This is not a scholarly discourse on the perceived delay of the Parousia. It is a personal pastoral reflection on something which has been at the very heart of Seventh-day Adventism from its inception and has been on my mind since my early childhood.
We are a community of faith that was conceived in the aftermath of the 1844 Great Disappointment. We were so persuaded Jesus would come in October 1844 that we sold everything and waited — and waited —- until our eager anticipation turned into bitter tears of a shattered sweet dream when Jesus did not show up.
We soldiered on nonetheless and soon came to terms with our misinterpretation of Scriptures. We rebuilt ourselves and, in 1863, made the very same much anticipated yet unfulfilled event, the second coming of Jesus, the official, legal, and eschatological other half of our identity—Adventists.
We have thus been preaching, teaching, praying, and singing about the coming of Jesus ever since. However, that Jesus didn’t come in no way does away with the scores of Scriptural promises that he will eventually come. One hundred and seventy three years on (1844-2017) today’s Blessed Hope is still yesteryear’s Blessed Hope, although one may legitimately sigh, “How much longer, oh Lord!”
What looks to us like a “delay” may not necessarily be so for God who lives outside of the constraints of time as we know it. There are at least 60 occurrences of delay in Scriptures: Isaiah 48:9, Matthew 24:48, Revelation 6:10, and 10:6 and others.
Ellen G. White addressed the issue of the apparent delay over a period of 42 years between 1868 and 1910, five years before she died. It makes for some rather uncomfortable reading. Writing in the General Conference bulletin of March 30, 1903, she says, “I know that if the people of God had preserved a living connection with Him, if they had obeyed His word, they would today be in the heavenly Canaan.” Sobering words indeed!
The interim between the “already” and the “not yet”
How we occupy between the “already” of the first Advent and the “not yet” of the Second Advent is crucial. We can doze off like the ten virgins and miss out on the banquet, like five of them did, when the Bridegroom finally arrived. We can say, “My Lord delays His coming” and squander the time and resources we have been given. We can even begin to doubt and start saying that things haven’t much changed since the promises were made some two thousand years ago, and therefore, how can we be so sure that there will be a second coming after all. Or we can join the scoffers as Peter predicted there would be (2 Peter 3:3-12):
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God hastening the coming of the day of God (Darby Version).
You should do what you can to make it come soon (New Life Version).
You should look forward to that day and hurry it along (Living Translation).
You should look forward to the day when God judges everyone, and you should try to make it come soon (Contemporary English Version).
Earnestly longing for the coming of the day of God (JB Phillips Version).
Waiting for and hasting to the presence of the day of God (Young’s Literal Translation).
You should look for the day of God and do everything you can to make it come quickly (World English Translation).
On the other hand, we can go about God’s business, as never before, with renewed zeal, earnestness, and conviction, tried and tested in the daily personal relationship we develop with the Lord to “hasten” His coming which is borne out of our deep desire to be with Christ for ever more. God has many who are unprepared. He exercises His patience, wanting as many as possible to come to repentance and be saved. Several New Testament versions support the concept of our part in “speeding up” Christ’s coming, while the JB Phillips Version emphasizes the idea of “earnest longing.”
Could LOVE be the answer?
There are many ideas floating around in Adventism about why Jesus has not returned. In my childhood and teenage years, my peers and I we were absolutely certain Jesus would return in our generation. I even questioned the necessity of studying, preparing, and planning for an earthly future since there would not be one.
Whether or not we believe, it is presumptuous of us to think there is anything at all we can, or should, do to “hasten” the coming of Christ, but one thing is crystal clear: Jesus will return when God decides Matthew 24:14 has been achieved:
The Gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (ESV)
God’s patience is not open-ended and indefinite.
At any rate, there are two aspects to the Second Coming: a personal and a global. We have dwelt on the global. On a personal level, however, Jesus will come in our lifetime. When we close our eyes in the sleep of death, the moment we open them again it will be resurrection morn. We will see Jesus face to face at His return. It will be, and feel, like in the twinkling of an eye! Meanwhile, we are here, and it seems to me there is something we need to make paramount in our daily lives. This is encapsulated in that little word “LOVE.”
Perhaps the central and most comprehensive theme in the writings of Ellen G. White is that of love. The phrase "God is love" provides the beginning and ending words in her five-volume treatment of the Conflict of the Ages, with more than 3,500 pages in between.
It is the theme that undergirds and provides the context for all other themes in her writings. "Such love is without a parallel," she wrote in the first chapter of her classic book Steps to Christ.
The matchless love of God for a world that did not love Him! The thought has a subduing power upon the soul and brings the mind into captivity to the will of God. The more we study the divine character in the light of the cross, the more we see mercy, tenderness, and forgiveness blended with equity and justice, and the more clearly we discern innumerable evidences of a love that is infinite and a tender pity surpassing a mother's yearning sympathy for her wayward child" (Steps to Christ, p. 15).
The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of God’s Character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 413-415).
Isn’t our greatest challenge as a church, while we wait, pray, proclaim, and work in order to “hasten” Christ’s coming, to cultivate an authentic and passionate love for God, an empathic, non-judgemental, and unconditional love for each other, and a burning love for the lost? Is it possible that when that love is fully reproduced in Christ’s followers the much anticipated latter rain will fall and salvation history will come to its grand finale in the Parousia?
Claude Lombart writes from the village of Binfield, UK, where he is in active retirement. He holds an emeritus pastoral credential from the BUC. Lombart has served in several countries in francophone West Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand, Scotland, and England in leadership, departmental, teaching, pastoral, and counsellor roles. He is a regular contributor to several church papers and has recently published a book on successful relationships.
Image: Photo by Lori M. Sousa on Unsplash
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