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15 December 2017

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.

2 Peter 3.1-9

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

Does Jesus’s return mean the end of the world?

Okay. First we gotta deal with the fact Simon appears to state when Jesus returns, it’s the end of the world.

I myself am premillennial. No, that doesn’t mean I’m older than the generation we call “millennials” (though I am): It means I hold to the End Times belief that Jesus isn't returning to destroy the world, but to fix it—to rule an earthly form of his kingdom which’ll exist for a mighty long time. As described here:

Revelation 20.4-6 KWL
4 I saw thrones. People sat on them. Judgment was given them.
They’re the souls of those beheaded for testifying of Jesus, for God’s word.
Whoever hadn’t worshiped the Beast nor its ikon, nor took its forehead- nor hand-stamp: They live!
They reign with Christ a millennium. 5 The rest of the dead won’t live till the millennium is complete.
This is the first Resurrection. 6 Those who take part of the first Resurrection are awesome and holy.
The second death has no power over them. Instead they’ll be God’s and Christ’s priests, and reign with him a millennium.

Since this is an apocalyptic vision, and it’s never wise to interpret ’em literally, I doubt it’ll be a literal millennium. But a significant-enough time period. But that’s where the “millennial” part of this term comes from: Jesus returns pre, before, this millennial reign.

Okay. This revelation wasn’t given to John till the 70s, and Simon wrote 2 Peter before he died in the year 65. So it’s understandable if Simon didn’t know about any millennial kingdom, and just assumed a way shorter timeline: Jesus returns and it’s sheep ’n goats time, Mt 25.31-46 with the wicked going into the fire and the sheep going into the kingdom. And most Christians believe that’s precisely how it works: Jesus isn’t coming back to save the world, but judge it. Ain’t no millennium. It’s called amillennialism.

Doesn’t help that Simon leapfrogged right over the millennium, and responded to the naysayers by talking about the end of the world. Which, he pointed out, had totally happened before.

2 Peter 3.5-7 KWL
5 This mockery ignores those words—the heavens existed a long time, earth came out of water,
water gathered together by God’s Word, 6 by whom the world then overflowed, destroyed by water.
7 Now, the heavens and earth, by the same Word, are stored like treasure—
but are kept for fire, judgment day, and the destruction of godless humans.

“Destroyed by water” indicates Simon was thinking of Noah’s flood. Ge 6.11-8.22 The known world, if not the whole world, had been covered to the mountaintops by water. The only survivors were Noah, his family, and the animals he’d put into a divinely-described wooden box. (Not a boat. Arks are boxes.)

So the reason for Jesus’s delay? He doesn’t wanna destroy the world just yet. He will; he had. But first he wants to save everybody he can.

2 Peter 3.8-9 KWL
8 This one thing can’t escape your notice, beloved:
One day with the Master is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
9 The Master isn’t slowing down his promise, like some folks slow things down.
But he acts patiently towards you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed,
but for everyone to come forward in repentance.

He wants the gospel to go round the world. Multiple times, if necessary. There are those who imagine Jesus is holding off his return till everybody on the planet has heard the gospel at least once; it’s loosely based on Mark 13.10. Me, I figure he’s waiting till everybody who can make the decision to follow him before he returns, does. That means they may need a while for the gospel to really sink into ’em. Hey, whatever it takes.

So if it takes him several thousand years to get everybody he wants, he’ll be just that long.

Honestly, that’s a bit frustrating to those of us who want him to return right the ---- now! But indulging our fruitless impatience isn’t gonna speed him up a single second. He’s in charge of when he comes back, and he’ll take his own sweet time if necessary. He’s trying to save the world, here; doing it right means it may take a while.

As for those who think the earth isn’t going anywhere—who imagine extinction-level events don’t actually happen, who figure we can’t possibly wipe ourselves out with nuclear war or climate change—they have another think coming. The world had a beginning, and will have an end. One way or another.

I still figure it’ll end after the millennium, but still: We never know the day it’ll end for us personally, namely the day we die. All of us die eventually. Be ready for that, at least.