I Don’t Know When Jesus is Coming, but Neither Do You

A few years ago I was pedaling my bicycle down a back road when a woman driving an old station wagon full of kids pulled up beside me, matched my speed, rolled down the window and shouted, “Do you know Jesus?” I shouted, “Yes,” at which the wagon began to pick up speed as the woman shouted back, “He’s coming soon!”

Whether God has a particular liking for years ending in “000,” or perhaps certain authors have discovered that there is money to be made writing books about the end times, there has been no shortage of speculation about the eminent end of the age and the second coming of Jesus, the technical term for which is “Parousia”.

The question which comes to me amid all this speculation is why people would venture a prediction in the light of all the failed predictions in the past. Are we so much smarter or so much more in tune with God than our forebears?

I guess the first misapprehensions about the return of Jesus date from the 1st century, some of which are recorded in the New Testament.

(Mat 16:27-28 NASB) “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. {28} “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Indeed, when some of the Christians began to die and Jesus had not returned, there was a crisis of sorts which is reflected in scripture.

(1 Th 4:15-18 NRSV) For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. {16} For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. {17} Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Christians continued to look for the return of Jesus every time there was some astronomical phenomenon, or a war broke out, or something else out of the ordinary happened. Montanus thought the new Jerusalem would descend in Turkey in the 2nd century. Another example is found in a sermon by Martin Luther delivered on the 2nd Sunday in Advent, probably in the year 1522. Introducing his long sermon detailing the portents of the second coming, Luther preached:

I do not wish to force any one to believe as I do; neither will I permit anyone to deny me the right to believe that the last day is at hand. These words and signs of Christ compel me to believe that such is the case. For the history of the centuries that have passed since the birth of Christ nowhere reveals conditions like those of the present.

Luther goes on to describe how the limits of commerce, invention and extravagance had been reached; meteors, comets and other signs in the heavens; wars and rumors of wars; along with “The terrible beast which the Tiber threw up a few years ago; a beast with the body of a woman, the foot of an elephant for its right hand, with the scales of a fish on its legs, and the head of a dragon in its hinder parts, etc. … Such a mass of signs presages greater results than the mind of man can conceive.”

In the 19th century, it was William Miller who calculated the second coming of Jesus.

Originally a Baptist convert, William Miller, b. Pittsfield, Mass., Feb. 15, 1782, d. Dec. 20, 1849, became convinced from his reading of the Bible that the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST would occur sometime around 1843. Thousands, converted by his teaching after 1831, began to prepare for Christ’s return. As 1843 passed without incident, Miller specified first Mar. 21, 1844, and later Oct. 22, 1844, as dates for the event. The failure of these predictions was a serious setback to the movement, but Miller and some devoted followers continued to preach the imminent return of Christ.

Grolier’s Online Encyclopedia

In the 20th century the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like the Millerites before them, suffered a great setback as the year 1914 came and left (as did 1925 and 1975) with no visible sign of the return of Jesus. Writers and preachers like Hal Lindsay, Jack VanImpe (the walking Bible) and Harold Camping were to each have their year in the sun as many awaited the fulfillment of their prediction of the Parousia.

In the book of Revelation, one of the grounds for millennial speculation, we find a familiar verse:

(Rev 13:18 NRSV) This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

Think about a member of one of the 7 churches in Asia Minor to which Revelation is addressed. See that early Christian get out his ASCII code chart and compute the number of William Gates III. NOT! If Revelation had meaning for those to whom it was addressed, a more likely candidate was Nero[n] Caesar.

There have always been signs in the sky, earthquakes, volcanoes, wars, and technological innovations. There have always been clever ways to manipulate numbers to make them total whatever is wanted. There is nothing unique about these times, except perhaps an ignorance of history.

I don’t know when Jesus is coming again, but neither do you.

(1 Th 5:1-10 NASB) Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. {2} For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. … {8} let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. {9} For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, {10} who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.

I found a list of over 200 different dates set for the end of the world on the web.

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