What If Jesus Doesn’t Return for 500,000 Years?

If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that I have little grace for those who try to convince others Jesus is returning soon. Harold Camping, Edgar Whisenhut, and Tim LaHaye and his Left Behind books have all been the target of my sarcasm.

My reaction is not without reason. Those who preach such things, while likely from good motives ,can have a devastating effect on Christians investment in advancing God’s kingdom of earth. After all, why polish brass on a sinking ship?

So, I would like to posit a possibility for you to consider: What if Jesus doesn’t return for 500,000 years?

Is that so unthinkable? Why would Jesus have told parables about the ten virgins unless He was not going to return for a very long time? And if your initial response is “Jesus said he was returning ‘soon,'” – if it means 2,000 years, it could just as easily mean 500,000 years. “Soon” is not 2,000 years in any human’s vocabulary. “Yes,” you say, “but to God a day is as a thousand years.” Yes, to God it is, but when Jesus said He was returning soon, He was talking to men. It would make no sense to give men a timetable using metrics that meant nothing to them.

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How the Church Prevailed Against the Gates Of Hades

The Gates of Hades, Caesarea Philippi, Israel

Jesus, Peter and the crew were in Caesarea Philippi, a city in the northern part of Israel, and Jesus decides to give the boys a pop quiz. Jesus asks them who they think He is. Peter answers correctly. Then Jesus says,“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18.

Now we can leave for another day the 500 year old controversy about whether the rock on which Jesus says He will build His church is Peter or the revelation of who Jesus is; instead I want to focus on the second part of what Jesus said.

In February 2010, I was in Israel and visited Caesarea Philippi , where I was surprised to learn that there, in the first century at the opening of a cave was a pagan temple. The opening of the cave was referred to as “The Gates of Hades.”

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On Palm Sunday and Cleansing the Temple

Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. See Matthew 21:4-13. Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead, and the word of His miraculous powers had spread. People were convinced Jesus was the king the Scriptures had promised would liberate them from the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people waved their palm branches and worshipped Jesus, calling Him the King of Israel in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. See Zechariah 9:9. The religious leaders asked Jesus to correct those worshipping Him, but Jesus refused because the people were correct: He was their King, He had come to establish His kingdom, and He was worthy of their worship.

I’ve stood on that path leading up to Jerusalem, just under the walls of the city, and as I stood there I realized just how bold Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was. There would have been Roman soldiers stationed on the walls as Jesus rode into the city being hailed by the people as their new king. It was gutsy. It was bold. But it was entirely appropriate. Jesus was the King of kings, even over the Romans.

For the people watching these events unfold on Palm Sunday, it must have been very exciting. They must have thought Jesus was going to topple Herod and then take on the Romans.  A man who could raise another man from the dead was certainly capable of all of that. They must have tingled with anticipation of how Jesus would use His power to assert His kingly authority.

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Power vs. Politics

After Jesus was resurrected and had gathered His disciples together, the disciples asked, “Lord is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus said in response, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8.

Jesus’ disciples were young. They were excited about Jesus’ resurrection, which for them confirmed he was indeed the King of kings. They were ready for Jesus to take over. They wanted to talk politics, but Jesus wanted to talk power.

The conversation is instructive. I am old enough to have lived through two evangelical experiments with American politics. The first was one of disengagement. This was the default in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

That all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, and other evangelical leaders encouraged evangelicals to get involved in politics. The catalyst policy was a pro life agenda, but it grew from that and evangelicals eventually found a home with the conservative Right. That started the second experiment that has continued until this day.

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Some Thoughts on the New Year

Each year, I try to set goals for the new year. It’s a good practice, and when I set those goals prayerfully I have that extra assurance and motivation that those goals should and can be achieved. Without being intentional, we become subject to all the random forces around us. Our lives become a crap shoot.

But even when we are intentional, the randomness of life can overtake us to the point we feel like the ship being driven by the wind and waves while we hold on for dear life. 2021 was such a year for me.

I travelled repeatedly across the country to help my parents move out of their home of twenty years into an assisted living facility, while my father was slowing slipping out of this world into the next. When he passed away in July, and I was planning his funeral, and dealing with the grief, I was diagnosed with a health problem of my own. Then in September, while on vacation–our first in two years because of the pandemic–I developed another unrelated health problem, that led to new tests, concerns, and more doctor appointments.

We looked forward to a good holiday season and had scheduled hip replacement surgery for my 86 year old mother with the hope she would be able to walk again, but two days before she was to travel here for the surgery, the results of a cardiology test showed a heart problem which required a catheterization procedure and postponement of the hip replacement.

About the same time we were learning about my mother, my brother was hospitalized with COVID-19. A few days later, he was moved into the ICU, and it wasn’t clear if he would survive. Fortunately, by the mercy of God, he turned the corner on Christmas Day, and while he is still in the hospital he appears to be on the road to recovery.

Then, my cousin died of lymphoma on December 30, 2021. He had not told anyone but immediate family about his illness, so we were shocked when we heard he had died.

All the events I just described largely defined my year, and yet, I had nothing to do with their occurrence. All, I could do was respond to them, while at the same time continuing to seek God, doing my work, discipling others, and pursuing the goals He gave me at the beginning of the year.

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