Skip to content

Hindus, Adventists and a 1,000-Year Perspective

Hindu, Adventist Prayer

A couple of years ago, while attending a major meeting in Florida at Hindu University of America (HUA), I repeatedly heard something that really got me thinking. In fact, I’ve not quit thinking about it since. So I invite you to think about it with me.

During my nearly 11 years as executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida (2011 to 2022), I interacted extensively with individual Hindus and various Hindu institutions in our region. I got on HUA’s email list, and when the university invited faculty, donors, and friends to hear a report about a reworked vision and long-range strategic plan, I was invited to the meeting. 

A unique wrinkle that added to my interest in attending was that the Hindu community had recently purchased Pine Lake Retreat from the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and hoped to relocate HUA to that site. They had also bought a large adjoining parcel from another property owner, making viable the creation of a major international Hindu center.

So what did the Hindus say at that meeting that so stirred my thoughts? 

Repeatedly, the presenters said that the goal was to cast a vision and make plans so effectively that it would be reasonable to expect Hindu University of America to be going strong 1,000 years from now. Whether talking finances, curriculum, building construction, environmental impact or ongoing reassessments of effectiveness, they made it clear that plans must be built around at least a 1,000-year vision. Short-term expediency must never trump sustainability and longevity.

The Hindus’ 1,000-year emphasis definitely grabbed my attention. 

2,000+ Years Without Jesus’ Return

Some 2,000 years have passed since the first followers of Jesus began looking for his return. We’re not talking here about an extremist fringe that merely speculated that Jesus might come back in their lifetime or soon thereafter. No, we’re talking about such spiritual luminaries as the apostles Paul, Peter, and John. Men whose names appear repeatedly throughout the New Testament. These heroes of the Christian faith made it clear to their contemporaries: Jesus is coming back soon

Paul even advised those who had never married, or who were widowed, not to marry because “the time is short” and “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:25-31). That doesn’t sound as if he expected 2,000 or more years to pass before those predictions would be realized.

And when John says three times in Revelation 22 that Jesus is returning soon, he obviously wasn’t expecting 2,000 or more years to elapse.

Closer to home, we’re looking at some 200 elapsed years since the forebears of Seventh-day Adventism began seriously preaching the soon return of Jesus.

More than 65 years have passed since my first crystal-clear memories of breathless preaching about Christ’s soon return. Ironically, many of the specific events and situations used as proof of the nearness of Jesus’ return have already faded into history, and new “proofs” have been sought. Let me cite just a few of the many perceived signs of the times from a few decades ago.

1957 The Russians launched Sputnik, and the space race was on! Many Adventists viewed it as the modern equivalent of the Tower of Babel and a sign of Christ’s imminent return.

1960 John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic elected U.S. president, with perceived Revelation 13 implications.

1964 Noah had preached for 120 years before the flood came. The year 1964 was 120 years after 1844—and the Bible says, “As it was in the days of Noah” . . .  

1967 The Six-Day War broke out in the Middle East. Would it morph into the battle of Armageddon and Jesus’ return?

1973 Hostilities flared again between the surrounding Arab nations and Israel in the Yom Kippur War, resulting in a global energy crisis—a sure sign of the end.

1976 When the most openly religious U.S. presidential candidate ever, Jimmy Carter, won the U.S. presidency, the “image to the beast” prophecy of Revelation 13 was trotted out for serious consideration. 

2000 As the new millennium approached, some Adventists reasoned that creation took six days, then came God’s Sabbath rest. If the world is about 6,000 years old (based on Bishop Ussher’s chronology and Ellen G. White’s statements), Christ’s return and a millennial Sabbath must be just around the corner.

The foregoing are but a few of the perceived signs of the times to which many Adventists have pointed during my lifetime. But there are many more, either interspersed with the events I’ve just cited or arriving on the scene more recently: the Cuban missile crisis, the emergence of UPC bar codes,the widespread use of credit cards,Y2K, 9-11, climate change, crime, wars, the rise of feminism, declining church attendance, wide acceptance of evolution, the impact of television and the Internet, advocacy for LGBTQ rights, and more. 

