Reflecting on Jesus’ Second Coming

Today is September 23, 2017. Some Christians have been saying that the theory of the rapture of the Christian Church will be proven true today. Others have been insisting that the final trumpet of the Jewish Feast of Trumpets this year will announce the return of Jesus, our Messiah, to set up a kingdom on earth that will inaugurate one thousand years of peace. A few have been suggesting that the seven year period of intense tribulation spoken of in the New Testament book of Revelation will extend from the North American solar eclipse this past August until the next eclipse that crosses the continental United States in 2024. And while many remain unsure about how or when the indicators of Jesus’ return might line up, a great many others seem indignant at any suggestion of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy in any shape or form ever.

What do I believe? I do believe that the prophecies of Christian Scripture were and are meant to be understood. So, I have no difficulty believing that the biblical phrase ‘the moon shall be turned to blood’ probably refers to a lunar eclipse. I have no difficulty believing that the phrase ‘the sun shall be covered in sackcloth’ probably refers either to a solar eclipse or to a sun-blackening event like a sandstorm. I have no difficulty believing that the phrase ‘the stars will fall from the sky’ probably refers to a meteor shower. In other words I have no difficulty believing that a great number of ‘signs’ that humanity has taken to be normal events for our planet will at some point mean much more than they have meant previously.

So, do the four blood moons on Jewish feasts, followed by a complete solar eclipse passing over the continental United States, followed by at least three devastating hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and many Caribbean islands, followed by three major earthquakes in Mexico, together with devastating fires in the Pacific northwest and in California, combined with a security breach in which nearly half of all Americans’ sensitive personal information was compromised, together with the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the six days war in 1967 in which the Jewish people established for the first time since 135 A.D. a homeland in the ancient land of Canaan all add up to a prelude to the events which the Bible says will lead to the public coming of Jesus today? In my opinion, it is possible.

But, is it likely? Not in my view. Why not? It’s not because I believe apocalyptic literature is only meant to be an encouragement during difficult times. Quite to the contrary. I suspect that apocalyptic literature has always been intended to provide the people of God some indicators for the season in which we find ourselves.

Apocalyptic literature can help God's followers to discern their season. Click To Tweet

It’s also not because I take all biblical numbers to be metaphorical. In fact, I find it hard to discern just how metaphorical to take biblical numbers. They could be metaphorical, but, then again, they might not be metaphorical. I’m not sure I’d stake my reputation on a claim of certainty there. In fact, the numbers and apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel proved so accurate to actual recorded history, that many are convinced his prophecies had to have been written after the fact (a claim with dubious historical evidence, despite its common-sense appeal to many contemporary readers).

So, why do I think claims that September 23, 2017 is significant are dubious? Again, I don’t know, but if the biblical numbers given in the Bible’s apocalyptic prophecies are more than metaphor, I’m not sure how the significance of 2017 has been calculated. I do understand the weight some place on astronomical alignments, but I remain dubious there. Beyond those sorts of indicators, one passage seems to loom large in the multitude of conversations that have led up to the anticipation of today (September 23, 2017). It comes from the First Testament book of Daniel:

20 While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He came and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”[1]

What are these seventy weeks? Many contemporary theologians have correlated Daniel’s seventy weeks with Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years between the exile and the return of the exiles from Babylon (see Jeremiah 29). Verse 25 of the passage above would seem to support that interpretation, correlating Daniel’s prophecy with the work of Ezra and Nehemiah in the rebuilding of the Temple and walls of Jerusalem, and culminating in the activities of the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 B.C.) and the resultant revolt of the Maccabees. So, that’s that…or is it?

Well, that might have been that if Jesus had not recalled Daniel’s language in his prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (an event which occurred between thirty and forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, in A. D. 70):

14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;[2]

Jesus’ phrase ‘the desolating sacrilege’ seems to be drawn from Daniel’s prophecy years after many believe Daniel’s predictions to have been fulfilled. The destruction and rebuilding of the Temple is a recurrent theme in Jewish apocalyptic literature, and Jesus, read alongside of Revelation, seems to have reintroduced the expectation into the apocalyptic prophecies of the New Testament. So, have Daniel’s seventy weeks received new interpretive punch through Jesus? That’s very difficult to say. But, for those who think that the seventy weeks seem implicit in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourses and in the book of Revelation, there are a few prophetic options.

(1) If the seventy weeks refer to actual weeks or even to years, as seems consistent with their immediate fulfillment following the events of Daniel, then perhaps we are well past them now.

(2) If the seventy weeks refer, as many are now arguing, to Jubilee cycles—meaning that every week corresponds to fifty years—(certainly a possibility), then the seventy weeks would correspond to 3,500 years. But, 3,500 years from when?

