Predicting the Second Coming

Question
Is the second coming of Christ unpredictable? Don't predictions of exactly how long the tribulation period lasts (seven years) conflict with no one knowing the time when Jesus is returning?
Answer
It is true some dispensationalists believe that signs can enable us to predict in at least some general way when Jesus will return. For instance, Hal Lindsey teaches that Israel becoming a state in 1948 meant that Jesus' return would be in one generation. [1] Others say the tribulation will last exactly seven years, so this literal interpretation gives the exact time of the second coming. What about a literal thousand years in Rev. 20? What about the appearance of the Antichrist in a rebuilt literal physical temple? According to some, this indicates that the second coming would be exactly three and a half years later. All these indirect predictive statements of dispensationalism undermine other teachings within Scripture.

Predicting when the second coming is not scriptural for various reasons:

First, Jesus says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). This is a very definitive statement that not only don't we know, but we won't know.

Second, even the signs given (earthquakes, famine, political problems, false Christs, persecution) are generally vague (Matt. 24:7; Luke 21:10-12, etc.). While these things will intensify nearer the end (how much so we do not know), signs have existed for centuries. In addition, much of Mark 13:1-37 is in the form of commands; "See that no one leads you astray" (Mark 13:5); "do not be alarmed" (Mark 13:7); "But be on your guard" (Mark 13:9); "do not be anxious" (Mark 13:11); "Be on guard, keep awake" (Mark 13:33); and "stay awake" (Mark 13:35, 37). So, by the signs, Jesus is not emboldening speculation but watchfulness!

Third, in Matthew 24:38-39 Jesus compares his second coming to the days of Noah: “For in those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (cf. Matt. 24:40-41, 45-51; 25:1-13; 14-30; Luke 17:28-30). People will be going about their daily activities when Christ comes suddenly like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2, 4; cf. Matt 24:42-44; Luke 21:34; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). The signs are already present, but the time of Christ's coming is not predictable.

Fourth, the spirit of antichrist is already at work in the world (cf. 1 John 4:3; cf. 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7). As John writes, "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). While we know we live in the last hour – the time between Christ's first coming and his second – this does not narrow down when the second coming will occur.

Fifth, we’re told that the gospel will first be proclaimed throughout the whole world before the end will come (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10). This is rather vague and doesn’t allow us to predict the day of the Lord. When will the preaching of the gospel be complete? Is it already complete? Are the elect promised to Jesus already saved? (John 17:2, 6, 9, 20, etc.). If not, when will they be? How soon after all this preaching of the gospel will the end come? The Bible answers none of these questions.

So, we don't know the time of Christ's coming. But there is one thing all these passages above emphasize and that we know for sure – Jesus is coming again!

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon. " Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20).

Note

[1] Lindsay, Hal. Late Great Planet Earth (Zondervan, 1970), page 54: "What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs - chief among them the rebirth of the State of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place."

Related Notes

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).