Q&R with Brad Jersak – “Is preaching Christ’s any-day return right? Is it helpful?”

Question

I remember back in the 1970s being scared by Garner Ted Armstrong’s preaching on the World Tomorrow telecasts, taking Matthew 24 out of context and saying the return of Jesus Christ would cut short those tumultuous times, otherwise no flesh would be saved alive.

Now I watch Jack van Impe preaching something very similar. I should not be too cynical as the world is a mess and we may well be headed for horrible wars but I am not letting fear religion grip me again.

For decades they have been preaching the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Imminent? Right away? As Greg Albrecht says, dispensationalism is fatally flawed. Do you see any value in this type of preaching? Perhaps some will be drawn to Christ in spite of the flaws.

Response

I think the key to that preaching was fear.

And so, back in the day, fear would drive people to God … but it was not for the love of God. This gospel attracted adherents through the terror of what God would do to them if they weren’t ready for his frightful return. Fear they’d be locked out, go through the tribulation, through Armageddon and into hell. I have deep doubts about whether such conversions could be authentically regarded as “faith in Christ” or “love for God” … at best there was gratitude that our coerced inclusion would save us from the wrath of God. And remember, “wrath” literally means violent, vengeful anger–traditionally, one of the seven deadly sins.  

Today, fear-based preaching of that sort doesn’t even accomplish that much. It simply creates atheists who either see it is ludicrous or have the good sense to despise such a god as unworthy of worship. I don’t see it drawing people to love Christ, except for those of a certain temperament who are drawn to retribution … either casting themselves as agents of God’s wrath or somehow needing to be its object. Yes, there’s still a market for that when offered in hip packaging. But that schtick is manipulative and the net loss to the kingdom of God is enormous. We need a healthier and much more beautiful vision. 

One such vision is a perspective shift from imminence to immanence … that is, from soonness to nearness. Immanence emphasizes God’s presence, encompassing and permeating the world, and most especially each of us–as Christ abides in our hearts in radical intimacy. It takes us from striving to pretend we believe the Lord will come next week or next year or next blood moon (sheesh!) and it shifts our focus to Abba’s ever-present love in our lives. Yes, the Lord is coming very soon … as soon as you call on him.

Will Christ come again on the clouds of heaven? One day, somehow but apparently not yet. For now, his coming is more immanent than that, for God’s Spirit rises up from within as a wellspring in our hearts. Two passages come to mind from John’s Gospel, written decades after the first church’s any-day-arrival fever had cooled down:

John’s Gospel of Immanence

  • ‘Everyone who drinks this water’, Jesus replied, ‘will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.’
    John 4:13-14
  • On the last day of the festival, the great final celebration, Jesus stood up and shouted out, ‘If anybody’s thirsty, they should come to me and have a drink! Anyone who believes in me will have rivers of living water flowing out of their heart, just like the Bible says!’ He said this about the Spirit, which people who believed in him were to receive.
    John 7:37-39

This is not to say we dismiss Christ’s glorious one-day return to restore all things. Not at all. But this business of psyching ourselves up disingenuously is not at all what Christ meant by staying sober, alert and watchful. He was calling us to be mindful at all times of his nearness, counting on the Light to overcome this present darkness rather than reverting to the darkness under the pressures of persecution or seduction by the world system or our own passions. He’s calling us to watch and ask for the Spirit’s guidance and Christ’s deliverance through whatever life throws at us. 

If we need a vision of the end, let’s look instead to the glorified Christ shining on the Mount of Transfiguration and to the transforming victory of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15, where we see death had died and we share in the Risen One’s immortality … when “God will be all in all.”

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