True Principles & Uncertain Details About Prophecy, Part 2
The personal return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
BASF Clause #20
That for this purpose God will send Jesus Christ
personally to the earth at the close of the times of the Gentiles.¹
Doctrines to be Rejected #14
That Christ will not come till the close of the thousand years.
We have complete confidence that Jesus Christ will return to the earth. This is a first principle of the faith supported by dozens of passages in the Bible. We preach it, we teach it, we make sure students believe it before we baptize them, and we insist that brothers and sisters accept it to be in fellowship with us. We are eager for this event to happen. We pray for it:
We sing about it:
We hope it is soon. We can’t imagine it being much longer.
AN UNCERTAIN DETAIL: WHEN WILL JESUS RETURN?
it is inappropriate for us to predict when Christ’s return will happen
On the other hand, there are some uncertain details associated with the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. For example, and perhaps of most interest: When will it happen? Some of us are almost desperate to know the answer to this question. We do everything we can to detect any and all clues in the Bible and the so-called signs of the times to solve this mystery. But Scriptures are clear: we don’t know, and we can’t know:
It is right and proper that we eagerly await Christ’s return, but, and this is important, it is inappropriate for us to predict when it will happen. Being eager is OK. Setting dates is not.
In an article discussing these topics, entitled, “Loving Christ’s Appearing, But Not Counting the Days,”3 Bro. George Booker offered these wise words: “It is good to hold with a gentle grip our cherished personal interpretations about Last Days prophecy. If we cling to such non-essential opinions as though they were life itself, then it will become all the harder—maybe even impossible—to let them go if and when something different happens… we need an open mind when we read our Bibles and try to look into the future… We should be sincere and dedicated Bible students while remembering that we are not prophets. How can we rely on our own cleverness and ingenuity when Jesus, the greatest prophet of all, tells us: ‘You do not know on what day I will come’, or ‘I will come on a day when you do not expect me’?” (pp. 377, 378).
Those who set dates often do not realize how much the failures of those predictions can undermine the faith of some of our members, our young people and interested friends. It also provides ammunition to those who want to ridicule our message. We can come across as false prophets. At the very least, we must all recognize that the timing of Christ’s return is the most uncertain of uncertain details and should never be treated as a test of fellowship.
ANOTHER UNCERTAIN DETAIL: WHY HASN’T CHRIST RETURNED YET?
Jesus and the inspired writers of the New Testament expected him to return in their lifetime. Here are just three of many passages that could be quoted:
So why didn’t Jesus come in the first century? The Bible tells us that Christ’s return and the fulfillment of the promised blessings of the Kingdom depend on the repentance of Israel:
God is still calling out a people for His name
Bro. John Thomas highlighted this connection in his book Elpis Israel: An Exposition of the Kingdom of God (1849): “Had the nation continued to obey the Lord’s voice and to keep the covenant, and when Christ came received him as king on the proclamation of the gospel, they would doubtless have been in Canaan until now; and he might have come ere this, and be now reigning in Jerusalem, King of the Jews and Lord of the nations. But had this been the case, we Gentiles would have had no part in the kingdom. We might attain to eternal life at the end of the reign; but in the glory of the kingdom, and in the administration of its affairs, as heirs of the world with Abraham and his seed, we should have had no part; for it was the unbelief of the forty-second generation of Israel that became the riches of the Gentiles.” (p. 309).
The concept that God’s fulfillment of the covenant promises depends on the repentance of Israel is found in many places in the Bible.4 So, Israel has not repented yet.5 Why? Surprisingly, it is God who is hardening and blinding Israel:
Why is God doing this to his chosen people? Following the parable of the olive tree Paul explains:
So, we should be thankful that God continues to give us time. He is still calling out a people for His name, a remnant of Israel, and an ever-growing multitude of Gentiles. So whenever we grow weary of waiting for Christ’s return, we must remember:
The second coming of Christ is one of the most fundamental principles of our faith. We long for it to happen in our lifetimes. It should be a cornerstone of our preaching efforts. But we should not make predictions as to when it will happen. Any such prognostications on something we are explicitly told we have no way of knowing is unacceptable. It brings a bad name to the gospel message and to the reputation of Christadelphians. Believers may lose hope. People who might otherwise be interested in the Gospel may have second thoughts about the accuracy of the Bible. And most significantly, it can lead to God’s name being slandered.
Of course, we should be alert, constantly watching, ever diligent, always prepared for the time when it actually happens. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Austin, Leander, TX
1 Acts 3:20-21; Psa 102:16, 21; 2 Tim 4:1; Acts 1:9, 11; Dan 7:13; Luke 21:24-27; Rom 11:25-26.
2 Bible quotations are from the New International Version (NIV, 2011).
3 Tidings, August 2017, pp. 373-379 (available online at https://tidings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2017_08_Aug_Special.pdf).
4 For a more complete discussion, see Harry Whittaker, “The Repentance of Israel,” Chapter 7, The Last Days, and “The Repentance of Israel,” Chapter 2, The Time of the End (both available online at http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/haw/index.html).
5 For a discussion of God responding to His people’s actions, see Joe Hill, “God Repents,” Tidings, August, 2017, pp. 326-332 (available online, see endnote 3 above).