Do We Still Believe Jesus is Coming Soon? Our Adventist Conundrum

Sacred cows. We find them everywhere, a ubiquity which sometimes blinds us to the absurdities they represent. In religion they are embedded in doctrines and manifest in the hands-off approach to certain positions, warding them off as untouchables. Not because we are dedicated to their truisms but because we risk embarrassment by asking questions. So we build shrines to honor sacred cows pretending they are protected, self-evident truths.

In Adventism, we have two such beliefs that are practically non-negotiable and have enjoyed the sacred cow status throughout our history. The pioneers, esteeming these positions, enshrined them in our name: “Seventh-day Adventists”. But, as is often the case with names, while they seemed prescient at their conception, over time they gradually, inexorably, lost their original meanings and history. And with that loss sometimes their essence. In this essay I will subject the “Adventist” part of our name to scrutiny and question whether the hallowed status it has enjoyed since our founding is still warranted.

Such an examination would be offensive only if the subject is deemed sacrosanct. The name “Adventist” is not sacred in this sense. It was neither preordained nor delivered on Mosaic tablets from above. Before 1860, “Adventist” congregations had no uniform name. Facing the two pressures of incorporation and a unifying identity, 25 delegates from like-minded churches met in Battle Creek, Michigan, on October 1, 1860, to divine a name. It was at this meeting that a Battle Creek church delegate, David Hewitt, suggested “Seventh-day Adventists,” a name that perfectly captured the ethos of the nascent movement. It would be adopted by a 24-1 vote in a very human process necessitated by mundane human considerations. Some assert that the process was providential, an unassailable supposition. But if new circumstances call for newer approaches at self-definition and direction, it is unlikely that the same God will abandon the church.

I’ve met many fine Adventists who insist they have never questioned our imminent Second Coming belief, and I believe them. But I don’t understand the basis for their unflagging conviction or why they’ve never doubted. I wonder though, if the Second Coming has now become an aspirational concept, an ideal we hope and even advocate for but do not necessarily expect will truly happen soon. Or at least happen with the same literalness others before us imagined. Has the notion that Jesus will return “soon” become our afterlife desire, something that keeps us from supposing the scientists might be right: that this life might be all we have?

If we feel adrift and disillusioned in the West about the salience of the Second Coming concept, our despair is not irrational: this road is well traveled. The carcasses of earlier and arguably better Christians littering the way point to fellow sojourners who had once similarly believed, but were forced by unfulfilled hopes to adjust their thinking. The Apostle Paul is a prime example. He was an apocalyptic who believed zealously, during his younger ministry, that Jesus was unambiguously coming “soon.” For the earlier Paul, Jesus’ coming and the resultant earthly kingdom would occur in his lifetime: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thess 4: 15)

Ironically this statement, a summary of Paul’s belief that the Christ would return in his lifetime, was to reassure the aging Thessalonian congregation whose members also once believed. Now they were disheartened because fellow believers were dying, and the promised Parousia had not materialized. What do we do when death and time conspire against our youthful belief in a literal “in our lifetimes” Second Coming?

Paul’s ingenious solution was to declare that those who die in expectation of his coming would have an honored place ahead of the throng at Jesus’ return. And, although this doctrine has been buffeted and ridiculed over time, it has become the de facto response to questions about a perceived delay. But Paul himself died, and so too have all Christian leaders who made the Second Coming the centerpiece of their Christian ministries.

Though the Second Coming has always been a prominent Adventist motif, it is not exclusively ours, of course. Other Christian communities continue to sing this song, sometimes in more nuanced tones than we do. And contrary to the Adventist-bubble narrative about the Second Coming, there is nothing about this return event or its antecedent proclamation that is proprietarily Adventist, the disproportionate emphasis we give it notwithstanding. Our founding leaders never imagined that we would still be here and approaching our second century of waiting. That fact alone should generate an overdue reappraisal within our church about what we mean by “soon” in relation to Christ’s return.

