Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is Jesus Coming Soon? Really?

The latest failure to predict the date of the end of the world brings to mind a thought I have had for some time:    Is Jesus really coming soon?  It has been a main tenet of Christianity for decades and even centuries that Jesus is coming back.  Let me say at the outset that the certainty of His return is NOT under question here.  That He will return is patently obvious with even a cursory reading of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels and Revelation.

The vast majority of evangelical pastors believe that Jesus will come back very, very soon.  My father has preached this truth for nearly 50 years, and my current pastor has done the same for almost as long. Who can blame them?  They began their ministries in the 60s, when it seemed the whole world was falling apart around them. Vietnam, the drug culture, free "love", a rebellious music culture, political posturing, attempted and successful assassinations, the Cold War and the arms race all made it seem as though the world could end at any moment. The biggest selling book in the 70s was a book about prophecy, "The Late, Great, Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey, ultimately selling 28 million copies by 1990 (Wikipedia).

But, clearly, the return of Jesus has not happened.  Why not?  I think there are some reasons to think that His return may not be as "imminent" as has been thought.

First, consider that the Tribulation, the 7-year time period of divine wrath, is to be the culmination of God's judgement on the earth. It is to be the apex, the grand climax of history.  It is true that the world is in bad shape, but is it SO bad as to warrant this type of treatment? A quote, attributed to Billy Graham in the 60s,  said that if God didn't come back soon, He would owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology. Ignore, please, the idea that man would tell God that He had to apologize for anything.  Look instead at the type of situation that caused these two cities to be destroyed.  They were full of sexual immorality, to the point of being unsafe to be outside at night.  "Big deal.  My neighbourhood is like that." Yes, but not the entire city.  Not the entire country.  Not the whole world.  Furthermore, EVERYONE in the city came and wanted to engage in their perversion with unwilling participants - demanding it so forcefully, in fact, as to endanger the life of the man, Lot, who was trying to protect them.  Even then, if God had found 10 believers, He would have spared the cities, as He had promised to Abraham.

Is our society THAT wicked, at this moment?  It could be better, yes, but it could be a lot, lot worse, and I submit that it will have to get a lot worse before God's patience runs out.  God promised Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan. However, he would have to wait for it, "for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." At least four hundred years would pass before the Israelites were freed from Egypt to conquer the Promised Land, and even then, God would wait another 40 years, owing to the rebellion of His nation.  God is LONG suffering, way more than any of us might be.

Another difficulty with the imminent idea has to do with the new temple. According to popular thought, the temple will be built on Mount Zion, or the Temple Mount, the site of Solomon's Temple.  The key difficulty here is that there is already a structure there - the Dome of the Rock, completed in A.D. 691.  It is one of the most sacred shrines in all of Islam.  Are Muslims enthusiastic about their religion?  Consider that they are willing to kill people for drawing pictures of Muhammad, and it will be easy to imagine what would happen if anybody even remotely suggested the idea of tearing down a 1,320-year-old sacred shrine, and building in its stead another temple, belonging to their sworn enemy.

If this were some marginal religion without any real clout, it might not be an issue. However, there are over 1.65 billion Muslims in the world, according to a study by Houssain Kettani, in January, 2010. That figure constitutes about 24% of the world's population.  Another report estimates that there will be over 2 billion within the next 20 years. Almost all of this increase will be due to births, as there is a large number of youth of child-bearing age within the religion.  If Islam is growing at such a rate, why would they even consider compromising on the holy site of Bait-ul-Muqaddas, the Noble Sanctuary, the third most holy site in all of Islam? It is hard, at present, to imagine a circumstance that would permit any world leader to convince Muslim leaders to agree to a peace agreement that included such a provision.

It is true that God is sovereign, and that "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD."   God can change circumstances in a heartbeat. However, based on the patience of God, and the Muslim demographic, perhaps the question that has been asked for so long, "Are we ready for Jesus to come soon?" might better be changed to "Are we ready for Jesus NOT to come soon?"