This is the End demonstrates that Hollywood gets so little right and a whole lot wrong about eschatology: the study of end times. The film does posit an actual Rapture, the reality of the demonic, the existence of heaven, the authority of the Bible (sort of), the damning power of sin, and the need for confession. But it also argues that certain good deeds are the way to heaven, that you can escape the tribulation and be raptured at any time after the initial event if you act right, that your rapture can be reversed, and that heaven is indistinguishable from the hedonistic Hollywood party that begins this film. This is the End earns its R-rating.
The movie opens with Seth Rogen picking up fellow actor Jay Baruchel at the airport. The two friends want to reconnect. They end up at a party at James Franco’s home, attended by a host of other actors. These stars, supposedly, are not playing characters; they are playing themselves. After indulging in drugs, Jay and Seth want cigarettes and snacks, so they walk to the local mini-mart. Oh, and the Apocalypse arrives.
What makes This is the End different from other films of its type is that it does not mock Christians. In fact, by the time the plot really gets rolling, all of the Christians have left the scene, transported in the Rapture (that happens to look a lot like an alien abduction sequence). Those left behind have to try to figure out how to survive the apocalypse and make themselves fit to be “sucked up into heaven.” The idea that they ought to confess their sins, repent, ask for forgiveness and accept the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on their behalf as the only acceptable atonement for their sins is never floated as an option. Instead, it’s a kind of self-conscious self-sacrifice that is your ticket to the great beyond. In other words, good deeds – and it doesn’t take much – will do the job. No one mentions that if this were possible, it would render the cross of Christ completely unnecessary.
It could be argued that This is the End is making fun of a particular brand of dispensational apocalyptic literature – but that was already done a few weeks ago with Rapture-Palooza – a movie that, thankfully, nearly no one saw. No, this film goes straight to the source, and targets as objects of comedy what the Bible claims it takes to get to heaven, and heaven itself. The actors realize that they are damned and want to be saved, and their presence in the film is the ultimate irony. In fairness, the film sticks its thumb in the eye of celebrity culture as well. But overall, the film represents a faction within Hollywood (it would be unfair to paint the entire industry with the same broad brush) who thinks it would be funny to make a comedy out of, say, The Blasphemy Challenge – a website that offers a free DVD to people willing to make a video of themselves supposedly blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Most critics have been exceedingly kind to This is the End. I suppose if someone’s entire theology consists of “My Jesus would never __________ (fill in the blank with whatever biblically accurate description you don’t like – “send people to hell” is a perennial favorite) -- or if they are among the New Atheists and like to talk about Flying Spaghetti Monsters -- they might find the film funny in a self-congratulatory kind of way. But anyone with an orthodox assessment of sin, salvation, death, hell and heaven recognize that far too much is at stake. Our eternal destiny is not in the hands of his Jesus, her Jesus, their Jesus – the Jesus of one’s own imagination that, unsurprisingly, tends to gloss over the adherent’s sins and judges only others. He is not a mythical figment, but a historical fact. Our ultimate destination will be determined by the actual Jesus, maker of heaven and earth, the Son of the Living God, who will one day come to judge the living and the dead. No amount of ridicule will make it go away.
The purpose of this short commentary is not to suggest that Christians protest outside of theaters showing this film. Instead, Christians need to be in prayer for the filmmakers, agents, and actors who determined to make such a movie. The Apostle Paul tried to explain to people that the patience of God in deferring punishment for sin was to provide more time for people to repent. God does not delight in the destruction of the wicked, but wants all people to turn from sin and place their trust in Christ. My prayer would be that more people in Hollywood would actually get to know more true, committed Christians, be drawn to God’s Word, and that they would come to know Jesus as He truly is.
If you are moved to pray, consider joining with Hollywood Prayer Network: http://www.hollywoodprayernetwork.org/
It is easy to become angry when you see the God you worship, who has done so much to save us, have His Word become the target of blasphemous comedy. But God does not need our protection. He has been blasphemed before. He has been stripped naked, beaten by jeering soldiers, and held up to public ridicule – crucified between two thieves as a spectacle. He died for those who were His enemies. That includes every single person who today identifies as a believer. If God can change our darkened hearts, who are we to think that he cannot do the same in Hollywood?
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieBiblesStudy.com and MovieMinistry.com, organizations that provides sermon illustrations and Bible studies drawn from popular film to help the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people. Dr. Newman also teaches in the graduate program of School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Requests for media interviews, or reprints of this article, can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.