Daniel Whittle and James McGranahan wrote the famous hymn I Know Whom I have Believed. The song concludes with a question and a note of hope:
I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair, nor if I walk the vale with him, or meet him in the air.
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.
The hope of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ has been a source of great comfort to Christians, especially during persecution, for two millennia. However it has also been a source of doubt since Jesus gave no specific time and the event seems delayed. If this troubled the readers of 2 Peter around 65 AD, how much more is it a concern for Christians in 2015. With every passing year, and certainly with the technological and lifestyle changes since first century Israel, it gets harder and harder to believe that Jesus will actually come again. Believers are reminded of this every time someone predicts the return of Christ on a specific day, only to have it not occur.
Baptist preacher William Miller calculated, based on Daniel 8:14 and the Jewish Rabbinic calendar, that Christ would return to earth between 21 March 1843 and 21 March 1844. When Jesus did not return, he recalculated that 22 October 1844 would be the day. Many of his followers sold their possessions in anticipation of their heavenly journey. The Lord still did not come to earth. His followers were disappointed and his movement lost influence, but ultimately the Seventh Day Adventist Church was one of the results.
With great publicity, Harold Camping of Family Radio predicted Jesus’ return on 21 May 2011. It did not happen, but atheists had a field day mocking Christians:
- Some released helium balloons with inflatable dolls attached, simulating Christians rising into the air.
- Some offered to buy property owned by Christians for a modicum of property value.
- Some offered pet care for believers so that “while they were communing with God, they wouldn’t have to worry about their pets.”
- Someone left a dog on a leash next to his master’s clothes, as though the master had been raptured away.
The more inaccurate predictions by Christians and the more mockery believers endure as a result, the less it seems that people believe in Jesus’ return. This article will compare human promises with divine promises and address the question, “Will Jesus come again?”
After 2000 years, doubting Jesus promise to return (John 14:1-3) is entirely logical if one considers human experience. Imagine a father making these promises:
- “Children, this summer your mother and I will take you to Disneyland”
- “Children, someday your mother and I will take you to Disneyland.”
In the first case, assuming the father has a record of being faithful; his children will be thrilled and counting down the days. In the second promise, assuming that the father has a record of being trustworthy, his children may be excited, but will inevitably ask “when” in their next breath.
If dad has a good record, as the months and years pass without going to Disneyland, the childrens’ enthusiasm will wane and they may forget the promise altogether. Every time the father reminds them of the promise, they may initially get excited, but that excitement will diminish as the time passes with no Disneyland. Eventually the children will become skeptical, maybe even coming to consider the exciting promise a cruel joke. Their faith wanes for several reasons:
- They doubt the seriousness and sincerity of the father’s initial promise.
- They wonder if the father will forget the promise.
- As the father ages, he loses the ability to fulfill the promise.
- In their experience in all areas of life, the longer something is delayed, the less likely it is to happen.
- Over time, the value of the promise diminishes. Their unmet expectations make it hard to maintain their excitement.
Investors will not wait an unspecified time for a return, young women will not wait forever for a certain suitor, and bosses will not wait long for an employee to complete a project. In the father’s promises above, the first is exciting and happy, and the second is lacking.
Jesus’ promise to “come again” is in the second category. Since almost all of our knowledge of God is drawn by analogy from human experience, we doubt promises of the second type. Our doubt increases directly as the delay increases.
Whether Jesus was man or God, the first question remains “did Jesus have a good record of keeping His promises?” If one looks at the gospels it is hard to find a promise that Jesus made that He did not keep. Jesus promised “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).” Looking at the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that Jesus did what He promised. When the centurion came to the Lord asked Him to heal his servant, Jesus promised “Go, it will be done just as you believed.” The centurion’s servant was healed that very hour (Matthew 8:13). Jesus kept his greatest promise, to rise from the dead (Mark 9:31). Clearly Jesus Christ had a good record of keeping His promises.
Even if we accept that Jesus had a good record of keeping His promises, if He was merely a man, a great teacher or prophet but nothing more, we are right to doubt His promise to return, since He would be liable to the same frailties and failings of all men. If Jesus is God, however, are we right to doubt His promise?
God is revealed in the Old Testament, and the New, as all knowing, all wise, all powerful, all loving, and timeless. Therefore when God makes a promise, His seriousness and sincerity is beyond question. The God of the Universe will never forget His promise, and the Sovereign Lord will never lose the ability to fulfill His promise. So we find that God’s promises must be understood differently than human promises. Our experience with human promises cannot be trusted to reveal how divine promises work, and it is up to us to maintain our excitement in light of this truth. Regardless of the time elapsed, Jesus, God the Son’s, promise is still as valid as it was the night before He died. The delay, and the ridicule of scoffers, has no bearing on the certainty of Christ’s return.
Why the delay? God truly loves mankind, and all of creation. As such He has no desire for anyone to be separated from Him for eternity. Those who end up apart from Him only do so because they choose to be apart from Him. His delay is no trouble for Christians, and is a great mercy to those who have not yet accepted Him (2 Peter 3:9).
How do Christians respond? First we must think clearly, as I have tried to do in the discussion above. Second we must realize that whether the Second Coming happens in 10 days or 1000 years, no individual will have to wait longer than 110 years, give or take, to see God. As Whittle and McGranahan expressed, almost all people will “walk the vale”, and Christians will walk that vale “with Him”. Scoffers will walk the vale, but not with Him. Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, will be with those who want Him near, and far from those who want Him far.
Third, believers must expect to see Christ at any time, and it doesn’t matter whether they see Him in the rapture or through death. We must live our lives in this expectation, and in this joy. How would our lives be different if we lived each moment in anticipation of Jesus’ return?
One last note; in the first paragraph I wrote that it “seems” increasingly difficult to believe that Jesus will come again. Ultimately, however, man is able to believe the truths of God due to the work of the Holy Spirit. Those in whom the Spirit dwells will understand the truth of the Second Coming as well. Those who refuse the Spirit will not.