We are not guaranteed that we will die. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52), the life of every human being in the world will be supernaturally concluded by the final coming of Jesus Christ. According to Karl Barth, this will be the final event in the space-time-continuum, after which, the universal clock will stop ticking and "time shall be no more" (Rev 10:6 KJV). "This history, and the individual encounters in which it takes its course, has an absolute beginning and an absolute goal, an Alpha and Omega, to use the words of Revelation (Rev 1:8)" (Karl Barth, CD IV/4) .
The coming of Jesus (or "parousia") will be an Extinction-event for humanity, because all human life will cease to continue beyond that last day, such that there will be no more human happenings ever again. The eschatological "last day", mentioned throughout the bible, will literally be the last day ever, because there will be no days that follow it, in the same way that there are no days that preceded the first day of creation in the beginning (Gen 1:1). Time will end as abruptly as it began and humanity will go the way of the dodo, and will exist only as a redemptive memory of the eternal God. In this post, I will explore and provide commentary on Karl Barth's sobering eschatological conclusion that the coming of Jesus will be the end of the world in CD IV/3.2.
"This conclusion [i.e. the end of a person's life] may be the event of his death. But if we are to keep to the line of thought of the New Testament, we best describe it as his end. His end does not have to be the event of his death. The syllogism: All men must die, Caius is a man, therefore Caius must die, is no doubt an illuminating statement of pagan wisdom. But it is not a statement of Christian wisdom, any more than the obvious moral of the mediaeval dance of death." (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
The Good and Bad News of Karl Barth's Eschatology
|Good News||Bad News|
|#1. There will be a future coming of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.
#2. There will be a Universal Resurrection of all people who had died before the coming of Jesus
#3. The will be a Final Judgment of all people with a potential Universalistic outcome.
|#1. The Resurrection of the body is a temporary phenomena that will not persist after the Final Judgement.
#2. After the coming of Jesus, there will be no Afterlife, no extension of time or history, and humanity will become extinct.
#3. People alive at the coming of Jesus will have their life immediately ended, without dying.
#4. The coming of Jesus will end the world as abruptly as it was started in the beginning of Creation.
The coming of Jesus (parousia) is in three-fold form
In the Church Dogmatics IV/3.2, Karl Barth explains that the coming of Jesus is in a threefold form: The first form is the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, the second form is Jesus' continual coming "lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt 28:20), and the final form of the coming of Christ will be at the end of the age, for the judgment and resurrection. This final form will cause the unnatural conclusion of humanity.
Barth prefers to speak of a threefold coming of Jesus, rather than a "Second Coming" of Jesus (like what is common today). He unites the first coming, the continual coming, and the final coming, as one unified coming of Jesus Christ. Barth uses this same trinitarian three-fold formulate throughout the Church Dogmatics, especially in his Doctrine of the Word of God (CD I/1). So the final form of the coming of Jesus is equivocal to the popular evangelical phrase "The Second Coming of Jesus Christ".
"It cannot be, because it overlooks the parousia [coming] of Jesus Christ, which in its last and as yet outstanding form carries with it an alternative so far as concerns the end of the man living in it, so that his end does not have to be his death. We recall that in all its forms, and therefore in the last form too, the parousia of Jesus Christ is a new and unforeseeable divine event in face of all human experience and expectation. This is true of His resurrection and of His coming and acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is no less true of His final Word which brings history to its goal and end. Hence "Ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt 24:42)." (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Life may not be ended by death
St. Augustine was deeply puzzled by the experience of Christians alive at the final coming of Jesus. It remained an open question for him. In the Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin thought he solved Augustine's dilemma by asserting that everyone alive at the coming of Jesus would instantaneously die and be resurrected. Karl Barth says the answer to this puzzle is that there are two forms of the end of life. Death is the first form of the end of life, but the final form of the end of life is the coming of Jesus.
Now with the end of time generally, and the raising again of those already dead, His new coming will undoubtedly entail the conclusion of the temporal existence of those still living. But this conclusion will not be their death. Hence 1 Cor 15:51: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Instead of dying, Christians who are still alive will be caught up with those already dead and raised again from the dead ("together with them", 1 Thess 4:17), who will have the precedence, and they will be brought to an immediate encounter with the returning Lord and an immediate and enduring being with him ("we will always be with the Lord", 1 Thess 13f.). Materially, this is obviously the same process as Paul has in view in 1 Cor 15:51: "We shall not all (i.e., including those then alive) sleep, but we shall all (i.e. including those who sleep already but are raised from the dead and are thus alive) be changed", i.e. invest with a new, incorruptible and immortal being (1 Cor 15:53f.). (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Barth leaves us in despair for any future life beyond the last day at the end of CD III/3, however in Barth's conception of "participation" in CD IV, the door is swung open. Barth continues to assert that there is no more time after the last day, but there may be a real participation in the eternal life of God. The world will cease to exist as we know it, but there may be an indescribable future eternal life with God for us that escapes all our categories. Don't listen to the Bultmann crowd who want to demythologize away eternal life by a realized reading of the Gospel of John because we have Karl Barth's participation on our side.
