Questions for God - When Is Jesus Coming Back?


Another magazine article on the questions we would ask God.

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Number eight on our top ten most popular questions for God was: When is Jesus coming back?

That's another way of asking: When is the end of the world (1 Corinthians 15:24)?  That's something that lots of people are very interested in.  The most recent popular prediction for the end of the world was the Mayan prophecy for 2012.  Some people thought that the Mayans (an ancient South American civilization) had predicted that the world would end on 21st December last year. As it turned out, it didn't happen!

It's not just ancient civilizations though.  Jehovah's Witnesses are famous, not just for knocking on your door, but also for predicting the date of the end of the world (what they call Armageddon).  The made predictions five times before giving up back in 1941.  And you may remember Harold Camping, a Christian radio presenter who predicted the world would end in 2011 and Jesus would return, also with rather unconvincing results.

So what do we know about Christ's return and should we be setting dates?  First, the Bible is clear that Jesus will physically and obviously return (Mark 8:38; Acts 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10; Revelation 1:7).  This is important because sometimes those who have predicted his return have covered their incorrect predictions by claims that it happened in secret or in some sense spiritually (by which they mean invisibly).  The Bible tells us that this is not how Jesus will return, it will be physical and obvious.

We also know what he is returning to do.  He comes to raise the dead, bring judgement, destroy sin, death and the devil, to take Christians into glory and to bring in the new creation (John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 20:1-10; 21:1-8; Romans 8:17-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Peter 3:1-13).

In terms of dates and times for his second coming, the Bible is clear that we do not know when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36, 42-44; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).  I think this emphasis should stop us speculating about dates, or how near Jesus' return is, because we don't know.  The reason people have speculated is that there are indications of signs occurring before Jesus returns, for example Mark 13 talks of persecution, the gospel going to the whole world, false prophets, false Christs, wars and natural disasters.  In Luke 21, which is a parallel record of Mark 13, it is clear that some of this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but other aspects seem to be referring more generally to the last days (the period between Jesus returning to heaven and his second coming).  I think J.I. Packer is correct when he writes: "The New Testament specifies much that will take place between Christ's two comings, but apart from the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:20, 24) the predictions point to processes rather than single identifiable events and do not yield even an approximate date for Jesus' reappearance."

So why does Jesus coming back matter to us?  Jesus says, "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44 NIV) and I think being ready is the main New Testament emphasis.  We need to be right with God to be ready for when Jesus comes back, which means trusting in his death so that we can be saved rather than face God's judgment (1 Thessalonians 5:9).  Jesus describes the tragedy of this judgment in the parable of the unfaithful servant, whose master "will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:51, see also 1 Thessalonians 5:3).  So the primary question is not when will Jesus return, but are you ready if he does?

If we are right with God, then the certain fact that Jesus will return is also a certain hope for us.  Paul instructs the Thessalonians about Jesus return so that they will not "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 5:13) and it is a hope that, whether we have died before Jesus returns or whether he returns in our life time, "we will be with the Lord for ever" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).  This  certain hope should be an encouragement now (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11) and a challenge to live for God in the meantime (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11; 1 Corinthians 15:58).  So if you are right with God, are you encouraged by this certain hope and are you living in the light of it?

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