Will Jesus Return at Any Moment?
A week before the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, a book written by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, has been released. In Expecting to See Jesus: A Wake-Up Call for God’s People, Mrs. Lotz explains the signs of Jesus’ return and why he could return at any moment."
Any moment." Which means Christ might appear the next second, day, week, month, year, or as Mrs. Lotz says, before the end of her natural life (she's 63). We've heard this before countless times, in fact, all the way back to the generation after the apostles—in AD 150, when Montanus predicted that Jesus will return in his hometown of Phrygia during his own lifetime. Consider also these pronouncements:
There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.
At no time in the history of the Christian Church have the conditions necessary to the Lord’s return been so completely fulfilled as at the present time.
We are the generation that will see the end times… and the return of Jesus.
Sound familiar? Yes, but they're not recent predictions by Tim Lahaye or Pat Robertson or Joel Rosenberg. The above quotes (in the order listed) are from Bishop Martin of Tours (France), ca. 316-397; Clarence Larkin, American dispensationalist, 1918; and Hal Lindsey, American dispensationalist, 1980!
Will Jesus really return at any moment? The Bible says no. True, Jesus said that signs will preceded his return:
For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ," and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray (Matt 24:5-11).
But notice that these signs will be present from Jesus' own time all the way to the end of the world. "But the end is not yet," even when the disciples see these signs happening. They will be like birth pains that occur in ever-increasing intensity and frequency until the infant is born. If this is so, how do we know when he's coming back? We don't, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,t but only the Father" (Matt 24:36).
Nevertheless, we can be sure of two things: he will return, and there are signs pointing to his return. The signs Jesus listed are a guarantee of his return. But Paul says we can even be surer of the timing of his return, not because he might come at any moment, but because two discernable events will precede his coming:
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction (2 Thess 2:3).
Two events: (1) a great rebellion against God in the church (Grk. apostasia); and (2) the revelation of the "man of lawlessness." But aren't these two things already with us today?
In 2,000 years of church history, no era was spiritually darker than the medieval age, when the true gospel, doctrine, worship and practice were nowhere to be found except in a few tiny pockets of faithful communities. The light of the true gospel then seemed to be in its last few flickers. But even those darkest days of the church were still not the days of apostasia of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. To be sure, the church today—whether Catholic, evangelical or liberal—is in very serious spiritual condition, but it is not in such spiritual darkness as the medieval church.
This is also why the 16th century Protestant Reformers who came out of the medieval church believed that the Roman Pope was the "man of lawlessness," the Antichrist himself. If God revealed to them that the Pope was the Antichrist, Jesus would have returned during their time. But it was not to be. So through the 500 years since the Reformation, prophecy buffs have proposed many great world leaders or powers as the Antichrist: Islam, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Kissinger, the European Union, Gorbachev, and now, Iran.
But all of these speculations have always been proven ridiculously wrong because Biblical prophecy is far from being concerned about Israel and the Middle East, or Russia and China, or the United States and Europe. To be sure, when great disasters around the world happen, we Christians should reflect upon God's sovereignty over and coming judgment on the wicked world, God's holiness and mercy on our own sinfulness, and our duty to call for repentance. But it is the height of American arrogance to claim that 9/11 was a wake-up call for the church, as if the United States is God's holy people and God is only concerned about Americans. Even worse, many American evangelicals believed that disasters befell those people because they were Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and pagans, and not Christians like Americans.
Biblical prophecy is not about geographical nations, but about spiritual nations—two nations to be exact. These two nations have been in a "holy war" from the beginning of time, as God prophesied against Satan, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers" (Gen 3:15). And this spiritual warfare will continue till the end of this age, as Jesus warned, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt 24:12-13). But the outcome of this age-old holy war is never in doubt:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war… Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords (Rev 19:11, 15-16).
But beware of complacency. The end of the world may come to you unexpectedly--indeed, at "any moment"! That end will surely come. Death is the end of the world for all who will not be alive when Christ returns. And after death, there is no second chance, but only Judgment Day.