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WHY DOES THE LORD DELAY HIS COMING?

It was the year 31 AD. A handful of poorly educated men and women were privileged to witness some of the most dramatic and meaningful events in the history of eternity. A Being who called himself the Son of God, and who had performed astounding miracles and wonders, allowed himself to be nailed to a cross, to suffer violent abuse and to die in agony. These few humanly insignificant people saw that same Being buried in a tomb, only to witness His astounding return to life three days and three nights later. They then had the opportunity to stay with Him, talk to Him, eat with Him for several days, after which came the painful separation. One day, after sharing more joyful times together, that Great Being  rose to the sky and disappeared.

 Acts 1: 9-11 -- Now when He had spoken these things, while  they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Then something perplexing and very reassuring took place. Two angels appeared to them and gave them the wonderful news:  V. 10 "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11who also 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.

This, in other words, was not the end, as they might have feared; this was just another necessary step in Godís great plan. Christ would return again and, next time, all their hopes and dreams would have been fulfilled.

The second coming of Christ has been a fundamental Christian longing for almost 2000 years. No true Christian has lived his life without reading about it, hearing about it, thinking about it, hoping for it -- desperately longing for it. True Christians look at the return of Christ not only as the fulfillment of magnificent biblical promises but, also, as a deliverance from all the trials and tribulations that afflict them, from the painful reality of physical decay and from the fear of the great enemy: death.

Almost 2000 years have gone by. Countless generations of Christians have waited, have become excited by world events that seem to indicate its proximity, have become disappointed and, at times, have become discouraged, because the Lord delayed His coming and had to finally stare in the face of the great enemy, death, and had to go the way of all men.

While all of these countless Christians waited, hoped, longed for and then fell into trying disappointment, Christ was watching. Christ saw, Christ heard, Christ empathized with their pain, but did not fulfill their wish of returning in their generation.

Why? Why did Christ make His return so important and yet allowed so many generations of Christians to go to their graves with their longing unfulfilled? Why such a seemingly odd twist in Godís plan? Why couldnít Christ come, die, be resurrected and thenÖstay.  Or, since we had to wait so long for His return, why not simply tell us the exact time He would reappear? If not an exact day, why not the month, or just the year?...Or the century? Or why not simply be ďexactĒ as to the events that would precede His coming?

He gave general signs but some of these signs have been applied erroneously for generations.  Why? Why allow lack of clarity even in an area that is of such crucial importance?

Before giving some answers, I would like to relate to you the experience of the followers of William Miller, a powerful preacher of the 1800ís who convinced a very large group of people that Christ was going to return on Oct. 22, 1844.

As October 22 was approaching some great and unusual signs appeared in the sky.  Stars were falling more than usual; a great comet made its appearance in the heavens. Everything seemed to point to an imminent return. After all, according to William Millerís calculations based on the 2300 days in Daniel 8, October 22, 1844 was the day, and the celestial signs seemed to support it. But He never returned.

What about us? Did we not hear tentative dates in the past? Did we not hope? Were we not disappointed as well? Why? Why did God allow such disappointments?

The first thing we need to understand is that God is the greatest psychologist there is. You see, He created the human mind. He knows how it works better than anyone else. God knows what motivates it; God knows what tests it; God knows exactly what shapes it. Therefore, I would like to propose to you that God kept the date of Christís return a mystery mostly because of three reasons:

1.    To motivate us

2.    To test us

3.    To shape us 

 

REASON 1: TO MOTIVATE US

What do I mean to motivate? Not telling Christians the exact time of Christís return was a statement of love from a God of love. It was not Godís attempt to frustrate or to discourage His people. It was, rather, a necessity that would greatly benefit the people He loved. If God had told His people the date of Christís return, knowing that thousands of years would have passed, God would have done Christians a terrible disservice. The hope of Christís imminent return was very motivating and energizing for early Christians. They, in fact, were willing to endure all sorts of persecution and abuse, in part because they believed that Christís return was imminent. New Christians seem to be affected by the concept of Christís imminent return very positively.

