Talking to High Schoolers About “End of the World” Fear

Back when I was in Jr. High, the world was scheduled to end. It was 1988 and there was a popular book out called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. It was written by Ima Krazeman but he went by the name Edgar C. Whisenant. For whatever reason, my dad drove me to school that unfateful day and I asked him if it was true that the world would end. He gave me that look like, “Are you an idiot?”, but because my father is loving, he changed his face and tone and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll see you at dinner.” Which turned out to be true so I regard my father as more qualified at predictions than Whisenant and Harold Camping.

There’s always an “End of the World” prediction lurking somewhere in pop-culture. Whether it be a Nostradamus prediction at the checkout line or a summer blockbuster movie or a guy on a New York street corner preaching that it’s time to “turn or burn”. There are also more sophisticated ways of communicating humanity’s demise – like the Discovery Channel’s many features or Y2K or Al Gore’s televangelism ministry. I mean speaking of Gore, besides not literally standing on a street corner and having nicer hair, I’m not really sure what the difference is between him and the “bullhorn guy”. His “scriptures” are the scientific research that he puts his faith in. In any case, it seems every 10 years or so, we have an end of the world prediction from a rich white guy.

For many of us, this is all non-sense and even after a few moments of letting our imagination run away, its relatively easy to dismiss. But I have found for young people like Sr. High students, that there is a good bit of fear created. If you ask some, they are inclined to tell you that a scenario like Jake Gyllenhaal’s “The Day After Tomorrow” is possible because of what we are doing to our planet. What I also found is that many of our Christian students (and Christian adults!) are afraid of the return of Jesus.

A quick pause here because I know some of you – I’m all for stewardship of our planet (in fact, I was just voted “Greenest Youth Pastor” at a recent local youth pastor gathering. The prize was a used napkin). But the scenarios in these doomsday movies don’t hold much merit for me. In a world where anything is possible, it seems the wiser thing is to trust in a God that cares for humanity and creation than to fear cosmic destruction from arbitrary means. But I digress.

It’s been my observation that the people who talk most about the end of the world and the rapture are generally older people. From my thirty-something perspective, it seems that they want to avoid the process of dying. It’s been my experience and continued observation that those who most resist the idea of the end of the world and the rapture are younger people. Among the reasons, they too would like to experience the joys of physical intimacy or to be blunt – sex. Mention this to a bunch of young Christian married couples who were raised in church and they will all tell you some version of the nightmare they had about Jesus ripping the roof off their sanctuary after the pastor declares them husband and wife. “Noooo, we read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and now were going to Punta Cana for our honeymoon, please Jesus, come back next week!”

Things like the “Left Behind” series that create this idea of being “rapture-ready”, sermons and youth group lessons that only focus on the “Christ coming to judge the world” and listening to someone say, “If you are paying attention to what’s going on in the Middle East then you know these are the end times. It’s predicted in Scripture as plain as day …” has created a theme of fear that has been picked up by our young people. In the hope of creating urgency to live faithful in anticipation of the return of Jesus and our fascination with the more sensational elements of Scripture has blinded us to the more beautiful aspects of Scripture.

As a youth pastor, I try to find the balance of these things. Frankly, I am enjoying this season of life and am grateful to God for many things. I understand that not all people feel this way. Theologically I also understand that being in the presence of God will be the greatest experience beyond our imagination. When asked ‘What will heaven be like?’ I try to explain that if you have never wanted a moment to end, that’s a foretaste of something even more beautiful than that. In a good season or a tough one, this seems to be a helpful way of understanding the hope of the afterlife in the presence of God.

And then we turn to how the New Testament describes the return of Jesus. Often, it is described as a wedding and the church is described as the bride, and Jesus is the groom. I find that very fitting and mildly surprising. A lot of different types of imagery could have been used but Paul, John and the author of Hebrews use the metaphor of a wedding. Feel free to check out passages like Ephesians 5:23-40, Hebrews 12:22-23, John 3:28-3 and Revelation 19:6-8, 21:1-2, 9-11.

Every bride anticipates her wedding day and this is how the Church should anticipate the return of Jesus and our students responded well to that. Now this whole post is contextualized to the believer of Jesus. I have no answer for those outside the Christian faith. I think it’s extremely important that Christians not use the return of Jesus as an “evacuation route” and evangelize with tactics of fear and hype but rather to see Jesus’ return as a loving, hopeful, beautiful thing – describing it like the greatest of all weddings.


  1. Another great one! :) Thank you for your balanced perspective…and for sharing it!

  2. Kerri Mowrer says:

    Thank you so much for your perspective on this! I completely changed the direction of the youth group lesson I was putting together about the end times. You are so right that what teens should hear about the rapture should make them look forward to Jesus coming back for them and make them stand in awe of a loving God who planned this end to the world. It shouldn’t make them fearful about the second coming! Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for leaving your comment Kerri and grateful to hear that it was helpful.
    Re-reading the post made me reminisce a little back to that particular group of students – I miss them. Youth ministry is a tough job but so beautiful in many ways. Grace and peace to you, to those you serve and to those you serve alongside.

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