Perhaps we keep repeating that Christ is coming soon because we’re wired that way. It is in our Adventist DNA and is easily traceable to our beginnings. Adventism was conceived in certainty that Jesus would return, not someday “soon”, but on a specified date: October 22, 1844. Time would prove the pioneers wrong. But like Paul, they recalibrated. The timing was right, they insisted, and they and we who have followed their footsteps would be persuaded that it was the application and location, not the calculation, that missed the mark.

So in our earliest phase, and subsequently since becoming a church, we’ve retained the same advent emphasis, albeit with chastened expectations about date-setting. But our declaration concerning the nearness of his coming has always been “soon”. We go through spasmodic periods when we are seized with manic impatience about the slow pace of “soon” and jolt into action. Awoken, we devise church-wide programs intended to speed up his coming, complete with slogans like “A Thousand Days of Reaping” and exhortation to evangelize the“10/40 corridor” in hopes of mitigating the inertia of a protracted delay. But we quickly revert to a settled state of believing disbelief, halfheartedly hoping that the advent would happen, maybe in our lifetimes. And secretly hoping nobody catches on that we’re playing games in defining “soon”.

But why do we keep doing this? Why do we maintain this perpetual Soon Coming posture? Why have we continued this disproportionate emphasis? Could the chief reason revolve around the role we have carved for ourselves in the events and environment of his coming? The word we’ve used to capture this ambience is a bold one: Remnant. We can be accused of many things but not timidity. We don’t make half measured claims. We assert in broad daylight that we are God’s choice, and God has revealed earth’s last day events to us. Then we dare the world to contradict us.

The idea of God’s Remnant – a church which on occasion may seem to falter but will not fall – is a powerful psychological construct against change. Add to it our Three Angels’ Messages (TAM), by which we unabashedly claim exclusive ownership of Revelation 14: 6-12. Together we boast of a mandate and end time message geared to preparing the world for the Second Coming of Jesus. But a Remnant charged with a special message for an unrepentant world presents enormous challenges in evaluating how it is meeting its obligation in a modern global context. Over the years the church has struggled to manage not only expectations but the execution of its charge. If Jesus’ return is predicated on the rest of the world hearing about the TAM, then no matter how we define the goals of evangelism, the numbers are daunting and not on our side.

Now let’s assume Adventism has a 25 million global membership. That is impressive or worrisome depending on one’s reference point. At our founding in 1863 when the church population was roughly thirty-five hundred, 1.3 billion people needed to hear the Adventist Message. Today over 7 billion have no idea who Adventists are or what they stand for, let alone that the future of this earth might be dependent on how soon the Adventist Message gets to them. With the world’s population now at 7.7 billion, any discussions about our church evangelizing the world as condition for Jesus’ return is plainly unrealistic, except if we say it as self-aggrandizement, because there are no measurable ways of evaluating such a venture.

Statistical odds aside, we have a deeper problem: the message. The TAM is about judgment, a popular anti-Catholic notion at the time of our pioneers. While judgment dovetails into the Advent idea, TAM judgment-only messages invariably, at least by perception, become their own end, and bring us close to indulging in gratuitous retribution. Judgment messages don’t have a good track record. In fact, it could be argued that all judgment or punishment-focused messages going back to Noah and his flood – elicit mainly fear. Fear often gets quick results, but ultimately the actions they motivate have little lasting effect. Perhaps that is why we’re still here, Noah’s flood having achieved little.

Judgment-based messages mesmerize and seem to work, at least in the minds of the messengers who, over time, see themselves not as mere messengers, but as message givers. They gradually go from announcing judgment to pronouncing it. It is a slow process which is fed by the feeling of specialness inherent in being The Remnant. Given time, Remnants assume a prophetic role, which by virtue of this Remnant calling they cannot conceive of being wrong. It is very difficult to assume a Remnant identity without also enjoying the pride of membership, if not smugness that too often comes with it.

