Saturday, May 21, 2011
The Christian's Blessed Hope (Or, Why The Second Coming?)
For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works (Titus 2:11-14, American Standard Version).
Yesterday after work, as is my custom on Fridays, I went and did my banking and then stopped at the store to buy groceries for the upcoming week before coming home to rest after a long work week and celebrate the weekend. No doubt I will need to eat next week, even if Harold Camping is right and the rapture takes place. I'll be here whether he is right or wrong, because I am, after all, an unbeliever - no, a disbeliever in the Christian religion.
All the time I'm treated to the speculations of my Christian friends about the "signs" of the second coming of Jesus. Wacky weather and natural phenomena seem to be among the most popular of the current indicators. God is warning us, telling those who "have their ears on" that his patience has about reached its end, the grapes of his wrath are just about ripe, and the time is at hand.
They blurt out only what they have heard. The same tired old line that has been repeated for the better part of two millennia. Their studies have all been biased. There is one question I never hear them getting around to answering honestly. The only answer they can give is that mysterious catch all idea that "it is according to God's plan" or a part of the secret counsel of God, among those hidden things.
The question I'm referring to is this: Why a Second Coming of Jesus?
I'm going to go out on limb and stake my soul to this theory: The reason for the Christian doctrines of the Second Coming and the Resurrection of Jesus is simply that his ministry was a complete failure.
Jesus, according to the biblical gospels, waltzed onto the world stage - a very small stage in the middle east - announcing that "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15), and then he in fairly short order managed to get himself executed by an unamused Roman government.
Jesus' audience was made up of those Jewish believers who were well-versed in Messianic prophecy and knew all about the kingdom promises proclaimed by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the other prophets (as well as in a rather large body of apocalyptic writings, such as the books of Enoch).
Whatever enthusiasm Jesus managed to muster - and there was some, although it is hard to miss the fact that he died fairly abandoned and without large throngs of protesting followers - should have died for all time when he was taken down from the cross and entombed.
That should have been it.
The heralded kingdom did not come, the Messianic prophecies were not fulfilled, the world was not transformed with peace and justice and righteousness, and the oppressive Roman Empire was still in control.
However, there were some who evidently were invigorated by Jesus' ministry and quite naturally loath to give up the dream of a restoration of the kingdom of Israel to its prior (and even a prophesied greater) glory.
From that seed sprang the ideas that Jesus did not remain dead but was restored to life by God and the kingdom still lay ahead and would be realized at Jesus the Messiah's Second Coming. The scriptures were combed for clues of these new ideas, the message was reinterpreted, and a new ideal was born.
Actually, the reinterpreted message was really a legion of messages, each vying for recognition as orthodoxy. The once antagonistic Roman Empire later became the Jesus people's chief benefactor when it elevated Christianity to the official religion of the empire and set about to define just what the orthodox faith was. (And faith it was and is, because the evidence is lacking.)
The rest, as they say, is history.
People look for a Second Coming of Jesus today because they follow the tradition of a postponed hope. People believe because they want to believe. The believe because they like to have hope.
Now it so happens that the majority of Christians don't take Harold Camping seriously. Only Camping's followers take Camping seriously. And it remains to be seen how many of them will wise up and renounce their misplaced hope and how many will reinterpret it.
Some of us study the history of Christianity and arrive at the conclusion that it is all a misplaced hope based on faulty premises. There I stand.