The sky grew brighter and brighter. The earth seemed to shake, and people were rushing about wildly. I didn’t know whether to run or stand still. And then it hit me: This was IT. This was the Second Coming of Jesus.
I wanted to be glad, but instead I was terribly afraid. The light got even brighter, until I could see nothing around me. I heard shouts of joy, but none of them were mine. I tried to speak, but I could make only a croaking sound. Then everything went black. And then I woke up.
This happened several times with variations when I was young. Only one aspect of the dreams was constant. I never knew whether I was saved or lost. I knew only uncertainty, fear, and then the waking.
Seventh-day Adventists live with the Second Coming. It invades our sleeping as well as our waking. Perhaps you have looked up at a clear sky and seen a small white cloudit the size of a man’s hand?and watched, wondering. What will it be like? Could this be it ? Or maybe driving on a day with heavy, dark clouds, you have seen shafts of sunlight stream through and thought: Will it look like that? And along with the fascination has there not been at least a twinge of fear?
The one indisputable fact is that it hasn’t happened yet. Jesus has not returned. We believe God’s promise is true. We live in the hope of the Second Coming. We pray that it will be soon. But still we wait, and we cannot continue to simply ignore the questions and doubts.
Then there are the signs. It is always easy to just say that they hadn’t been sufficiently fulfilled as yet. But that doesn’t harmonize with our belief that the primary signs have already been fulfilledthat this was the time of the end, that Christ’s return was "just around the corner."
If we would understand the value and meaning of the signs of Christ’s coming, we could continue to maintain their validity without embarrassment. The signs are not given to enable us to construct a chronological timetable of events preceding Christ’s Second Advent. If this were possible, it would only serve to insure that many of us would wait until the last possible minute to prepare. It is precisely because we think we have this kind of timetable already that we can grow apathetic in the face of signs. (After all, the Sunday laws must come first.)
The signs are not given to tell us the quantity of time that remains before Christ will come. They are given to warn us of the quality of the times we are living in. This is the end time. Current events are just the kinds of things Jesus said would be happening at the hour of His coming. It is not like a time bomb set to explode, it is like a tiger ready to spring. The situation is critical every moment.
This does not mean that last day events will not follow the sequence generally outlined; not that the Sunday laws will not be passed. But it is a frightful kind of arrogance for us to demand that God follow our time schedule, or fit precisely into our understanding of things. He has plainly warned us that both His promises and threatenings are alike conditional.
If God, in His long-suffering love for all humanity, should see that after 140 years the Seventh-day Adventist church as an institution was no longer fulfilling the purpose for which He had established it and should turn from it, could we blame Him? We hope, we pray, that this will not happen. But the Jews were God’s chosen people, and that choice was meant to last forever. Yet, when they failed to fulfill His purpose, God was forced to reject them as His special messengers. We misunderstand God if we believe He will let the whole world continue indefinitely with its pain and sadness and death simply because one group of people prove unfaithful to their trust.
Surely this should be a warning to us. At the last great day, some of us may discover that we have been growing as tares, while all along we thought we were wheat. Just because we are members of the Seventh-day Adventist church in good and regular standing does not mean we have a reserved seat in God’s kingdom. Not all those who say "Lord, Lord" are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
But all of this just brings us back to the basic question. We know that we are living in the end time. Yet reaching every person with the gospel seems impossible, and to assume that we can be better Christians than any person who lived before us, or that God cannot reject the Seventh-day Adventist church, is unwarranted pride. What does He require? What will it take for us to get things over with and be received into God’s kingdom, where we belong?
First and most importantwe can trust God. He has given us a "sure word of prophecy" that Jesus will return. His Word does not say: "You must make it happen." It says: "I will come again." The One whose mercy is everlasting, the One who is faithful although all men should prove faithless, will not let us down. God will bring to pass all that He has promisedin His own good time.
Secondly, we can remember that God expects no more of us than He has expected of His followers in all generations. We are to love Him with all our hearts and minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to do the duties around us and carry a burden for the salvation of others. And then we are to leave the worrying to God. He will work in us both to "will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). He has made Himself responsible for the results of our honest efforts.
We need not be embarrassed by our insistent proclamation of Christ’s soon coming. We are in good companyPaul, John, and Peter preached it almost 2,000 years ago. And for many people, the end will come today, or tomorrow, or next week. For the rest of us, it will come soon enough at the very time God has planned.
What we do need to remember in our proclamations is that being able to predict just when Jesus will come is not the most important thing. The times and seasons are in God’s hands. What is more important is that welike these saints of oldnot waver in our trust; that we, like them, continue to look for a city whose builder and maker is God, though we see it only by faith.
The faithful servant is not the one who periodically gears himself up for superhuman efforts, and then lapses into depression when little happens. Nor is he the one who constantly berates himself that if he would just do a little more, that would end it all. The faithful servantand the one who is always preparedis the one who daily does the work assigned him, trusting in his Lord’s promise to return. He is the one who will hasten that day. And whenever it comes, he will be waiting and ready.
A longer version of this essay first appeared in Pilgrimage of Hope, ed. Roy Branson (Takoma Park, Maryland: AAF, 1986), which can be purchased from Adventist Forum.
When he wrote this essay, Tom Dybdahl was an editor at Rodale Press, in Pennsylvania, and a frequent contributor to Spectrum.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/716