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True Principles & Uncertain Details About Prophecy, Part 2

The personal return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
By JOE HILL
Read Time: 6 minutes

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.

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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:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:9-10).2
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’… Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:17, 20).

We sing about it:

“Come, Jesus, quickly come, Hallelujah, amen.” (Hymn 280.3).
“The days are quickly flying, And Christ will come again… Lord, come then in thy Kingdom, Set up on earth thy throne.” (Hymn 284.1).

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:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33).
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” (Acts 1:6-7).

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:

“And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’” (Mark 9:1).
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:13-18).
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’” (Rev 22:20).

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:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20).
“‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies— then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.’” (Lev 26:40-42).

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:

“What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear to this very day.’ And David says: ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.’” (Rom 11:7-10, citing Deut 29:4; Isa 29:10; and Psa 69:22-23).

Why is God doing this to his chosen people? Following the parable of the olive tree Paul explains:

“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.’” (Rom 11:25-26; citing Isa 59:20).

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 Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9).

SUMMARY

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.”

Joe Hill,
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).

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