In 1516, Sir Thomas More wrote about a nation with little crime and absolutely no poverty. In this wonderful land, everyone had enough work, the sick were adequately cared for, cities were perfectly planned and beautifully created, the people enjoyed complete religious freedom, and the greatest pleasure for those who lived there was derived from doing good to others.
The name of this land? Utopia. It means “no place.”
Thomas More knew what he was doing, naming his fantasy island “no place,” because there has never been any place on earth (at least since the Fall) like Utopia—and until Jesus Christ returns, there never will be.
Not that people haven’t hoped for it though. In the early years of the twentieth century, for instance, many believed that we were on the verge of Utopia. After all, the major powers were at peace, the economy was booming, knowledge was increasing, eugenics was showing great promise (it worked fine with dogs), China was still open to Christian missionaries, and trains were running on time. So, Queen Victoria’s chaplain Charles Kingsley wrote, “The railroad, Cunard’s liners and the electric telegraph are . . . signs that we are, on some points at least, in harmony with the universe.”
This cosmic harmony, however, was short lived. Not long after the first decade of this new era, a Bosnian terrorist named Gavrilo Princip shot an Austrian archduke in the streets of Sarajevo, starting World War I. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Though it’s certainly normal that people would hope for something better, nothing in Scripture promises anything remotely utopian for this world—at least not prior to God’s remaking of heaven and the earth after Christ returns. In fact, Jesus, in His famous discourse in Matthew 24, painted a picture of humanity that should dismiss any utopian fantasies as just that: fantasies.
The setting for Jesus’ great sermon about the last days was the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where He sat with His disciples overlooking the temple and all its attendant buildings. In this context, the disciples asked, “ ‘Tell us, . . . when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ ” (Matthew 24:3). It was in response to this question that Jesus, in this relatively short discourse, laid out the basic moral and spiritual course of the world right up to His return.
“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains’ ” (verses 4–8).
False christs? Wars? Rumors of wars? Nation rising against nation? Famine? Pestilence? Earthquakes? Centuries before the invention of the printing press, upon which millions and millions of Bibles have been produced to teach people about the true Christ; centuries before the League of Nations or its successor the United Nations; centuries before great advances in irrigation and agriculture; centuries before vaccines; centuries before all these things that make today’s life so much better—Jesus, seeing past all these achievements, could nevertheless describe the sad state of current human affairs. Amazing!
Right out of the gate, then, Jesus swept away the notion that, over time, as humanity gains more knowledge, more experience, more maturity, it would better itself. That is a utopian ideal held by millions of well-meaning people—and, in just about eighty words, Jesus dismissed it all as bunk.
Just the beginning
These things that Jesus warned about, however, were just “ ‘the beginning of birth pains.’ ” He then described the persecution that His followers would face: betrayal, hatred, apostasy, and death. Anyone familiar with not only history but also the situations Christians face today in many lands knows how true Jesus’ words are.
Nothing Jesus said gives any indication that humanity will progress morally or spiritually. On the contrary, “ ‘because of the increase of wickedness,’ ” He said, “ ‘the love of most will grow cold’ ” (verse 12). The verb used in the first part of the sentence says that wickedness will increase, that it will get more prevalent over time—all in contradiction to evolutionary and utopian notions of human self-betterment and advancement.
Jesus said, too, that just prior to His return the human condition will get worse. “ ‘Then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again’ ” (verse 21). In other words, things will degenerate into a time of tribulation never yet seen—hardly a pleasant prospect for a world that has already hobbled through some pretty rough times.
In the same discourse, Jesus pointed to an early event in human history and used it as a comparison to the last days. The event, the Flood: “ ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’ ” (verses 37–39).
According to the Bible, before the Flood, people had become incredibly wicked, even to the point where God Himself was sorry that He had created humanity. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5, 6).
Though the specific point that Jesus was making here was that many people will not be ready for His return, by looking back to those who lived at the time of the Flood, Jesus presented more stark words regarding the state of humanity in the end times. That state, indeed, is not good. It certainly offers no hope of any kind of utopia, at least not in this life.
That leads to another point, perhaps the most important one of the entire sermon. The point is this: amid all the gloom and doom and trial and tribulation, there is a wonderful hope—the hope of Christ’s return. Only this great event—His return in the clouds—and nothing else, will usher in utopia.
This hope is not built upon anything human. Instead, it arises only because of the supernatural power of God, who, in mocking defiance of all human logic, reason, and science, will appear from heaven and will “ ‘gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other’ ” (Matthew 24:31). From that incredible event alone, He will create a whole new existence, one without wars, rumors of war, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution, iniquity, or death.
Talk about utopia!