Tag Archives: Prophecy

Another New Year and Still No Return of Christ

One of many predictions of Christ’s return that didn’t pan out.

As I write this, another year has passed into history, and a new year has crested the horizon. Skeptics like to point out that Christians have been saying Jesus is coming back soon – any minute now – practically since He left. “Enough already! Haven’t all these failed predictions convinced you Christians that none of this is true?” they ask. What of that? Does Christ’s not returning as He promised (yet) show Christianity to be false? Let’s work through that today.

First off, does Jesus say exactly when He’s returning? No. Predictions of exact dates are based on the all-too-fallible interpretations of mere humans. And Jesus specifically said that no man knew the day or the hour of His return [Matt 24:36,42,44], so these attempts to predict such a date are actually contrary to what Christ taught. While we are to pay attention, be prepared, and live accordingly [2Pet 3:11,14], we portray Jesus as a liar if we try to say He is returning at such-and-such a time. But why was God so vague in all the end-time references in the Bible? Why “tease” us like that? I would suggest that maybe He wanted to prepare us for what was to come, but not let our procrastinating tendency get the better of us.  What if God had actually said that Jesus would come back on March 11th of the year 4377? Honestly, I don’t think many of us would have a real sense of urgency about broadcasting the good news of salvation to those who need to hear it if we knew the deadline was thousands of years away. Meanwhile, people are dying every day separated from God. The situation has been, and continues to be, urgent, but our limited perspective blinds us to it. Given a definite date, far beyond the end of our lives, we would say it wasn’t a problem, forgetting that the task of evangelizing the world is a long-term project (humanly speaking). Simply put, we would blow it off, while the world lay in dire need of the Good News we so casually held onto.

Secondly, this ridicule of skeptics due to Christ’s delay is exactly what Peter says will happen in his 2nd letter, when he warns that mockers will come, asking where Christ’s return is, and saying that all has been the same since the beginning of creation. But Peter reminds his readers that it hasn’t really been the same since the beginning – God judged the earth once with a flood, and will judge the earth again. Third, Peter offered his readers an important reminder that I want to focus on today: “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.” [2Pet 3:9]

People tend to think about the Second Coming of Christ as something that can happen at any time, and should’ve already happened since it was anticipated so long ago (by human standards). OK, fine – let’s look at the alternative. What if Christ delays coming back for a million years? Or a hundred million years? Our sun has enough hydrogen to burn for several billion years, and geologically, the earth is good for several hundred million more years of supporting advanced life forms. So is there any reason He couldn’t delay a really long time from our perspective? We humans tend to have short attentions spans (Twitter, anyone? Just saying…), and we tend to think that any delay is an unreasonable delay.  But what would be the end effect of such a long delay? We Christians would have more time to evangelize the world so that in the end, the number of people that died without hearing the Gospel would be minuscule compared to the overwhelming masses of people over thousands (or millions) of years who did hear and had the opportunity to repent. For instance, imagine if He had returned in His disciples’ lifetimes, as they appeared to have been expecting. It’s estimated that only 1 out of every 360 people in the known world were committed Christians in AD 100, after the disciples had been evangelizing the world for 70 years. But that ratio has been decreasing ever since. Now, almost 2 millennia later the number is closer to 1 in 7.[1] Even in human terms, I can understand waiting 2000 years to allow those kinds of numbers of perishing people to come to Christ. While I don’t think a time would ever come when the world’s population is entirely Christian, or even majority Christian [Matt 7:13-14], I could see a time when the number of people unable to hear a gospel presentation and decide for themselves whether to accept or reject Christ approaches zero. Is that God’s plan? I don’t know, but it could explain why He tarries, “not desiring that any should perish” [v9].

As Bill Mounce says, eschatology (the study of end times) is primarily ethical. It’s not intended to provide a detailed map of future events, but rather tell us how we should live in light of what’s coming, being always ready, and working faithfully until He returns.[2] Christ’s not returning yet is not reason to doubt His eventual return, but to be grateful for His patience in allowing more people the opportunity to hear and choose wisely. It’s also a reminder for us Christians that our work is not yet done, and as long as there are still people dying without Christ, it is incumbent on us to not slack in our service of bringing them the Good News, no matter the cost. So I ask you today, to not let another year slip away unprepared to stand before Christ, for whether Christ ever returns in any of our lifetimes, we are nevertheless guaranteed an appointment before Him after our deaths [Heb 9:27]. Make sure you’re ready, and then help others do likewise.

[1] Lausanne Statistics Task Force, as cited by William Lane Craig in On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (David C Cook, Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 2707-2708. Ratio of 1 in 7 is the estimated number of committed Christians to non-Christians, in 1989. Nominal Christians are not included in either category. If all nominal Christians were included with non-Christians (worst case), the current ratio would still only increase to 1 in 9. Such estimations are necessarily imprecise, for only God truly knows the heart, but this does, it seems, provide a lower bound on the ratio of Christians to non-Christians worldwide.
[2] Bill Mounce, in his lecture on Mark 13 in Biblical Training Institute’s Academy curriculum.

