Every so often some omen or portent sets Facebook alight with the prospect of Christ’s imminent return. “Blood moons! Aligning planets! Israel sneezed! Jesus is coming – see the signs!”
I have been hearing claims like these for decades and, I have to tell you, they sound increasingly ridiculous. I appreciate that making predictions – even bad ones – is a great way to sell books or generate traffic. But bad prophecies and end times hysteria give the church a bad name and fill people with fear.
How much better if we stick to what the Bible says, and the Bible says four things about the timing of the Lord’s return.
1. No one knows the hour or day
The disciples wanted to know when Jesus would come and he replied, “I don’t know” (see Matthew 24:36). Evidently the disciples had a hard time accepting this, because after he rose from the dead they asked him again.
“Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:6-7)
In other words, “I still don’t know and it’s none of your business.” The timing of the Lord’s coming is the Father’s business. Paul wrote of the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ “which God will bring about in his own time” (1 Timothy 6:15).
2. The Lord will return at an unexpected time
The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him… (Matthew 24:44)
In other words, it’s not like having a baby. When you’re expecting a baby, you’re expecting a baby. You know when it’s coming. But the day of the Lord’s return will be unexpected, which is the opposite of expected.
If you’re pregnant and you try to guess the day of the delivery, you may be more or less right. But try and guess the day of the Lord and you’re guaranteed to be wrong. Why? Because the Lord will return “on a day you do not expect” (Matthew 24:50).
3. You can’t figure this out
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4)
Some have interpreted Paul’s words to mean, “We can figure out when the Lord will return so as not to be surprised.” Yet after 2,000 years no one has actually succeeded, and not for lack of trying. Look up the best-seller lists under prophecies on Amazon and you will find plenty of books predicting the day of the Lord’s return. (Consumer tip: they can only be right if Jesus is wrong. Save your money.)
Paul is not saying you can figure this out and mark your calendar. He’s saying we ought to be ready for the Lord’s coming so that the day will not overtake us or catch us unawares.
The wise and foolish virgins knew the bridegroom was coming, but they didn’t know when (Matthew 25:1-13). The faithful and unfaithful servants knew their master was returning, but they didn’t know when (Matthew 24:45-51). You don’t need to know when the Lord is returning to be faithful (or watchful), wise, and ready.
4. It might not be soon
For 2,000 years, people have been saying the Lord will return soon, and for 2,000 years they’ve been wrong. Someone even told the Thessalonians that the Lord had come already (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Needless to say, predictions of this kind can lead to ridicule and mockery:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3)
“But Paul, in Revelation 22 the Lord says he’s coming soon.” A better word is quickly. When the Father gives the word, the Lord will come without delay (see Hebrews 10:37).
“But it’s got to be soon, right? I mean, all the signs are there, aren’t they?”
I don’t know. I’m not privy to God’s schedule. I’m not even sure he thinks about time like we do. All times are soon to Aslan.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
The Lord is patient or longsuffering. That means his patience is loooong, and probably longer than ours.
So what’s the takeaway?
In his eschatological parables Jesus told stories of masters, noblemen, and bridegrooms being gone “a long time.” Jesus has been gone a long time. See the connection? The lesson for us is the same as that for the servants and the virgins. Indeed, it is a message the scriptures teach again and again:
– “Be like men who are waiting for their master…” (Luke 12:36)
– “Wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship…” (Rom 8:23)
– “We hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8:25)
– “We eagerly await a Savior…” (Php 3:20)
– “Be patient brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits…” (James 5:7)
– “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21)
Jesus and every New Testament writer spoke of the need to wait patiently for the Lord’s return.
So plant trees and raise families, and do whatever God put you on this earth to do.
Make friends. Go to college, learn a trade, master a skill, and start a business. Invest, build, dig deep and go long. Let your light shine so others may praise your Father in heaven.
But don’t waste time in Facebook debates over the latest end times’ fad or prediction. (Consumer tip: If a date is being offered, I guarantee it is wrong.)
If somebody asks you, “When will the Lord return?” give the answer that Christ gave. “No one knows the day or hour, but be ready.”
Adapted from chapter 32 of Paul’s forthcoming book AD70 and the End of the World.