There is still much work that needs to be done:
Here is my question: why does the Lord not return sooner? Many of us are so very much longing for the Lord’s return and praying for it. After all, it is referred to as “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). Yet Christians for 2000 years now have been looking forward to his return, and it still remains a future reality.
What follows is my somewhat roundabout way of seeking to answer that question, in part by speaking about some dreams I sometimes have. But let me preface this a bit further by saying that we should not put too much stock in dreams – at least in terms of any sort of infallible divine counsel.
Yes, God certainly has spoken to his people in the past through dreams. Scripture records many cases of this. So while I am not making any claim whatsoever that the dreams I have are any sort of divine word, I do usually take note of certain dreams I have had – especially recurring ones – asking God if there is anything I should take heed about.
Let me speak to one sort of dream I have now and then, and look at a few possible spiritual lessons that can be drawn from it. I sometimes dream that a house we have been painting (and yes, I used to be a house painter), is nearly finished, but a room or two remains to be done.
Sometimes in the dream it is a rather large building, or has many rooms in it, and it has been quite some time that we have been working on it, yet it is not yet fully finished. I see the need to complete the job, and seek to get it done – either by myself or with others.
That’s it: a short and simple dream. But what might it mean? As I think and pray about it, one clear answer seems to emerge, and it has two aspects. First, I personally may yet have more work to do before Christ calls me home, or until he comes again. I may be getting real sick of this sinful world, and I may pray daily that the Lord comes quickly, but if God still has tasks for me to perform, then I best get busy in doing them.
As evil seems to be coming in like a flood, I so often am asking Jesus to come quickly. That is a biblical prayer to pray, and many others are doing the same. See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/05/22/come-quickly-lord-jesus/
But we can pray for this while we also keep going in what we must do. And so a second way to look at this dream is that it can equally apply to the whole church of God. The message of my dream may apply to the entire Body of Christ as well. Christ knows when he is coming back, but we may collectively have more work to do until then. Thus we must keep on keeping on.
Our work and the endtimes
In a certain parable Jesus said that we are to ‘occupy till he comes’ (Luke 19:13 KJV). We are to be busy doing the things God has called us to do until he does return. We are not to pack our bags, sit back with our feet put up, and just wait around until the Parousia takes place. We are to be busy with Kingdom work now and right up to his coming.
Regardless of our particular eschatology and our view of the endtimes, we have a job to do, and we best be doing it. I have written on this often before, eg.: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1999/04/08/end-times-and-christian-responsibility/
Jesus made it clear that no one knows when exactly he will return. But there are various passages that seem to suggest that we have at least some role to play here. The most well-known passage on this is Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
So that seems to be a bit of a qualification as to his coming. If so, there remains a lot of work to be done. Plenty of people have NOT heard the gospel yet. As but one possible application of this, we can consider the issue of Bible translation. Many people groups still do not have the Scriptures in their own language. One recent report on this put it this way:
Efforts to translate the Bible into more languages across the world are accelerating, despite the pandemic. Wycliffe Bible Translators says 717 languages now have a full Bible translation – almost ten percent of the number of languages spoken in the world. That’s an increase of 13 languages on the previous year. While one in five people are still waiting for the Bible in their own language, Wycliffe says that one new translation was launched every week during the pandemic. https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/bible-translated-into-more-languages-than-ever-before-despite-the-pandemic
We cannot say with any certainty that all peoples must have the Bible in their own tongue before Christ returns. But at the very least, much work remains for all Christians. As Joshua 13:1 famously states, “there remains yet very much land to be possessed”.
As stated, one cannot put too much weight on dreams, yet God can speak to us through them. And if my recurring dream is even somewhat from God, that means I and the church have more work to do. So the question we must ask ourselves is this: Are we doing all that God has called us to do?
Sure, I keep praying daily that Christ returns – and soon. But I must also pray that I am found faithful when he does return. So no slacking off now – we must work while the day is still light (John 9:4). Regardless of how evil the times seem to be, let us press ahead and complete the task. Or to use my dream imagery, let’s keep painting until the entire house is completed.
A quick comment on an objection that some Christians might raise here. Some might say if Christ comes real soon, what about all those who have not heard the gospel? Should we not then stop praying for a speedy return? Two quick replies come to mind.
One, yes it is true that every day that the Lord does not return is another day of grace – another day for people to come to Christ. And 2 Peter 3:9-10 does speak to this: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”
Two, this cuts both ways. Every day that the Lord does not return, some folks will die in their sins. We do not know how the numbers work, but let’s say that Christ will return in 25 years. In that time countless folks will be born, and x number of them will come to Christ.
However it is also true that in those 25 years countless folks will be born and x number of them will NOT come to Christ. How many of each we do not know. But to say that the longer the Lord tarries, the more people will get saved is only half the story. It is also the case that the longer the Lord tarries, the more people will not get saved!
Regardless of that hypothetical, we all should be sharing the gospel with others, regardless of whether Christ comes back tomorrow or next century.