Christian History Home > Issue 61 > A History of the Second Coming: Christian History Interview - Hope Beyond the Details
A History of the Second Coming: Christian History Interview - Hope Beyond the Details
Christians have hardly agreed about how and when Christ will return—only that he will.
After that, we moved into more pessimistic times, and premillennialism, which has a pessimistic view of humanity, took root. In a century like ours, with more to survive than to rejoice in—two world wars, a depression, Hitler, Mussolini, holocausts, nuclear weapons, environmental crises—premillennialism can thrive in a context like this.
Can postmillennialism make a comeback?
If something in the culture changed. For example, between A.D. 300 and 400, a shift took place: Christianity was legalized and became increasingly the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. So eschatology moved from a vague premillennialism to, thanks to Augustine, amillennialism.
One thing that made dispensationalism popular today was that dispensationalists discussed the return of Israel well before it happened. Israel stands at the center of dispensational thinking. If for some reason, the state of Israel ceased to exist, it could cause a major reinterpretation. However, dispensationalists can make adjustments. When the Soviet Union crumbled, they modified their thinking, even though prophecies about the Soviet Union had been a key feature in their views.
There has been a lot of excitement about the end-times prospects for the year 2000. Have Christians invested too much in the turn of the millennium?
In some ways we shot the works in the 1980s. The real catalyst was Hal Lindsey pinning so much on 1948 and implying that the Rapture would occur in 1988. Such hopes for the year 2000 will probably taper off. It won't be like the Millerites, with people throwing up their hands in despair and dissolving in embarrassment.
In spite of the fact that so many Christians in so many eras have been wrong about the details of the Second Coming, we still retain a vibrant hope in it. Why is that?
I think it's inescapably biblical. If you're any kind of a sober, sincere Christian, you have to expect and believe that Jesus Christ is going to return physically at a particular time.
The Bible hasn't given us many details about this, and so, unfortunately, the hope of Christ's return has become the fodder for the curious and for fanatics. But that doesn't change the essential biblical teaching: Christ will come again.
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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