There are plenty of persuasive reasons to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth. Absent from the list is the reason most often cited in the New Testament.
Throughout the various books of the New Testament, a central theme — perhaps the central theme — was that very soon the risen Christ would be coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. It didn’t happen, of course. [UPDATE: Further down in this posting, I've catalogued some of the NT passages in question. I've also revised some of the arguments here in response to some good points made by commenter BobW.]
Nearly 2,000 years have passed. So far as we know, Jesus has yet to return. An article in today’s New York Times reminds us that even so, some Christians keep insisting that yes, Jesus is coming again — in fact, he might be here Any Day Now. Here’s an excerpt:
WORD spread quickly in some conservative Christian circles when Israeli troops captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Arab forces in June 1967. This was it: Jesus was coming.
But Jesus did not return that day, and the world did not end with the culmination of that Arab-Israeli war.
Neither did it end in 1260, when Joachim of Fiore, an influential 12th-century Italian monk calculated it would, nor in February 1420, as predicted by the Taborites of Bohemia, nor in 1988, 40 years after the formation of Israel, nor after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But after last week's devastating earthquake in Pakistan, coming as it did after a succession of recent disasters, the apocalyptic speculation, bubbled up again with impressive fervor on many Christian blogs, in some pews and among some evangelical Christian leaders.
Combined with fears of a global pandemic of avian flu, the calamitous flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina and last year's tsunami in Asia, the predictions of the end of the world are to be expected, religious historians said.
After all, Christians have been predicting the end of history since the beginning of theirs.
Michael Luo, Doomsday: The Latest Word if Not the Last, New York Times, Oct. 16, 2005 (paragraphing slightly edited for readability).
We can't categorically rule out that Jesus might return someday. But we have no reason to affirmatively think he's going to do so, apart from the predictions in the New Testament — and the track record of those predictions does not exactly inspire confidence.
Here are some of the New Testament passages that refer to Jesus's allegedly-imminent return; all emphasis is mine. First, from Matthew 24:3-6, 30-35 comes a saying attributed to Jesus that, perhaps more than any other, calls into question the credibility of the Gospel accounts:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. . . .
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. . . . "
See also the corresponding passages in Luke 12 and Luke 21. From Mark 14:61-63 comes another statement, attributed to Jesus, clearly implying that he would return in triumph within the lifetime of his priestly prosecutors:
Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked.
In 1 Thess. 4:15-17, Paul joins in, claiming that he and his readers would be alive when the Lord returned:
According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.
The author of 1 Peter 1:13, 20 says much the same thing:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. . . . He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
As does the author of 1 John 2:8 —
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
And in Rev. 3:11, Jesus is made to say:
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
As time went on, and Jesus failed to appear as promised, later Christian writers tried to reassure their readers. But their reassurances come across as just a bit defensive. Thus 2 Peter 3:3-10 —
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." . . .
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
And James 5:7-9 —
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Some traditionalists try to rationalize their way out of this dilemma. They suggest that perhaps we moderns don't really know what the New Testament writers actually meant in their choice of (Greek) words. If that were true, however, how would we ever know whether we were getting it right? I prefer to assume that (for the most part) our New Testament scholars have given us reasonably accurate translations.
Two passages from Scripture come to mind here. The first, from the Hebrew Bible, warns us to test prophecies against real-world evidence:
You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." [Deut. 18:20–21, emphasis added]
The other passage, from Paul, encourages us to honor prophecy as a fruit of the Spirit, but also reminds us that not all prophecies will hit the mark:
Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. [1 Thess. 5:19–21, emphasis added]
Let's face it: Human predictions often fail to come to pass. It happens. It's time for Christians to put behind us the predictions of Jesus's return, and move on.
I believe that Jesus will come again. Why? Because He promised He would, and I for one believe His promises.
Posted by: Anne | October 16, 2005 at 08:30 AM
Jesus does come again - each time someone fully realizes him "in their heart", as we are prone to say. Jesus also said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," and so it is to all who are willing to participate. :-)
Posted by: Michael | October 16, 2005 at 10:39 AM
Actually, history does not suggest, it proves that, aside from the Incarnation, Jesus has not come ...yet.
Just as a history written in 1808 would prove that Abe Lincoln had not come yet. Though we are wise to study history as we envision our future, it is a rear-view mirror, not a crystal ball.
Posted by: BobW | October 16, 2005 at 04:21 PM
BobW, as I said in the main posting, we can't rule out that Jesus might return someday. That's why I said only that history, and specifically the repeated failed predictions of his return, suggests that the event is unlikely. On further thought, you're right: Whether Jesus will ever return in the future would seem to be independent of past failed predictions.