Communications from the Creator

engineering-plans Today I want to offer a modest proposal: that God acting in human history is a reasonable possibility. What I offer here is by no means a “proof”, in even the loosest sense of the word, of the existence of the personal, relational, God of Christianity. But it is, I hope, something that opens the door to possibilities you might have dismissed out of hand in the past.

I’ve heard some very intelligent people through the years say they could agree to the need for a Creator or Supreme Being to “get things started”, but the idea of a personal, interacting God as Christianity describes is a bridge too far for them. This conviction may be due to the fine-tuning of the universe or the amazingly precise information management system of our DNA, or from the recognition of the implications of the law of causality and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This idea that God is a distant “Watchmaker” who wound up the universe and and walked away is typically known as deism, but this is not what the Bible advocates. In fact, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes “And without faith it is impossible to please Him {God}, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[1] There are two requirements listed here: 1) accept the fact that God does indeed exist, and 2) accept that God will respond to our seeking. In other words, God is not the uninterested, detached god of deism, but rather one who interacts in human history.

We see so much apparent design in our natural world, that we have to ask if there was a designer. And if there was, would that designer leave any kind of message to convey intent regarding his “product”? You can review some of the reasons for believing in a Creator/Designer based on the Teleological Argument (or the argument from design) here, but this really doesn’t take us past the the idea of basic theism, that some god exists. It may be one or more gods; it may be a god who did indeed get the universe started, but who no longer exists for some reason; or it may be that deadbeat god of deism who gets things started and walks away.

Seeing design aspects in nature, I tend to think of God’s designs in terms of engineering. As an engineer, when I design a building, I invest myself in that design. I care about what happens to it. And so I write instructions pertaining to various stages of its lifecycle. A project will typically have sheets of “general notes” on our drawings, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of pages of project specifications.  All of this is to detail what’s acceptable and what’s not in terms of construction materials, building loads and uses, acceptable substitutions, and so on. I don’t just say, “Make it work,” and leave the contractor to guess how to meet the building requirements without any instructions. I’m not going to design a mezzanine and tell the client, “Here’s a mezzanine design for your warehouse, but I’m not going to tell you if it’s rated for a 300 psf load capacity or only 50 psf. Don’t worry – you’ll figure it out pretty quickly once you start stacking boxes on it. If it starts sagging, you’ve exceeded my design.” That would be crazy. When we go to the effort to design something, we try to leave instructions regarding our intent for its proper use. The more complex the design, the more important the instructions are. It seems reasonable to me that if God exists, and put so much incredible planning into this universe, this world, and us as humans, He would provide some “documentation,” so to speak. Now, we have a collection of documents – the Bible – that does, in fact, claim to be a message from this Creator, addressed to His creation.

But how could one know if such a book really is what it says it is? There are a couple of ways. One is to check the accuracy of statements made in it that we can confirm historically and archeologically. If we find its record of history confirmed independently, through other sources, then we are warranted in trusting it to some degree.  In this, the Bible has been confirmed repeatedly. Many things mentioned in the Bible aren’t recorded elsewhere, though. Or if they were, those corroborating sources have been destroyed or are yet to be found. However, when we find archeological evidence for the truth of the biblical records,  in the absence of outside sources, that is a powerful piece of evidence in favor of the Bible. For while we might say that biblical authors were simply copying from their contemporary authors (and so of course they matched up), finding an actual town or a monument to a king or ruler that no other sources besides the Bible ever mentioned is very hard to refute. This has also been been the case with the Bible on multiple occasions. So we have a collection of writings from multiple authors spanning well over a millennium that presents a coherent, historically accurate, archeologically-verified record of events. But it also claims that all of this is due to the divine inspiration of its writers by the all-knowing Creator of the universe, and that He used them to convey His message to humanity. That would explain the historical reliability of it in its accounts of natural history. So could it be telling the truth in its record of supernatural history as well? When Luke records the minutest details about people and places visited, and these are repeatedly confirmed, should we not at least entertain the possibility that he may be telling us the truth when he records miracles as well?

Secondly, there is the issue of prophecy. Anyone who has ever watched the weather forecast knows that it is extremely difficult for us humans to predict events even a few days in advance. Yet the Bible contains prophecies that were made hundreds of years in advance of their fulfillment. While some prophecies might be vague enough to be rationalized, I want to point out one I’ve always found particularly interesting in its specificity. Isaiah 44 and 45 record a prophecy that a specific king named Cyrus would set the captives free, restore Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple there, without asking for payment or reward. This was fulfilled 150 years later when Cyrus, King of Medo-Persia, allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild their city and the Temple, and even provided them with money to purchase building materials. Predicting the name of a future foreign ruler generations in advance is beyond any natural human abilities and does speak to the supernatural inspiration of the Bible.

In summary, I think the corroborating historical records and archeological evidence, combined with fulfilled prophecy, point to the legitimacy of the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration. And if it is divine communication, then this is truly the most important message ever put into human language, and it is incumbent on all of us to study it relentlessly. For in so doing, we learn not only of a God powerful enough to create a perfectly-planned, finely-tuned universe out of nothing, but also of a God who loves each of us more than we can ever understand, enough that He entered into human history to offer reconciliation and redemption to a rebellious and ungrateful humanity. And that, my friend, is the God I serve.

[1] Hebrews 11:6.
[2] Isaiah 44:24-28 & 45:1-13.