peter commends a certain kind of response to the fact that the end is near. The rest of this passage is really this response. We’re called to be serious and watchful, particularly in our prayers. We’re called to fervently love one another, in a way that especially forgives others. We’re called to hospitality. We’re called to use our God given gifts to bless our fellow Christians. This is a snapshot of how our life should look like while we await the end of all things.
This picture of the Christian life stands in contrast to the different picture in the previous verses. In the last passage, we saw Peter describe the non-Christian lifestyle. It’s not a picture of sober watchfulness in prayer. No, that was a picture of drunkenness and crazy partying. The Christian focus is to be on love, not on lusts as the picture in 4:2 for the world. The Christian opens his home to hospitality, not wild parties where wickedness abounds, as pictured in 4:9. The contrast is obvious. As end of the world approaches, the contrast between the godly and the wicked should become more clearly marked, not less clearly marked. Lines are to be drawn. We are to hold fast to our new life in Christ. We are to live different. We are to be marked with soberness, love, and serving others.
Well, I’d particularly like to focus today on the response commended in verse 7. We’ll then plan to spend two more weeks on this passage, dealing with the rest of the items mentioned here. But today we’ll focus on the response commended in verse 7, to be “serious and watchful in your prayers.” Let me start with some definitions of these words: the words translated here as serious and watchful. Since we’re honing in on these two words, a little brief word study would be helpful here. Let’s start with the first word here, translated here as serious. The major translations have a lot of different words here. The one I think best conveys the sense is from the NIV, which translates it as “clear-minded.” The word is about being in your right mind. This word is often used as the opposite of mental instability. For example, when Jesus healed the man with the legion, afterwards it says that he was sitting down in his right mind. That’s the same word here translated as serious. And so I prefer the NIV’s translation of clear-minded here. This is saying that we need to be level headed and right thinking in life. That’s especially true with regard to our thinking about how to respond in light of the world’s end.
The word for watchful here is literally a word about sobriety. It’s often translated as sober or sober-minded. Here the NKJV translates it as watchful to think about its impact in regard to prayer, and in light of the end. To be sober in this context, is to be alert and on the watch. This sober watchfulness means you are not asleep on the job or passed out. No, you are mentally engaged and on the look out.
Certainly in light of the end times, having right-thinking and being alert is important in general. Think of opposite. Think of the temptations that might come when as a Christian you face so much affliction. You might be tempted to lose hope in the coming of the Lord. Or as Peter said in last passage, you might be tempted to want to return to you former manner of living, before you became a Christian. Or when troubles come in life, you might be tempted to panic or worry. When the troubles come, you might also be tempted to employ unbiblical solutions to your problems. On the other hand, in light of the end times, you might sell everything you have and wait on the roof for Christ to come back. You might remove yourself from life and just stand on the street corner with that cardboard sign. You might even become consumed with the Scriptural study of the end times in an unbalanced way – desperately trying to unlock some secret code to tell you the day and hour of Christ’s return. Do you see the wide variety of troubles you could have in light of the end times? And these are just to name a few. And yet, Peter tells us here how to safeguard ourselves from all of these extremes. We need to safeguard ourselves through clear-headed right thinking and being alert to these temptations.
You see, clear-headed right thinking will tell us we should expect affliction from unbelievers, and so we should be alert to that when it comes. Right thinking well tell us that we ought not to be losing hope in Christ’s coming, but to see God’s patience and perfect timing. Instead, we’ll be alert for the day of his coming, so it doesn’t catch us like a thief in the night. Right thinking will tell us that there is no value in returning to our old life of sin, and that the way of Christ is far better than the path of destruction. Instead, we’ll be alert and on guard against those sins we know we have craved the most in the past. Right thinking will tell us that when tempted to panic or worry about life’s troubles that we’ll be reminded of God’s perfect plan for our life, as the Scripture has promised in Romans 8:28. Instead, we’ll be alert for ways to capture each worry or fear as they arise in our minds, and instead look to trust in God who is our Good Shepherd. Right thinking will tell us that when trouble comes we need to go to the Bible for wisdom for living. We’ll be alert to make sure we are rightly handling and applying the Bible to our life, and not just pulling verses out of context to fit what we already wanted to do. And if you are tempted to become too consumed with the end, tempted to move up to the roof or only think about the end, then clear-minded right-thinking will challenge you there too. Right-thinking will tell us that the Bible says we are to be busy about our earthly callings and living righteous lives. That we are to be engaged in this world; not just waiting on rooftops. We can be alert to his coming while still being busy about his work until he does come. Being alert to his coming doesn’t mean removing ourselves from life.
