Would you agree with me that mentioning the word “delay” while discussing Christ’s second coming is tricky? “Delay” comes into play only when a particular action has not occurred at the time it was to have occurred. In other words, “Delay” refers to an earlier time at which a particular action was supposed to have taken place.
So if we use the word “delay” from the human perspective or if we ask, “Why is Jesus’ second coming delayed?” we imply knowledge of the [exact] date and time of the Lord’s second coming (Parousia). But the Bible categorically asserts that no one, not even one, other than God the Father, knows the precise date and time of the Lord’s second coming. Hence, we ask the question from God’s perspective, “Why Is God the Father or Jesus Delaying HIS Second Coming?”
The delay of Christ’s second coming is a topic of interest to many. Unbelievers, skeptics, and even some honest Christians may use this so-called delay as an opportunity to slander or be skeptical about the Christian faith or the Christian anticipation of the Lord’s second coming.
Even C.S Lewis was not spared from this malady of skepticism, for he termed Christ’s reference to HIS return as an embarrassing verse in the Bible. With reference to Matthew 24: 34, C.S Lewis said, “Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.” It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”1
So how do we understand these passages that seem to suggest that Christ would return within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses?
Dr. William Lane Craig helps us to understand these passages better, “What about those passages where Jesus seems to speak as though his return might occur within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses? I think that it is probably the case that when you read these sayings in their original settings that they were not intended to indicate that Jesus would return within the lifetime of those who were hearing him. I say that on the basis of a passage in Matthew 10 where Jesus gives the charge to the twelve disciples to go on a mission preaching throughout the towns of Israel. This passage actually sharpens the problem for us. It makes it more acute. And by doing so I think it gives us good grounds for thinking that these sayings in their original context didn’t have the implications that they might appear to in the context in which we find them today. In Matthew 10 it says he sends the disciples out to the cities of Israel, to preach and cast out unclean spirits, and heal people of every disease. And he says, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles. Do not enter a city of the Samaritans. Go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So this is a tour of preaching that is only going to be through the cities of Israel. He describes what will happen – how the disciples will be persecuted and encounter opposition, and so forth. Then in verse 23, we find this astounding statement, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another, for assuredly I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” So here it sounds as though the second coming of Christ, the return of the Son of Man, is going to occur before the disciples even complete their preaching tour of the towns of Israel. And yet we know that didn’t happen. Luke goes on to talk about how they returned from this preaching tour and Jesus continues to work with his disciples. What this suggests to me is that in the original context in which these saying were given, they didn’t have the implication that they appear to have to us today who read them in a quite different context. In the original context, these things did not mean that Jesus was going to return during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses anymore than this saying in Matthew 10:23 meant that the parousia was going to occur before the disciples had gone through all of the towns of Israel on their teaching tour.
So we need to remember what kind of literature the Gospels are. The Gospels are compilations of the sayings of Jesus. Very often, these sayings of Jesus will appear in different literary contexts today than they did in the original contexts in which they were given. I think we have good grounds for thinking – based on his parables about the long delay, based upon his sayings that no one knows the time of his return – that in their original context these sayings were not meant to imply that the parousia would take place within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. It might. But, not necessarily. Every generation needs to be prepared to be the last.”2 (Emphasis Mine).
Having resolved the skepticism about passages that seem to suggest that Christ should have returned already, let us focus on the mindset of those Christians who may be disgusted and frustrated with the quantum of evil they encounter in this world. They hope that Christ would return soon and save them from pain and suffering.
As we wait for Christ’s second coming, we wonder whether Christ would return in our lifetime or not. Subsequently we contemplate the quantum of pain our next generation / our children and their children would have to undergo if Christ delays HIS second coming. The more we think of the delay of our Lord’s second coming, we cannot help but feel sad. However, we wait in eager hope that the Lord Jesus would come one day and save us from the misery of a life we are living.
Does the Bible motivate us to think that Christ’s return is imminent (possibility of happening soon)? It seems that the imminence of the Lord’s second coming is portrayed in the following verses:
1. Christ urged HIS disciples to be ready for HIS return (Mathew 24-25).
2. Christ’s second coming is at hand (Romans 8: 19-25; 1 Corinthians 1: 7; Philippians 4: 5).
3. Paul’s statement that we await our blessed hope (Titus 2: 13) requires that the next event in God’s plan is the coming of the Lord. On the other hand, if Paul had said that the next step is the great tribulation, then we would have been inundated with fear and apprehensiveness.
But there are certain other biblical passages that compel us to think that the Lord’s second coming need not be imminent. Consider the parables of the nobleman who went to a distant country (Luke 19: 11-27), the wise and the foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 5), the talents (Matthew 25: 19). These parables inform us that there would be a long delay in the return of our Lord.
Moreover, certain events are to be fulfilled before the Lord returns. The gospel should be preached to all nations (Matthew 24: 14), great tribulation should occur (Mark 13: 7-8), coming of the man of sin and rebellion (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-10), powerful signs in heaven (Matthew 24: 29), salvation of Israel (Romans 9-11) etc. Studying these signs would lead us to think that the second coming of our Lord is not imminent i.e., it would take a very long time until the Lord returns again.
So there is no delay in the Lord’s second coming. It’s just that the timing for the Lord’s return is not right as yet.
The Lord will return when we least expect HIM to (Matthew 24: 44, Acts 1: 7). God’s timeline is radically different from our expectations (Cf. 2 Peter 3:8-10).
Let us not get too worked up thinking that our generation would be the last generation and that Christ would surely return in our lifetime. But let us continue to be patient and eagerly wait and hope for the Lord’s second coming.
1http://merecslewis.blogspot.in/2014/01/the-most-embarrassing-verse-in-bible.html, accessed on 19th January 2017.
2http://www.reasonablefaith.org/q-a-was-jesus-wrong, accessed on 19th January 2017.