“I wish Jesus would hurry up”

Having grown up with the idea that God has a six thousand year plan between creation and Jesus’ second coming I was really looking forward to getting this life over and done with soon, now that the six thousand years was nearly up. So instead of having to tread water in this mess any longer, with no hope of things improving or Christianity being accepted worldwide, we could get to work clearing up this mess with Christ’s power and authority behind us, and get rid of mad dictators, stop greed and pollution, and make this world a great place for children.

And surely enough time has gone by already to justify ending things soon, because the evidence of history has conclusively proved that we are incapable of solving the problems that are killing us, no matter how well-intentioned we are. So why doesn’t Jesus hurry up and get this lot over and done with? Why hang around allowing more pollution, more poverty, more starvation, more child abuse, more disease, and more of the same old things that will never change in ten, fifty or a thousand years’ time?

Well, the good news is, Jesus hasn’t been hanging around. He’s been actively changing things ever since he was resurrected and given all power and authority over this planet by God, by going right to the heart of the problem, rather than just blowing people’s heads off.

The heart of our problem was made clear in Genesis, that we don’t trust how God does things. Adam and Eve, for instance, didn’t like the idea of taking care of a garden as God’s training program for them. They much preferred having all knowledge all at once. Why take years off their lives messing around with soil, when they had the chance to crank the program into high gear right away, all guns blazing? And surely, isn’t that what God wanted, a bit of initiative on their part, and a willingness to get to work at full bore?

But God works slowly, because he wants to know if we’ll trust him. And it’s the same with Jesus today. He works slowly too, because that way he too finds out who trusts him and is willing to go at his pace, and who wants to “do an Adam and Eve” and get things moving at their own pace instead.

Jesus himself had to go at God’s pace too, accepting and trusting that God knew best in him having to live out a human life first, and fortunately, Jesus is more than willing to live his patient trust in us, because patient trust is our best training for the future.

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Does God have a deadline?

“You’d better repent before you die,” the preacher yells, “because if you don’t, you’re going to hell forever.”

So is death God’s deadline? But that’s hardly fair on people who’ve never heard of God, or they’ve been given such a horrible picture of him they want nothing to do with him. So what does God do with these people? Does he dismiss them as collateral damage from the wreckage of sin, and cast them off as rejects? Or does he preserve them in some sort of holding tank while relatives desperately pray for their souls to be saved?

But if death isn’t the deadline, what is the deadline instead? Is there a cut off point eventually when God says, “OK humanity, you’ve had your chance, you either repent now, or else” – the ‘or else’ being eternity in hell?

Or does the Bible show that God sets deadlines, not as a final end for those who don’t repent, but as a means to aid repentance?

In Joel 1:15, for instance, Israel was given an ultimatum: “For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like a destruction from the Almighty.” God gave a deadline, promised enormous destruction, and it happened. But was that ‘game over’ for these people forever? No, because Joel 2:28 says, “And afterward…” – and the afterward is very positive. There’s a promise of help and deliverance, a point Peter picks up on when quoting this verse in Acts 2, because Peter knows there’s a deadline coming for the Jews and another dreadful day of the Lord when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD. But the purpose of the deadline was to stir the Jews up to call on God to escape the imminent destruction, not to threaten them with eternal hell, or to make a decision that would decide their eternal future.

God gives deadlines as clear warnings to people to stop what they’re doing and “Come back to God,” Joel 2:13. “And here’s why: God is kind and merciful. He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot. He’s the most patient God, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe.” And when people see God in that light, that he’d rather not cause havoc but he’ll do whatever is necessary to wake people up to the hell they’re already in and the worse hell they’ll be facing in the near future, some do turn to him and escape the hell God is threatening.

So how many deadlines does God give the rebellious? As many as it takes, it seems, because he’s a “most patient God.” Even in his anger and threats his aim is always repentance, because he loves us.

“In the last days,” Acts 2:17 – past, present, or future?

Acts 2:17 – “In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people.” It sounds like something in the future, because where is the evidence today that God’s Spirit has been poured out on everyone, especially with so much evil in the world still? But if it’s talking about the future, it’s totally out of context with the main theme of the chapter, which is what the Jews had just done to Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection (verses 22-36).

So if Acts 2:17 in context doesn’t mean the future, and in obvious evidence it doesn’t mean the present either, we’re only left with Acts 2:17 being in the past. And the context certainly supports that, because Peter did say in verse 16 that what was happening at that very moment in Acts 2 was a fulfillment of “what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” It wasn’t waiting to be fulfilled at some later date, it was being fulfilled in their day right then.

It was also being fulfilled in the eyes of the only people on earth at the time who understood its relevance. That’s why Peter aimed his quote from Joel to “My fellow Jews” in verse 14. It was meant for them, and meant for them right then too, because why quote Joel as an explanation to his fellow Jews for what was happening right then, if it wasn’t meant for them and it wasn’t happening right then?

And right after Peter finishes the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32, he says, “Men of Israel,” so at both ends of the quote from Joel Peter aims it at the Jews or Israel back then, because for the Jews back then Joel’s prophecy had enormous significance.

The significance was obvious, because the book of Joel was all about the Jews facing a terrible “day of the Lord” involving massive destruction, (Joel 1:15), but also God’s promise that he will “take pity on his people” (2:18), and “afterward” (2:28) he will pour out his Spirit on them, etc, in 2:28-32.

