Ben Franklin famously said that the only things certain are death and taxes. Too often we forget that it is only taxes that are certain for the Christian. For the believer in Jesus Christ, death is not a certainty, nor the immediate hope. Rather, it is the return of Jesus to take us from this world. The Lord’s return has been the expectation of believer’s from the very beginning, but it is a hope that has waned in recent decades. Why? There are a few causes for Christians not holding to hope of Jesus’s imminent return as they once did. Many preachers avoid speaking on prophetic themes due to the perception that prophecy is controversial, and potentially confusing. Admittedly, there are differing views on the prophetic portions of Scripture, but that isn’t unique to prophecy. One can turn to many books of the Bible, and find a different interpretation among different preachers, and different traditions. That doesn’t stop men from expositing those books. That the prophetic sections may be confusing is also a poor reason to avoid them. There are other parts of the Bible that are challenging to understand and to preach, and pastors don’t avoid those. I think in some ways, the popularity of prophecy has harmed it.
The Left Behind series, first as books, then as movies, may have brought parts of biblical prophecy to a mass audience, but as always happens, in popularizing it, it also trivialized. The underlying theology of the series is historical premillennialism, with the expectation of the coming of Jesus preceding the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, also known as pre-tribulational. Schools such as Dallas Seminary, Grace Seminary, Biola, among others, teach this theology. That has changed with some schools, but the point is that a large part of conservative evangelicalism held to this theology. In the Bible conference movement of the early 20th century, prophetic themes were also a mainstay. But the Left Behind books, by sensationalizing it, made premillennialism seem outré and strange, just a bit to the left of snake-handlers. The loss is that this discouraged believers from the study of prophecy, regardless of the position. For some, they feel that holding no position may be best. We need to look critically at any attitude that dissuades us from studying part of God’s word. Date setting and other attempts to tie current events to the prophetic calendar have also negatively effect on the study of prophecy. This is a foolish and harmful practice. The New Testament tells the believer to look for the savior, not signs. It is a diversion to look at circumstances rather than to set our expectation on the soon return of Jesus Himself.
We are comfortable here
Another reason our eagerness for the Lord’s return has ebbed is because we feel comfortable in the world. It is a constant danger, and a constant temptation that believers get comfortable here on this earth, forgetting that our citizenship is not here, but is in heaven, where, as Paul says, we await a savior. Jesus warned his followers to be watchful, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34) Grace, Paul tells Titus, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldy lusts. Grace loosens the grip of this world on our souls, if we heed it. And that loosening takes the form of looking forward to what Paul calls the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. If we have our hope set on him, the present age, an age dominated by sin, will have less of a hold on us.
The return of Jesus for his own is the perennial hope of Christians. We have the privilege that in our lives, he could come. We would not die, but rather mortality would be swallowed up by immortality! Paul tells the Thessalonians “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Death and going to be with Christ is not our immediate hope, his return is. When were you last encouraged that the Lord is coming soon?