Do We Really Anticipate Christ’s Return?

The January, 1970 edition of “The Shoppers Compass”, a free circulation sent to every mailbox in Morrow County Ohio, included a frontpage column entitled “The Sound of the 70’s—a Trumpet.” Mr. Walsh, a conservative Catholic and owner of the paper had asked me to submit an article to be included in every edition.

Anti-Vietnam war protests, nuclear threat and the Civil Rights movement dominated evening television newscasts. I felt confident that Christ’s return was imminent, and I wasn’t alone. Hal Lindsey’s best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, reflected the focus of a majority of evangelical Christians.

Obviously, my confidence that the rapture was certain to happen at any moment proved to be wrong. There was no angelic trumpet blast that year and no rapture that decade. Nor since. However, I still anticipate Jesus’ visible, physical return.

Or, do I?

My former confidence in a pre-tribulation-rapture has been replaced with something less specific, and I am not alone. Men who preached and wrote books “proving” the rapture of The Church would happen prior to the seven-year tribulation are now writing books predicting a mid-tribulation or even post-tribulation return of Christ.

One thing is obvious: nobody knows for certain when Christ will return to earth. We should have realized that because Jesus warned His curious disciples, “…concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36, esv)

The prophecy of Christ’s return appears throughout Scripture. I am confident that He will return to earth, and I still believe it could happen any moment.

Or, do I?

I no longer draw timelines on charts nor dogmatically preach that Jesus will return prior to the great tribulation. I avoid debates on the subject that tend to create more heat than light. Not that prophecy isn’t important, but I realize no biblical scholar knows every detail about the timing of Christ’s return. How arrogant to dogmatically claim that I have the inside track on God’s timeline. We tend to adopt a particular position such as pre-tribulation and then see every potential verse as a “proof text” to support our views. Verses that others use to support a different view. Seems to me it’s better to say something like, “As I understand this particular passage, I believe it points to or supports a pre-tribulation or a mid-tribulation return of Christ.”

Conservative theologians hold a variety of eschatological positions about the return of Christ including premillennial, postmillennial and amillennial. The differences between each of these is so great they cannot all be correct. Each may contain errors in their understanding of future events surrounding the return of Christ. However, each of them agrees on one fact: Christ will literally and physically return to rule on the earth. I agree with them.

Or, do I?

I say that I believe Christ may return today, and I can recite the ancient creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Powerful statement! Christians since the 1st Century have declared those truths.

But, do I really believe that He will come to judge the living and the dead?

That’s the challenge! That’s where rubber meets the road. That’s the fork in the road—the dividing line between living or dead faith. Between foolish or wise? Between sheep and goats. Professing or possessing. Between lovers of theology and those who truly love (anticipate) Christ’s return.

So, the answer—the proof in the pudding–as to the question whether I truly believe that Jesus may return today will be demonstrated by my actions or lack thereof.

Amidst the chaos in our culture and global unrest, many of my friends say they believe Jesus will return very soon. Sometimes I nod my head but prefer to ask them, “Do you really believe that?”

In future posts, I will be sharing biblical examples on how we ought to be living if we truly believed that Jesus will return to judge those who are still alive and those who have passed this way before us.