So preaching a message of perpetual Second Coming is not without its psychic pleasure. That’s why we ignore all the other cautionary passages in the New Testament (NT) against teaching an exclusive Second Coming message. Consequently, from generation to generation, we don’t pause to ask why the “soon coming” has dragged on for so long. Maybe we have not paused to ask why because we know the answer and don’t want to acknowledge that we’ve known the answer all along.

But continuing with a “soon” coming emphasis message is not without cost to the church. Worldwide, the church spends multiple millions of dollars annually proclaiming Jesus’ soon coming. This is money that could be used for other competing needs. Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) is by all indications one of the best and most trusted public faces of the church. But ADRA, which receives negligible financial support from the church, would fold without funding from non-Adventist sources. What if the church took a sabbatical from Second Coming related evangelism, freezing all associated spending along the way? I contend not much would be missed. The frozen money could be diverted to ADRA, for example. Its impact to the needy? Incalculable.

Another cost that we hardly ever talk about is the impact a predominately otherworldly message has on the thinking of people in developing countries where living is generally hard. It is not by accident that some of those economically difficult settings, Africa and Latin America come to mind, are also the new membership breadbaskets of our church. The message of a soon-coming Jesus, whose kingdom promises an end to the very real-life hardships, understandably finds ready reception. When disease and homelessness have, unbidden, moved in as lifelong guests, one can’t be faulted for taking John’s Jesus at his word: “In my father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” So they flock to the baptismal pools in tens of thousands eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return. Consequently, in developing countries, economic conditions always make a Second Coming message appealing. However, even in this highly receptive setting, the sharp drop in 6-month and one-year post baptism figures after some of these large campaigns – is cautionary. But global Adventist evangelistic funding groups like the General Conference’s Total Member Involvement (TMI) throw caution to the wind and continue business as usual.

A still worse drawback to constantly preaching this otherworldly message is that it becomes a disincentive to finding solutions to real life problems in developing countries. If the difficult environment we find ourselves in is about to give way to a better one soon, why should those suffering under current conditions help keep the existing system afloat? The same imminent return message no longer plays well in the West because the economic picture is not so dire and some of the rosy imagery depicted in the NT about the coming kingdom is muted by the common display of affluence there.

My concern is not to abandon the second coming motif entirely, but to be proportionate in our emphasis. We have put undue stress on the physical impending return of Jesus over and above all other alternative understandings of this subject. The NT portrays images of a literal return but it also hints at a spiritual dimension: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Elsewhere, (Matt 24:35-37; Mk 13:32) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

So the perennial focus on the physical “soon” return is a conscious choice we’ve made among other choices pertaining to Jesus’ return. And if we want to continue along those same lines, the least we should do is for our leaders to encourage an open honest discussion about what we mean when preaching a “soon-coming” message. After a century and a half of preaching “soon,” don’t we see ourselves embodied in the child at the village gate crying “wolf” for the umpteenth time? And are we surprised that no one is listening?

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at:

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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there was definitely a time, in my early teens, particularly while at boarding academy, where i truly believed christ was coming soon, perhaps within a week or two, or certainly by the end of the year…by the time i’d hit college, and especially by the time i’d finished college, it isn’t that i no longer believed christ would come soon, but i definitely started thinking i could afford to defer it for awhile…

in retrospect, and at this point in my life, i’ve come to approach the soon coming of christ in terms of a deliberate strategy of cognitive dissonance: christ is coming soon, and he likely won’t return in my lifetime…there’s no question that christ himself said 2,000 yrs ago he was coming “quickly”, Rev 3:11; 22:12,20, which i think can be interpreted to mean “soon”, and there’s no question that my life could end through an accident at any time, which would make these words effectively and literally true…but there’s also the reality that while none of this is happening, i do have to plan to be in this world in the future if that future is going to have any security…i’m thinking now that cognitive dissonance with respect to the soon coming of christ is how a mature christian handles this subject…

i also don’t believe our church has any choice but to characterize the return of christ as soon…would a message of christ’s return in the far future have a stronger impact than a message of his soon return…i don’t think so…i think we’re all naturally like the servant in Matthew 24:45-51: we’re going “eat and drink with the drunken” in proportion to the belief that jesus is delaying his coming…human nature requires a constant wake up call, or our spiritual sensibilities, which are weak to begin with, fade into nothingness…the possibility of crying wolf one too many times notwithstanding, there’s no other way…

