Notes on the Return of Jesus

  • How long can the church sustain the hope that Jesus will return, that there will be an(other) eschatological intervention by God in history? The clock has reached 2000 years; there are some of us who can still believe it is only a matter of more time. But what about 10,000 years after Jesus? And if 10,000 years is possible, what about one million years? Would there still be believers clinging to this hope? At some point will there be a strong sense: it’s been too long; we can no longer believe in it? (That has been there since the earliest generations of Christians. But it seems to only have afflicted some in each generation. It is perhaps a sustained conviction of many believers in the liberal stream. {Are there any liberals who believe in the literal return of Jesus?})
  • For me, a Christianity without the expectation of Christ’s return has ceased to be one grounded in real hope of God’s will being done on Earth as it is in heaven. If there is no hope for historical intervention – if our faith is only in eschatology after death – our hope seems wishful thinking, so far has it gone from the words of Jesus and the teachings of Paul.
  • It might have been 2000 years so far, but no-one has to wait more than one life-span. Once it’s been 100 years, it might as well be 1000 – in one sense. In another sense, we live in our forebearers’ time too. If Christ returns fifty years after my death, or if I can believe strongly he will, that means something different than he may return sometime in the next million years.
  • You can argue:

1. We are waiting for the last people group to be evangelised, to have the gospel proclaimed to them. The Bible wasn’t exactly wrong – the writers just didn’t know how big the Earth actually was, that it stretched so far beyond the Roman empire. This is the position of a certain kind of fundamentalist, probably into missions – and part of the impetus behind the 19th/20th century missionary movements? Or, we are waiting for something to do with Israel, the Jews and the Books of Romans and/or Revelation.

2. Jesus has already returned, but it was invisible or known only to a select few. This is the position of some cults.

3. Jesus didn’t actually expect to return soon; the gospel writers have misunderstood him. Thus we can trust Jesus but not the Bible.

4. The gospel writers do not actually say that Jesus is to return very soon. For example: many of the eschatological passages actually refer to the destruction of the temple – N.T. Wright. This is also the position of fundamentalists who cannot imagine different parts of the Bible saying different things, and thus read the gospels through the explanations in Peter’s letters for the delay of Jesus’s return.

5. Jesus and the Bible both expected Jesus to return soon but neither was wrong – God’s plans changed, because he has an openness to events in the world.

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4 thoughts on “Notes on the Return of Jesus

  1. Hi Nathan,
    This is a very thought provoking post. I simply do not know the answer to your options. An eschatology of hope is vital in our day, but I do not think that we should get too bogged down in the nature and details of the eschatological return of the crucified and risen messiah.

    Dan Migliore mskes the point that “The reign of God for which Christians hope is already inaugurated in Jesus Christ but is not yet complete. It embraces personal and communal fulfillment. It encompasses history and the cosmic process. It is a divine gift yet liberates humanity for partnership with God. Amidst the hoplelessness and false hopes of our nuclear age, Christian hope must be expressed anew in all its fulness” (Faith Seeking Understanding, p.237).

    The crucial issue is the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. It is this fact upon which any eschatological hope rests. If we have confidence in the resurrection of the crucified lamb, then God can work out the details of Christ’s return.

    Much of the NT imagery concerning this event is picture imagery and it is difficult to determine that which is meant to be symbolic and that which is meant to be literal. It is also difficult to untangle that which applies to the destruction of Jerusalem and the final return.

    No one knows the day nor hour when Jesus shall return. Our responsibility as a community of God’s people is to be occupied until he comes. May we continue to be his compassionate peacemakers in a world that often tends towards violence and conflict.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  2. Hi Nathan,
    For a pacifist view of eschatology, I refer you to Anabaptist theologian Ted Grimsrud’s article at http://peacetheology.net/doctrine/. Then scroll down to 12. The Doctrine of Eschatology.

    Eschatology is not so much about what is going to happen in the future but about our purpose for living now. We are to follow the nonviolent lamb wherever he goes. The resurrection signals the ultimate triumph of enemy forming love.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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