Whether we describe it as rapture or change; a direct transition to participation in the glory which comes to the creaturely world in and with the coming of Jesus Christ can be the end of the Christian instead of dying—the same transition to the same participation in the same glory which is awaited indirectly, in the passage from life through death to the resurrection, by those already dead, but in this other form by the Christians who will then be alive. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
No one knows if death will come
Barth reminds us, that we are not guaranteed that we will die. The coming of Jesus means that our life may also be ended by the coming of Jesus, at any moment. It's been 2,000 years since this truth has been revealed, but it will surely happen, even if it does not happen in our lifetime.
No one knows, of course, the hour of this final appearing of Jesus Christ. Hence no one knows whether it will come in his own life-time whether his end will come in the one form or the other, or whether death will necessarily be the form of this end. "He will come to judge the living and the dead", is confessed by the early Church at the end of the second article of the Creed (c.f. 1 Pet 4:5; 2 Tim 4:1). It thus reckons with the fact that when Jesus Christ appears in His consummating revelation and therefore to judgment, alongside the many dead who will then be raised, there will also be those who are still alive and who thus reach their end in this way. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Those already dead
To remove all doubt, Karl Barth affirms a future resurrection of all who died before the coming of Jesus. Death is not the final form of the end, because those who had died before the coming of Jesus will be resurrected, so that the Judgment may happen, and that the final form of the end will happen for all people since the beginning of time.
The same procedure is described by the term "change" in 1 Cor 15:51-51. Those who are already dead, but raised from the dead, will share this with some who are still alive. In the Thessalonian Epistle, often thought to be his earliest, Paul was obviously assuming that he himself and others ("we who are alive", 1 Thess 4:15,17) might still be amongst those who are alive. The same assumption may be seen in the expression which he uses with reference to the same event in 2 Thess 2:1 "our gathering together unto him". (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Paul did not know if he would die
There is a great debate whether Paul knew he would die before the coming of Jesus. Many scholars have suggested that Paul initially believed the coming of Jesus would occur in his lifetime (I'm thankful that it did not.)
It is not so apparent in the later Epistles. We cannot be sure that he abandoned it. This has been assumed with reference to 2 Cor 5:1, in which he speaks of the coming dissolution of his earthly tabernacle. But does this necessarily refer to his death? Even in this passage (v. 4) we still read of his desire, not to "be unclothed, but clothed upon." And the same assumption is surely quite evident in 1 Cor 15:52 with his express balance of the statement that "we shall be changed" against the assertion that "the dead shall be raised."
To be sure, in Rom 14:8 he considers the alternatives: "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, or die, we are the Lord's." Similarly in Phil 1:20 it is his firm expectation and hope that Christ will be glorified in his body whether in life or in death, so that in the following verse he can even speak of his death as gain, and then go on to speak in v. 23, with this gainful death in view, of his desire to depart and be with the Lord. If his personal expectation to be amongst those who would be alive at the day of Christ's coming, and would not therefore for die but come to their end and goal some other way, did not entirely disappear in the later Paul, it did no doubt become less prominent. It could easily do so. For even in Thess. it was not a predicate of his apostleship and formed no part of his message. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Future Resurrection affirmed
The coming of Jesus, according to Barth, will be the season finale of the world. There will be a general resurrection of all people, a universal judgement, and a close of the age.
What could not become less prominent, let alone disappear, was his picture of the day of the Lord, which will certainly be a day of the general resurrection of those who had already died and thus reached their end by dying, but also a day when those who are still alive will reach their end in a very different way, Jesus Christ appearing as Judge of both the quick and the dead, in order that, in correspondence with His own death and resurrection, "he might be Lord both of the dead and the living" (Rom 14:9). (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
The Ineluctable end of human and therefore Christian experience
Karl Barth's eschatology is the darkest affirmation of a future coming of Jesus I've ever encountered. The future coming of Jesus is affirmed, like an astronomer that identifies a giant meteor on a collision course with earth. I have hope that through Barth's conception of "participation" in God's eternal life, that we may form a theology of hope. But in Barth's eschatology as it lies before us, I do not recognize any hope in his theology. It is a dark cloud at the end of the world. Barth believes that the extinction of humanity is still an event in which we may have hope and anticipate hopefully. I appreciate Barth's desire to find a finality to all things, but I am not satisfied with Barth's pessimistic hope.
If the triumph of hope is to be clear and understandable in face of this most bitter of all limits, namely, the ineluctable end of human and therefore Christian experience, then it is not merely advisable but quite indispensable to realise that the end which is before all of us can come with death but may also come directly with the coming of Jesus Christ, with His coming again in the final form of His parousia as Judge of the quick and the dead, with the end of all time and things and men in Him, yet also in Him with their true beginning in reconstitution, with their investiture with eternal life, with the rapture or change in which it will be made manifest that the will of God for His creation and for each individual is actually done in Him. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
The New Testament doesn't make Death the iron rule
After 2,000 years, it is difficult to believe that coming of Jesus will occur before our death. Occasionally in dispensationalist churches, Christians may be found with a firm conviction that the coming of Jesus would happen in their lifetime.