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It’s dishonesty to deny the second coming message without attending to its sister message of the state of the dead.

We cannot abandon the “soon” second coming message, without discrediting the state of the dead as we know it.

The soon coming is central to the individual and as death is borne by the individual, we assume the time span after death to second coming to actual time. In reality it’s zero time.

Hence the soon coming of Christ is to the individual and that life ends at death and the only after life event is second coming.

Looking at it with time done by all of us since our founders is quite dishonest and does injustice to salvation being individual and not corporate.


We are all hardwired to believe. Religious convictions are the language of our belief. As such it can never be proven right nor wrong but it does not make it untrue either.

Just talk to a child and see for yourself.


Doesn’t that wipe out the “peculiar” Adventist beliefs associated with Christ’s return… If judgment started in 1844 surely it would have been over by now. If the unfallen universe is still watching all this, aren’t they getting a little frustrated how this experiment in pain and death is getting drawn out…

The second coming is, of course, the central point in Adventism, right along side the literal Sabbath requirement to successfully get through the judgement.

I never have understood the importance of SOON. As “soon” as we die - the judgement. So yes, “like a thief in the night”, when we least expect it. In essence, the SDA message is keeping our mortality front and centre, which seems a little morbid. Taking the entire gospel to heart, it might be better to concentrate on living fully as God intended us to live, without the angst we hoist upon people to come join us before it’s too late (probation closing soon).


Matthew: I have often confessed my admiration for what your columns have asked us to consider. I think that this time you surpassed them all. Your exploration of the problem facing the Adventist Church is magisterial and worthy of serious consideration. Thank you very much for what you have been doing. Please continue to bless us with your gifts.
What needs to be brought into the discussion is an analysis of the function of apocalyptic texts. Then the soon coming may be viewed withing a broader horizon.


well, if christ moved into the MHP in 1844, it means he was in the HP for roughly 1800 yrs…using the ratio of 359 days in the HP/1 day in the MHP, which is what we saw in the earthly sanctuary, it would mean christ should have wrapped up IJ in 1849, which obviously didn’t happen…this means we have no real indication of how long IJ should last…but considering the fact that noah preached for 120 yrs, i don’t think the 175 yrs that have passed since 1844 are inordinate, especially considering the fact that IJ is essentially about the eternal destinies of all humans who have ever lived, including the people who lived before the flood…

personally, i think christ’s high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is the only real explanation for why he didn’t return in the disciples’ life-time, and why he still hasn’t returned…no other denomination can explain this 2,000 yr wait…

i doubt whether anyone is going to “get through the judgement” just because they go to church on saturday…being vindicated in IJ is about having christ stand in one’s stead, which is a big deal…to continually die to self, so that christ can reign and justify, is an enormous calling…one really wonders how people are going to make it who accept christ just before probation closes, and who have to learn in a few days, or moments, what others have had a lifetime to learn…

you seem to be suggesting everyone will die before christ returns…don’t you believe there will be 144,000 who are translated without seeing death…

There are 3 affirmation that millions of believers make every Sunday –
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again

Millions of believers who affirm these statements live their lives as
best they understand so they will be ready when the event happens.
I have seen many take their last breath with hope in “Christ will come again.”
And the funeral services directed by family members celebrate this Hope.

According to SDA understanding of Death. One “Sleeps”. The next voice one
will hear will be the call of Christ to arise at the Trinity’s appearing with all the
holy angels. And since heaven is “silent”, perhaps that will include the elders
around the throne.