And so clear-headed, right-thinking, and sober-minded alertness is helpful in all our life. In light of the end of all things, we must have biblical-thinking. We must have a Christian worldview. We must be alert against the alternative ideas coming at us, and stand firm in Christian truth. And yet, though this is true in all of life, Peter especially commends this in prayer. He says to have these qualities with respect to our prayer life. We need to be clear-headed and sober-minded in our prayers. Right-thinking and alertness must characterize how we pray. This means that all those sorts of things I just mentioned, all those different temptations, should be taken to prayer. It’s your prayer life that in fact should catch these temptations. As you pray with a clear mind, you should be on the look for all these sorts of temptations. You observe them, and confront them in prayer. You bring God’s Word in your mind to bear against them. You turn afresh from them unto Christ. You ask for his strength and wisdom in them. You become renewed in Christ’s path for your life. In light of the end of all things. Because Christ is coming back soon. This is the day for endurance in your faith. To be steadfast in your hope. Because Christ is coming back soon!
We see this in Jesus’ teachings. I suspect Peter had some of these in mind as he wrote this. I suspect he had in mind Jesus’ teachings on the end times, for example. There Jesus taught us what to think about the end times. There he told us to be alert and on the watch for his coming. Matthew 24:42, Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” Or in Matthew 25, Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Five of them were prepared for the bridegrooms coming. Five were not, and missed his coming. After telling that parable, he again repeated the same thing in Matthew 25:13. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Jesus told us to be prepared for the end and be on the watch for it. Peter commends that to us here in verse 7, especially with regard to our prayer. And of course, the best preparation we can have is to know the Lord. To have received his salvation and to follow him. To remain steadfast in your Christian hope.
A second teaching of Jesus that seems behind this comes from Matthew 26. That’s the record of what happened at the Garden of Gethsemane. There, just before Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death on the cross, Jesus took just Peter, James, and John to go pray with him. Jesus was very distressed at his impending suffering and death. He knew how difficult it would be. Jesus’ end was coming so very soon. He knew he’d be tempted to turn away from the cross. To look to escape that hour. And so he took his closest friends and said this to them, “Stay here and watch with me.” Jesus then went a little ways further from them and began to pray. He then came back to Peter, James, and John, and found them asleep. He said specifically to Peter it says in Matthew 26:40, “Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In light of Jesus’ end at the cross, he needed to pray. Pray that God would hold him fast until after that suffering was complete. Until the time of his resurrection. He needed to watch in his prayers for those temptations to forgo the suffering and turn away from God’s plan for his life. This is the sort of watchful prayer we now need to have in light of the end of all things.
Well, on that night, Jesus asked his closest friends to pray with him about this as well. To watch in prayer with him. Of course, on that night, they faltered. Peter faltered. And yet we can take great comfort in seeing what Peter writes here. Peter didn’t watch and pray very well that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. And yet Jesus wasn’t through with him yet. Peter kept following Jesus, and Jesus kept growing him. That’s the encouragement I remind us of again today. We’re told to be clear-minded and watchful in our prayers. We may stumble along at this, but Jesus will be there to help us. Jesus will be growing us through this. Let’s have that thinking in our prayer life. Let’s be asking for that help in our prayers. Let’s be alert for the ways we’ll struggle in our prayers, and keep asking Jesus to keep our minds clear and alert in all these areas.
Brothers and sisters, the end of all things is near. God’s waited this long to come back, because he has the perfect plan. He’s always right on time. Let us trust in his good plan. Let’s get excited about his return, but know that it will happen at just the right time. Let’s make sure our prayers are constantly reaffirming this perspective to us. While the world laughs at those cardboard signs that pronounce the end of the world, may we be reminded of verse 7. That the end is indeed near.
And so next time you see one of those cardboard signs, remember this verse. When you see those signs from now on, be reminded that you should live differently b/c of that truth written on that sign. Specifically as we discussed today, when you see that sign, be driven to prayer. Whenever you see or hear that the end is near, be reminded of the prayer life God wants you to have. He wants clear-headed, watchful, prayer. But not just when you see those cardboard signs. But especially today as you’ve seen it in God’s Word. Let us be busy about this kind of watchful prayer!
The end is indeed near. Christ is coming back. His kingdom is at hand. The end of all things is at hand. He is not slow in keeping his promise. His patience, and his promise, and his plan, are all in perfect harmony together. Let us pray even now that he will keep us steadfast in this hope. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.