But God never did pour out his Spirit on the Jews back then, and he hadn’t up to Acts 2 either. But suddenly, here’s Peter saying Joel’s prophecy and the promise of the Spirit was happening right then. And the reason it was happening right then was because Jesus had been raised from the dead and “Exalted to the right hand of God,” Acts 2:33, and “he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Because Christ had been resurrected, Joel’s prophecy of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Jews was now happening. It was all happening in their day back then.

Is this the year that Christ returns?

Is this the year that Christ returns? Yes, so was last year, because Jesus has been returning every year since his resurrection from the dead. He returned bodily to begin with, for fifty days after he rose from the dead, appearing to his disciples many times, making breakfast on a beach for them, giving them lots of last minute instructions, and then right in the sight of their own eyeballs he rises from the ground and disappears.

The disciples were then told that one day Jesus would return just as he’d left (Acts 1:11), which sounds like Jesus is coming back in the same human body he left with. The question they still had, though, was. “When would it happen?” They wanted him back just like he was, walking and talking with them and telling them all kinds of wonderful stories about God setting up his Kingdom on earth in Israel, with them on twelve thrones ruling it.

That was the return of Jesus they wanted, in bodily form as a ruling, conquering king. They missed the point in John 14:23, when Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” It was Jesus’ great desire, just like that of his Father, to actually make this earth his home. Jesus wants to live here, by living in and with us.

Jesus would love to return, then, and he can and does in anyone who loves him. For many people, therefore, this will be the year that Christ returns, to them. Because for now that’s how Christ returns, it’s in people who understand what the return of Jesus will one day accomplish, and that he’s training up his team now by installing his nature and God’s way of doing things in our heads and hearts through his Spirit. Anyone open to that, realizing what Jesus had to do to make that possible, can have Jesus return to them personally, verse 21: “He who loves will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

You can see him returning, in your own life, because the Holy Spirit will personally “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said.” It’s as if Jesus has returned to earth again, and he’s personally teaching his disciples just like he did before. Only this time his disciples understand what he’s saying, because the Spirit will make it clear (John 16:13). So is this the year Jesus returns? For many people being taught by the Spirit, it’s been every year he returns.

Can we predict when the end is near?

When it comes to predicting “the end”:

1) The state of Israel today tells us nothing about when “the last days” are. In Romans 11:25, Paul writes, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in.” In other words, what happens to Israel is not what’s important at this time. God’s timing, according to Paul, is determined entirely by the “full number of Gentiles” coming in, and who knows when God decides that’s been done? Israel, meanwhile, remains in its dormant state until God’s done his job on the Gentiles.

2) The book of Revelation was not written to enable us to predict the end. It was written for Christians in the first few centuries who were facing horrific persecution. The book was written primarily to encourage them, telling them in apocalyptic terms they understood that Jesus is in total control and God will get them through whatever is thrown at them.

3) The prophecies of Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are not “signs” for us today. They’re aimed primarily at the Jews in Jesus’ day who are about to face the horrors of the Romans in the terrible destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

4) Knowing the state of our present world can help us prepare for tough times, but world conditions do not determine when the end is near.

Anyone who’s ever used Scripture, Israel or world conditions to predict the time of the end – or warn people that the end is near, or tell people they need to straighten out their lives because the end is near – has ended up with egg on his face. The end has never come on any date that anyone has predicted. But Jesus did say in Matthew 24:36 that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” His parting words in Acts 1:7 were: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” In other words, none of us humans can know when the end is, and to say that we do know is to take the Father’s authority to ourselves.

The focus of Scripture is not to provide us with clues to pinpoint when the end is close. Its focus is on what Jesus has done for us and all humanity through the cross and his resurrection, because that’s what prepares us best for the end of time – whenever it happens.

Are we in the end-time?

Lots of scriptures talk about “the end,” but it’s verses like 1 Peter 4:7 (” the end is at hand”), Matthew 24:14 (“then the end will come”) and Romans 13:11 (“now is our salvation nearer”) that have stirred Christians since the early years to wondering “Are we in the end-time?” – meaning, is God about to wrap things up soon, especially in the state our world is in today, because if we get into a war over resources, or a world war over anything, what would be left of us?

“A good war might be just what we need, though,” a young man told me, “it would knock the population down and give us breathing space for a while.” I can’t blame him for thinking that way because he’s got a lot of life to live yet, and it doesn’t look good for him the way things are. That being the case, wouldn’t it be better, then, if God did wrap things up soon, got this agony over with, cleaned out the lunatics and started again with Christ in charge? God could certainly do that, so what’s he waiting for?

But “bear in mind,” Peter writes, “that our Lord’s patience means salvation,” 2 Peter 3:15. God’s focus is on saving people, not getting rid of them. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” verse 9. God’s taking whatever time it needs to grow us for eternity.

For how long, though? It can’t last much longer, surely, because look at the mess we’re in. But, Peter replies, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness,” verse 9. God’s definition of slow has nothing to do with time. It has everything to do with “keeping his promise.” And what is that promise? To make a “home of righteousness” for us, verse 13. He’s building a world for us that won’t have the problems our world has. How? By transforming us. By making human beings “spotless, blameless and at peace with him,” verse 14. Think what the Earth would be like if everyone was like that. Well, that’s exactly what God is patiently putting together for us, so we’ll have a home that will last us forever.

And he’s not being slow about it, either. According to Peter, God’s smack on target because he keeps his promises. That perfect home we all hope for one day is in the works. In which case, Peter continues, rather than wondering when the end is going to happen, live in a way we can look forward to it coming at any time, verse 14.