At almost every communion service (not just in Advent) Anglicans proclaim, ‘Christ will come again’. It would, however, be fascinating to do a survey of what people mean by it (those who don’t just say it without thinking). Some would mean he comes to us in the communion service; others that he comes through the Holy Spirit or to the believer at death. I wonder how many believe the statement literally: that he will come on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory and he will be seen by all the nations of the earth.
And, of those, I wonder how many of them believe this will happen soon. After all isn’t this the realm of those eccentrics who walk down the High Street carrying a placards proclaiming: ‘Prepare to meet thy doom’? True there are those who have (quite unbiblically) set a date for the Second Coming which has, of course, proved wrong. Others are so obsessed with the subject that they are neither use nor ornament in the church and its mission to the world.
Nor does it help that some Christians have future events all mapped out in great detail. They argue about minor details and even excommunicate one another over secondary disagreements. I do not believe that God intended us to have everything sorted out in such detail. The meaning of some prophecy will only become apparent very close to the time of its fulfilment, and it will require sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in order to recognise it.
Having said that, I think many Christians would not recognise a fulfilled prophecy or sign of the ‘end times’ if it came complete with large letters written in the sky. These are the careful saints. They never commit themselves on this subject so they never risk being wrong. It has been said that if you want people to think you’re wise keep quiet! These people are not prophetic but pathetic.
They point out with mocking tone that people have thought various evil leaders in history were the Antichrist. Ha, ha, it all proved inaccurate – or did it? John said 2000 years ago that there were many antichrists in his day. Clearly the ultimate manifestation of the Antichrist is still future but these evil leaders in history may well have been antichrist. And they were pointers to the coming Antichrist.
A large number of Christians love to ‘spiritualise’ prophecy. It really is very convenient and gives a maximum flexibility of interpretation. Everything, it seems, is symbolical so we don’t have the embarrassment of having to expect and recognise literal fulfilment.
Some years ago I gave a series of studies covering the whole of the Old Testament. When I reached the Prophets they had a profound effect on me. Any doubts I had that their prophecies are primarily pointing to literal fulfilments disappeared. Some of the language they use is, of course, symbolical and there can be a double reference in prophecy. For example it is not illegitimate to see a spiritual and universal application in a prophecy which is literally about Israel. But the latter is and remains the primary meaning of the prophecy.
The Bible clearly teaches that Christians should not be surprised when the Lord returns. They should be expecting him. Sadly, for many Christians, his return will not be merely a surprise but a colossal shock!
It is quite clear that the New Testament means us to regard Jesus as standing in the wings, ready to come on stage when he receives his cue from the Father.
And it teaches that we should recognise the signs of the times that point to his return being imminent. He said there would be a huge rise in the number of false prophets and messiahs who had occult powers. Since the middle of the last century the number of cults and gurus has mushroomed. So has fascination with the occult.
He said there would be wars, clearly meaning something out of the ordinary. In the last century or so we’ve seen two devastating world wars and about 200 smaller wars. And we must not forget that nuclear weapons still exist, sometimes in the hands of unreliable or dangerous regimes.
He said the Jews would regain control of Jerusalem. That happened in 1967 after over 2000 years.
But there are other signs including that the Gospel of the kingdom would be preached throughout the world. This is feasible with modern communications. So let’s go out and hasten the approaching return of the Lord by spreading the Gospel.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction