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Tough Questions: When will Jesus return?


“Jesus is going to return and we cannot know when, regardless of what is happening in the world around us. However, of crucial importance to us is our state of readiness, a subject that Jesus addressed at length and is the theme of at least four parables,” says The Rev’d Charlie Lacey from The Parish of Springfield

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During the season of Advent we focus on the immanent celebration of Jesus’ birth (his first coming), but also on our sure and certain hope of his return (Jesus’ second coming). Advent is a season of watching and waiting, as we pray that ancient prayer, Maranatha – “Come, Lord Jesus”.

Another year has passed, 2023 has begun and the world is still in a mess; perhaps more so than at any other point in most of our lifetimes. Undoubtedly, there are Christians all over the world echoing the psalmist’s prayer, “How long, O Lord?”

The New Testament is explicit in its claim that Jesus will one day return to judge the living and the dead and to put an end to all that is evil and unwholesome. From then on, God’s people will live with Jesus in a renewed and restored creation and death will be no more. Perhaps the best-known passage dealing with eschatology (the end of the world as we know it) is Matthew 24, where in response to the disciples’ question, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”, Jesus talks about various cataclysmic events, such as war, famine, earthquakes and the persecution of Christians.

In response to any sort of global or national upheaval, many Christians will say things like, ‘These are definitely the end times’, by which they usually mean that Jesus’ return is to be expected within a matter of decades, or even less. However, Jesus did not talk about wars, natural disasters, the hardening of hearts or persecution in order that we might plot them as way markers on some kind of apocalyptic calendar. Quite the opposite, Jesus stated that these things will happen, but if we find ourselves in the midst of the confusion that such events will inevitably cause, we should not be duped into believing that Jesus has returned or that the future hour of his return has been revealed.

If we think back over the past two-thousand years, there have been innumerable events (or series of events), that may have caused people to surmise that Jesus’ return would occur in their lifetime. For example, the bubonic plague that swept through Europe in the 14th Century, killing between forty and sixty percent of the entire population. A more pertinent example is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70. The Jewish historian, Josephus, estimated that 1.1 million people died in what was one of the most devastating events in the history of the Jewish people. Indeed, this event, which occurred within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ disciples, was probably, in part at least, what Jesus was alluding to in Matthew 24.

In one sense, the “end times” began with the birth of Jesus and we are still living in them. This is the time that the prophets of the Old Testament longed to see. God’s kingdom has been established here on earth and one day, when Jesus returns, it will be fully established. However, we have no way of knowing when this will happen. Jesus told his disciples that not even he was privy to the timing, saying, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If Jesus was unable to narrow it down, we can be quite sure that we will not be able to either.

Jesus is going to return and we cannot know when, regardless of what is happening in the world around us. However, of crucial importance to us is our state of readiness, a subject that Jesus addressed at length and is the theme of at least four parables. Jesus exhorts his followers to live as if he will return at any moment, which of course he could do. We are to be “ready” by following Jesus’ commands and by living the purposeful, fruitful, kingdom-focussed lives that he calls us to.

Our response to the evil, chaos and uncertainty in the world around us is to remain steadfast and faithful to Christ, as we seek to live out his kingdom values, which includes fighting against all that is evil, both within ourselves and in the world. As it says in Romans 12.21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So, before we make any New Year’s resolutions, let us ask ourselves this question, “How can I make myself more ready to meet Jesus when he returns?”

Come, Lord Jesus.

First published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website in January 2023.

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