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,
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.
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:
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,
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:
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:
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."
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.