For as long as I have been a follower of Christ, one of the most divisive issues among believers has been the subject of end-time prophecy, eschatology, the study of what the Bible says about Jesus’s return.
When I was young in my faith, I was taught, cautioned, warned, and conditioned to be suspicious about anyone whose view of the last days was different from ours. There was no wiggle room involved. We were convinced and, as someone said, “I know I must be right because if I was wrong I’d change my mind.”
That kind of certainty should be reserved only for those things that are indisputable, the matters “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4; NASB). Many other issues in the scriptures are not as clear-cut as we might like to think, or as we sometimes declare them to be. I suspect that if the eschatological forecast was as straightforward as we would like to think, there would not be so many differing positions on the subject.
Nevertheless, we divide over the specifics of the return of Christ instead of focusing on the actual return itself. Some even go so far as to set dates for the return of Jesus, in spite of His express instructions that we cannot know that date (Mark 13:32–33). Additionally, some produce vast charts and elaborate schemes, while others scour the news both in print and online to discover the latest prophetic trigger point that will, supposedly, set the eschatological gears in motion.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely worthwhile, essential even, to study the Scriptures and try our best to discern what they tell us about every biblical issue—including the return of Christ. It is also okay to hold differing views on things in which the Scriptures are not dogmatic, as long as we do so with grace.
Paul’s words to the Christ-followers at Rome over a disputed issue offer good guidance here: “[For] one person considers one day more important than another, while another person considers all days alike. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5).
The fact is, we’ve arrived at our differing opinions honestly, by trying to understand the Bible the best we can. We are all doing our best to make sense of something difficult and confusing.
Still, it helps to be reminded that sometimes the things we hold to so dogmatically may not be the slam-dunk we portray or would like them to be.
So, what is clear? It never hurts to listen to the words of Jesus Himself. The night before the cross, in His final extended teaching time with His followers before going to the cross, He said:
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3; NKJV)
Jesus’s promise is clear, “I will come again” and the result of that coming will be that we will be with Him. This was reinforced 40 days after the resurrection when those same disciples saw their Teacher and Master ascend into heaven. As they stared at the sky. Two men appeared to them—ostensibly angels—and said:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11; NKJV)
Jesus will “so come in like manner as you saw Him go.” It is certain, beyond debate. It is not nor ever should be a point of division. Jesus will return, just as He and His messengers said.
What is important here is that Jesus did not describe the mechanics of His return. He did not outline the timetable or calendar of the events. Jesus simply left a promise to His people—a promise He will most definitely keep.
In the meantime, we should remain committed students of Scripture. We constantly learn how to study the Bible better. And we should study with enough humility to let the text and the Spirit change our minds, even on things that we have believed for a long time.
But our priority must be to live in anticipation of that return. To expect His return. To serve in the reality of that return. To live for Jesus in the here and now while awaiting His return to our small, troubled planet.
As the apostle John recorded the closing words of inspired scripture, the next to the last verse in the Bible both reaffirms Jesus’ promise and expresses what our hearts should be…
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20; NKJV)
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” With John, we are to look forward to Jesus’ return, knowing it will be perfectly set to the rhythm of the Father’s timetable—even if that timetable doesn’t match up perfectly to my personal prophetic scheme.