The Coming Conflagration
The apostle Peter has warned us. Now it’s up to us to understand and be prepared.
“It is apocalyptic.” U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon didn’t exaggerate much when he assessed the wildfires that ravaged America’s West Coast in 2020. By late October, at least 35 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands were forced from their homes. Thousands of houses and other structures burned to the ground, and more than 5 million acres were scorched—more than 4 million in California alone, setting a new state record.
As hard hit as California was, the wildfires were nothing new. The state experiences them so regularly it has a special website dedicated to wildfire preparedness (readyforwildfire.org). The website matter-of-factly states, “In California, wildfires aren’t a question of if, but only a question of when.” The website header warns, “Wildfire is coming . . . Are you ready?”
The apostle Peter warned of an even greater conflagration: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10).
To Peter, this coming inferno was not a question of if but, rather, when; and he was certain it would happen soon, which is why he announced, “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7).
WHAT Is the End of All Things?
The verse’s immediate context does not specify what “things” Peter had in mind. However, his use of the phrase in 2 Peter helps us to better understand it.
In 2 Peter 3:4, Peter said that in the last days, scoffers will come, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” Then he spoke of the heavens, the elements, the earth, and the works that are in it: “All these things will be dissolved” (v. 11). Specifically, “the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (v. 12).
We may conclude, therefore, that Peter used the phrase all things in 1 Peter 4:7 in a similar way: to refer to the entire created universe—at least those things not in the spiritual, immaterial realm.
Everything we see in this present, created universe will have an end, a terminal point. At some future time, it all will cease to exist. Peter not only referred to physical creation, but also to the current period in history—what the Bible calls this “present age.”
The ancient rabbis often referred to two ages (or worlds): the present one in which we live and the one to come (see Mishnah, Aboth 4:16). Jesus Himself spoke of these two ages (“in this age or in the age to come,” Mt. 12:32; “now in this time . . . and in the age to come,” Mk. 10:30).
So did the apostle Paul (“not only in this age but also in that which is to come,” Eph. 1:21). He described the current age as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). The writer of Hebrews spoke of “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5).
Other passages agree that this age of history will come to a conclusion. Jesus said He would always be with His disciples, “even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). Paul called believers those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
Therefore, when Peter declared “the end of all things” (1 Pet. 4:7), he referred not only to the material universe, but also to the closure of God’s prophetic timetable for mankind.
WHEN Is the End of All Things?
Most startling about Peter’s declaration is that the end “is at hand” (v. 7). The Greek verb means to draw near in time, as opposed to location.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus used the same word to announce, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2; 4:17). Jesus warned His disciples to beware of false prophets who would claim, “The time has drawn near [is at hand]” (Lk. 21:8). In Romans 13:12, Paul stated, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” James told believers how to live, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas. 5:8).
Based on the Greek form of the verb translated “is at hand,” Peter was emphasizing the nearness of the end of all things. This nearness was true when Peter wrote his epistle and is true today. The verb also indicates the nearness did not begin when Peter wrote the epistle but prior to it.
The author of Hebrews affirmed that God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2). He later proclaimed, “But now, once at the end [consummation, NASB] of the ages, He [Jesus Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).
In other words, the reason the end of all things was at hand then and is still so today is because the promised Messiah came, was rejected, was sacrificed, was raised on the third day, and ascended into heaven, “whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).
From that point forward (the completion of Jesus’ triumphant earthly ministry), the alarm on God’s end-of-days clock was set to go off at any moment, ready for the curtain to rise on the final drama of human history, beginning with the Rapture of the church and culminating with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom.
HOW Shall We Then Live?
The word therefore immediately follows the phrase the end of all things is at hand (1 Pet. 4:7). Based on the fact that God’s prophetic alarm clock could go off at any moment, Peter exhorted believers in Jesus Christ to conduct themselves in a manner that would enable them to get through trials and suffering in this present age.
Because the end of all things is at hand, we should spend our time here on Earth living for God, no longer doing the will of the flesh (vv. 2–3). We should mentally focus on Christ, be sober, and rest our hope completely on the grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13).
Like Jesus, we should live righteously while suffering in the here and now because doing so glorifies Him (4:10–11). Our reward will follow.
Peter’s letter reminds us that we can’t take it with us. Everything here will burn in the end. And the end is imminent. Like California’s website forewarns, “Wildfire is coming . . . Are you ready?”