While we can't rule out Jesus's return, neither can we rule out, let's say, the existence of an earthlike planet in the Crab Nebula that is ruled by a super-intelligent housecat. Absent at least some supporting evidence, it would not be rational for anyone to insist that we believe in this housecat. If I were to assert it as a fact, and to organize my religious life around it, people would rightly start to wonder about me.
You're a good writer, incidentally; thanks for stopping by.
Posted by: D. C. | October 16, 2005 at 04:45 PM
Thanks for the kind words.
I'll only add that the difference between your superintelligent housecat (a more dubious idea than intelligent life in the Crab nebula) and the return of Jesus is that the potential impact of the latter, here Earthside, is likely to be a lot greater than anything cooked up by our bewhiskered, tuna-munching and hopefully benevolent despot.
Actually, though, the most important point was made in a post before mine. Though he no longer hangs out in Galilee and Judea, in every important sense Jesus has never left.
Posted by: BobW | October 16, 2005 at 08:37 PM
But the thing is, the Biblical deities are always coming and going, hither and thither, there and back again. Busy, busy, busy.
F'rinstance, in the Psalm today - #96 - it's made perfectly clear to all that the Lord "cometh, He cometh to judge the earth and with righteousness to judge the world, and the people with his truth."
There's no schedule, I guess. He cometh, and that's all we need to know.
Posted by: bls | October 16, 2005 at 10:56 PM
The problem I have with all the current fuss about the Second Coming is that it is irrelevant. Positive proof that Jesus was coming tomorrow or a billion years from tomorrow would not change our obligations as Christians today. We do better to try to love our neighbor as ourselves right here, right now than to write or read a series of books that take Revelation for literal truth.
Posted by: BobW. | October 17, 2005 at 09:59 AM
We are in the End Times, and have been for some two thousand years. We can debate whether they began in a manger or when a the stone rolled away; but in all essential respects "The strife is o'er, the battle done; now is the Victor's triumph won."
Posted by: BobW. | October 17, 2005 at 10:15 AM
Well I for one WELCOME our new bewhiskered, tuna-munching, feline Overlords... ;->
Posted by: David Huff | October 17, 2005 at 04:05 PM
Wait til they show up at your place in their intergalactic faster-than-light dematerialization-ray equipped starships amd demand YOUR tuna...and you don't have any.
Posted by: BobW. | October 17, 2005 at 07:16 PM
We have ample supplies of tuna and catnip here. As for me and my house, we will be spared.
Posted by: Redlefty | October 17, 2005 at 10:47 PM
You have to understand that not even Jesus knows when the end will come. No one except the Father knows. So Jesus and Paul were not wrong but did not dnow the time of the end. Furthermore the time of the end is not the end of the world. The world will last for 1000 years after Jesus comes and then the judgement.
When you enter hell the Bible says that you are thrown in which leads me to believe that you do not want to go there at that time. And when you do go in no one will care except you. However your careless remarks do reach some people of tender years and for them I do pray.
Posted by: Frank | October 28, 2005 at 09:41 PM
Jesus never left us in the first place.
Posted by: toujoursdan | October 31, 2005 at 01:37 PM
My Inaugural Address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!
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End of days,Day of the Lord,Endtime,Judgment Day
Posted by: Secret Rapture | December 08, 2005 at 05:06 AM
jesus has not left but is here now in each one of us
Posted by: cody trudeau | December 13, 2005 at 03:43 PM
Does the majority of Christians today believe in Jesus' return?
Posted by: www.hablullah.com | January 18, 2006 at 06:39 AM
Not even the Son of man knows the excact date of the 2nd coming but all we have to know as sure as we breathe it will happen who knows if it will be in this mortal life time but we must be prepared because when you die in a flash of an eye THY KINGDOM HAS COME for you.
Posted by: david | September 11, 2006 at 08:30 AM
David, here's where I trot out my Favorite Theological Question #1: "And you know this, how?"
Posted by: D. C. | September 11, 2006 at 08:44 AM
Greetings from Torstein Langesaeter 5781 LOFTHUS; Norway
[The blog host has deleted an extremely long essay, offering copious citations of various passages from Scripture seeking to "prove" something (it wasn't clear what). Comments are fine, but this blog isn't the Hyde Park Speaker's Corner in London.]
Posted by: Tortsein Langesaeter | March 09, 2007 at 01:33 AM
Glory to God and his dear Son, Jesus Christ
I found your Website by Search Engine, and I wish you
the best you can get, the peace of God through Jesus Christ.
Welcome to visit my Site.
