14 August 2023

We’re all going to die, y’know.

I know, I know. “Unless the Lord tarries.” It’s a phrase preachers love to say, which reminds us there is Jesus’s second coming yet to take place—and because he can return at any time, he may very well return in our lifetimes. And if he does return in our lifetimes, we’re not gonna die: We’re getting resurrected without dying, like the apostles described.

1 Thessalonians 4.16-17 NLT
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

Although I have heard some theologians argue that having our old bodies transformed into our new bodies means our old bodies pass away—they die. But that doesn’t jibe at all with the way Paul and Sosthenes put it when they wrote, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” 1Co 15.51 KJV Sleep is a euphemism for die, so they’re saying we won’t die. The preachers are right: When Jesus returns, those who are alive aren’t gonna die.

But are we gonna be alive when Jesus returns? Statistically, no. We’re gonna die.

Yep. You and me, and our kids, and our grandkids, and our great-grandkids, and all our descendants. People die, and we’re no different. We’re gonna die. You’re gonna die. Deal with it.

Yeah, I know. I’m gonna get accused of all sorts of heresy and apostasy and unbelief for saying this. Jesus can return at any time! How dare I give people the idea he won’t?

Well, I dare because thus far he hasn’t. For thousands of generations of Christians, he hasn’t. For good reason!—he’s trying to save everyone he can. 2Pe 3.9 And if it takes him a thousand more generations of Christians to save everyone he can, I’m okay with that. We should all be okay with that. I don’t want him to let other people perish just so I can avoid the uncomfortability of dying. I may be a dick sometimes, but I’m not that big a dick.

So Jesus is trying to save everyone he can, but despite this, every generation of Christians has claimed, “He’s coming back in my lifetime.” True, there were some generations where many of ’em weren’t saying this. Postmillennialism was really popular among Evangelicals for a few centuries, and postmil Christians thought it was their job to start the millennium—and Jesus wouldn’t return till it was over. But the majority of Christians still believed Jesus can and would return at any time, and return for them, and they wouldn’t die.

So they didn’t deal with it. And, y’know, died.

And you’ve likely seen what happens when people don’t prepare for their own death: Chaos. Family members who don’t know what to do. Wealth which they squabble over. Greedy opportunists who swoop in and take as much of that wealth as they can get their grubby hands on. Things left unsaid. Tasks left undone. Hurt feelings. And Christians who never, ever expected them to die—’cause Jesus was supposed to return first!—and now they go through a big unnecessary faith crisis because they thought Jesus was gonna return on their schedule.

I’ve seen this happen way too often. It’s entirely not necessary. It’s because Christians, and our teachers, aren’t dealing with reality. “Unless the Lord tarries” is likely gonna happen. It’s happened for 20 centuries; what’s another century? You’re not getting raptured before your 90th birthday. Or before Grandma’s 90th birthday. You’re gonna die.

Deal with it. Deal with it in a much better, healthier way than one of those pagans who don’t believe in resurrection and have no hope, but deal with it. Prepare for your demise. Get your family ready.

What, you figure you’re too young? You’re not. No one is. Accidents happen. Disease happens. People too stupid to take preventative measures because they don’t believe in science, happen—and sometimes happen to those of us who do believe in science, and we catch something deadly from these selfish morons. Even if you figure Jesus is returning within the next seven years, some driver fiddling with his phone could plow into you tomorrow, and nobody will be ready for that. So get ready for that. Practice some basic common sense, wouldya?

Rapture ready, but not death ready.

I was a kid back in the 1970s and ’80s. In my churches—in a lot of the popular Evangelical teachings of the day—a lot of our focus was on the End Times and the rapture. Hal Lindsey had written The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 and made it into a movie in 1979, and Christians were obsessed with Lindsey’s idea of a secret rapture which could take place before things got really bad. (And it was the ’70s. Things were pretty bad!)

How it trickled down to us children, was the constant message, “Jesus is returning any day now. Within the next few years—if not sooner! Maybe tomorrow! Maybe today! This will be the very generation that sees his second coming, that gets raptured and transformed and does not die. You will see the coming of the Lord.”