Not at all, my thrust is the indivuduality of the message. Since 1844 many have died and many born into the faith. The soon return of Christ is a message to be believed across the ages and not just the 1844 believers.

Would you guess the ages of the 144,000… over 100, 10 or 1 year. Thus i find the article not alive to the state of the dead truth.

An epiphany about the Second Coming happened to me in France.

I am the ultimate Francophile having owned two homes in France.

Years ago I was visiting the Loire Valley, literally littered with splendid castles built centuries ago by the French aristocracy ( their largesse with French taxpayer money led to the French Revolution )…

I overheard a tour guide telling her group that these stunning castles were extremely uncomfortable to live in — infested with rodents and bugs — even the king’s bed crawling with bedbugs, mites, fleas and lice.

The high ceilinged rooms were very difficult to heat even with their huge fireplaces — the tapestries on the walls were to keep out the damp and not merely for decoration !

No running water, so no hot showers / baths nor flush toilets — only smelly “ chamber pots “. The hygiene in these palaces was deplorable

(— Even today, half of earth’ s current population, live in shanty towns, sleazy slums, tacky tenements, festering favelas, and have zero access to a flush toilet nor hot showers )

When learning about the unhappy / unhealthy living conditions of the wealthy former French nobility, I asked myself, what was the plight of the impoverished peasants, living in unheated huts ??

The people’s pitiful poverty promoted pestilences like the “black death “ ——rodent caused bubonic plague which exterminated one third of Europe’s the mid 1300s.

My epiphany / moment of truth:

That MISERY was the malevolent misfortune of multiple millions throughout the Middle Ages—-

Why did God not “cut it short in righteousness “ ? —-
by fast forwarding Christ’s Second Coming to alleviate affliction, adversity and anguish ??

Mankind’s MISERY over multiple millennia has been monstrous— famines, floods, plagues, pestilences —- abject awfulness !

Christ declared emphatically on Calvary, IT IS FINISHED — implying that the atonement was complete.

He Himself voiced vehemently and vociferously three times in the final book of Revelation BEHOLD I AM COMING SOON !!!

( One more reason to doubt the fake 1844 date —- nearly two millennia after Christ’s promise of imminence, 1844 was hardly . “soon “ …)

Why did He renege on His promise ???

Why has He tolerated millennia of
human misery,
an abundance of atrocities,
a plethora of plagues,
an egregious enormity of climate catastrophes,
all creating massive misery for.mankind ??

My plaintive plea is not WHEN He is coming,
but WHY He did not FAST FORWARD the Second Coming,
multiple centuries ago —
a compassionate action that would have eliminated extensive human suffering
( is He a sadist to allow such suffering when He could expedite an end to it ? ) —- more particularly when the atonement was completed two millennia ago !


I constantly remind my friends, family and colleagues that 21st century middle class citizens of first world countries live far far far better than the kings and nobility of any period prior to 1900.


I wonder how long this will go on. I wish I could still be around in 80 years. I won’t be here, but my children do have a chance of seeing the year 2100. When we enter the 22nd century, will the SdA church still be preaching the imminent 2nd coming? Or, like the advent movements of the 10th century (the millenium) or the 14th century (bubonic plague) or the 17th century (30 years war), will the movement adapt or die out?


Thank you Pierre-Paul for emphasizing the appalling living conditions ( even for the wealthy ) in pre- modern times. No wonder that multiple millions yearned for that heavenly mansion behind the “ pearly gates “ !


And the populous saw that the CLERGY were part of the Wealthy and
squandering money and goods from them also. Later their anger went
after the Church. Later they set up the Goddess in Notre Dame. Disrespect
to the Church.
But with any local church there, in those monasteries, there were probably
True and Faithful priests who were killed along with the others. Might see
them in the Kingdom.
But even in the middle 1600’s we had poetry and set to religious music
extolling the soon coming of Christ. We have the poetry and music in the
1982 Episcopal hymnal. Anglicans probably sing them also, since the poets
were Anglicans. A Great Awakening then.

