This question comes from John the son of a Presbyterian minister in Kansas. He asks, "If Jesus came back today, could we expect a different fate than the one he faced in the first century?"
The question demands two views, one of which is rather brief. If Jesus returned as popular theology dictates (second coming, rapture, eschatology, etc.), and if he fulfills all of Hal Lindsey's expectations and interpretations, then yes, we can expect a different end to the story.
On the other hand, the last time the Messiah showed up on earth the "church" of the day had also pre-determined what "he" would do including expelling Roman soldiers, establishing a new Israelite kingdom on earth, and elevating the current religion and religious leaders to new heights both politically and in wealth/power.
Of course Jesus spent much of his time teaching just how wrong the "church" of the day was and how corrupt and narrow-minded the religious leaders and their followers were, choosing to teach instead about love and acceptance and about freedom for the oppressed (generally defined as those persons the "church" of the day found objectionable).
But how would Jesus be accepted today?
To begin with, if Jesus came back today as he did in Bethlehem, we could likely expect him to be born in the inner city with no heat, no running water, and so on. He would attend the local church his parents chose, but when he became an adult he would leave the ghetto to search for his own. The "church" of our day would see this man as a homeless wanderer and might even put him up in a mission once in awhile. When he would "clean up" and find access to a Sunday School class or even a pulpit, he would overturn current expectations of the coming messiah, probably teach about loving and accepting the unlovable (homeless, hookers, homosexuals, AIDS victims, ghetto children, etc.), and likely blast the church for making their sanctuaries unavailable to those who need them most.
Those who would follow this homeless tramp would be an unsavory bunch in our eyes. Besides attracting known prostitutes, addicts, pushers, and pimps, he would consort with gamblers, alcoholics, con men and women, illegal aliens, crooked lawyers and crooks both, and we'd find him frequenting such places as bars, clubs, and probably even sleazy strip joints. And when this following showed up at church for worship I don't have to wonder much at what the reaction would be.
The church would get uncomfortable. The local government would be in a dither. What to do about this man who was consorting with known felons and other undesirables? How could empowerment of these "sinful" people be tolerated? Those in power would watch and listen carefully as he taught and as he traveled, hoping to catch him doing something illegal. But of course, they would find nothing.
Except . . . in our culture we have a device, a ploy, a place for such people. The device is the court; the ploy committal papers; the place mental institutions. If the powerful religious leaders and politicos couldn't find a crime to charge Jesus with, the next legal option would be institutionalization. Papers would be drawn up demonstrating Jesus as potentially harmful to himself or to others, he would be picked up (as opposed to arrested), sedated, evaluated for 72 hours, and then permanently committed for his own (our) safety.
So, would Jesus be treated any differently today than 2,000 years ago? I doubt it. The church is in the same place as it was then (generally exclusive, judgmental, and intolerant), the government is easily as corrupt, and the people of the land are just as shepherdless and lost as always. Jesus would love the unlovable, touch the untouchable, and condemn the church for not taking care of his "children" all of his children. And the people would rise up in indignation and put an end to his mischief.
But would that it would not be so.