Now it may well be, and the New Testament takes this into account, that any one of us may reach his end by dying. It is rather a dubious circumstance, however, that the Christian world has long since come to think of death, and therefore of the moral and the mediaeval dance of death, as the normal case, or even as the iron rule, for the end of human existence. According to the New Testament death has not such monopoly in principle. It is limited by that other form, which is also a form of the end, but of the end which as such will be a new beginning bordered by no further end, since in it a term is set and a veto opposed not only to the existence of all the men then living but also to their death with its threat to them as to their predecessors, the lordship of death over them as over all creation of every age and place being broken. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
Death is only one form of the end
Human life may be ended in two ways: the normative form is death, and the second form is the coming of Jesus at the end of the age. Death has been an inescapable human experience, until the resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred. For the Christian, death is not the final form of the end of life. Not everyone will die, because the coming of Jesus will happen while people are still alive. According to Karl Barth, those people who are still alive at the coming of Jesus, will experience an immediate end of life. Everyone who had died before the coming of Jesus, will be physically resurrected for the Final Judgment, and afterwards will again have their life immediately ended by the coming of Jesus as well. Death will be defeated by the Universal Resurrection at the coming of Jesus, so Death will not be the final end of life for anyone because the coming of Jesus will be the end of life for everyone without exception.
It is advisable and even indispensable to realize that dying is in face only one form of the end, confronted in free superiority by the very different form of departing to be with Christ, because only on this basis and in this association can we really see the meaning of death as the end which overtakes us. If death is the more obvious and apprehensible and relevant form of the end, we must set alongside it the fact that the coming of Jesus Christ Himself, the occurrence of His consummating revelation, may bring and be the same end, namely, the end which is also the goal and therewith the beginning without end, the resurrection of the flesh, eternal life in eternal light. The end can also come in the form of death. In this form it did in fact come for Paul and for all our Christian predecessors. In this form—though we cannot really know—it may well come for us. But the end in this form is lit up as seen in association with and on the basis of the alternative of that very different form. (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
The coming of Jesus is the true and final form of the end.
Karl Barth is not our friend. Although he affirms that Death is not the end, Barth still affirms that the end is coming for us all. The final coming of Jesus is the true and final form of end of life for all people. Barth teaches that the Resurrection is a temporary phenomena that occurs at the coming of Jesus for the purpose of the Final Judgment, but after this event, life will end forever for all. So there is no need to fear death, because Jesus is coming!
In its character as the end of human and even Christian existence it is confirmed but also relativized by the fact that in that other form its end is so clearly shown to be a beginning. Seen in this light, can death as the first form of the end be anything more than a provisional substitute or mask of the true end, or indicate otherwise than in a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12) the original of this true end which comes with the coming again of Jesus Christ? In other words, even if the end is still before us in the form of our dying, can we look or move towards it otherwise than in hope? (Karl Barth, CD IV/3.2) 
A Critical Conclusion
Karl Barth's eschatology remains a great mystery and source of confusion, so my goal in this analysis is to explain Karl Barth in his own words for his maturest sections at the end of the Church Dogmatics IV/3.2. Overall, Karl Barth provides us illuminating information about Eschatology, but in the great light of it, there are still variations and shadows of turning that I cannot support that would requires a separate post to describe.
My brief criticism of Barth's eschatology may be summarized in the following points:
#1. Ending Time at the coming of Jesus means the dissolution of the incarnation, and therefore the abolition of the Passion of Jesus.
#2. In the Substitutionary Atonement schema (c.f. Anselm), the extinction of Jesus' humanity would annual his propitiatory and expiatory work on the cross.
#3. A retrospective Final Judgment, that limits judgments to a positive or negative determination upon past events, presents a theodicy problem, where wrongs are not made right. Is God really good if God does nothing about sin?
#4. Afterlife has been supported by the Church Fathers and Church Tradition since the beginning of the Church. Rejection of all forms of Afterlife (allegedly as paganism), is an extreme rejecting all the Church Fathers and Tradition that Barth stands upon.
#5. Barth's eschatological end of the world, affirms a Bultmann-ian Realized Eschatology that reduces the Gospel to a message that helps us have the best life now, because there is no future life after the coming of Jesus. There's no future hope for humanity beyond the last day, only a prosperity message (prosperity gospel?), that helps us make the most of our insignificant short lives in this cursed world.
[^Header Image] By William Clift 1775–1849 - http://julianhume.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Hume-et-al-dodo-skin-relics.pdf, Public Domain, Link
[^1] Barth, Karl. The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV, 4: Lecture Fragments. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub., 1981. 10. Print.
[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Vol IV/3.2. Vol. 29. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 237-9. Print. Study Edition. [733-4]