So yeah, we expected to get raptured in the ’70s. Any day now. We believed it just as fervently as other paranoid Americans were entirely sure the Soviets were gonna nuke us. We got prepared to get raptured: We put bumper stickers on the car which warned people. “In case of rapture, this car will be unoccupied.” It’s amusing, but there were Christians who were straight-up serious when they stickered their automobiles: Look out! Runaway car!

Obviously it didn't happen in the 1970s and ’80s. Even though Christian preachers insisted it was coming any day now. Some of ’em still are, but a lot of the fervency evaporated after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and people stopped worried about getting nuked. Lots of it started up again after terrorists attacked the United States in 2001; some churches are right back to the same old “Seriously, he’ll return any second now” warnings. And I know Christians who definitely believe it: Jesus is returning within the next few years. They will see it. Long before they die.

And y’know, I’d be thrilled if that’s true. I’m all for Jesus returning! The sooner the better. I’d be glad to be wrong. It’s just I’m probably not. It’s unlikely Jesus is returning within the decade, or within my lifetime. He may take a few more centuries. I’m okay with that. He may return long after I die; I’m okay with that too. Hey, the dead in Christ will rise first!—and that’ll include me! I’ll beat all the living folks to Jesus by a few seconds. Bonus.

Clearly I don’t say “We’re all gonna die” because I think Jesus is never returning: I absolutely believe he will. But I’m not so naïve as to think I know when he’s returning. The prognosticators of the 1970s and ’80s certainly didn’t. Hal Lindsey keeps updating his books every few years because he’s been cranking out nothing but false prophecies. Other guys who write End Times books are just repeating his same old errors, and whipping Christians into a lather with false promises and false hope. Hey, it sells conferences and books.

But considering thousands of generations of Christians didn’t live to see the second coming, but died first… bluntly, I figure my chances of witnessing it before my death are much the same. I don’t know the date and time; nobody does but the Father. Our Lord has billions more people to save before he returns, and yeah he can save them all in a day if he so chooses, but historically he hasn’t. He likes to take time. So he can have all the time he needs, and if that means the rest of my life, cool.

I’d love to be proven wrong. But I’m okay with being right. I’m gonna die. So will you. And you need to accept this likelihood, and stop living in delusion about it.

The apostles knew they were gonna die.

Jesus’s first apostles originally assumed Jesus was taking over the world right then—that he’d overthrow the Romans just like the Pharisees claimed Messiah would. When Jesus got killed, they briefly lost hope; when Jesus rose, they immediately got that hope back. Jesus is alive and lives forever? Oh now the Romans are gonna get their comeuppance. So… when’s he getting started?

Acts 1.6-7 NLT
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.”

Those who fixate on the End Times tend to ignore verse 7 entirely, or figure it was only meant for the apostles, not them. They figure it absolutely is for them to know—and it’s soon. Really soon. Not so soon they can’t publish a book, and schedule themselves several End Times conferences over the next five years… but really soon. Really. Trust them; it’s in their books! Buy one. Buy one for everyone in your church.

Anyway two verses later, Jesus got raptured; one chapter later, the Holy Spirit descended and started the church, and the apostles quickly realized they were gonna be doing this from now on. And with the death of Stephen, James bar Zebedee, and very nearly Simon Peter, they quickly realized they were gonna be doing this for the rest of their lives. The gospel needs to be told and demonstrated to the entire world before Jesus comes back to rule it. We gotta get the world ready to receive him!

Have we done that yet? Obviously not. We’re too busy alienating the world by demanding the power to prosecute sinners.

We need to adopt the apostles’ attitude: We’re preaching the gospel from now on. Not nervously watching the news, looking for clues as to when Jesus will return. Not chasing political power, as if we’re gonna set up Jesus’s kingdom for him. Certainly not fighting our neighbors instead of loving them. All that behavior is simply gonna make people think Jesus’s return is something to fear, not embrace.

We need to expect, as the apostles did, that we’re gonna love and serve people till the very end. We’re not getting bailed out of these responsibilities; we’re not skipping to the end of the book prematurely. They’re why Jesus has us on this earth. Don’t presume he’s gonna grant us an early reprieve when times get rough; presume, like the apostles, this is why we’re here. When times get rough, we point people to Jesus.

And along the way, we’re gonna die. Hopefully not violently or painfully! But it’ll happen. Get ready. Get your loved ones ready. Make peace with it. You’ll see Jesus that way… and yes, at his second coming later.