Pastor’s Article 1/11/2022
As a boy, I attended a small, theologically-conservative Baptist church. It was the same church my maternal grandparents’ attended.
One of the doctrines I was taught repeatedly in Sunday school and later in youth group (youth group being maybe 8 kids total) was that Jesus could return at any moment. This being the case, I was told I needed to behave myself because I didn’t want to be doing something wrong when Jesus returned (such as attending an R-rated movie).
I appreciate the desire to encourage good behavior, but is it indeed true that Jesus could return at any moment and “catch” us doing something wrong? Is this actually taught in Scripture?
The main argument for an any-moment return of Christ are the numerous passages that predict his return will be sudden & unexpected. An example is Matthew 24:42-44, where Jesus is speaking to his disciples. He told them:
“Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
On the other hand, there are several passages that speak of certain events that need to happen before Christ returns. These include the following:
- The preaching of the gospel to all nations (Mark 13:10)
- The Great Tribulation (Mark 13:19-20)
- False prophets working signs & wonders (Mark 13:22)
- Signs in the heavens (Mark 13:24-25)
- The coming of the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2:1-10)
- The salvation of Israel (Romans 11:25-26)
Resolving the Tension
Obviously, there’s a tension in the biblical material. So, how do we resolve that tension?
One solution is to reject the notion of an “any-moment return.” However, doing so would seem to nullify the force of Jesus’ warnings that we should be alert & ready, because he’s returning at an hour we do not expect.
Another solution is to say that Jesus’ return will take place in two stages: an any-moment secret return for believers; followed 7 years later by a triumphant public return. While this is a popular view among conservative Christians (exclusively in the last 150 years), there is little biblical support for a two-stage return.
A third solution is to say that all the signs preceding Christ’s return will be fulfilled (at least in part) very quickly. Therefore, while Christ’s return is not literally an “any-moment” possibility (the Bible doesn’t use that exact phrase), it nevertheless will be sudden & unexpected. I personally favor this third solution.
Does It Matter?
In a sense, no, but we can’t ignore the repeated call of Jesus to be ever-watchful and ready for his return. Who is a Christian? According to Paul, a Christian is a person who “longs for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:8).