When is Jesus Coming Again? Or Has He Already?

Wearing my dress whites, I stood at parade rest on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The sun heated the sky into a skillet gray. Sweat beaded on my face and threatened to soil my uniform. I was one of thousands of sailors enduring a full dress inspection. An Admiral slowly worked his way through our ranks randomly stopping in front one hapless sailor after another nailing each for uniform infractions.

Somehow I knew I would attract his attention and that I would fail inspection. Failing held dire consequences. The ridicule and punishment would be severe. Without moving my head, I gazed off into the cloudless sky and prayed that Jesus would suddenly appear in the sky and yank me (and any of the other Christians  present) out of this tribulation.

I was eighteen, unhappy, a seaman in the Navy, and a believer in something Christians call the Rapture. The Rapture is a belief that somewhere near the beginning of the end of the world (pre-tribulation) Jesus will appear in the sky and remove the Church from the coming wrath of God and tribulation.

As I predicted, I failed my inspection. And on top of that, either I was left behind or Jesus did not come back that day back in the 1970s.

I hope it’s the latter. If that’s the case, when is Jesus coming back?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Jeremiah 23:21-25:38

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Psalm 84:1-12

Proverbs 25:15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Psalm 84:1-12: Even sparrows and swallows receive God’s care and attention. What does that mean for humans?

Not so much for many of us modern 21st Century humans, I’m afraid. We live too far away from the natural world of the sparrow and the swallow to really know what these agrarian, outdoorsy allusions in Scripture mean.

I call this the curse of air conditioning. Though modern advancements and technology deliver many blessings, they also tend to separate us from the real world and its all too real Creator. Like a child who believes money comes free and unfettered out of automatic teller machines, we believe our protection comes from our amazing technology and our sustenance from the grocery store.

But the “Lord God is a sun and shield” our source of life just as he is for lowly sparrows.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

When is Jesus coming back? Jesus said no one but the Father knows, not even Jesus knew at that point. I’m still waiting, though not as impatiently as that day on the Kitty Hawk. I no longer believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, however. Not because of that disappointing day on the flight deck but because, I now understand my belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture flowed out a deep misunderstanding of God and my misguided desire to escape trouble and difficulty and pain.

I’m not saying that all who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture do so out of a need to escape pain (though it is a question worth asking ourselves). I know there are biblical passages that can be interpreted to support the Rapture. For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, . . . .” Many interpret the phrase “gathered to” as a reference to Christians being gathered in the air to Jesus and then taken into heaven.

The myriad biblical interpretive nuances (too myriad to discuss here) aside, one major reason I left my Pre-Tribulation Rapture belief behind is that all through Scripture and history God seldom pulls his people out of tribulation or trouble. Sometimes God even led his people into trouble and always–always–walks his people through tribulation. See Abraham, Israel, Moses, David, the prophets, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, the Church, and Martin Luther for just a few examples. In the end God also turns that trouble into a new story, a new opportunity to walk with God. This focus on God as a rescuer seems to diminish God’s role as redeemer.

And I don’t think I’m straining at gnats in making this theological distinction. If we expect God to rescue us from the ultimate tribulation, why not daily trouble such as a full dress inspection or real, worse trouble. Then what do we do when God doesn’t rescue us? Do we then miss the truth that, though Jesus will be coming back in bodily form, he is also already here in Spirit walking through trouble with us? What we believe about theological ideas such as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture reveal who we believe God is and shape what we expect life to be like.

When is Jesus coming back? In his time, but probably not just in time to rescue his beloved. While we wait, Paul does not want us to be unsettled or alarmed or to be deceived, however. Rather we are to stand fast in Christ. As I look back on that day on the Kitty Hawk flight deck, I realize I was not only immature but also not left behind. Rather I now see God’s grace has been sufficient for me in all and every situation, joyful and painful.

1. Which passage spoke most to you?

2. What did the four have in common?

2. How do you see God in nature?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “When is Jesus Coming Again? Or Has He Already?

  1. elna

    I do agree with your position on the Rapture doctrine. God allowed the Israelites to be in Egypt during all the plagues but still protected them. the same happened to Jeremiah. He was in Jerusalem during the siege and battle, and he was captured with all the other inhabitants of Jerusalem. I believe that God is calling prophets to be the salt/yeast/light during the difficult times ahead. Corrie ten Boom wrote an interesting article against the Rapture doctrine http://endtimepilgrim.org/corrie.htm if anybody wants to read it.
    I find the most upsetting problem with the Rapture doctrine is that it makes for lazy Christians. It’s as if they promised their hands to the eternity, and are prepared to sing along the angels in God’s choir and forget about the here and now. They forget that the here and now is also God’s creation and it is so important that Jesus was born into it.
    I live on a farm and truly, when your livelihood is dependent on timely rain you rely on God.

