Devastating wildfires. Global plagues. Unprecedented political swerves. If you’re looking for an apocalypse, there certainly do seem to be some end of the world energy in the air right now. Of course, this isn’t necessarily new. From the rapture hooplas that wasted a hundred million dollars on billboards, to the Left Behind writers who fictionally cast us in the Earth’s last days, to the thousands of Millerites who sold their possessions to stare at a midnight sky in 1844 only to return home at sunrise to the mockery of drunkards, Christians love declaring, “The end is near.”
Yes, these declarations have garnered many a punchline but our predictive tendencies are not necessarily a character flaw.
Though Jesus is quite clear that no one can know when he will return to annihilate sin and death, many still seek his return. And they seek because they are tired. They are tired of experiencing war, pain and abuse. They are tired of their struggle against sin. They are tired of losing loved ones to disease, and they desire God to end the present age in a health-making, soul-benefiting, Spirit-directed way.
So, why hasn’t Jesus returned? What’s taking so long?
I suggest that Jesus gave us a clear answer for this. And his reason may be even more meaningful than the elimination of pain and the transformation of our bodies that we’re so looking forward to experiencing at the end of time.
In his only parable directly addressing the problem of evil, Jesus said our world is like a wheat field infiltrated with weeds. When asked if he would torch the whole field and start over, the owner of the field in the parable said, “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
This parable reveals why evil remains even though God has the power to end it all: God stays His hand for the sake of the important wheat that is just now beginning to grow, even though its life is intertwined with what will be eliminated someday.
And what is this wheat of such great value that God would allow even evil and pain to continue in order to let it grow? The wheat is you—your life, your future, your awakening and transformation.
Why hasn’t Jesus returned? Because God wants you to grow into maturity. None of that maturity would have been possible if Jesus had returned for the Millerites in 1844.
To return — to walk back onto the stage, as actors do after a play — is to declare an end to the show. It means the end of this world as we know it and the beginning of a new era; an era in which those who have been drawn into Christ are transformed from mere mortals into their eternal selves.
Christians have prayed for the end of time since before Pentecost. Yet God’s grace is evident in His delay. Because God has waited, you and I have the opportunity to become eternal personalities fulfilling God’s Kingdom future.
And that fulfillment begins now.
The key element to the parable of the wheat and the weeds is the growth of the wheat. The New Testament calls this “sanctification,” which is simply the process of becoming more like God. Through this process, our bodies and minds are saved from their self-defeating tendencies to embrace rage, greed, pride and death.
During this in-between period, Peter instructed, “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
Some day—God knows when—the number of God’s children will fill the Father’s house to capacity, and we are part of that work now. We are to speed the coming of Christ, both by inviting others into life in Christ and by inviting God’s future Kingdom into our present. When we choose to make Christ the King of all we are, we experience now what we will experience forever: a united people through the Spirit of God who are following the Son together into the Father’s future.
As such, our very lives can and should be sung in unison with the prayer that concludes the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One PhilosopherÕs Search for a God Worth Believing In (check out the book trailer here). Connect with him at Everything New.