Posted by Marvin Newell.
What is your opinion about the second coming of Christ? How does it inform your missiology? More specifically, how does it relate to your idea of “finishing the task?” Jesus promised us that he would be with us until “the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Most consider that end will be when Jesus returns to earth a second time. Yet, I see three common errors in this regard.
- The subtle feeling that Jesus is not really coming back. It has been a long, long time – 2000 years – since Jesus walked on planet earth and promised that he would reappear. Generation after generation of believers have banked on Jesus returning in their lifetime, only to be disheartened that he did not. The subtle feeling easily creeps into our minds that by the promise remaining unfulfilled means it will not really occur. Did you awake this morning with even an inkling that Jesus might return today? Probably not. Did you pray for it to happen? Probably not. Did you hope for it to happen? Probably not. You likely didn’t give it a second thought. We have become increasingly agnostic about its possibility to the point of doubting its probability. Yet, it was Jesus himself who said during his first appearance on earth, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him…” (Mt 25:31-32). He mentioned his coming a second time as fact, not an empty promise.
- The belief that Jesus’ delayed return is our fault. There is a prevailing guilt complex that is based on the belief that we have not done our part to bring Jesus back. After all Jesus said, “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” (Mt 24:14). The thought is that because we have been slow, lazy, unenthused and even disobedient about taking the gospel to the world, Jesus cannot yet return. He is impatiently waiting for us to do our part. This belief is based on a humanistic managerial supposition that Jesus’ return is dependent on us, not him. It is posited, if we would only ratchet up our evangelistic efforts, then we will make possible Jesus’ second coming. However, remember that when the disciples asked an identical question about the future, Jesus’ response was, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Act 1:7). God the Father will send his Son the second time when he sees fit. It is all about his timing and plan, not ours. It is all about his authority, not our activity.
- The belief that Jesus cannot return until all people groups are reached. This view is held based on the assurance that all ethnic groups will be represented before the throne of God in heaven (Rev 5:9, 7:9) and since not all have been “reached,” Jesus cannot return. However, does not awaiting the evangelization of all the ethnicities in the world (according to our measurements) contradict belief in the imminent return of Christ?
Both Matthew 28:19 and Luke 24:47 command the church to reach every ethno-linguistic group (panta ta ethne). There will be representatives in heaven from each of them (Rev. 5:9, 7:9, 15:3-4) and yet it is estimated that of 16,700 people groups in the world only 9,653 have been “reached.” Does this mean that Jesus cannot yet return?
It does not – and here is why:
- Efforts in the past. We do not know for certain if a people group that seems to be unreached now was not evangelized in the past. A good example is Turkey. In past centuries the church thrived in that country. Sadly, there are very few believers in that land today. Certainly if Jesus was to return this very hour there would be many ethnics from Turkey in heaven – believers from Galatia, Colossae, and Ephesus – since the gospel was embraced by many of those residents in the distant past.
- Efforts in the present. With the current migration of peoples across the globe, we do not know if representatives from highly restricted countries containing unreached people groups have been brought to Christ in their host country. Neither do we know if there are those within unreached people blocks who, unknown to us, have been reached through media technology such as Christian radio broadcasts, television, or Internet. We do know that there are secret believers in highly restricted places like Saudi Arabia who have found Christ through these means.
- Efforts in the future. The end times must be considered. Those of differing eschatological opinions may take exception to my view of The End Times, but follow this plausible explanation.
From Revelation chapter 7 we know that after God takes the Church out of the world, he will preserve 144,000 witnesses from Israel. These witnesses who will be on earth during a time of great tribulation, will have the opportunity to proclaim the gospel around the globe. Theirs will be the task of “mopping up” the last remaining people groups still needing to be evangelized before the final end comes.
Though we don’t know for certain, it could well be that at this moment, if Jesus were to return to earth, there would be representatives from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation gathered before his throne to praise him and thank him for his provision of salvation. We also do not know for certain, but it could be that a final ingathering will take place later by the witness of the 144,000. But because of what we do know from Scripture, it is our responsibility to reach all peoples that are still unengaged and unreached. This does not lessen our obligation.
So, what’s your opinion about the second coming of Christ? Do you believe in it? Do you think you must ”finish the task” to make it happen? Do you think it could happen at any moment? I’d like to know.