Letís think back at how exciting it all was for us when we learned about the possibility of Christís imminent Second Coming. Do we recall how obsessed we were with Christís return? How much time we spent thinking about it? How much it helped to bring us to conversion and how much it helped us to stand firm and unshakeable through the horrible trials that often accompany the years after conversion? No matter who was against us; no matter how many painful trials came our way, we held firm and unshakable. And this has been the case from the beginning:

Hebrews 10:32-34 -- Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions."

One of our European brothers, soon after conversion, applied for a job. He was well qualified but the job required that he work on the Sabbath, which he refused to do. The astounded employer soon after reported to the local newspaper the memberís name and his insane decision not to accept a job which would have provided for his family, simply because his crazy religion told him not to work on God's Day. Our man became the laughingstock of the city, but he took it courageously and with dignityóbecause it was Godís will and in part because Christís return was near.

Revelation 2:1-3 -- To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

     The Ephesians were gladly enduring hardships and were not growing  weary, and one of the reasons was because they were convinced that their Lordís return was near, and that their trials would have soon ended. I remember people who lost wives, husbands, children, jobs, who were totally rejected by their families. Yet they held firm. Christ was near; why shouldnít they?

Yes, believing in the proximity of Christís return has been and continues to be an energizing factor in our Lives. And that is good. God knew that it would have been good for us, and we benefit from His statement of love.

 

REASON 2: TO TEST US

Godís decision to use this approach was also a perfect way to test us. By allowing the possibility of disappointment into His great plan, He created a very powerful test to distinguish between the fake and the true; the truly converted and the superficially converted; the ones who love God and Christ deeply and the ones who "want" eternity, as soon as possible and nothing else. 

Matthew 24:36-44  -- But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Be Ready. Be ready with the right attitude. Be spiritually ready at all times. Watch. But watching doesnít just imply watch world events. It also means watch yourself; watch your spiritual state; watch your attitudes and behaviors; watch and never allow the passing of time, and the fact that your Lord delays His coming to be an excuse to take it easy, to slacken off, to compromise with sin.

Another significant scripture in regards to this is 2 Peter 3:1-4.

This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: 3Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.Ē

Yes, the day would come when some of those who had endured for some time would finally say "enough! I have waited long enough! I thought all the great rewards were near, but decades have gone by and nothing has happened -- nothing! In the meantime my life is going by and many of the material things I would have loved to possess, have gone by me as well. I still have some time left, though, and I will use it to make up for lost time."

Yes, some who were faithful and committed and longed for their Lordís return have set it all aside and have embraced the world instead. Some have created communities of scoffers on the Internet and now take pleasure in ridiculing the hope that they previously embraced. Read what two Internet scoffers have to say:

SCOFFER 1
Jesus did not return as he said he would. He did not return as his disciples believed and preached that he would. Jesus didn't come in the disciplesí generation. He didn't come in any generation. The disciples all died. Jesus' promise was broken. The disciples believed and lived a false hope.  Jesus didn't come then and He isn't coming in the future. Those who cling to the broken promise and false hope of his return will be just as disappointed as the disciples who died looking in vain for the second coming of their Christ. He isn't coming again.

 SCOFFER 2∑ A FORMER ELDER (If we can believe him)

 I had to admit for 25 years I, too, believed in the "Second-Coming". Where did that come from? From the stupid little booklets and articles...buttressed by the back-up sermons from the cult's stooges who really knew how to wield that "sword of the Lord", the Bible. I, in fact, had delivered such sermons to my fellow fools. You reading these words may still hold to that premise of the Second Coming.

Shocking isnít it? But it shouldnít be. The irony is that in writing and publishing these words they are fulfilling prophecy, and they, in fact, become a sign of the truthfulness of Godís word and the fact that Christís return may indeed be very near. Letís re-read 2 Peter 3:1-4.

1This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: 3Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

These are people who, sadly, have failed the test. These are people who may have accepted Christianity for purely selfish reasons and never grew spiritually and never saw the big picture. They never grew in the love of Christ and the love for Christ. They remained excited for as long as Christís return seemed imminent, then, as the years went on, and sufferings continued, they became disappointed, disenchanted and angry -- and failed the test.

COULD THIS BE HAPPENING TO US?

