Is Jesus Coming Back?

May 21st, 2011, was to be no ordinary day according to prominent radio evangelist, Harold Camping; it was to be the day Jesus returned to earth.  Twitters were going ballistic with speculation.  The media splash had many people wondering, “Could he be right?  Could this be the end of the world?”

Camping’s message of imminent doom was swallowed hook, line and sinker by some of his followers. Sixty year-old Robert Fitzpatrick spent his entire life’s savings of $140,000 on 1,000 subway-car placards and ads at bus stops warning, “Global Earthquake:  The Greatest Ever!  Judgment Day May 21, 2011.”  As he stood in Times Square in New York surrounded by onlookers, Fitzpatrick handed out leaflets waiting for Judgment Day to begin.

But it never came. On May 21st at 6 pm, nothing happened.  “Judgment Day” was a dud.  Fitzpatrick was left dumbfounded, broke, and muttering, “I do not understand why nothing has happened.”

This was Camping’s second failed attempt at picking the date of Jesus’ return.  He was convinced in 1994 that Jesus would return then.  The radio evangelist would have been wise to have listened to the words of Jesus himself, who clearly stated regarding the timing of his return, “No man knows the day or the hour.”¹

But wait!  For the second time, Camping says he made an error; the correct date for Jesus’ return–according to him–is now October 21, 2011, not May 21st.

Did Jesus Promise to Return?

In spite of such false predictions, the Bible tells us that Jesus really will return to earth someday.[2]  The Old Testament prophets spoke of God’s King, or Messiah, as the one who would bring peace to our troubled world.  Jesus told his disciples that he was that Messiah who would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, including his return.[3]

Although many Old Testament passages speak of the Messiah reigning on earth in authority, Isaiah the prophet had clearly written that he would first suffer and die for our sins.[4]  These two seemingly contradictory views of the Messiah were difficult for the Jews to reconcile.  Yet in time, his disciples came to understand that Jesus’ death for our sins was necessary for us to be forgiven and receive eternal life (see http://www.y-jesus.com/why_jesus1.php).

Prior to his death on the cross, Jesus was beaten and mocked by the Jewish leaders.  Then Caiaphas, the high priest, commanded Jesus to tell him and the other Jewish leaders if he [Jesus] was truly the Christ[5], the Son of God.  Jesus answered his accuser, “I am:  and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”[6]

Caiaphas and other Jews were expecting the Messiah to deliver them from Roman occupation, hoping they would be exalted to positions of great authority in his kingdom.  But they never thought of Jesus as the Messiah; they only saw him as a threat.  Instead of coming in power, Jesus came as a humble servant.

The week prior to his trial and crucifixion, Jesus had come into the city of Jerusalem, offering himself as their Messiah.  The crowds were jubilant, but within one short week they rejected him.  The Apostle John writes of that missed opportunity:

“He came unto his own, and his own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”[7]

After his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, teaching and encouraging them to spread his message worldwide.  At first shaken by his death, the disciples were then transformed by his resurrection (see Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? at http://www.y-jesus.com/body_count1.php).

Jesus then took his disciples to the Mount of Olives, where he was lifted up into the clouds out of their sight.   While they were gazing up in bewilderment, two men in white apparel (angels) told them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky?   Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven.  And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!”[8]

These angels were merely confirming Jesus’ promise that he would return someday in power, glory and judgment.

Signs of Jesus’ Return

Since it has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus left the earth, many wonder why he has taken so long to return.  In his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, atheist Bertrand Russell accused Jesus of breaking his promise to return.[9]

But maybe Russell should have looked closer at what Jesus said about the timing of his return, and the events that would precede it.  Jesus did say that although no man would know the day or the hour of his return, there would be certain signs revealing that the time of his appearance is drawing near.[10]

The Old Testament prophets and Jesus’ apostles also provide insight about what the world scene will look like just prior to the return of Jesus Christ.  Let’s look briefly at a few of these clues:

• Major earthquakes

• Worldwide famine

• World wars

• Worldwide epidemics

• Persecution of believers

• Gospel proclaimed worldwide

Earthquakes, famine, epidemics, and wars have occurred throughout human history, but Jesus said there would be a noticeable increase of such events prior to his return.  Persecution of believers began with the apostles and is on the increase today.  More Christians are now being persecuted for their faith than at any time in history.  Jesus tells us that such persecution will continue until his return, as will the worldwide proclamation of the gospel.

