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08 December 2017

When is Jesus returning?

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

Date-setting. And why it’s stupid.

Jesus was pretty clear, “Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.” Mk 13.32, Mt 24.36 KWL And nobody’s gonna. When his students asked him about it again, after his resurrection, Jesus’s answer was still, “None of your business”:

Acts 1.6-7 KWL
6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.”

Regardless, every so often some arrogant Christian will assume it is for us to know. What’s more, they know.

I’ve heard more than one Christian claim “It’s not for you to know times or timing” only applied to Jesus’s first-century apostles. But the Holy Spirit either told them, or let ’em deduce, the date of Jesus’s return. All they had to do was connect a few dots in the bible, apply a little math, and there we are—a timeframe! Sometimes even an exact date.

That’s why date-setting has taken place time and again throughout Christian history. In recent decades it’s been the Taborites, the Muntzerans, the Millerites and Adventists, the Russellites and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Edgar Whisenant, Marilyn Agee, Harold Camping, and Jack Van Impe.

To a lesser degree, it happens among “prophecy scholars” who imagine Jesus will secretly rapture away all the Christians, and then seven years later, to the day, he’ll return. We may not know the date and time of the second coming now, but we’ll know it as soon as the rapture happens. If you’re unlucky enough to be left behind, set your watch. (Although in the Left Behind novels, maybe not the exact time. Jesus leaves ’em waiting all day.)

Also to a lesser degree, it happens among certain Christians who insist, “Jesus could come back today!” Now yes, Jesus could come back today; he can return any time he so chooses. But that’s not quite what they mean. They don’t mean Jesus can return any time he chooses; they mean world events require him to return in the next couple days. They figure he’s returning to suit their timelines. Not returning on his own timeline.

All this date-setting ultimately comes from arrogance. A lack of humility. An attitude that we understand the scriptures about the End Times better than the generations before us; that we’ve figured out what they couldn’t because we’re smarter, better, or more devout. And a bit of control-freak behavior: These are after all our timelines we’re inventing. We don’t care so much about Jesus’s schedule. We’d rather he return on ours.

But Jesus hasn’t given us anything remotely like that degree of authority. He comes when he chooses. Our job isn’t to deduce the time the Father sets by his own free will. It’s to follow Jesus. Love God, love our neighbors, preach the gospel, be his witnesses. And keep watch, because we don’t know when he’s returning.

Stay awake!

When Jesus told his students to stay awake, he didn’t mean, “Be on the lookout for the End Times, so you can ward it off, escape its tribulation, and stock up your End Times bunkers.” He told us to stay awake and not slack off on the duties he assigned us.

Which is the entire point of his End Times parables in Matthew 24 and 25. Like these:

Matthew 24.44-51 KWL
43 “Know this: If the homeowner knew what time a thief might come, he’d be awake!
He’d never allow the thief to break into his house.
44 This is also why you must be ready: You don’t know what time the Son of Man comes!
45 “Who’s a faithful slave?—for a wise master puts him over his household,
to give the employees food at the right time.
46 How awesome for this slave, when his master will find him doing this.
47 Amen! I promise you the master will place the slave over everything he possesses.
48 When this slave is evil, and said in his mind, ‘My master delays,’
49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks until drunk,
50 the master will come to this slave in an unexpected hour, in an hour he didn’t know of,
51 and will cut the evil slave in two, and will throw his half to the hypocrites.
There’ll be weeping and teeth-grinding out there.”

Jesus gives us duties to perform, and sheep to feed. Jn 21.15 So as we await his return, that’s what we oughta be doing. Not agitated in fear over what sort of return might accompany him, and stockpiling guns in case we don’t like it. Our duty is to obey our Master. Concentrate on that, not on the perils of the fallen world around us.

And sharing Jesus to that world. We don’t isolate ourselves from it, or barricade ourselves against it. We need to stop stressing over the world, and fix our eyes on Jesus. Mt 6.25-34 We shouldn’t worry about his return. We should long for it.

When he returns, he’d better catch us doing our duty! Because hypocrites aren’t gonna fare too well in his kingdom, and we don’t wanna be among them.