THIS is why we need to make Christ Followers and not necessarily Seventh
day Adventists FIRST.





The Investigative Judgement, so unique and peculiar to Adventist Christians —- no other sect / denomination ever affirmed it —- may have made sense when we envisioned Angels poring over pages in massive books, searching for the sins of the saints.

That image of weighty tomes — libraries of litigative literature —- disappeared in the computer age.

When Wikipedia can elucidate any topic in a heart beat,
surely God’s super computers could have performed the entire
“ Investigative Judgement “ in a nano second !

Our ardent IJ believers surely “have egg on their face “ if they believe that God has a crude / crummy / clunky / crippled computer system that would slow walk this Investigative Judgement for 175 years, and counting !

The Angels must be overjoyed not to be spending arduous hours scanning for sins on dusty pages in heavens’s archives !

Our Investigative Judgement theology is just as sacrosanct as our Second Coming belief, and surely both are in need of urgent revision.


The way I understand the message of Jesus’ second coming it is a message of hope. The whole Bible works toward it and ends: “Surely I am coming soon!” (Rev 22:20). That positive message is the ultimate hope of all followers of Jesus. Not preaching it would leave us without hope for the future! Sure enough we need to balance it with our involvement in our present world, as well as to remember the past, but cutting of the future aspect of our hope would be fatal.


The Second Coming of Christ is coined as the blessed hope against despair. I do not know if Matthew has answers to the despair that exists in our world, or maybe he now believes that living in USA (albeit in the ghetto) he is now in heaven. Mind you, many people from the developing world liken America to heaven. Sorry to burst the bubble Matthew. USA or any developed world may satisfy you, but it doesn’t meet my expectation of heaven. Yes, I choose the road you say is well traveled and I still believe Jesus is coming soon.

Thank you


Let me be clear, I don’t think there are compartments in “heaven”; and, since that is a place invisible to us unlike the hilltop in Maine where the faithful waited for Christ’s return in 1844, no one can prove that one way or another. The compartmented heaven is a face-saving hope that sprang in a cornfield. We place concrete dates on all these events, so one must ask, calculated on what calendar…

Jesus’ message had nothing to do with counting years, and tracing His activities in heavenly architecture. His message is for the here and now. If the only reason we are seeking redemption is a fear of being lost, then we’re already lost.

The wording in the Bible comes from a time where no one had even an inkling about our natural world, much less, universe. It may have been useful to picture God sitting on an actual thrown somewhere above the clouds - today, that makes no sense. Having said that, quantum physics leaves the door open for “anything could be possible”. Since matter is only a form of energy, our physical world is less material than we think; and the material world may not be what we should be worried about. Will Jesus appear among the fluffy clouds of water vapour, having travelled through space with a list of names to be saved - in a place through Orion’s nebula - I have some doubts. That’s not to say I don’t think this world is not about to implode; and God is not in control. I leave the details up to God.


The reason the IJ resonates with all of us has nothing to do with what is yet to come but what has transpired in the past. As children we experienced the IJ in so many ways as we developed our personality. No doubt everyone of us have heard our parents say, “Wait Johnny til your father comes home.” No doubt all of us had to learned to reckon with Parent-Teacher meetings to account for school performance and behavior. The template is cast and reinforced all throughout childhood that once we reach adulthood our subconscious world takes over and now we look up to the stars to represent what really is in our our inner worlds. Our default is to resort to IJ. It takes self-awareness to undo the shackles of our childhood years. William Wordsworth had it all right when he proclaimed “The Child is Father of the Man.”

We see this phenomenon in child clinics and in so many neuroses and disorders such as PTSD where the past hold hostage the present and the future. The IJ has similar underlying dynamics but in a different facade. As Matthew 7:15 warns all “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”