I get this response too often. Not universally, but still too often.
Why do so many people associate the topic with being nutty?
The answer falls into two basic categories:
1) Too many false alarms and
2) Hugely weird things don’t happen
Let’s take them one at a time:
1. Too many false alarms: There is no doubt that many people over the course of many ages have looked at the particulars of their age and wondered if the prophecies of His return might apply in some sense. And if any of these had any element of believability, a few folks might follow and create enough noise that they were recorded in history. Scoffers, of course, love to amplify the failures.
But the period of the 1830s and 1840s represented the height of Messianic anticipation in the West. Whether one looked to the “signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11) or to the completion of the task of carrying Christianity to all nations (Matt 24:14) or to the discoveries that heralded the coming of a new age, it was hard for many people to ignore the assertion that the time was ripe for a new revelation from God. And ever since that time, additional signs of the opening of the new age, which were foreseen in numerous prophecies, have accumulated with regularity.
Yet, in spite of all of these signs, there have been a long string of false alarms about His coming. So people have begun to adopt the flawed logic of “The previous claims proved false, so any new claims will be false also.” Thus do people fall asleep spiritually. “There is no need to investigate any claims,” so they say. All tend to ignore the fact that many of the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, although it is true that they were often fulfilled in a manner that the Jewish leaders had not expected. Could something similar be happening in the modern age?
2. Hugely weird things don’t happen: The 2nd reason many people regard the topic as nutty is simply that “hugely weird things just don’t happen”.
“Yes,” they will say, “Jesus did miracles. But the huge miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea (Moses) or the great Flood (Noah) are so far back in history that one cannot be certain of how much of this was physically true and how much was simply allegory to illustrate a spiritual lesson. We know enough about physical processes to know what things can happen. Yes, we might have a large earthquake, for instance, but that is a known phenomenon. The idea that Jesus will descend from the clouds is just too hugely weird to be worthy of consideration.”
Thus has the standard understanding of the manner of Christ’s return become an impediment to looking at other possibilities. The Jews of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah who would come down from the sky, slay the Romans and rescue them from their plight. God had another idea. The Jews who could recognize the spiritual reality of Jesus, and who saw His teachings as the greatest miracle, were able to become His first followers, while the Jews who clung to their manmade concepts of how the Messiah must appear were the ones who were left behind.
If, two millennia ago, a Messiah could appear as a humble Teacher who would provide spiritual lessons so insightful as to be able to eventually topple the polytheistic Roman world, why should we regard it as impossible to think that He might appear again, in a similar manner, in the modern age?
This is the question that Zach and James have asked–the question which provides them with the driving desire to board ships or mount camels in order to conduct their search for Him.
With these thoughts in mind, perhaps the question of the return of Christ is not as crazy as many people think. Consider what our leading seekers, Zach and James, will tell you: Their search was not in vain.
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