“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (2 Pet. 3:13-14)
In the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches, like Peter’s quote above, part of the message to these new Christians was to look forward in hope and anticipation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lifetimes.
This was consistent with the commands of Jesus given in several teachings and parables scattered throughout the gospels, for His disciples to always watch and be ready for His return (Mt. 24:42, 25:13; Mk. 13:37; Lk. 21:36).
The question can then be asked, if the teaching of Jesus, the preaching of the apostles, the doctrine of the early church, and the scriptures of the New Testament all uniformly say that not only first-century but all subsequent believers should look for an imminent second coming of Christ, was this inconsistent with a pre-condition, for example, that Israel would have to become a nation again…as actually occurred in 1948…before the end of time (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 31:10)?
In light of the past two thousand years of recorded history, during which the rapture or the second coming did not take place, were all of the Christians who lived and died throughout the centuries between the first-century and the twenty-first century, partially misinformed about looking in earnest expectation for the rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51-53) and the second coming of Jesus?
At the time of the ministry of Jesus, and the subsequent writing of most of the New Testament in the following decades, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the nation of Israel by the Romans in 70 A.D. had not even happened yet (Lk. 19:41-44).
The fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world would obviously have to occur before a re-gathering could happen sometime in the future, as a sign that the last days were approaching.
When the disciples ask the recently resurrected Jesus in Acts 1:6 “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (the Messianic reign), Jesus answers “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”
This discussion with Jesus, concerning His restoring the kingdom in Israel and thus bringing about the end of the old world system, was occurring before Paul the Apostle was even converted, and before much of the New Testament theology and doctrine was fully formulated.
It would be almost two decades before Paul would write 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
This discussion with Jesus about the end-times was occurring before the Apostle John had even written his gospel, much less the book of Revelation.
Yet Jesus did not say at that time, to stop watching and looking for His second coming, but instead said that the disciples would receive Holy Spirit power to become witnesses of Christ to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8).
It was a fair question by the disciples to ask of the resurrected Jesus at that time, and the answer then was that there was evangelical work to do, which stretched in time far beyond the vision of the early disciples…to our present day.
Many people use the above-mentioned scriptures and early church doctrine to argue that the rapture of the Christian church is imminent today, and could happen at any moment, and I believe they are correct. The concept that there would be millions of Christians living through twenty centuries of time without this promise actually coming true, yet living their lives as if the rapture and the second coming could happen any day, is not inconsistent.
The expectation of the second coming of Christ and the beginning of a new earth and a new heavens where peace and justice will reign, is a hope that is rightly supposed to reside within the hearts of Christians in the second-century, the fifth-century, the tenth-century, through the middle ages, and in each of our previous four or five centuries leading up to today.
The fact that the rapture and the second coming did not occur in these past centuries, even though many Christians were faithfully watching and looking for these events…is due to some overriding considerations that are more important than the timing of the rapture or the second coming of Christ.
One of these important considerations is the salvation of the many sheep that Jesus speaks about when He says He has other sheep to call that are not of this first-century flock:
“And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).
Those sheep that Jesus is referring to, at this current time, happen to be us.
If the rapture and the second coming had both occurred in the 8th century, for example, we could not now be saved because we would never have been born. You could not be reading this book, if the rapture occurred in the 9th century, because the world and the millennium would have ended already.
If the rapture had occurred in the 11th century, there would have been no John Wycliffe, no Martin Luther, no Protestant Reformation, no invention of the printing press that allowed Bibles to be available in hundreds of languages to be read by the common people, and no great missionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries.
If the rapture had occurred in the 15th century, there would have been no Salvation Army, no Red Cross, no Billy Graham crusades around the world, no classic debates with brilliant antagonists resulting in the creation of modern theology and apologetics, and no intense searches for truth over the past recent centuries within philosophy, science, history, archaeology, politics, and Christianity.
Even though the earnest expectation for the end of this world and the beginning of a new world has been the proper hope of every Christian since the first-century, this hope has correctly and rightly been put on hold until the very last sheep have heard the gospel message and made their decision for Christ.
This viewpoint is consistent with 2 Peter 3:9, which says: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”