I wonder what Harold Camping will do on May 22 this year. Camping is a part of the group declaring the world will end on May 21 and this cataclysmic end of the world includes the return of Jesus.
He gets one thing right: Jesus is coming.
He just isn’t coming on May 21, 2011.
This isn’t new. People have been talking about the end of the world for more than 2,000 years. And nearly every generation has some group claiming to know the exact day the world will end. They have all been wrong. Still people get stirred up whenever anyone talks about “the end.” From Primal Credo, Chapter 7:
End of the world slogans have embedded themselves in popular culture, slogans like: “The end is near” and “Jesus is coming soon.” Nearly every hundred years or so some fanatical group seems to stir up enthusiasm for the end of the world marked by the return of Jesus to the earth. Among Christians in the United States, apocalyptic fever has surged since the publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin’s very popular Left Behind series in the 1990s. For the last few decades people inside and outside the church have debated, discussed, feared, and dismayed the day of the Lord, the day Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead.
No one knows the day or the hour. God has not given any secret knowledge to anyone or put hidden messages in the Bible tipping people off to the exact day Jesus will return, but one thing we do know—Jesus is coming. Again from Chapter 7:
Our hope rests in Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead. We continue to put our hope in God not just for that looming final day, but for every day. Hope is both a kind of expectation for the future and patience in the present. We put our hope in God for today, because he is the grand architect of our story. God is writing our story, day by day, and we can trust him through the challenging chapters of life, knowing the next chapter will be good. We also patiently wait in hope for the future when Jesus comes. We call this the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). Our hope in Jesus’ appearing is a good hope, not because we are going, but because he is coming. Much of the excitement generated recently related to the coming of Jesus surrounds the idea that he will come secretly to take all the Christians to heaven and then he will return visibly to destroy the earth and all the wicked people on it. As exhilarating as this sounds, the Bible does not paint such a picture. The blessed hope of the church is not we are leaving the earth, but Jesus is appearing on the earth. He comes to make all things new. He comes to “make his blessing known far as the curse is found,” as we sing at Christmas-time. He comes to establish the kingdom of God, of which he is King, fully and permanently. He comes as the King to judge.
As much as people get excited by the thought off physically leaving the planet and rocketing through the atmosphere, this is simply not what the Bible tells us about the coming of Jesus. There will be those who are alive when Jesus comes and they will be suddenly “caught up” with Jesus in a moment when their physical bodies will change. The experience of being “caught up” will be the dramatic change of those who are alive while those who have died in faith experience bodily resurrection. The story of Scripture in talking about the coming of Jesus draws our attention to Jesus not to us. This is our hope, not that we are going, but that he is coming. And the creed reminds us that he comes to judge. Again from Chapter 7:
We can easily turn Jesus the judge into a caricature of the nature of God himself. The cartoonish image of God as a cranky old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne of judgment waiting to lash out in lightning bolts of rage distorts the biblical picture of Jesus the coming judge. God does not judge in fits of rage. His judgments are securely fixed within his sense of justice and he tempers his judgment with mercy. Furthermore, God connects his judgment with love. When Jesus comes to judge he will do so both to reward and to punish. Not all judges in our world hand out sentences to the guilty; some judges hand out rewards. For example, the judge in a competition does not punish those with low scores. Rather the judge hands out accolades, crowns, medals, titles of honor, and awards to those who score high in the competition. When Jesus appears, he comes in his wrath to judge those who are guilty and to reward in love those who are righteous, who have a right standing with God.
The wrath of God, the anger of God directed towards sin, evil, and wickedness remains a debatable issue in the church. We may debate how God expresses his wrath, but there is no doubting the existence of it. He does not express his wrath in fits of rage. Rather his judgments are true. He is not capricious in handing out judgment; his judgment for sin is calculated, honest, and he tempers his judgment with mercy. He will come to judge, but not only in terms of punishment for sin. He also comes to judge in order to reward the righteous.
The question on everyone’s mind is “when.” When is Jesus coming? Harold Camping gets it wrong, but I have the answer clearly expressed at the end of the book of Revelation. There is a biblical answer to the question. I explain at the end of Chapter 7:
The most pressing question by those fixated on the end times is: When is Jesus coming back? The answer to this popular question can be found hidden in the Bible. At the end of our story in the book of Revelation, Jesus himself gives us a clear answer to this most puzzling question. The answer is, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:10). He will come back as part of the story of redemption, to permanently bridge the gap between God and man, between heaven and earth. He is coming soon, to which we respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”