    • Elna:

      If anyone suffered for Christ and faced tribulation it was Corrie ten Boom. What a tremendous testimony to Christ. Which brings up another problem with Pre-Trib theology. Since God has chosen for the people of Israel and the church to be his voice and hands and his witnesses, who would God use to bring his hope to the world if we all disappeared? And if there is not any salvation possible after the rapture, what’s the point?

      I really enjoy our give and take and hope and pray God fills your day with all you need to love and serve him. Eugene

  2. Todd Lowther

    Regardless of one’s take on the “rapture,” you have to admit that 2 Thess. 1-12 is pretty intriguing stuff. What or who is restraining the power of lawlessness, v. 7? Some say it’s the Holy Spirit, others the “church”–which is convenient to the pre-trib rapture belief. So, if you don’t believe in the rapture, what/who is the restrainer? (I’m not being contentious, by the way, just asking.)

    • Todd: No contention taken. And contention is not always a bad thing. Iron sharpens iron, Scripture says. Yes, this is an intriguing passage. Thus, my struggle with any of the theories about the end times. Most of the passages are very difficult to interpret. They are vague, as you mention, highly metaphorical, allegorical, and poetic. They often defy good hermeneutical principals.

      And it seems these passages are always interpreted based on contemporary issues. The anti-Christ has been understood as any given current pope to John F. Kennedy to Pres. Obama.

      It seems that each generation has been able to see their current struggles (with the possible exception of middle and upper class American Christianity) as worthy of the being described as tribulation. Yet Jesus waits. For me this must mean that the events and people (man of lawlessness, etc) will surpass anything we have ever seen. Maybe this vagueness is about being watchful not predicting all the details.

      As far as who or what is restraining this evil, the masculine personal pronoun “he” makes me doubt Paul is referring to the church, since most often the church is referred to as “she” and the bride of Christ. Though New Testament theology is very clear that the church is God’s major tool for saving and healing people and the world. This is one reason I am saddened with how many Christians seem to believe participating in the church is optional.

      So who is “he”? Seems no one can really answer for certain. I am willing to try and figure it out but am also comfortable not coming up with a solid answer. I can live with the mystery. I am not willing, however, to build or stand on a theological system “pre-trib rapture,” for example, based on very unclear passages especially when the rest of Scripture is very clear that God has not removed his people from tribulation.

      Thanks for your questions and comments, Todd. Eugene

  3. Todd Lowther

    And Paul seems to suggest that he discussed all these secretive things with them in person, but seems to be cautious in his written description. Was he worried about being more direct in his letter? He seems to be purposefully vague.

  4. elna

    How will we differentiate between Jesus Christ our Lord, and the false messiah?
    Already the world is inundated with preachers that call on miracles performed at their services, and the world looks for the evidence and can’t find it…but millions of Christians believe the charlatans. (I do believe that God can and do allow miraculous healings and signs) The doctrines of the Bible has already been subverted and changed, and millions of Christians with Bibles in their hands accept and believe these false preachers.
    What will be the definitive character of the coming of our Lord? the wounds in his hands, feet and side? the fact that he will come on the clouds and not just appear somewhere on earth? His humility in truly giving God all the honour?

    • How will we differentiate? I am not sure. My struggle with popular theology of the Second Coming is based in how wrong very good and faithful scholars (rabbis, etc) were they looking for his first coming. The Jews expected either a new king, a judge, a prophet, or a priest (or maybe a combination of several). And it seems because they were in such a difficult political place with Rome, their contemporary expectations focused more on a king to overthrow Rome or at least a prophetic leader to chllenge Rome.

      In the end Jesus fulfilled these roles but only after he fulfilled the one most missed: the suffering servant, which was a response of love. I often wonder what we are missing about who Jesus was and therefore, what he will look like when he comes again.

      Already contemporary Christianity focuses so much on right doctrine (I too am concerened for right doctrine and as you say there are so many who believe and preach untruth) and often denegrates the power of God’s love. The doctrine of love hardly gets the emphasis it got from Jesus, Paul, and John. The greatest of these is love. If we will be known as children of God by our love for neighbors and enemies, will we recognize the Second Coming because it will be the fulfillment of that powerful love? I believe the distinctions we will be able to see will be those of love.

      Eugene

  5. Pingback: Wasn’t Jesus Supposed To Come Back? | A Daily Bible Conversation

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