Just why hasn’t Christ come back as promised?
Do you want to know the future? Be honest. Do you, for example, want to know the numbers of next Saturday’s Lottery? Have you ever done the Lottery? If so then that answers my question, for that is the whole point – trying to guess the future!
People have always wanted to know the future ever since there have been people. There are also people who believe they can tell the future, such as soothsayers, fortune tellers, shamans, clairvoyants, seers and the like. There have been places of considerable influence and prestige associated with such, such as the Oracle at Delphi. There have been places of learning to develop the gift of precognition, so instead of going to college to learn philosophy or media studies people went to learn of Divination.
You may not realise but such schools were present in Israel in Old Testament times and the prophets Elijah, Elisha and Daniel were all members of such schools. You may recall that when Saul, of King Saul fame, was first mentioned in the Old Testament – the first book of Samuel, when Saul was still a farmer, he was out looking for some lost donkeys of his father and he and his servant thought nothing of going along to the local clairvoyant to pay for him to scry or divine where they were. That person was Samuel and he immediately foretold that Saul would be the first king of Israel.
In this technological society where education and rationalism is quite dominant, people generally hold all such psychic activity with a certain amount of scepticism. Even though there are scientific papers suggesting psi or psychic gifts are real – even Cambridge have published such [!] – to foretell the future is strongly doubted. But hold it there!
In Old Testament times, before anyone was accepted as a prophet, then they had to be able to accurately give prophecy. It was not a matter of guessing correctly or being right 5 out of 6 times or even 9 out of 10. They had to be right 100 out of 100 times. They had to be right 100% and all the time. Otherwise they were not recognised as being a prophet of God and could not utter those words, “Thus says the Lord!” Now that is an awesome requirement, an awesome level to attain and retain! Prophecy was real and accurate.
One of the themes of prophetic utterance was kingship, but not only kingship in general but kingship in particular – the king of kings and lord of lords – the Messiah. The Jewish peoples believed that God would send his Son to lead them, to save them, to be amongst them. Unfortunately there were two images of this person foretold. One of them was of a conquering king and the other was a suffering servant. So obviously when Jesus was born in poverty in a stable, then he was not recognised as the Messiah. Easy mistake to make! People wanted the conquering king to kick out the Roman occupying army.
How many separate prophecies do you think there are in the Old Testament that foretells events around the birth and the life and death of the Suffering Servant, of Jesus, like the Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah? “A virgin shall conceive and bare a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” When at theological college during a seminar we students were asked to guess. What do you think? 20? 30? I was rash and said 40! We were all wrong. There are about 200 separate prophecies in the Old Testament that literally told of events of the Suffering Servant’s life. So, for instance, there was the prophecy of thirty pieces of silver given to Judas as payment of betrayal. All of them, all 200 or so, came about in a real and literal way.
When Jesus himself prophesied, then the puzzle of the two images of the Messiah became clear. If Jesus was the Suffering Servant then the Conquering King was the image of the Messiah when he came a second time. So how many prophecies do you think there are in the OT and the New about the Second Coming? 40? 100? 200? No there are about 300 or so separate prophecies of this Second Coming. So after his death, Resurrection and Ascension, people expected Jesus to return in a few years or so. Many sold all their possessions, gave the money away and waited for him. It caused quite a bit of concern in the early church and we read of collections by other Christian communities on their behalf.
So the church waited, and waited, and as the year 1,000AD approached we read of some Wills containing the clause “I bequeath such and such to whomever unless Christ comes again.” Jesus didn’t come again so the church has continued to wait to the present day. So what has gone wrong? Some theologians have spiritualised the prophecies away by saying that Jesus has already returned in the form of his Holy Spirit. But that is not what prophecy is about. It is supposed to be about actual events that will happen in a literal way, as well as spiritual message.
I made a special study of these prophecies whilst at college, what we call Eschatology, and I frightened myself silly that first evening, having to get down on my knees and pray. The prophecies tell of Israel as a nation. Well for most of those 2,000 years or so since the time the Romans obliterated the nation, Israel as a nation did not exist. Then in 1948 it was formed in accord with the United Nations. They tell of Jerusalem being the capital city. Well in 1967 during the 7 day war Jerusalem was taken back into the Nation and became their capital city. They speak of a new temple built for their worship. Well there is talk about rebuilding such amongst the zealous orthodox Jews. Talk – for of course the Moslem mosque “The Dome of the Rock” sits where the temple ought to be. What would that do to relations between Jews and Moslems if the Jews knocked that down?!!
Advent is the time when we look at prophecies; both his First Coming and the Second Coming of the Messiah. When Jesus prophesied of the Second Coming he warned us to be alert to the signs of his coming. When the Romans destroyed Israel as a nation in 68AD or something, now for the first time since then this is the first generation when we could see the fulfilment of those prophecies, for the signs are there!! No longer is it a thought experiment; no longer is it an academic exercise; now it is a matter of trepidation and possible reality.
Can I suggest we give some thought to the consequences of Christ coming and standing in a physical literal way amongst us? Even if he does not come, the message in scripture is that we should be prepared for that coming, to look at our life, our ministry and our faith, and only then be able to say with confidence and with faith –
“Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again”.