The Way of Peace

14. Jesus is not coming soon — or ever

“The end of all things is at hand.”
— 1 Peter 4:7

The first time I was told, “Jesus is coming soon,” I was twelve years old, in seventh grade.  My friends and I had no reason to doubt it.  We thought, “He might come tonight.  Or tomorrow.  But it could be tonight.”  We lived in breathless anticipation.

For me, it all began to unravel seven years later, albeit it hasn’t finished unraveling yet.

The middle of my freshman year in college, almost all my friends belonged to an evangelical student group.  There were about fifty of us, the only “Christians” we knew on a campus of 6,000.

Now I faced three simultaneous crises:

(1) For the first time in my life, I was failing academically.

(2) I was lost as to how to manage my sexuality.  Like most people that age, my urges were pretty strong.  But Biblical religion’s only guidance was to avoid premarital sex, and “the World’s” loudest voices, on campus and in the media, only proclaimed the equally useless solution, that one get laid early and often throughout the day.  Not practical for a bashful man.  This will become significant below.

(3) My hatred of Jews.

I sought help from one of the leaders of the fellowship.  I told this person about #1 and #2.  I didn’t tell her about #3.

I never told anyone about #3.

Related:  I’ve been one, too.

She said, “Don’t worry.  Everything will be OK.  Jesus is coming soon.”

On the one hand, my immediate inward response was, “I can’t wait till Jesus comes.  I need solutions now.”  On the other hand, it occurs to me today that her response epitomizes the dysfunctions associated with that belief.

The lack of Bible guidance for single persons’ sexuality strikes me as a real issue for Bible-believing churches.  Whatever guidance one may get, from within the church or without, comes without any textual authority.

The Old Testament was silent because there was no need.  A child became an adult at puberty, and could marry right away.  The only guidance for “young men” — We would call them teenaged boys. — at Proverbs 5 and elsewhere, was to avoid contacts with gentile women.  Jewish women (after puberty) they could marry.

The New Testament is silent because there was no point.  In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually counsels against marriage, for reason that the day of wrath, and End, were coming soon:

26I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. 29I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

I have never understood Matthew 24:37-39 until now.   “Marrying and giving in marriage” have never struck me as equal to the wickedness described in Genesis 6:5.  That proves not to be the speaker’s concern.  Rather, marrying and giving in marriage imply long-range plans, plans for a lifetime, whereas the folk were about to meet their doom.

My friend’s counsel bespeaks a kind of nihilism.  One who anticipates the imminent End may avoid the work, the courage, the commitment, the risks associated with making and acting on long-range plans.  Gratification of momentary impulses may come to the fore.  Rather than the industry portrayed in the Parable of the Talents, one may display the self-indulgence portrayed in John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.”

Make no mistake: I’ve known many, many wonderful people who believe this way, who strive to live Bible teachings, whose lives show forth what Paul called “the fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The real problem:
That’s not what Jesus thought.
That’s not what Jesus taught.

We have established that New Testament people expected the Rapture in their own time.  Today, looking back on almost 2,000 years, we can safely conclude they were mistaken.  Will it happen in our time?  Sometime in the perhaps distant future?  I submit that there is neither need nor room for it ever to occur at all.

Perilous times.  At the homeless shelter where I currently stay, we have mandatory chapel for an hour every night.  A different preacher comes each night, in a monthly rotation.  Jose Reid comes the first Monday of each month.  He routinely quotes this passage, saying it is a prophecy of our time and proof that we are living in the End Times.  2 Timothy 3 (KJV):

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Note the last four words, which Reid never quotes.  The author expected Timothy to meet such people personally, in his own time, in the First Century.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) lived in perilous times also, and thought this passage referred to his day, and thought his own the End Times.

In fact, I do not know of any times that have not fit that description.  The world has never been much different than it is today, nor is it likely ever to be.  The degree of shalom varies from time to time and place to place, depending on how much the people then and there live as Jesus taught.

The world is not going to hell in a handbasket.

There is no need nor room for any “kingdom” to “come” — other than the very different Kingdom Jesus taught.

The present form of this world is not passing away.  The laws of physics, which govern material existence, show no sign of shifting or fraying, nor do we have any evidence of their approaching any impending precipice (discontinuity) at which they might cease to function.  An analogous set of laws that govern spiritual existence isn’t changing, either.

It is merely up to us from day to day to accept the inevitable difficulties of life — As I observe, most tears are shed, most blood is shed, over refusing to accept the things one cannot change. — including ugly people, ugly feelings, ugly deeds — and do the best we can to create the best, most loving and gracious and prosperous circumstances we can, for ourselves and one another, here and now.

This will never change.