All the foregoing have at some point been seen as sure indicators of the soon coming of Jesus. And currently I often hear the lament: “Things just can’t get any worse.” I disagree. Strongly. Things have been substantially worse in the past. And things can certainly get a lot worse once again. Just one example:

World War II saw some 75 million people killed in a span of less than a decade. Of that number, some 20 million were military deaths. The balance—most of whom were civilians—were collateral damage of war activities, victims of deliberate genocide by tyrants, or people killed by disease, starvation or other sequelae of war. Yet even those staggering statistics added up to the destruction of only about 3 percent of the world’s population at that time. 

So, could things get dramatically worse? Absolutely. We read in Matthew 24: 21: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.”

The 2nd Advent, Effectively

I don’t presume to know how soon Jesus will return—at least not in terms of dates. However, I’m fully convinced that, effectively, the coming of Jesus has always been relatively soon—right from the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in Eden. 

When we die, Jesus has effectively come for us. Whether we rest in the grave for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, or millennia, the very next thing we will experience is the coming of Jesus. 

I would suggest that for every person who has ever lived or who ever will live, the return of Jesus, effectively, has never been more than that person’s lifetime away. So, effectively, his coming has always been relatively soon for everyone.

But when it comes to teaching and preaching about Jesus’ return, the word “soon” needs to be carefully qualified—if it‘s used at all. I’d vote to drop it from our eschatological vocabulary.

As already noted, the apostle Paul clearly thought the expression “the time is short” meant something dramatically sooner than it has turned out to be. William Miller, Ellen G. White, and all the other contributors to Adventism’s rise likewise thought that “soon” would be dramatically sooner tha it has proved to be. 

Someday, someone will say, “Jesus is coming soon,” and indeed Jesus will arrive within a timeframe that comports with the common understanding of soon. In fact, Christ’s coming may even be sooner than many would believe possible. Remember, it will come “like a thief in the night.” 

But for the past 2,000 years, every prediction—let me repeat that: every prediction—of Christ’s soon return has failed, whether time-specific or a mere time generality. To not candidly acknowledge this abysmal track record of predictions, and to continue to emphasize the soon coming of Jesus by pointing to current events—when we truly don’t have a clue as to how soon it will be—erodes the credibility of the Adventist message and diminishes the blessed hope that the promise of Christ’s return should instill in us.

Restrained Enthusiasm

In 2 Peter 3:8, we read: “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.” In other words, time isn’t the same thing for God that it is for us. 

“But,” you say with absolute conviction and noticeable derision as you sense where I’m headed, “another thousand years or more simply will not pass before Jesus returns!” And I respond, “Says who?” Whether his coming will be a thousand days away or a thousand years away is beyond our pay grade to predict. So acknowledging and preparing for both possibilities seems the prudent course. 

Adventism’s 19th-century spiritual forebears were blinded by their unrestrained enthusiasm for Christ’s return. But one Great Disappointment is more than enough. We gain nothing—and lose much—by trying to evoke a fever-pitch response to every current event that even might be considered a sign of Jesus’ return. 

After the Great Disappointment, we are without excuse for our failure to recognize that most of the verses of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 do not enumerate specific signs of Jesus’ coming so much as warn against the danger of seeing time-specific signs where time-specific signs don’t exist. 

Those chapters warn us not to get carried away by those who claim to have earth’s eschatology all figured out. Those chapters mean exactly what they say: No humans know the day nor the hour. And there’s no addendum to say: But you might be able to figure out the month or the year or the decade.

But back to the Hindus with their 1,000-year-viability vision and strategic plan. 

Does “Soon” Evoke Skepticism?

How might Adventism be different today if our pre-1844 forebears—and especially our post-1844 forebears—had simultaneously emphasized:

  • The beauty and certainty of Jesus’ promised return and the resurrection of the dead, which will be followed by an eternity spent with God?
  • Humanity’s well-documented inability to pinpoint when that will happen?