According to Jesus, when all of these events capture the world scene, we are to “look up,” for his return will be soon.[11]   Although Bible scholars don’t agree on all the details regarding Jesus’ return, many believe that the time Jesus spoke of is rapidly approaching.  Paul tells believers to be ready and “watch for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”[12]

Skeptics like Russell have pointed to the long delay as evidence that Jesus will never come.  And since Camping’s failed prediction of May 21st, there is no doubt that many others are now laughing at the belief Jesus will return at all.  But the Apostle Peter answers such skeptics by explaining the reason for Jesus’ delay:

“But you should never lose sight of this fact, dear friends, that time is not the same with the Lord as it is with us–to him a day may be a thousand years, and a thousand years only a day.”[13]

Peter goes on to reveal that the delay in Jesus’ return is part of God’s plan.  His return is being delayed until everyone has an opportunity to accept his free gift of eternal life.  And only God knows the timetable.

Where Will Jesus Return?

The Bible is clear that Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The Prophet Daniel speaks of a period when a “man of peace” called the Antichrist gains world dominance.  This world leader seemingly brings peace to Israel and to the Middle East.  However, after a few years he will turn against the Jews, proclaiming himself as God.  The Antichrist will finally be destroyed by Christ at his return.[14]

Scholars interpret this and other prophetic passages differently.  Some believe Jesus returns after a seven-year tribulation period on the earth, while others believe he “raptures” Christians from the tribulation before the Antichrist establishes his peace agreement.  What is clear from numerous Scriptures is that Jerusalem, the central geographic point in the Bible, is the place of Jesus’ return to earth.

The Bible said that Jerusalem would be in the hands of the Jews when the Messiah arrives to save them from their enemies.[15]  After Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and the Roman armies in 70 A.D., it appeared that its long history had ended.  For centuries, skeptics have argued that the prophecies about the Messiah’s return to Jerusalem were impossible to fulfill since the Jews were no longer in control of the city.

For 1900 years there was no land of Israel, and Jerusalem was a city under foreign occupation. However, in 1948, Israel became a nation under a United Nations charter that gave the Jews partial control of Jerusalem.  After Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, Jerusalem finally belonged to Israel, and the stage was set for the return of their Messiah.

Yet, even today, Jerusalem is a point of contention between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  All eyes in the world are focused on how to bring lasting peace to Jerusalem.  But according to the Bible, there will be no peace until the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, returns.

How Will Jesus Return?

Five hundred years prior to Christ, the Prophet Zechariah wrote of the Lord coming to Jerusalem in the last days.  It will be a time of war, when Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies from “all nations.”  It will appear that the armies of Israel are about to be defeated, when something dramatic will happen.

Suddenly the hopeless Jews who are in Jerusalem at that time will see the Lord coming in the clouds. In fact, we are told, “that every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.”[16]  The Lord speaks through the prophet, telling us how He will be recognized when He returns:

“They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.  They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.”[17]

The prophecy tells us they will weep bitterly as they realize that the Lord returning to save them is the very Jesus whom their ancestors crucified.

When Jesus returns, those who have already died “in Christ” will be the first to meet him in the air.  Then those still alive who trust him as their Lord and Savior will meet him in the air.[18]   Although Bible scholars disagree on the timing of these amazing events, we should be watching and waiting for the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”[19]

Apparently Harold Camping still has not learned his lesson, and predicts yet another date for Jesus’ return.  However, Jesus’ promise to return is going to be kept.  It will be in His time when all prophesied world events are finally in place.  It will be a time of joy and reward for believers, but judgment for unbelievers.[20]

Are you looking for our Lord’s return?  To make certain you are ready to meet him when he returns, read http://www.y-jesus.com/why_jesus1w.php.

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[1]  Matthew 24:36.

[2]  Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16; Zechariah 14:4.

[3]  Mark 13:26.

[4]  Isaiah 53:3-11.

[5]  Messiah

[6]  Mark 14:62.

[7]  John 1:11, 12.

[8]  Acts 1:10,11.

[9]  Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Touchstone, 1957), 16.

[10]  Matthew 25:13.

[11]  Luke 21:28.

[12]  Titus 2:13.

[13]  2 Peter 3:8.

[14]  Daniel 9:20-27.

[15]  Zechariah 14:1-4.

[16]  Revelation 1:7.

[17]  Zechariah 12:10.

[18]  1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17.

[19]  Titus 2:13.

[20]  Revelation 21:3-15.