Several years ago, I read a book which was written in the 1800s. Sorry I can’t give you more information on the book itself as most all information has slipped the mortal coil which is my memory. One line, though, I remember. The author said, in a book which was not about end-times, something about “the soon return of our Lord”. It made me think about The Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13) and how universal that Hope is within Christianity. Paul was looking for it; skip ahead to 19th century and at least one author was looking for it “soon”. And neither one of them was wrong. I tried to express that to a friend who said “Yeah, but we are seeing so many more signs today than that guy”, which, I think, missed the point.
In order to get labels out of the way, I am a premillenialist. What that means is I believe Jesus will return before (pre) the thousand-year reign (millennium). Further, I am a pretribulationist. That means that I believe that the Rapture will occur before (pre) the Seven-year period of judgment (Tribulation) leading up to the end of the reign of men and the beginning of the thousand year reign of Christ.
This is not the most widely held view of the end-times, not by a long shot, but it makes a very loud noise. That very popular/hated series of books called Left Behind is written from a premillenial point of view (albeit with a huge dose of John Bircher fever dreams). Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth was the 70s version of premillenial fiction. We premillenialists are the guys who periodically come out with dates for the Rapture, even though mainstream pre-mils know that one shouldn’t be wasting his time on that. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32) said Jesus and also He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:7). One would think that would be sufficient but not when there are books to be sold, or a perceived complacent Church to rouse. If you hear about somebody claiming a date for the return of Christ it will either be a premillenialist or a Jehovah’s Witness.
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning (Mark 13:34-35) Here is one record of the teaching. “Stay awake”, it says, because (using the image from the parable) the owner of the house has gone away and has given the occupants of the house tasks to perform. This may well lead to that bumper sticker that says Jesus Is Coming! Look Busy! except the work of the house is not busy work. It is not busy work and its earnestness is compounded by the fact that there is an end to it. We don’t know when but, in the words of 1 Thessalonians 5, we are working in the day knowing that night is coming and the time for work is done. Or, in the picture of Jesus’ parable, the house owner comes to find his servants either diligent or asleep.
Scripturally, the call for alertness is not a mere “keep busy”. There is an expectation, that “Blessed Hope”. The servants of the house look forward to the return of the owner. The idea, which I see in Paul, which I saw in that book I read is believers have a love of his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. (2 Peter 3:13) There is an expectation: maybe today, and there is a prayer: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
The Apostle Peter talks about the loss of that expectation. He says knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact … (2 Peter 3:3-5). Expectation has given way to cynicism, to scoffing, to a flat refusal to concern oneself with the house. You can say that’s to be expected when you lose hope, especially a Blessed Hope.
Throughout history, believers have lived with the expectation of the “soon” coming of Jesus. Whether Paul or today or in any one of the 2000 years in between. I will repeat what I said earlier, not one of them was wrong in their expectation. A not infrequent statement concerning the writers of the New Testament, even within Christian Commentaries, is “These people expected Christ to come in their lifetimes”. Skeptics say it to dismiss the Apostles (all believers, really) as deluded fools. Teachers within Christendom, perhaps not so much to dismiss the authority of the Apostles as to weaken some of those writings which they do not wish to emphasize. This statement is in error because they are misreading the phenomena they are observing. As one writer said, ‘Expecting’ depends for its currency not on mental calculations about chronology, but in living in an appropriate state of readiness for the event. In other words, “the soon return of our Lord” is not about the calendar, or about any signs of the times. It is about believing and living the Blessed Hope: if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:3)