Monday, October 9, 2017

The Return of the King

For some unknown reason, I have recently decided to attempt to nail down my eschatological position which is like nailing spaghetti to a wall. In addition to all of this, I have been convinced of several things. First, none of the three primary eschatological positions we know of—postmillennial, amillennial, or premillennial—are how it’s ultimately going to work. Jesus told the disciples Himself in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” If it wasn’t for them to know how it would work—and they were given much inspired writing material—why would we be prideful enough to say, “This is how it has to work!” Second, no one is ultimately heretical or unsaved for holding a different position on these matters (unless one denies the bodily resurrection of believers or the literal return of Jesus Christ), and as such this should be able to be a point of discussion and not a point of division. There are much more important things for churches to divide over, and eschatology is not one. Third, and where I want to focus this post, Jesus is coming at a time we do not know.
Matthew 24:44 says, “This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The background to this statement is found in Matthew 24 and continues through chapter 25; all of it discusses the last days and chapter 25 specifically gives parables expanding on 24:44, and concludes with a prophecy of the final judgment (25:31-46). Jesus gives many reasons throughout chapter 24 that could be referred to when He says in verse 44, “this is why,” but for my purposes in this post I’d like to simply look at the final reason, also found in verse 44. It could be rewritten, “You must be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
I heard a sermon earlier this week that stated, “The Bible does not teach that every generation of Christians has to believe that Christ could come at any moment. The Bible does not teach that and the apostles didn’t believe it in their day.”[1] Begging your pardon, sir, but Jesus says the exact opposite. He says, “Be ready! It can happen any time!” Jesus goes so far as to say, “It will be when you don’t expect it.”
And so far what I’ve learned in my studies is that for a classic, “orthodox” postmillennialist, Christ cannot come back until after the golden age of 1000 years, whether literal or symbolic. Sorry, but I’m not buying that one. For an amillennialist, the millennium is figurative for eternity. Geerhardus Vos explains, “The symbolism of the one thousand years consists in this, that it contrasts the glorious state of the martyrs on the one hand with the brief season of the tribulation passed here on earth, and on the other hand with the eternal life of the consummation.”[2] I’m sorry, but immediately following the millennium, regardless of your understanding of Revelation’s literary structure, Satan is released from prison and again attacks God’s people (Revelation 20:1-10 is one thought, though there are two visions—seemingly one heavenly in vs. 1-3 and one earthly in vs. 7-10 with vs. 4-6 not entirely clear on locale). Satan cannot be released post-eternity. And for a premillennialist, Christ returns to set up His Kingdom, time passes while He sets up His rule and reigns, after His rule Satan is allowed to deceive the nations again, and then Jesus defeats this rebel group and returns again to execute the Final Judgment. The problem here is that now there are now three comings of Christ—Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, in the future before the millennium (typically against Antichrist), and 1,000 years farther in the future before the last Judgment as described in Matthew 25. (Will a premillennialist correct me if I’m misunderstanding the viewpoint, please?) As of right now I can’t hold to any of these views.
But there’s something bigger. Amongst Christians today—at least American Christians—there’s a thought that goes around to this effect, “The Greek phrase for “all nations” is “panta ta ethne” which refers to all of the ethnicities or people groups of the world. We believe that Jesus was very clear in stating that His gospel would be preached to all nations/ethne/people groups before He would return.”[3] In the same article, they cite the Joshua Project website which explains,
Global Summary[4]
An overview of the people groups of the world
People Groups:
Unreached Groups:
% Unreached Groups:
7.47 Billion
Popl in Unreached:
3.15 Billion
% Popl in Unreached:
While I absolutely admire their desire for every people group in the world to hear the good news about Christ, and while I hope to play even a microscopic role in that task, and especially while calling their organization the Joshua Project draws to mind conquering the nations and inheriting the earth through the Gospel message as opposed to the sword and simply the land of Canaan in the book of Joshua, I believe it poses a problem. The problem is this: instead of needing a “millennium” of church prosperity—as postmillennialists typically teach—we have to make sure there is at least one representative of each of the 16,858 people groups in the world who believes in Christ. This doesn’t sit well with me for two reasons. First, it means it will be at least—if not much more—a few years before Christ can return. Second, it means—because of the first—that we need not get ready yet. It means we can let our robes get dirty and live in drunkenness and carousing until the Joshua Project website says there are only 94 people groups left to reach (contra Revelation 16:15; 22:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).
This contrasts greatly with the primary goal of eschatology. Donald Hagner explains, “Eschatology is never presented for the sake of mere information but always and consistently as the motivation for ethical living. Again, the fact of the Parousia [i.e. Christ’s appearing], not the time of the parousia, is what matters. The evangelist stresses the need to be prepared for that coming reality.”[5] Christ is coming when we do not expect, so if we expect it at the end of reaching every people group with the gospel, He will not be coming then. We must always be ready.
But what does being ready look like? It looks like several things. First, it looks like striving for holiness in life. Revelation 22:15 describes the things believers should avoid—things that are specifically unholy—“Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” We must also keep in mind that Jesus elevated most of these above the physical act: murder is hatred in the heart, sexual immorality is lust in the heart, idolatry is worshipping anything more than God, which could even include your eschatological viewpoint. All of these must be avoided to be able to say you are living a holy life. But we must also remember it’s impossible apart from the Holy Spirit’s help. On our own we are unable to live holy. If we have the Spirit we will live holy, and never make the excuse, “It’ll be a while before Christ returns.” With that said, as preachers and disciplers we should not put a timeline on when Christ can return because that could potentially be a stumbling block to someone, who could use the excuse I stated above. Christ will come at any moment and we must be ready!
Secondly, this readiness looks like the following: proclaiming the gospel wherever you go and helping to promote the gospel even in places where you are not. One other debated point in Christian theology is whether or not the Jews as a people group will return to Christ. If so, I believe the representative of each nation view is ridiculous and we should be praying for massive revival across the world—including Israel. If not, then the representative view makes more sense, but at the same time I’d say it’s already complete: I fully believe that children who died in childbirth or miscarriages (or abortions) already make up people of every nation, tribe, and tongue in heaven. So either way, Christ has not returned yet, which means the task of evangelism is not yet complete. The Great Commission has not yet come to the Great Conclusion, so we must be out in the fields working for the harvest. Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
Will the Lord find you ready when He comes at a time you don’t expect? Or will He find you lazy or sinning?
Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Rev David Silversides, “Postmillennialism and Rev 20,” preached April 12, 1997,, time of quote: 57:00.
[2] Quoted in Robert B. Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Three views on the Millennium and Beyond, Counterpoints series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 128.
[4] For more info, visit
[5] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 721.

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