Jesus Did Not Return Soon (!)

Fundamentalist Christians claim to be biblical literalists, i.e., they say that they take every word of the Bible literally as the inerrant Word of God, as dictated by God to the scripture writers.  Strictly this means that the dictation and its writing down are literal, so literalists do permit themselves to concede that some of the Bible’s texts contain poetry (for intance) in addition to literal history.  But in the main, biblical literalists tend to take scripture at face value, especially those passages that they deem prophetic.  However, as we shall see, fundamentalists’ claims to literalism fall flat when applied to their most cherished prophetic book, the final chapter of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse of John).

For decades, fundamentalists have used Revelation as an End Times chart that might inform them when the end of the world and the second coming of Christ will occur.  Many fundamentalist groups have predicted Jesus’ return based on Revelation, and they have, obviously, been as wrong as it is possible to be.  However, undaunted by past failures, many of today’s literalists continue to delve into the Apocalypse for juicy End Time morsels.  However, one tidbit all of them have overlooked is the End Times timetable of John himself.

John himself references the time for the end of this age and Jesus’ return.  John does not predict these events as unfolding in our century (a century that he probably never imagined).

Instead, John expects the End to happen in his own century.  Not just in some vague future year or decade, but in his own time: soon, in fact. And “soon,” and terms like it, are exactly the ones chosen by John.  In this, John’s own prophetic sense is unbridgeably separated from that of modern fundamentalists.  Let’s view a few examples of John’s soon expectation of Jesus’ return:

‘things which must shortly come to pass’ Revelation 1:1

‘…for the time is at hand.’  1:3

‘Look, he [Jesus] is coming with clouds; and every eye shall see him, even those who wounded him’ 1:7  (Jesus is already on his way and will come soon enough to be seen by those who killed him, who are still alive in Judea)

‘sent his angel to show his servants the things which must shortly be done’ 22:6

‘Look – I come quickly!’ 22:7a  (this is Jesus speaking; Jesus himself conceptualizes his quick return)

‘for the time is at hand‘  22:10

‘Look – I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every one according to his actions’  22:12

‘He {Jesus] who testifies to these things says, Surely I come quickly.  Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’  22:20

Clearly, from these passages, it is shockingly plain that the New Testament has a far different view of the End’s timeframe than do modern fundamentalists.  They have much to answer for.

First:  Fundamentalists must explain their basic inability to understand the word “soon.”  It is not sufficient to say – as many do – that God’s view of time is different from ours, that for instance, for God a day may be a thousand years.  But it is not “God’s time” that concerns the author of Revelation: rather, it is the time known to the “seven churches” to whom he is writing – their time, their world, their current affairs.  And that time is soon.

Second: Fundamentalists must explain Jesus’ tardiness in not having returned soon.  This they do by (erroneously) claiming that John’s “soon” is not a real soon.  This is not only intrinsically unlikely.  It violates the fundamentalists’ own cherished claim to read scripture literally.

One might guess that these two embarrassments alone would keep fundamentalists occupied in tending to their own house – either valiantly updating their theology to conform to the Bible’s actual meaning, or scurrying around performing damage control – instead of attempting to reorder secular society.  Alas, one can only hope… a forlorn hope indeed.

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2 thoughts on “Jesus Did Not Return Soon (!)

  1. makarios

    So why don’t you print all the verses that would make or break your point? For example, “To the Lord a thosand years is like a day.” To the Lord, Jesus was crucified only two days ago. He is indeed coming soon.

    As well, for each and every one of us, we meet God within 80 – 90 years of our birth. You might think it a long time but odds are it’s going to come before you’re ready, i.e., too soon for you.

  2. rennyo01 Post author

    Those other verses don’t have the literal succinctness of John’s easily understood “soon”. Nor is it a matter of what time means “to the Lord.” John is not writing about the Lord’s experience of time, but specifically to the seven churches, and when they may expect his return, and that is “soon.”

    Thanks, but I’ll pass on the fear-based warning to be ready for his return:

    I don’t believe he “came” the first time (he was neither the fulfilment of prophecy nor the space-travalling Trinitarian Son) – so I don’t believe he will “come” a second time. If he does “come again,” he will not be judging my beliefs but my deeds, as in Rev 22:12 and Mat 25;31-46 / Mark 9:41-42, etc.

    However, if any “coming again” function truly accrues to him, I would say about that what J.D. Crossan says about Emmaus: “Emmaus didn’t happen. Emmaus always happens.” Ditto Jesus’ return: It will not come in the future. It’s been happening every moment since Easter.

    Anyway, thanks for your views and for stopping by the blog.

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