The Apostle John encourages us to stay firm in the hope, so as not to fail the great test. I John 2:28 -- "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."

The day will come when some scoffers who might be alive might actually witness the return of Christ and they will be ashamed and afraid at His coming.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of what will keep us from failing the test: Ephesians 6:24 -- "Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love." This is the love true Christians ought to grow in: Undying love for Christ, whether His return is near or far. Not a temporary, superficial love that wanes as the years go by, but a strong, unchangeable love that grows stronger and stronger as the years go by. If this kind of love is present, there will be growth, endurance and longing for that day whether itís near or way into the future. This is the kind of love the scoffers never developed or maintained and the results were disastrous.

Colossians 1:3-5 -- We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saintsó 5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel. ď 
This is the firm, unshakeable hope of salvation and eternal life which stirs us to faith and love for the brethren, which is not contingent on how close Christís return might be, but on the fact that the reward will be delivered, whenever God judges to be the right time. This is the attitude we should have and, if we do have it, we will look forward to Christís return with the proper perspective, and whether or not itís near or far doesnít really matter. The only thing that matters is that His promises will come to pass and that eternity awaits us for certain.  And if this is our attitude, then we are passing the test and, consequently, we are on our way to meeting Christ at His second coming, not with shame and fear but with joy and excitement.

 

REASON 3: TO MOLD US AND TO SHAPE US

God chose to keep the exact time of Christís return a mystery, so as to mould us and shape us. In waiting year after year, decade after  decade, traversing the crucible of life, we are shaped, we are moulded, we are matured and we are made complete. In fact, prolonged waiting is one of the greatest tools God uses to accomplish this. James 1: 2-4  -- My "brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Waiting faithfully year after year for Christís return tests us, it moulds us, it shapes and helps to complete us. Peter 4: 12-13 -- Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Yes, The fiery trials will come our way, and that is a good thing, because we are partaking in Christís suffering and, as a result of the cleansing that takes place by going through the fire, we become more and more like Christ and, because of this, we will be glad with exceeding joy at his return.

Romans 13:11-12 -- Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light"

James 5: 7-9 -- Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until receives the early and latter rain. 8You also be patient. Stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Paul wrote ďthe day is near.Ē James wrote that the coming of the Lord is at hand. How could that be? These statements were written over 1900 years ago. Were Paul and James lying? No, their statements were true, are true and continue to be true. The coming of the Lord will come for all Christians with absolute certainty in their own lifetime, or should I say for most at the end of their life time

Christ has already returned in a way for all the thousands of Christians who ever lived. When? The moment they died. They closed their eyes and the next second, from their perspective, they will be present at the return of Christ. From their perspective, Christ returned whenever in history they went to sleep.

For all of us living today, Christís return is just as near. For some Christians, Christ's will return perhaps tomorrow; for some, perhaps, next week, for some next month or next year. In the meantime, we are asked to suffer with dignity and to allow the trials that accompany our lives to shape us more and more in Christís image. Why? Because suffering shapes; suffering matures; suffering completes. Christians are moulded by time, trials and suffering, until they are finally complete for the Masterís use.

As we have seen, God in His great wisdom has chosen to leave the return of Christ shrouded in a level of mystery, because He loves us. He, the greatest psychologist, allowed Christís return to be somewhere in the distant future for a great purpose. The reason God the Father makes it seem that Christ delays His coming is to benefit us as we have seen today by motivating us, by testing us, and by shaping us. Yet the return of Christ must remain the great focus of our Christian hope. Time may pass; the years go by; signs come and go, but the promise remains as solid as ever.

I Thessalonians. 5: 1-10 -- But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3But when they say, peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5You are all sons son of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night 8But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10    who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

Perhaps that day is nearer than we think; perhaps it is not. Everyday, though, we are closer and closer, and we know that the day will come when we will finally be with our Lord.

Let's keep the hope alive, therefore. Letís keep the longing more vibrant than ever.  In the meantime,  letís grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ; letís allow God to mature us and to complete us, so that when Christ will appear we will indeed be ready meet Him, with exceeding joy.

 Michael Caputo

 

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This article may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, as long as author is acknowledged.

 ©  Copyright, Michael Caputo, 2008

 

 

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