Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Second Coming: Many Perspectives

While early Christian creeds agreed that the risen Christ would one day return to judge the living and the dead, there is not much more detail given to that belief. Partly that is because of the sheer brevity of the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed - nothing gets much elaboration. But, another reason for the lack of specificity - I would guess - is because the Scriptures themselves give many perspectives on what the Second Coming would look like. It is somewhat complex and somewhat simple. Let's look at a few of the complexities.

First, the phrase "Second Coming" itself does not appear in the Scriptures or the creeds. It is a kind of collective phrase that indicates when Christ will establish the Reign of God (called the "kingdom of God" in Mark and Luke; "kingdom of heaven" in Matthew) in all of its fullness.

Second, there are Scriptures that imply that the Reign of God is already here (Luke 17:21) and some that imply that the Reign of God is yet in the future (Luke 13:29). That is why many folks use the phrase "Yet, but not yet" to describe the Reign of God. It means that the Reign of God is here, but it is not yet here in all of its fullness.

Third, most of the writers of the New Testament were expecting the Reign of God to come in all of its fullness very, very soon. And, as time went on and the Second Coming had not yet taken place, it caused many questions. New Testament scholars call this "the problem of the delay of the Parousia." (Psst. 'Parousia' means 'coming', but now that I have told you that I'll have to kill you. Sorry.)

Look, for example at the difference between I and II Peter. I Peter 4:7 says, "The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers." But, by the time II Peter is written, there seems to be some skepticism creeping in about the nearness of 'the end of all things.' So, II Peter 3:8,9 says, "But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."

I kind of think the writer of II Peter is using a bit of a sleight of hand here. After all, it was the first letter that set the expectation that 'near' meant 'near,' and not 'thousands of years.' However, the writer is dealing with the same 'delay of the Parousia' that all of the New Testament writers were dealing with.

One question that faces us is: Where do these differing perspectives of the Second Coming leave us today?

Let's 'bookmark' that question as we keep looking at the Second Coming for a while.

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