How Long Can We Keep Preaching Christ's Coming?

Over at The Hardest Question, a lectionary preaching blog curated by the mischievous, Russell Rathbun, is asking what I think is an important and difficult question.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Year A in the The Revised Common Lectionary.  So here we go again.  We get texts from Isaiah and the Gospels, about John the Baptist and the Second Coming.  And once again we’ve got to preach the immanent advent of the Christ.  “He’s Coming!” we preach, pray, and sing.

But is he?

I’m not really saying that my own personal belief in Jesus’ second coming is in doubt.  Anyone who knows my commitment the theological programme of Jürgen Moltmann can guess that my belief in a concrete eschaton is pretty, well, concrete.  What I am asking is, How long will people believe us? We preach the advent of Christ every Advent, and I just wonder how long until the parishioners start thinking that we’re the Preachers Who Cried Wolf.

I think it’ll be an interesting conversation at THQ, and I encourage you to tune in.

This Advent season The Hardest Question contributors will ask: Can we keep preaching these texts, year after year, and expect people to believe he is coming, that peace is ever coming?

Join the Hardest Question community in struggling with deep and difficult questions at time when we are pushed toward the shallow and simplistic. Add your comments; let us know how you read the text; what you might preach.

People are waiting for something . . .

via » Waiting on the Felonies of Jesus.

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  • I wonder why anyone believes preachers when they say such things. I mean, why has such a message not already died out long before we entered this time and place?

    Whatever the answer to the question of why has it already not died out may shed light on how it persists into the future. Or it may not.

    And then there is the question of who is listening. There are places in the world where Christianity is growing and are not in a slow or rapid decline. Why do they listen and embrace the hope of the message while others yawn while listening if even listening at all?

    De-westernized Christianity may have a message.

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  • The “Preachers Who Cried Wolf.” Nice.

  • Honestly, there is a part of me that feels the second coming is a huge historical scam meant to keep people in line. Doesn’t the text say “this generation shall not pass away” before the second coming, meaning the generation that read it thousands of years ago?

    I guess what I’m getting at is, if Jesus isn’t coming back, does that mean there is no hope? I’m tired of sitting around waiting for Jesus to come back like every other generation. I like what Sufjan Stevens said:

    “Even if I come back, even if I die, is there some idea to replace my life?”

  • Korey

    Really, if people have waited 100, 500, 2000 years, why not more? Glad you raised this as it’s timely to recent doubts of mine. Any suggestions from this blog community of good works dealing with this issue of second coming delay for a theologically curious yet unsophisticated reader?

  • JoeyS

    Alex, the text you refer to was most likely speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD not the eschaton (end of the age, not end of all ages). By that time the generation Jesus was speaking to was nearing their end.

  • Yes, I’m surprised Tony Jones isn’t open to different theological perspectives on this. It’s quite possible to retain a “concrete eschaton”—a final justice and renewal of all things—without having to cram the whole apocalyptic narrative into that package. It makes so much more sense exegetically and historically to recognize that Jesus was speaking about the impending war against Rome. If the Old Testament prophets could use the imagery of thieves breaking in, for example, to describe a coming invasion of Judea (Jer. 49:8-9; Obad. 5), I don’t see why Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t ( The underlying theological issue is then the historical accountability of the people of God rather than modern end-time prognostication.

  • courtney

    As a non-theologian and believer in miracles: The whole Jesus-coming-back thing always struck me as odd/silly/pointless. The idea is disconcerting to me; not hopeful. It’s similar to heaven talk: are you going to live into the concept of heaven now, in a vibrant present, or talk about some fantasy land that just makes people feel good? Same thing in my book with Jesus–live with the reality of God/Jesus/Spirit in life fully today, or sit uneasily in a hope for some nameless, unclear, often-usurped-by-weird-rapture-thinking-people event?

  • @ Courtney: It is hard to live in a vibrant today on a dollar a day, with disease, under oppression, wounded, broken, abused, and crushed. There are some people in this world privileged enough to consider a vibrant today possible, but that seems to emerge in a context of rare privilege as much or more than faith. The abuses of the concepts of a second coming or heaven do not discount whatever truth there is to it.

  • Not the sharpest tool in the box, but doesn’t the Bible address the whole “He hasn’t come back yet, this is a scam” deal? (cf. 2 Peter 3:1-3)

    Unless we begin with the presupposition of distrust, the Scripture continually speaks of a visible, tangible return of Jesus, just as visible and tangible as when he went (Acts 1:11)

  • Steve67

    It depends on how you preach it. If you preach it in a John Hagee-esque, you’d better make sure your ducks are all in a row because Jesus is coming soon, type of way, then yes it could lead to preachers sounding like the preachers who cried wolf. But the promised return of Christ is not a day to be feared it is a day that gives us hope. So why not preach it over and over? We have to remember that Jesus did say that nobody, not even Jesus Himself will know the day and hour of His return. In my sermon yesterday I said there are two dangerous ditches to avoid when it comes to the promised return of Christ; there is the legalistic make sure you have your ducks in a row approach that reduces Jesus to a task-master lording over us (which also undermines the completed work on the cross), or the revisionist ‘we really don’t even need to talk about it’ approach which inevitably just leads to an overly spiritualized view of Christ. In other words, when we ignore the “not yet” in the “now and not yet” we end up with an over-emphasis on the “now” and thus a heremenutic that interpretes Jesus through the lens of the world and not the other way around. But then again Tony, you and Doug Padgitt, Rob Bell and the rest of the emergents fell into that latter ditch a long time ago.