As a United Methodist clergy, it seems we are informally taught to be suspect concerning specificity about the return of Christ. No, I didn’t have a class in how to dismiss speculative matters of interpretation, but we have as the church, committed so many resources to the service and witness of Christ in the world through the church, that we have by default placed Christ’s return as a “some day” it will happen, just not with advance details.
The pervasive emphasis comes from Matthew’s gospel 24:1-35:
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. [niv]
So let’s look at the pieces.
We don’t dispute the Good News that Christ will return. We don’t disagree that Matthew’s Gospel reflects an important part of Jesus’s words and witness to the church and to the world. Where we press the rails is in the area of dates, details and specific projections. For me the most troubling question about verses 1 through 33 is the affirmation that all the things in the first thirty three verses must have occurred if the reference to “this generation” in verse 34 is the historical generation of either the witnesses of Jesus or the first readers of Matthew’s text. If we are going to hold to a strict reading of the prohibitions then we must also see “these things” have already occurred and we now read this under some new guide.
What does that mean?
On one hand, if we affirm that that generation has passed away, then all these things have happened. If we are still operating under the prohibitions that no one has received special knowledge about Christ’s return, then we need to reinterpret what generation has not passed away. So is Christ still on the way?
Making Waves in the Storm
“A few months before he died, one of the nation’s most prominent rabbis, Yitzhak Kaduri, supposedly wrote the name of the Messiah on a small note which he requested would remain sealed until now. When the note was unsealed, it revealed what many have known for centuries: Yehoshua, or Yeshua (Jesus), is the Messiah.” [Reported/Reprinted: Israel Today]
While this pronouncement does not give a specific date, it does add that Christ’s return would indeed be soon. This article had first been printed in 2007 and reprinted in 2013; little attention has been given to it in the global community. It is reported that Rabbi Kaduri’s proclamation would have been received the same way if a note from Rev. Billy Graham as posthumously been revealed to read, “Muhammad the Messiah.” No wonder it has not received much attention, but the rabbi’s note affirms what we have known all our lives in the church. Jesus is Lord! Christ is our Savior!
Rabbi Kaduri knew his words would be hard for Israel to hear and digest. So his method of revealing them after his death is seen as dodging of debt by some and a discrediting as a failure to stand us to the institution.
So what difference does it make to us?
We all hope for Christ’s return, but without a specific date, we find it difficult to stay excited. If his return were waiting for Christmas, we’d see a rush near the end for a season of kindness toward others with a commercial twist. If it were like anticipating retirement we would work with the expectation of taking a deserved break afterwards. If it were simply an anniversary we might celebrate it and demark it with a gift. But Christ’s return is about a transformation of life as we know it.
Rather than a date to be counted on a calendar, it is the relationship of living a spiritual people every day. When Christ returns it will be no surprise for the faithful. It will not shock those who live in ongoing trust. It might be a nightmare for those who said a few works a few decades ago in church but don’t allow Christ to fill their hearts today. It is likely to be a disappointment for those who have played church and not lived Christ. It will certainly be a wrenching reality for those who have dismissed Christ and the church as unnecessary human creations and myths. While we in the church hold the promise of Christ we are called to share our relationship with Christ.
It is completely brave of Rabbi Kaduri to invite those who long to trust God to know God’s best work is in Jesus as Messiah. It is up to us to stop looking at what divides and what unites in Jesus Christ.
Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8:7 “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?“[niv] We know the Good News that God knows what we do not. God knows what is our future, our purpose and what is in our best interest.
For example, say that we knew that Christ was coming this fall, what would do differently with our lives, families, neighbors, enemies, and communities than we are doing today. Your answer reflects how you are called to live everyday between today and Christ’s return. His return may be in two thousand more years, it might be next weekend. How many messages of love, grace, correction, instruction, forgiveness, and proclamation are you and I willing to make in our lifetime between today and his return. We don’t have to know the signs and date, we know to put our whole trust in God.
Most folks will live as business as usual, hoping to have time for last minute preparations. I hope that is not you and me.
Christ is coming. He is on the way. He is the way, the truth and the life. We need to support and encourage one another to practice our faith, service and witness. If you heard some giving a certain date and time, be looking for Christ, because that is what we do every day. This is where we meet at the cross of Christ.
See you Sunday and everyday in Christ.