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Can the Lord return tonight?

Rev C Bouwman 

When shall Christ return? The conviction that Christ will one day came back to earth has led over the years to a whole wave of material coming off the religious press, material that would explain just how late it is on God’s clock, yes, material that would convince us too that now Jesus is coming soon because certain signs are happening.

As society becomes increasingly godless (and the turn of the millennium approaches!), numerous become the more interested in the whole notion of Christ’s return, and when this might occur. In our minds lives the thought that certain tribulations must first occur before Jesus Christ can return on the clouds of heaven. That perception in our minds leads in turn to two conclusions: the one is that Christ cannot return today (because the times aren’t bad enough yet), and the other is that we’re in for some dark days in time to come as the Great Tribulation unfolds itself upon us. These two conclusions lead in turn to two other perceptions: the one is that we have some time left to straighten ourselves out before we have to face the Judge, and the other is that efforts to improve society in fact work against the return of Christ.

Lindsey & Holwerda 

Very ironically, the notion that Christ cannot and will not return tonight has been encouraged upon us from two radically opposing sides. In 1970 Hal Lindsey published his best-seller, The Late Great Planet Earth. He argued in his book that the prophets of Scripture had their binoculars trained specifically on the closing decades of the 20th century, and so foretold the events that would happen in the last number of years. His argument was that Christ was coming soon, because the events announced in Scripture preceding Christ’s return were now unfolding. Of course, the implication of this argument is that the Lord cannot come back tonight. This conclusion, popular as it was in the general Christian world, has had its effect upon us too.

On the other hand, many of us have been influenced by what Prof B Holwerda said in his 1949 speech to the Reformed youth of the Netherlands. He intimated too that Christ could not come back tonight. He said, for example, to the youth of 1949, 

"...the seventh head of the Beast is coming, and after him the Antichrist as the eighth.... We see it being fulfilled before our eyes."  And further:  "...now we stand only at the beginning. All this will become much worse, as soon as the Antichrist appears." That is not open for misinterpretation; the implication is that, to Holwerda’s thinking, Christ could not come back on the night of his address. First the Antichrist had to appear. 

We live 50 years later. Has the Antichrist appeared? Not in Holwerda’s understanding of the Antichrist. So we conclude too: Christ cannot come back tonight.

Confirmation 

With minds fixed in this pattern of thinking, we open our Bibles … and find confirmation for our thoughts. We think, for example, of Jesus’ words on the Mt of Olives as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke:

"You will hear of wars and rumours of wars.... Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes.... Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and kill you.... Then many will be offended, will betray one another.... Then many false prophets will rise up…. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold…. Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until this time…. And unless those days had were shortened, no flesh would be saved…" (Mt 24:6ff).  Our thoughts go also to II Thessalonians.  "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who … sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2:3f).  We’re convinced: we’re in for some dark times…. So as we face the future, we put our teeth together in faith, convinced that on the other side of the suffering is the crown that makes all suffering worthwhile. But that crown will not come soon; Jesus will not return tonight because the Antichrist has not yet appeared….

Correction

Yet I put it to you, my reader, that this particular conclusion is not Scriptural. For Christ told His disciples that no one would be able to predict when He would return. Said Jesus to His disciples just before His betrayal,

"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (Mt 24:42).  And Jesus added: "But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (vss 43f). To convince us that Yes, the Lord could come back before you’re finished reading this article, I wish to draw out briefly the words quoted above from Mt 24.

Context

Jesus’ disciples had been gazing at the buildings of the temple. They were quite taken in by these architectural marvels, and so drew their Master’s attention to the temple. Jesus’ response took the winds out of their sails. He said to them:

"Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Mt 24:1f). The twelve were taken aback by this statement. So, at the opportune moment, they asked Jesus when these things might be. They assumed that the temple would be destroyed at the same time as Christ’s return in glory (vs 3). Hence their question: "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the close of the age?" A sign to show when Jesus was coming back: that’s what the disciples desired. Well now, Jesus gave an answer to that question. His answer was that there would be no sign

No Sign

Observe the side-bar. There cannot be a plainer way to state that Jesus’ return will be unexpected; there will not be signs that can conclusively prove that He’s coming in 2 minutes or 2 hours or 2 years. Notice what Jesus says in vs 36:

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." And the Lord goes on to speak about the days of Noah (vss 37ff). For 120 years Noah had been building on his ark and in so doing telling the people every day anew that the flood was coming. But, says Jesus, when the big day came the people were not ready. Each was doing his normal, everyday thing, eating and drinking as on any day, courting and marrying like on any day. To the minds of the people, the present was comfortable, the future looked stable, nothing was going to change. Nothing spectacular happened to suggest that destruction was upon them – until the heavens opened and the rains fell, the earth belched and water boiled up from the depths. Suddenly, surprisingly, while they were enjoying their lunch, while the bride was vowing her allegiance to her groom, suddenly, surprisingly, the end was upon them, the flood a deadly reality.

That’s the kind of thing, says Christ, that will happen on the Last Day as well (vss 40ff). Everybody will be doing his normal, everyday thing. A sign to warn us Christ will not give. Suddenly, like an accident, He will be there. Two will be in a car; one will be taken, the other left. As on any other night, all will go to bed; one will be taken, the rest left. As on any other morning of any other day, the men will bid their wives farewell to go to their daily work. And while they work, the one will be taken, the other will be left. As on any other day, the mothers will be working the household mill to grind grain for the children’s bread; one will be taken, and the other left. Suddenly, unexpectedly, while all are busy with that common, everyday activity, He’s there.

"What will be the sign of your coming?" the disciples had asked. Jesus’ answer was pointed: there will be no sign. Says Jesus: "You do not know what hour your Lord is coming."

My Coffee…

Here is a point, dear reader, that we need to have clear in our minds. Few of us, if any, got out of bed this morning with the thought in mind that maybe today shall be the Big Day; few of us, if any, actually expect Christ to appear physically in our midst this morning. Like the disciples, we think in terms of there first needing to appear some signs indicating that now Jesus is nearly here…. But Jesus disagrees with us. His word is unambiguous: "You do not know what hour your Lord is coming." All we know is that He will come back, unannounced. Let no one tell you, then, that Christ cannot come back before your coffee is finished. It simply is not true; He can come back, at any moment. Not for nothing did Jesus add that parable about the thief. As the possibility is real that a thief breaks into my house when I next go out for a visit, so there is equally the possibility that the Lord returns before nightfall.