This week's question comes from ten year-old Danni in Kansas. She asks, "Is Jesus coming again?"
In virtually every creed of the church there is a phrase that ascribes a "second coming" to Jesus. This second coming is variously referred to in scripture and was related to the end times. The notion of the second coming was strong in the first-generation church so that it caused problems including an attitude of "We needn't work or deal with our responsibilities since Christ is coming any day now" (2 Thessalonians 3.10-13). Those of the early church believed the end times (that is, the end of the world as we know it) and the second coming would happen within their lifetimes.
According to the thought of the day, the end would happen like this: there would be massive persecutions of the Christians coupled with wars and strife; false prophets would become popular; Christ would return "in the clouds"; the "dead in Christ" (those who died before the second coming) would be resurrected; the kingdom of God would be established (an earthly, powerful, political and spiritual kingdom), and those not of the kingdom would be cast out. All this the early church believed would happen in their own lifetimes.
And most of it did happen back then. There was a massive persecution. There were several wars. Many false prophets appeared (1 John 2.18-19). But the second coming didn't occur as they expected and the kingdom of God (as defined by the early church) wasn't established. Instead, the believers became impatient. Peter's second letter addressed this theme, "First of all, you must understand this: that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?' But do not ignore this one fact, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3.3-4, 8-9). Thus, Peter called for patience.
The last book of scripture, the Revelation, was written about AD 95. This letter was the definitive writ of hope for the end times. But still, time passed and there was no end; Christ has not returned at least not as the church expected.
Except . . . the "church" expected the messiah once before and when he showed up the "church" rejected him because this messiah didn't meet their many expectations. Jesus, "the messiah" didn't throw the Romans out by force. He didn't sit on the throne in Jerusalem. This messiah didn't begin a new earthly, powerful political and spiritual kingdom, and restore Judaism as a pre-eminent world power as prescribed in the scriptures. Instead, this Jesus told the religious folk, "You've got it all wrong; it's not about power and might," and the religious leaders outright rejected him and his message because they knew what the messiah was supposed to do.
Perhaps the church of today has clung too hard to its own expectations. Perhaps we would do better to emphasize another aspect of Christ's coming. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, just as you [fed, clothed, cared for, and/or visited] one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25.40). Thus, today Christ is the poor, the oppressed, and the ones in need upon the earth (I wonder what our world would be like if the church acted as though we really believed this!?!).
Further, Paul wrote that the church is the body of Christ in this day (1 Corinthians 12.27), and, as such, acts in the name and in the stead of Christ. Thus, each time a deed is done in the name of the church (or in the name of Christ), then the deed-doer is Christ acting upon the earth. In other words, each time something is done in the name of Christ, Christ has come again.
So, is Jesus coming again? The church confesses that one day he will return in the clouds as a new world ruler (though we may be waiting a long time). On the other hand, each time we act in the name of Christ, Christ has come again. And each time we turn our heads from the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden, we have turned our backs on the Jesus who has returned.