(2a) Some have argued that the seventy weeks began at the giving of the original Torah to the Israelite people at Mount Sinai following Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt. Though critical scholars have long placed that date around 1290 B.C., the First Testament itself dates the giving of the Law to 1446 B.C. If that’s where the seventy weeks began, then the seventieth week would end in A.D. 2054 (37 years from now). If this proves accurate, then we would presently be thirteen years into the final week of Daniel’s prophecy—that is, the final Jubilee cycle—which would have begun in 2004. What do you think?

(2b) However, the context of Daniel 9 suggests that the seventy weeks began after the order to rebuild the temple was given. If we associate that with the building of Solomon’s original temple, which the First Testament suggests was in 959 B.C., then the seventy weeks would be completed in A.D. 2541. What do you think?

(2c) Another option is to begin the seventy weeks with King Cyrus’s decree that allowed the Jewish people under Ezra to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. That decree was issued, again according to the First Testament, in 536 B.C. That is most certainly the historical decree towards which Daniel’s prophecy most naturally points. If the seventy weeks began then, then they would be completed in A.D. 2964. What do you think?

(3) Perhaps a final option would relate to a day in the future when the Israeli people give an order to rebuild the Temple in modern day Jerusalem (an order which has not yet been given, to my knowledge). In that case, the seventy weeks could be understood as seventy literal weeks after that date, seventy years after that date, or even seventy Jubilee cycles after that date (3,500 years). What do you think?

No matter how one stacks the apocalyptic evidence, it is hard to imagine A. D. 2017 as a significant date biblically, lunar and solar eclipses and astronomical alignments notwithstanding. If Daniel’s seventy weeks prove to have prophetic significance beyond the time of the Maccabees, and if they prove in that context to be Jubilee cycles, then the earliest I can see the seventy weeks concluding is in A.D. 2054. However, that date is only one of a number of possibilities, depending on when one starts counting the 3,500 years they possibly prophesy.  And all of those options still depend on the veracity of the claim that some aspect of Daniel’s prophecy with respect to ‘seventy-sevens’ still remains to be fulfilled.

Jesus will make Himself known to all humanity in a real, historical arrival on earth. Click To Tweet

I do believe Jesus will make Himself known to all humans in a real, historical arrival on earth. I also believe that the apocalyptic prophecies of Scripture will prove to have delineated the season of His arrival when all is said and done. However, for those of us who long for his coming, I expect the following exchange between Jesus and His disciples should guide us as we await that momentous day:

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”[3]

The day and hour of Jesus' return has not and will not be revealed. Click To Tweet

According to Jesus, the day and hour of His return has not and will not be revealed. For Jesus, we must live always aware that today could be the day our Lord returns. The signs Jesus and the Scriptures declare—e.g., lunar and solar eclipses, earthquakes, wars, meteor showers, storms—have been occurring from the moment Jesus ascended into the heavens until today. The questions of every Christian generation have been, “Is it today?” and “Are we ready?”

With that said, we do live in a time in which one apocalyptically significant historical event has occurred which, for most of Christian history, had not occurred. The Jewish people do once again live in the promised land of Canaan in our time. Their exile amidst the nations of the earth lasted from A.D. 135 until A.D. 1967 (1,832 years). That is not an insignificant occurrence, and historically it remains a spectacularly unlikely one. This should certainly heighten the alertness of believers as it confirms in our time the Christian Scriptures’ claim that God will never ultimately forsake His promise to the people of Israel to return them to their homeland. We may not know exactly when, but certainly this reality should remind us that Jesus is coming.

What about all the devastation North America has been experiencing? As I’ve opined before, I think it is likely that North America is experiencing the discipline of God. You can read my thoughts about this HERE, or listen to a sermon I preached on it HERE.  But, is all this part of the final judgment of God on humanity? I don’t know. If it is, then things are going to get worse before they get infinitely and inestimably better. But, even if it is not, even if I am wrong about North America being under God’s discipline, the Gospel of Jesus remains the same, and the response of all who would follow Jesus remains the same. In the words of the Gospel-writer:

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”[4]

Repent means to turn around or to change direction. Christians always have and always will, no matter the season in which we find ourselves, searched the Christian Scriptures and turned from the attitudes and behaviors that the prophets and apostles have proclaimed to be against the intentions of God for His creation. Even more, we have turned toward Jesus and the instructions He has given us to bring the Law revealed through Israel’s prophets to fulfillment. Whatever the season, this is the good news of Jesus for all people and for all nations. We must keep awake. We must repent of our sins. We must trust in the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength. Our Lord can return at any moment. Whether He comes for us in our deaths or in the skies, are we ready?

No matter the season, we must keep awake; we must repent of our sins; we must trust Jesus. Click To Tweet
~ J. Thomas

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Da 9:20–27.

[2] NRSV, Mk 13:14.

[3] NRSV, Mk 13:32–37.

[4] NRSV, Mk 1:14–15.