RE: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Tue Oct 14 2008 - 12:42:29 EDT

Hi Schwarzwald-

I think one of the disagreements I have with you is that you are only considering Christ's words from the Bible. I'm considering the 10x to 1000x more He taught them verbally. We can't get in the same mindset as the early disciples by simply reading some tidbits of Christ's teaching, as recorded in Scripture. They would have been saturated in Christ's verbal teaching; so if they expected Christ's return in their day, I'm supposing Christ taught.


From: [] On Behalf Of Schwarzwald
Sent: Monday, October 13, 2008 5:24 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

Bernie Dehler wrote:

The question was how could Christ have been wrong when He taught of his imminent return, assuming Christ was able to teach these disciples sufficiently. In says in Acts Christ taught them personally, after his resurrection. You'd think something like this would be clear.

 In your 1 & 2 breakdown below, I agree. But I'm trying to figure out how they could have been so wrong about #2, being with Christ personally. How could Christ not have known how they were living, and what they were teaching? As Ed shows, there was plenty of teaching about the imminent return in their day. Seems to me that their lifestyle and teaching would be a natural outcome of what they were taught by Christ.

My understanding (perhaps flawed) of the discussion is this: The one explicit time we see Christ talking about the timeline of these things is in Matthew 24, where he says neither the day nor the hour is known, and the context/reading of 'generation' is wide open. Whatever the thoughts and excitement of the early Christians, that much seems to hold in one way: They have no expectation of a specific time of Christ's return. "Soon" is as far as any of them are willing to get, and even "soon" seems to have some elasticity. So whatever one imagines Christ teaching, particulars seem ruled out from the outset. And if Christ taught that His return could be at any moment, any time, without long-broadcast advanced warning ("like a thief"), and that there was no timetable or countdown in play, then "in your lifetime" remains a possibility - both for the disciples and for us.

Here's where the problem begins. What can make a person believe that Christ is going to return within his/her lifetime? The answer clearly isn't limited to 'because that's what the resurrected Christ taught to the disciples', because it's already been noted that such expectation has happened at other points in history. The reasons can be excitement, hope, coincidence, some kind of mistake, etc. A lot of different things can spur on that belief. That's one half of the problem.

The other half is this: How do you correct misunderstandings like these? And by that I mean, how do you assert with certainty 'Christ is certainly not coming back at this time.'? The short answer is, you can't. The best you can do is address the specific reasons why someone believed they divined a certain date or range and why that reasoning may not be decisive. Oddly, I would say this limitation even extends to Christ: If Christ either did not know the time, or for whatever reason could not reveal it, what should and could be done in cases where people come to unwarranted certainty? If the time is not known, how can 'not soon' be taught with certainty? If it's known but purposefully not being revealed, how can 'not soon' be taught without starting to reveal a time frame?

I think the answer is this: Nothing needs to be done. Because if the time is at hand, then the time is at hand - and if it's not, it's not. It's going to be obvious either way it goes, and it becomes one more teaching moment for Christ.

All this is one reason I find Ed's rendition of the situation not compelling - he mentions that Christ, despite expressing uncertainty, teaches as if the second coming "could not be far off". But he goes on to give a quote that continues to highlight the uncertainty: No time period is ruled out, and warnings are given against people who think they do know the time. Further, admonitions in various places to steel yourself for this return are taken to mean a certainty that Christ's return is certainly imminent, rather than potentially immanent. I think reading Luke 21:36 (among other passages) in this light does a good job of illustrating this. Then in Paul, "We who are alive" suddenly is taken to mean 'specifically first century Christians and Paul himself', when it's just as easy - and in my view, more natural - to take it to mean 'Christians who are alive'.

I could go on and on (both about the passages given, as well as the variety of early christian practices and beliefs that certainly and strongly imply that they were aware that Christ may not be returning so quickly, but that it was important for their teaching/community to endure and thrive regardless of the timeframe), but I hope I'm communicating myself clearly here. Oh, and if this does bump off to a private list discussion, I'd love to be included, even though I only recently hopped in on this one.

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Received on Tue Oct 14 12:43:10 2008

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