A Pew Forum poll a few years ago included the following analysis: “Finally, while an overwhelming percentage of Christians (79%) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, far fewer see Christ’s return as imminent. Overall just 20% of all Christians expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime; even among those who say that the Bible is the literal word of God, just 37% expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime.”
I imagine the poll’s questions gave three options, something like: Do you believe that Christ will return to Earth…
- Within your lifetime?
- Some day after your lifetime?
I suspect it did not even occur to them to ask, just as it would not occur to most people to ask of themselves, “Might He have already Returned to Earth?” I have no idea how to winnow through the Tim Lahaye/rapture and the “cult alert” web sites to find meaningful theological discussion around the Biblical basis for the notion of Christ’s “return.” It would be interesting to see. But from my layman’s reading of the Gospels, I picked up on several points:
- He promises to return (John 14:16-18, Mark 13)
- He certainly warned his followers not to be deceived by false prophets (Mark 13:21-23)
- He would come in the clouds "with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26),
- But what is "power and glory"? Did not the Jews also expect the Messiah in "power and glory"? (Daniel 7:13-14)
- His coming would be at an unexpected hour (Luke 12:39-40)
- That we could distinguish false from true prophets by "their fruit" (Matthew 7:20)
Since I was kid it has always bothered me that, to all appearances, few people were seriously looking at these criteria to ask: has He already come and I just haven’t noticed yet? Actually, it has bothered me since David Koresh’s claims were dismissed simply because he dared make a claim, without any real analysis of that claim — which quickly falls apart under the last point above, because who could think that stockpiling weapons and holding your own followers hostage (and worse) is anything but a bad fruit?