After I had moved to Michigan in the early 1990s, I was cleaning out some old files when I stumbled across a gospel tract that caused me to grin and groan simultaneously. The cover of the tract was emblazoned with the declaration, “Why the Lord Must Return in 1984.”
In the mid-1800s, a Baptist pastor named William Miller determined that according to his understanding of Daniel 8:14 Jesus would return to the earth in October of 1844. Many of his followers sold all of their possessions and joined together to welcome the King of kings. When Jesus did not return, Miller rejected his own problematic teachings, and the nonevent became known as “The Great Disappointment of 1844.” More recently, one preacher warned that May 21, 2011, was “Judgment Day,” on which the Lord would return. He even put it on billboards across the country. Nothing unusual happened that day, of course.
From televangelists to pastors to authors, little has changed. We are continually being told that the unknowable is now known—declaring with absolute confidence that they know the time in which Jesus will return.
In spite of those professing such certainty, Jesus makes it clear that such knowledge is beyond our reach. In fact, this is the point of His next warning, with blepete encased within it:
But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. (mark 13:32–33, emphasis added)
While the promise of Jesus’s return is one we can hold with absolute confidence, Jesus builds on His previous warning to reemphasize the danger of misreading the events of the times between His departure and that promised return. We cannot know the times of His return, because, in His humanity, even Jesus Himself was restricted from that knowledge! (v. 32).
As a result, the Teacher challenges His followers to live always in the expectation of that return. It calls us to a mindset in which the value of each moment, event, or opportunity is heightened by the possibility of His coming.
This helps us to form the opposite of an escapist mentality. Rather than looking for Jesus to come so that we can escape from this world to the next, we are called to maximize this life. To live fully this day and every day in His name. This value system was at the very heart of one of Paul’s most dramatic statements. Writing to his friends at Philippi, the apostle affirmed:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (philippians 1:21)
Those words form a statement of remarkable balance. There will be a time for the next life—a time for which we don’t know the day or the hour— but in the meantime, every day is to be lived as an expression of our desire to follow Christ by His Spirit, power, and grace. Because our entrance into eternity, whether by Christ’s return or our passing, will come at an unpredictable moment, our challenge is to make every moment count.
Thoughts for Reflection:
We live in the in-between, our days bracketed by the reality of Jesus’s first coming and the expectation of His promised return. Yet, while we can rightly long for His coming, we must live in the here and now.
Using a concordance or Bible study website, see what wisdom the Scriptures offer us about the value of each and every today (FOR INSTANCE, PSALM 90:12). Allow the value of the day to anchor you in the present moment in which God has placed you. Seek to honor Him in that moment.
Ask God to help you live today balanced between looking forward to the day Jesus returns while making every day count for Him now.