The World's Last Night
The World's Last Night E-mail

The World's Last Night and Other Essays

"The World's Last Night"

This essay, originally titled "Christian Hope - Its Meaning for Today," was published in Religion for Life (Winter 1952).  The later title comes from the first line of John Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIII": "What if this present were the world's last night?"

1.  According to Lewis, why is it important for Christians not to neglect the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming?

2.  Just because some Christians have over-emphasized the Second Coming, what must we be careful of doing?

3.  What implied assumptions are we making when we discount some of Christ's teachings as typical of the time in which he lived, while valuing others as transcendent?  What question should we be asking? 

Consider New York City pastor, Timothy Keller's similar point in his recent book, The Reason for God, p. 111:

     I urge people to consider that their problem with some [biblical] texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others.  We must not universalize our time any more than we should universalize our culture.  Think of the implication of the very term "regressive."  To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned.  That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the views in the Bible you regard as offensive.

4.  Much of the scripture C. S. Lewis quotes in this essay comes from Mark 13.  Read the entire chapter if you can, or at least verses 29 through 37. 

5.  What does Lewis consider the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable?  Do you find the argument persuasive?

6.  Give an example of a "debating point" that Lewis mentions.  Can you think of another?  What effect do "debating points" have on disbelief? 

7.  How does Lewis use the analogy of a drama to illustrate our relationship to the Second Coming? 

8.  What is the danger of trying to pinpoint when Christ will return?  If you could guess correctly, what chief purpose would be thwarted?

9.  List the three propositions that summarize Christ's teaching on the Second Coming?

10.  How might the doctrine of the Second Coming be misused?

11.  How should we live in light of Christ's Second Coming?


Mark 13:30 and 13:32:  C. S. Lewis suggests that verse 30 shows Jesus being in error about the timing of the end of the world and verse 32 is his confession of ignorance about it.  The following notes from The NIV Study Bible present alternative interpretations.  "Generation" in verse 30 can also be translated "race."  However, "if the term is understood as a normal life span, it may refer either to the generation in which Jesus lived while on earth [CSL's interpretation] or to the generation living when these signs begin to occur."   

 Regarding verse 32: "No one knows. A map of the future would be a hindrance, not a help, to faith.  Certain signs have been given, but not for the purpose of making detailed, sequential predictions."  "nor the Son. While on earth, even Jesus lived by faith, and obedience was the hallmark of his ministry."

Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965):  German theologian, musician, cat lover, medical doctor, and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize.  He wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906, which sought to interpret Jesus' life as a reflection of the Jewish apocalyptic thinking of his day.

Apocalyptic: "An apocalypse is a book containing real or alleged revelations of heavenly secrets or of the events which will attend the end of the world and the inauguration of the kingdom of God."  The term is also used by scholars to refer to works by unknown Jewish authors between 200 BCE and 150 CE which have similar literary and eschatological character.  From the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, Baker Book House, 1984.

William Miller (1782-1849): American Baptist preacher who did mathematical calculations based on Daniel 8:14 and came up with the idea that Jesus would come again in 1843.  He thought each of the 2300 days in Daniel stood for a year.  He began counting from 457 BCE when Artaxerxes issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  When nothing happened in March 1843, Miller revised the date to October 22, 1844, and again, nothing happened.   

Apocalypse of Baruch and Book of Enoch and Ascension of Isaiah: non-canonical writings written between 200 BCE and 200 CE.  Their authorship is falsely attributed to biblical characters.

John Donne (1572-1631): English metaphysical poet, preacher and Dean of St. Paul's.  In addition to many poems, he wrote Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions while recovering from a near fatal illness. 


© 2008 by Allyson Wieland