My first car was a pink Oldsmobile Delta 88 built the year I was born, 1956. It was a spectacle on wheels, especially with my “In case of rapture this [ridiculous] car will be unmanned!” bumper sticker slapped on its massive chrome rear bumper. It was 1972. I had just become a follower of Jesus and had devoured Hal Lindsey’s bestselling book The Late Great Planet Earth, predicting when and how Jesus would come a second time. I was not about to be left behind! Forty years later I’m still here and so are you. So how does one actually prepare for Jesus’ second coming?
Don’t Get Fooled Again
What do these six people have in common?
Hippolytus of Rome, Pope Sylvester II, William Miller, Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, and Kenton Beshore.
They all predicted when and how Jesus would come back by interpreting various biblical passages literally and connecting them to current events and/or timelines. And they were all dead wrong. Well, Lindsey and Beshore aren’t dead yet but they are still wrong.
Bishop Hippolytus predicted Jesus would come again in AD 500. Pope Sylvester II marked 1.1.1000. Miller predicted October 22, 1844. Hal Lindsey expected Jesus around 1988. Beshore refined Lindsey’s math and predicted the rapture would happen in 2021.
As Lindsey’s and the other predictions proved empty and false, I took a second look.
When Jesus predicted the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened in AD 70), Jesus’s friends asked, “Tell us, when will these things happen?”
But Jesus told them instead, “Watch out that no one deceives you. . . . When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mark 13:5-7)
Jesus knew well our desperate desire to eliminate surprise and master mystery. He also knew naming how and when would eliminate any need for trust. So he offered no concrete details. Rather he warned, “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) Ironic how the end time predictors do not take this literal warning literally.
Being ready according to Jesus then had nothing to do with predictions, time-lines, cheesy bumper stickers, or best-selling books and movies about Jesus’ return.
Comprehending apocalyptic biblical literature as poetic not literal better helps us understand prophecy. 1/3 of the Bible is poetry and more-over apocalyptic sayings use metaphor, hyperbole, symbolism, etc., best described as poetic.
How Could So Many Be So Wrong?
In researching this blog, I stumbled on something telling. Only around seventeen major Christian voices prophesied Jesus’ return in the first 1800 years of church history. While nearly forty major “Christian” leaders have done so in the last 220 years. And that’s not counting the thousands who have not become famous.
We adopted a modernist/mechanical view of life and the burgeoning belief that through reason we could answer any and all questions. This world view led people to literalize the entire Bible. When Jesus says, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. . .’”, he must mean a literal eclipse. But eclipses happen regularly. Taken metaphorically this sign tells us his return will be unmistakable, though not predictable.
Why use poetic and metaphorical language for something so important?
What if I say, “I love you 478,000 miles”? You might answer as my chemical engineer friend did, “So, there’s a literal end to your love?” Propositional, literal language puts precise limits on whatever it is speaking too.
But if I said, “I love you to the moon and back” you’d know by the metaphor that my love has no end, despite that to the moon and back is 478,000 miles.
Being Ready Means Expectancy not Expectation
Poetic language leaves the meaning open and also drives truth into the deep emotional places we sometimes wall off. Propositional prose leaves us, as Eugene Peterson said in Subversive Spirituality, “in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control. . . . In prose we are after something, getting information, acquiring knowledge. . . . But in poetry we . . . . are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen. This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness. . . .”
Jesus wants us not to literalize how and when he will return but for us to open our hearts to his. Jesus wants us ready, living with expectancy like unwrapping an unasked for gift rather than being disappointed because what you demanded is not inside the box.
The Jews in Jesus’ day had much in common with The End is Near predictors of today.
They misread teachings about the Messiah coming. Instead of a conquerer he came as a healer, teacher, and suffering servant. Just as he came the first time in a hinted at unexpected way, to a stable, to a poor carpenter, so the lowest to the highest had access to him, so he will come again in unexpectedly. Be ready to be surprised.
What Does that Look Like?
In 1948 C. S. Lewis wrote On Living In An Atomic Age. Reminiscent of Jesus he warned: “In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. . . . This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
I rewrote Lewis’ final paragraph with Jesus’ return in mind:
“This is the [main] point to be made: and the [main] action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.” When Jesus returns, which he will, let him find us “doing sensible and human things.” Let him find us living resurrected lives in the peace he left us. May he find us sharing his life and grace over coffee, beer, or a meal with our families, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. May he find us worshiping, working, hiking, napping, playing, making music, jokes, art, and even making love. May he find us serving meals to the hungry, teaching children, smiling at store clerks.
And may all of these activities be stained with Jesus’ unmistakable redemptive love and hope.
May he not find us cowering in fear, arguing over pre, post, or a-tribulation. Nor filling our basements with emergency supplies having connected the latest news cast with our interpretation of scripture. Nor acting as if he will never return, building our bank accounts, resumes, and reputations, living as if it all ends here. Until he comes let him find us loving God and our neighbors heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Unbelievably someone stole my pink Olds, ran it out of gas, and abandoned it by the side of the road. I never expected that. Maybe that’s a metaphor of Jesus main point.