Allan Svensson, Sweden
Restoration of the Body of Christ
The most important prayer request for all Christians must
now be the restoration of God's temple, the Body of Christ.
Nothing on the earth is more important than that the
Assembly of God becomes built up according to the pattern
of God's word, so that we all are ready when Jesus comes.
When God was so strictly with that the tabernacle
(Exodus 25:9) and the temple of the old covenant became
built according to the pattern, so that the workers must get
special education through God's Spirit (Exodus 35:30-35,
36:1-2), then he must be still more strictly with the real
temple, the Assembly of God. All that the Bible teaches
about Assembly of God constitutes the pattern for the
Assembly of God.
Rev.18:4 is an extremely powerful revival message
from the Lord. He commands his people to leave the
great Babylon. This must take place before Jesus comes.
After Jesus has come, then God's people are home at
the Lord, and there is no Babylon.
In the reality, the word "church" occurs not at all in
the Bible. The biblical name of the Church is the
great whore, and Babylon the great.
We must leave all churches and denominations
before Jesus comes. And those that not want to obey
his word, God comes to count as accessory in the
sins of the great harlot and they get their part of her
plagues. None can say. This does not concern me.
We must humble us before God's word and study
what the Bible teaches about the Assembly of God.
Many Christian confessors become irritated of this
and comprehend it as criticism and condemnation
of their churches. Some become angry and say: let
the one who has no sin cast the first stone! But this
has nothing to do with stone-throwing. This is the
Lord's revival message to his people. The Lord
commands his people to come out from the great
Babylon. Rev. 18:4. This has always been readable
in the Bible. Why has this message not been preached?
As in the days of Lot, it is now. Lot was not interested
to leave Sodom. God sent two angels to rescue him,
and they must persuade him to leave Sodom. When
he yet lingered, they took him at his hand and led him
out of the city. One of the angels said to him: "Flee
for your life sake and do not see you backwards ..."
Just like as Lot, God's people today is not interested
to leave the great Babylon. They are spiritual to sleep
and do not want to be disturbed. In the churches they
never have preached the truth of the Assembly of God.
They do not know that their churches and denominations
are founded on false doctrines, and are false copies of
the Assembly of God. They do not know in what they
God is the Love
But God's love does not hinder us to study God's word
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge
What shall happen before Jesus comes?
Posted by: Allan Svensson | June 20, 2007 at 03:37 AM
Posted by: Redlefty | October 17, 2005 at 10:47 PM You have to understand that not even Jesus knows when the end will come. No one except the Father knows.
so jesus doesn't know what the father knows? i'll tell all the trinity proponents you've dismissed their theory out of hand
Posted by: Guy Teague | November 19, 2008 at 11:02 PM
Peter told us not to forget that to God 1 day is 1000 years. So in god's eyes it has not been long. He has just been merciful and longsuffereng, so that more people repent and come to him.
Posted by: tw | February 11, 2009 at 05:56 PM
TW, even assuming Peter's premise to be true, we could say what he did about ANY prediction of future divine action.
And in any case, the NT leaves no room for dispute that the early church was predicting that Jesus would be coming back Any Day Now, and it simply didn't happen. Peter's proffered excuse is at best weak, at worst lame.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt III | February 11, 2009 at 06:18 PM
Jesus came back in the 1st century like he said he would. There was no CNN, internet, cell phones etc. No one knows exactly what happened or how. He came back, took the disciples who were alive, and the early church, and left. It's over. This is the millenium. The Greek word used for the 1000 years was a plural word, meaning, 2 or more. It's not a literal 1000 years. The next thing anyone sees will be the final war (Gog/Magog) and the end of the world. Then the bride returns to earth, or the new one. There are no more raptures. It happened already.
Posted by: JLR | March 19, 2009 at 03:29 PM
What a strange argument. Jesus and the bible writers say over and over that he is coming again to set up a "new heaven and a new earth" but because the early christians thought it would be in their lifetime this somehow negates what Jesus and the bible state clearly? Read this verse over and look in the mirror. "First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised?"
Posted by: mitch | September 30, 2009 at 09:39 AM
@Mitch, thanks for commenting. You've read it right: The early Christians' prediction was a failure. If Jesus made a similar prediction — as the NT expressly claims he did — then his prediction was a failure too. And yes, that would indeed negate "what Jesus and the bible state clearly," don't you think?
As for the "scoffers" verse you quote: That's the author's feeble attempt to make excuses for the failed prediction, which by then had morphed into a failed promise. Competent people don't make excuses for their failures, they face up to them.
Thanks for stopping by.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt | September 30, 2009 at 10:41 AM