Section 9: The End Times
Week 1: Christ’s Return
Day 4: We Don’t Know When Jesus Will Return
We know for a fact Christ will return, but God hasn’t told us precisely when that will happen. In fact, after discussing his return, Jesus specifically said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Although we don’t know exactly when Christ will return, a number of passages seem to suggest he could return at any time:
“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7-9).
“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:1-2)”.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
“Behold, I am coming soon!” (Rev. 22:12).
Based on passages like those above, it sounds like Jesus could return at any moment. However, yesterday we said there were certain events or signs that had to occur before Christ would come back. Now if certain things have to happen before Christ returns, can we really say he could return at any time? At a minimum, don’t we have to say he won’t return until after all the signs have occurred?
Imagine you’re a kid again, and just your dad is tucking you in at night because your mom had to work late. You’re disappointed she’s not there, but your dad tells you she will be home any time now to give you a kiss goodnight. Even though your dad told you she could be home “any time”, there would be certain signs that would precede her return, right? You might hear the phone ring when she called to tell your dad she was leaving. You’d probably be able hear the sound of her pulling into the driveway. You might see the car lights flash across your bedroom window. You might also hear the sounds of garage door opening and her key in the lock.
Technically, your mom couldn’t return at any moment then. A certain amount of time would need to pass between her leaving work and her arriving to give you a kiss good night. And during that intervening time, all of the various “signs” would occur. But would you take your dad to task the next morning for telling you she could return at “any time”? Probably not. Why?
All the things that had to happen between her leaving work and her arrival home are in a sense a part of her return. Once the process of her leaving works gets started, it inevitably leads to her arriving at home to give you a kiss goodnight. And, from your perspective, when your dad was tucking you in, that process could have started at any moment.
It’s similar with Christ’s return. All of the signs we discussed are part of an interconnected series of events. Once the process begins, it will inevitably lead to Christ’s return in a sort of domino effect. So, in one sense it may be true that Christ could not return to establish his kingdom at any moment. However, the dominoes that lead to Christ’s return could start falling at any time.[i]
Read Mark 13:32-37 again.
What do you think it means in general to “keep watch”? Now, be more specific … what does it mean in your daily life to keep watch for Jesus’ return? What would this change about how you approach your day? Commit to doing one thing today to “keep watch” that you didn’t do yesterday!
[i] See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Books (1998), 1200.