“If Jesus was really going to come back, wouldn’t he have returned by now?”
As a pastor, I’ve fielded this question more than once. And to be honest, I’ve asked this question myself. My guess is you have too.
Doubts about Jesus’s second coming can be the result of any number of factors. When seemingly senseless tragedy strikes—whether on a global scale, such as a devastating earthquake, or on a more personal level, like a terminal diagnosis or a miscarriage—it can be easy to wonder if God has given over the world to its fallen condition.
A Christian’s trust in, and subsequent disappointment by, any one of the numerous failed predictions of when Jesus would return (e.g., William Miller, Edgar Whisenant, Harold Camping) can shake one’s faith in the trustworthiness of Jesus, the Bible, or Christian leaders.
If left unchecked, seeds of doubt about the second coming can come to the full fruition of disbelief. Those who doubt are at risk of succumbing to the conclusion that there’s no real, hope-filled future for this world; that this life is all we have; and that God—if he exists—has no interest in our world.
Thankfully, questions about the second coming aren’t new. In fact, doubts arose soon after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension. We can find answers to our doubts in the pages of the New Testament.
Answering Doubts with Truth
One such place is in 2 Peter 3. There, Peter warns that “scoffers” would come and laugh at those who still wait for Jesus to return: “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’” (3:4). How should we think about Christ’s second coming amid the scoffing of a skeptical world and our own doubt-laden minds?
Peter offers three theological answers for us to consider.
1. God is active (2 Pet. 3:5–7).
It may seem like God isn’t active in our world, that he’s distanced himself from the mess we’ve made. But Peter says no. God is very involved in our world. By pointing to creation, Peter reminds us God was active in the past. He points to the flood of Noah’s day—God has intervened in the world, and he’s active now as well. Peter says the world is “stored up” and “kept” by God even now for the day of judgment (cf. Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
This means we can never say God isn’t active in this world or in our lives. The sun rose this morning as it does each day. You woke with a beating heart and with breath in your lungs. All that and more are gifts from our Creator and Sustainer.
We can never say God isn’t active in this world or in our lives.
If God was active in the past to create and judge, he’ll be active today—and in the future. Just as he created, he’s sustaining. Just as he brought judgment and salvation in the past, he’ll bring judgment and salvation in the future.
2. God is eternal (2 Pet. 3:8–9a).
Peter next appeals to God’s eternal nature. God is the uncreated One, with no beginning and no end. His relationship with time is different than ours. As Matthew Barrett states, God “transcends time, is eternal to time, and is timelessly eternal.”
This isn’t true of us, of course. We are bound by time. Dr. Strange and Marty McFly may time travel in movies, but in the real world, we live moment by moment, unable to go back or jump ahead. We’re finite, but God is infinite. So who are we to judge God’s timing? Like Paul’s answer to the objection to election in Romans 9:19–21, Peter reminds us we, as finite creatures, are in no position to accurately judge the infinite Creator.
3. God is patient (2 Pet. 3:9).
Why hasn’t Jesus returned yet? Because God is patient. His loving patience leads him to wait so all his people might reach repentance.
Today the gospel is preached throughout the world. More and more people are hearing the good news of God’s work through Christ, and more and more people are responding with repentant faith. For that to continue, God’s judgment is delayed (cf. Acts 17:30).
We’re finite, but God is infinite. So who are we to judge God’s timing?
Have you wondered why God didn’t wipe out all creation immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? Because God is patient. Why hasn’t God brought judgment though incredible evil persists in the world? Because he’s patient. Why wouldn’t God immediately destroy you and me though we were his enemies before we came to faith in Christ? Because God is patient. God has delayed necessary, proper, judgment so his people may be reconciled to him as they respond to the gospel.
Called to Patient, Holy Living
How, then, should we respond to others’ objections and our doubts about Jesus’s second coming? Remember that God is active, so he hasn’t walked away. God is eternal, so he doesn’t answer to us or to our ticking clocks. And God is patient, so we should be too.
You and I are called to patience, holy living, and trusting in God’s steadfast promise to eventually bring the fullness of our salvation and make all things new (2 Pet. 3:10–13).
Hang in there, saints. Jesus is coming again.