The Return of Christ: When and How – Part 1

Although open theists hold that God doesn’t know all of the future, it’s being impossible for Him to know the part of it to be brought about by our exercising the free will that He gave us, they believe that He has planned and thus knows part of the future. Moreover they believe that He has revealed in the Bible some of what He has planned.

In this and my next few posts I’m going to consider what the Bible tells us about the future, guided by”Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), thus completing the series of posts on systematic theology which appeared here from August 24, 2013, to September 2, 2014. The break from then to now occurred because I wrote the series in conjunction with my family’s reading from Systematic Theology in our after-breakfast reading and we didn’t read from it in the five months that a Brazilian high school student was staying with us.

Before beginning the study, I’ll repeat something that I said both when I launched Open Theism and when I began reporting at it on our family’s reading of Systematic Theology:

Comments from followers of and visitors to Open Theism are welcome. However it is intended to introduce open theism to my family and friends. Thus it is not intended for advanced discussion of open theism or for arguments between supporters and opponents of open theism, other sites being available for both of those activities. Thus I will approve the publication of only those comments that are made in a non-technical and friendly manner.

We call the study of what God has planned for the future eschatology or “the last things.” There are many disagreements over what the Bible says about the future. In both our family reading and in my posts here I’ll emphasize the position taken by our church, which is basically the same as the viewpoint favoured by Grudem except for the time of Christ’s return.

Grudem begins Chapter 54, “The Return of Jesus: When and How,” of Systematic Theology, by making affirmations about five aspects of Christ’s second coming on which all evangelicals agree and then considers one matter on which they don’t agree, whether Christ could return at any time. I’ll present in this post the five aspects on which there is agreement and consider in my next post the matter on which they disagree.

1. Christ’s return will be sudden, personal, visible, and bodily.
This is demonstrated by such Bible passages as the following:
– “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
– “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11; two “men in white robes” or angels were addressing the apostles.)
– “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” (Revelation 1:7)
The above passages and all other Bible passages quoted in this post are from the ESV.

2. We should long for Christ’s return.
We should have the same desire for Christ’s return as John expressed at the end of Revelation. In response to Jesus’ telling him, “Surely I am coming soon,” he exclaims, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) Other Bible passages expressing this desire are 1 Corinthians 16:22; Philippians 3:20; and Titus 2:12-13.
Grudem considers whether Christians actually do long for Christ’s return and whether they should undertake long-term projects. He concludes that Christians vary in their longing for His return in accordance with their spiritual condition at the time and with how much they see the world as being “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And he asserts that they should commit themselves to long-term activities, observing that even if they don’t get far in those activities before Jesus’ return he will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over muc. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

3. We don’t know when Christ will return.
This is indicated by such Bible passages as Matthew 24:44, quoted above, and the following:
– “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
– “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33; Jesus was addressing Peter, James, John, and Andrew.)
– “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
Consequently anyone who claims to know the date when Christ will return should be rejected as wrong.

4. All evangelical Christians agree that the final result of Christ’s return will be the judgment of unbelievers and the final reward of believers. I’ll consider these after considering the disagreements referred to in #5 below.

5. However they differ over specific details leading up to and immediately following Christ’s return. I’ll consider their disagreement over the question of whether Christ could return at any time in my next post and their disagreements over the relationship of Christ’s return to the millenium and to the great tribulation in the two posts following my next post.

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