Hold the tomatoes….
Myth #2 propagated by most evangelical preachers is the myth that Jesus is returning in our lifetime. Now before you unload your tomatoes, read carefully.
Every generation since the time of Christ has believed that we are living in the end times. It may be legitimate to believe that Jesus is returning in our generation, but there is no explicit time frame given, and even more important we are told that no one knows the day or the hour. Some of the more embarrassing moments in our history have to do with predictions and pseudo-predictions of the Lord’s return made by preachers through the ages.
To have a healthy expectation of accountability on the part of followers of Jesus to their Lord is an appropriate “eschatalogical” mindset. To insist that the Bible teaches us that the events of the present day fit the Bible’s prophecies is a different matter altogether.
Let’s make some observations:
If we are presently in the “end times”, every generation that has passed before us has not been in the end of the “end times”. They have been in the pre-end times. As such, the prophecies of the Bible only enlightened them to unspecified events they would never experience. Yet their pastors insisted that they believe they were in the end. Disbelieving would not be popular, yet the unbelievers would have been correct. They were not in fact going to see the return of Jesus. Saying that the Bible does not teach that he will return in the 20th century, or in the 21st century is not heresy – it doesn’t. The Bible calls us to live in expectation, to live in holiness, but does not guarantee us information that will pinpoint future events. Yet many preachers make belief in their particular slant on the prophetic a mark of the faithful – a condition of fellowship.
Many of the “end-times” passages commonly believed to describe the end of the world and the return of Christ really refer not to the end of the world but the end of an age, specifically the old age which precedes the “age to come.” Most of the passages that are commonly believed to describe worldwide destruction in fact describe the fall of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. For instance, the passage of Scripture that tells us that there will be wars and rumors of wars refers not to the end of the world, but to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Yet it is popularly believed to refer to the second coming and even popularized in our songs (see Matthew 24).
Again, our theology must be determined by an appropriate interpretation of the text of the Scripture – not by our popularized notion of the end of the world. Let me challenge some of those popular notions:
1. As already mentioned, the Olivet discourse refers to the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem not to the end of the world.
2. The seventy weeks of Daniel are over, they found their fulfillment in the time of Christ.
3. Much of the book of Revelation also speaks of those days and not these days, meaning that although they had a future perspective when they were written, they have a historical perspective now.
End times preaching is popular. People are interested in the future. People love to be in the know with regards to events yet to come to pass. People are enthralled with spectacular visions of events yet to occur. Many people came to Christ in response to messages that dealt primarily with an end time perspective. These ideas are not released easily or casually. Rarely are the assumptions of the eschatological Illuminati questioned or challenged, nor are they held up to exegetical scrutiny by the popular listener.
I don’t know if Jesus is returning in our lifetime, and neither does anyone else. The Bible doesn’t give us that information. It might be part of my hope, but it isn’t part of my doctrine. That Jesus is coming again is something that we are told of and is part of our doctrine. The other speculative details are not part of the revelational body of information, that is, the Bible.