Q and A: Is Jesus Not Coming Back?
Question of the week. It's been 2000 years and Jesus still has not come back. Doesn't that suggest that he isn't coming?
Richard's question echos a very common objection to Christianity that skeptics throw up to Christians in religious debates. Jesus' long time in coming back is one of many things skeptics use to ridicule Christianity and The Bible. It's been so long since Jesus was resurrected and ascended, is He ever coming back? Skeptics often cite Bible verses that Jesus is coming back "soon" (e.g Revelation 3:11, Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:12, Revelation 22:20) and they'll say things like "Jesus' definition of soon is much different my definition of soon. I don't think 2000 years is soon at all." The problem with that argument however is that "soon" is not a set in stone period of time. It's relative. For example, if I say "I'll soon be 30" that means that my 30th birthday is only within half a decade from now. If the waitress says "Your food will be ready soon, she means it'll be about 10-15 minutes." In the former case, "soon" meant "6 years from now". In the latter case, "soon" meant "10-15 minutes" from now. So is Jesus coming back "soon"? Well, what could Jesus mean by "soon"? Did he mean 10-15 minutes from the writing of the book of Revelation? Did He mean 10-15 years from the time of Revelation's recording? Maybe "soon" meant 2000-3000 years. But that's such a long time period isn't it? How could it be soon? Because "soon" is relative. Perhaps Jesus means that His second coming is "soon" relative to how long it took for His 1st coming to occur; which was thousands upon thousands of years from the moment of Adam's sin. 30,000 years from Adam's sin before He came the first time, but only a couple thousand between the first coming and the second coming...assuming he returns some time in this or the next century.
Likewise, when James encourages us to “be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8), "near" can have relative meaning. My cat is "near" to me because she's sitting with me on my desk. The sun is "near" to me relative to other stars in the galaxy and the universe. But my cat is just a few inches away from me while the sun is 93 million miles away. Could James have meant Jesus' second coming is "near" relative to how far removed in time they were from when sin first entered the world (Romans 5)?
Moreover, we must remember that The Bible promises that people will mock the second coming because of how long we will wait for it. "Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water." - 2 Peter 3:3-5
This passage sort of presupposes that Jesus wasn't coming back for a long time, such that people would resort to mocking it, saying "Where is He? Everything's the same since the world began?" So when skeptics mock the second coming because of the 2 melinnia that has passed, I'm not phased. The Bible predicted that they would ridicule the doctrine. Peter goes on in verses 8 and 9 to say that God's timetable is not the same as ours, and he gives the reason why God The Son is waiting so long to return. He says "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:8-9). In other words, 1,000 years seems like merely a day to God! So even if Jesus came back in 3,000 A.D, it would seem like "soon" to Him! In fact, taking literally the Psalm that Peter cited, it would seem like only a few days between the ascension and the second coming. God understands slowness differently than we do, says Peter. The apostle Peter gives us the reason why He's delaying His second coming for so long; it's because God is not willing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance. There isn't a single human being who has ever lived or ever will lived whom God doesn't want saved. God is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), and He loves all people, which is why Jesus died on the cross for every human being (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:6, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 2:9). God has foreknowledge (Psalm 139:1-4) and therefore knows who will and will not repent in the future. If there is even 1 person who would give their life to Jesus Christ if God were to just keep the world spinning a little while longer, God will keep the world spinning a little while longer so that that 1 person can be saved. As Jesus' parables taught us; losing even 1 sheep or 1 coin is 1 too many for God (see Luke 15:1-7 and Luke 15:8-10). God will go out of his way to find that 1 sheep, that 1 coin.
In conclusion, the 2,000+ year time gap between the ascension and the second coming is no cause for doubting the scriptures. "Soon", "Near" and other imminent language in scripture are relative terms that mean different time periods in different contexts. They're not set amounts of time. In addition, The Bible actually teaches that it will be a while before Jesus returns and gives us the reason why Christ doesn't just appear right now; because He doesn't want anyone in Hell, but for everyone to reach repentance. He's giving sinners plenty of time to repent, knowing that some actually will if He just sustains this universe a little while longer.