Our motivation for seeking to be in a right relationship with God should not be based exclusively or even primarily on the urgency created by Christ’s return—because the more time that passes without his return, the weaker our motivation will become, both individually and collectively, and the fewer the number who will be motivated at all by what we say. 

Our focus should be on living in a positive, dynamic, energizing, life-enhancing, humanity-benefitting relationship with God every moment of every day because that’s the life for which humans were designed. It’s the “abundant life” that Jesus came to give (John 10:10). 

Conversely, every moment spent in a life of indifference, self-absorption, or self-destruction takes its toll. It’s living, as Henry David Thoreau puts it, “as if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

During the past two centuries, Adventists and their forebears have probably been Christianity’s most strident and vocal promoters of the soon return of Jesus. But despite our enthusiasm, we got it wrong in 1844. And the post-1844 forecasts of Christ’s soon return haven’t fared any better. 

Why would we expect our predictions concerning the nearness of Christ’s return to be more accurate than were those of the apostle Paul, a man personally converted by Jesus on the Damascus Road? Or more accurate than the apostle John, who was especially close to Jesus throughout Christ’s earthly ministry? 

Wouldn’t it be prudent for us to ask ourselves how credible our preaching of the “soon coming” and our highlighting of the “signs of the times” will be in, say, another 100 or 200 years, should Christ not have returned yet? 

How many times can we whip up white-hot enthusiasm about the nearness of his coming before our audience—and we ourselves—become jaded and skeptical? And how can we positively impact the world long-term if we refuse to unpack our suitcases and settle in for the duration—be that duration long or short.

Over the years, some very sincere Adventists have clamored for the General Conference and other church entities to show that Adventism’s leaders truly believe that Jesus is coming soon by spending for evangelism the organizational reserves that are currently kept to ensure that there’s no need to constantly lay off employees, cut programs or liquidate church assets with every ebb of the economy. 

Of course, prudent church leaders recognize the folly of depleting reserves as an act of faith. And the few leaders who haven’t understood that folly—who have taken extreme risks in the name of exercising faith—have typically discovered some grim realities about the limits of faith. 

Because of our emphasis on how short our sojourn on earth will be, we Adventists have eschewed highly beneficial funding tools such as endowments. How well might our education system be funded today if from our denomination’s inception we had designated a percentage of all donations to go into carefully structured endowments? 

Because of our inordinate emphasis that Jesus’ coming will be soon, members and onlookers can be excused for viewing any major Adventist Church investment in brick and mortar as a tacit admission that we as a church don’t really believe in the urgency we claim in our preaching. 

It would be far more productive if we could simply present an exuberant and enticing picture of how grand and wonderful the coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead will be—whenever that happens—while simultaneously acknowledging that Christ’s return may still be a long way off. Because, for the entirety of Christian history, those events haven’t happened on the timetable that some of Christ’s most committed followers have predicted. As a denomination, we should be strongly emphasizing what we can emphasize unequivocally, and fling our propensity for breathless speculation onto the scrapheap, where it belongs.

Florida’s Hindus want to ensure that every move they make concerning Hindu University of America will help to ensure the institution’s viability 1,000 years from now. 

Is there any reason why Seventh-day Adventists shouldn’t seek to teach with such balance and such candor and such enthusiasm about the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead that a thousand years from now our message’s credibility, impact, applicability and appeal would not have waned in the slightest, should Jesus still have not yet made his every-eye-shall-see-him return?

About the author

James (Jim) Coffin is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After retiring from denominational employment in 2011, he served for nearly 12 years as Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Advent Health’s Central Florida Division. During his ministerial career, he worked in both the United States (26 years) and Australia (10 years), serving 9 years as a youth pastor, 4 years as assistant editor of the Adventist Review, 5 years as senior editor at Signs Publishing Company in Australia, and 18 years as senior pastor at Markham Woods Church in Longwood, Florida. He has authored three books, written some 100 op-eds for the Orlando Sentinel (usually addressing religious or social/ethical topics), and has written widely for an array of Adventist publications and websites. He and his wife, Leonie, have three adult sons. More from James Coffin.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.