“Thomas Merton wrote [in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander] that when the church thinks it’s in charge of the direction of history, it changes the essence of the hopeful Christian prayer from “Lord, come quickly” to “Give us more time.” -Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw, Jesus for President, p. 284
Recently I’ve heard a few different people share their desire for Jesus to delay His Second Coming because their friends and family aren’t saved yet. More than that, they want to see nations come to the saving knowledge of Christ before He steps again onto the world stage. Mostly I’ve smiled and agreed that I hope that Uncle Bill/the neighbor across the street/Rwanda receives the Savor unto salvation, but lately I’m questioning exactly how to respond.
It’s not that I’m not excited about evangelism. To the contrary, I fully expect our generation to see a worldwide harvest of souls that eclipses anything we’ve ever seen before–including the early church that saw 3000 and later 5000 people added to their community in a day. I’m hoping for at least a billion people to be touched by this move of God. And I want to be a laborer sent out into the harvest.
What concerns me is that while this desire sounds very compassionate, it’s not actually biblical.
Let me elaborate a bit. Scripture teaches us that Jesus desires everyone to be saved, however, we know that not all will be. We don’t know who will and who won’t, so it’s our job to work to share the Gospel with everyone we can while being a living witness of God’s love to the fallen world. At the same time, we read that the Holy Spirit inspired John to pen a prayer that goes, “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!'” (Revelation 22:17). This is just one short example of the many times the apostles exhort the Church to anticipate the Lord’s coming. Even Jesus Himself told stories about His Second Advent to prepare the people to wait expectantly for Him.
Now, was this all a giant waste of time? Was Jesus wrong to prepare people to see Him again on the earth very soon after His death? Were the apostles wrong to encourage people to live lives that were ready for the End of the Age at any moment? Of course not. What Jesus and the apostles were doing was instilling a quality of life that can only be lived in the waiting–as opposed to in the settling down and occupying. Many of us live as landowners instead of pilgrims on the earth. We’re busy building huge mansions instead of preparing for His return.
Will Jesus return soon (as in our generation), or will He wait another 2000 years? Who will be right? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s better to be obedient more that be right. And we can’t let our compassion be greater than that of Jesus’. We must extend love, grace and mercy up until the very end, but we can’t let our desires and emotions eclipse those of the Lord Himself.
You see, one thing you must realize is that there are those on the earth right now who need a Judge. Young girls sold into human trafficking need someone to intervene on their behalf. And when we say that we want Him to wait to come back, we step into the place of judge to determine the best application of justice and mercy. We put ourselves in His place. And that’s not okay.
I think one underlying reason that some people feel they have to ask the Lord to delay is that they believe a certain amount of people must be saved or that a certain percentage of the nations must come under His leadership before He will return. These are mostly called postmillennialist, which just means a view of end-times events that says the earth must experience a sort of golden age of peace and righteousness before Christ comes again. Again, this sounds nice, but it’s not actually Biblical. In my opinion, it’s more of an assumption based on a line of logic that follows from a certain way to read prophecy. Confused? You’re in good company.
Without going into full detail about conflicting views of eschatology, I’d simply like to recommend that we read our Bibles at face value, pray the inspired prayers in the Bible as the apostles prayed them, look for His coming in anticipation, and trust Him to figure out how exactly everyone who is supposed to get saved will be saved (as we continue to labor with Him in His harvest).
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!