Over the years I have heard different people say that the Lord has to be coming in the next few years. I have even expressed this sentiment myself. When one has been hearing such sentiments for over 20 years, he begins to question the accuracy and reasoning behind those statements. This year marks 170 years since the Great Disappointment, what happened? When we say the second coming is soon, how soon is soon? We are going to explore the reasons behind why Christ has not returned yet. When we understand why the delay has been present, we can actually do something to change it.
The apostle Peter dealt with this question centuries ago. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. God is waiting for as many who would to come to repentance. When no more will repent, there is no point in Christ delaying His coming.
What brings about repentance? Acts 5:31: “Him [Jesus] hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Christ is the one who gives repentance and forgiveness of sins. We call this message the message of salvation or the gospel. This is what prepares us for Christ’s return.
How is this message given? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:13-15. The message is given by men.
Who gives this message? “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19,20. The church was given the gospel to deliver to the whole world.
Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” This verse does not only apply to the second coming of Christ. In this chapter Jesus is answering two questions, when shall the temple be destroyed and when shall the end of the world come. In the minds of the disciples both events meant the same thing. Read in context, everything mentioned in Matthew 24 happens in order. If you look carefully at the events mentioned verse 14 happens before instruction to flee for those in Judaea prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. That means the gospel was already given to the world once. “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” Colossians 1:23. This is helpful because it gives us an idea of how we can get the message out and a rough time table for being able to do so. Before I go to details about how the apostles got the gospel before the world, I do want to say that Matthew 24:14 is applicable to our time because Revelation 14:6-12 shows that this message needs to go before all the world again.
So how long did it take the disciples to spread the gospel before all the world? Jesus told them to give it at His ascension. That occurred 40 days after his crucifixion which according to Adventist understanding of Daniel 9 happened in 31 AD. When did Paul write Colossians? There is a clue in the epistle itself: “The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen. Written from Rome to the Colossians by Tychicus and Onesimus.” Colossians 4:18. Here Paul is a prisoner, but he is a prisoner in a specific place, Rome. Acts 28:30 seems to indicate he was a prisoner in Rome for about two years. Acts of the Apostles gives us an approximate date for his imprisonment: “Had his [Paul’s] trial been longer deferred, or had he from any cause been detained in Rome until the following year, he would doubtless have perished in the persecution which then took place.” AA 487.1 What persecution? “About this time a terrible fire occurred in Rome by which nearly one half of the city was burned. Nero himself, it was rumored, had caused the flames to be kindled, but to avert suspicion he made a pretense of great generosity by assisting the homeless and destitute. He was, however, accused of the crime. The people were excited and enraged, and in order to clear himself, and also to rid the city of a class whom he feared and hated, Nero turned the accusation upon the Christians. His device succeeded, and thousands of the followers of Christ–men, women, and children–were cruelly put to death.” AA 487.2. This fire is the great fire of Rome which occurred in 64 AD. That means Paul was released in 63 AD, and the gospel could have gone to all the world sometime from 61-63 AD. The time from Christ’s ascension to this period is 30-32 years. That is an incredibly short amount of time to reach the whole world.
How did they do it so fast? They did not really have resources to do the job. Starting out there were only 120 of the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 1:15). They did not have money, and the fastest modes of transportation were ship and horse. Our church has 17 million members, who knows how much money, and modern technology for travel and communication. We should in theory have an advantage on the disciples from this standpoint, but it has taken this church 170 years to date with no completion of the work in sight to reach the world.
Could we have really given the message any faster? “Had the church of Christ done her appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would before this have been warned, and the Lord Jesus would have come to our earth in power and great glory.” DA 633.3 (written by 1898). “Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith, and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward.” 1SM 68.1 (written in 1883). There are other statements that I have heard of that were written earlier than these that express the same idea. The point is the world should have been reached at least 39 years after 1844. That is a timeframe comparable with the first century church, but instead we have taken 5, going on 6, times longer to do it.
While we stand in need of resources and people, there is something the church is in greater need of to do the work: the gospel itself. Missionaries and resources will not be a problem if we have the true gospel. “Every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary. He who drinks of the living water becomes a fountain of life. The receiver becomes a giver.” DA 195.2. “No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. If we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace.” SC 78.2. No one who truly receives the gospel keeps it to themselves. They can’t help but share it. Just look at all those that Christ healed of spiritual and physical maladies, they could not hold their peace even when He told them to do so. The problem is those in the church were either never reached by the true gospel, or they have failed to continue in it being converted every day. Part of the problem has to do with the fact that we don’t really know what the message is. If we did, we probably wouldn’t have more than one gospel being preached in the church. Alas, we do.
What can be done about it? Study, but differently. Two problems we have are we don’t realize how central the gospel is to Scripture, and we don’t study Scripture thoroughly enough. “The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the Revelation,”They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4), the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme,–man’s uplifting,–the power of God, “which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57. He who grasps this thought has before him an infinite field for study. He has the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure house of God’s word.” Ed 125.2, 126.1. Understanding how central and key this subject is is how we understand the whole of Scripture, for there will be no portion of it locked to us.
“I have been shown that many who profess to have a knowledge of present truth know not what they believe. They do not understand the evidences of their faith. They have no just appreciation of the work for the present time. When the time of trial shall come, there are men now preaching to others who will find, upon examining the positions they hold, that there are many things for which they can give no satisfactory reason. Until thus tested they knew not their great ignorance. And there are many in the church who take it for granted that they understand what they believe; but, until controversy arises, they do not know their own weakness. When separated from those of like faith and compelled to stand singly and alone to explain their belief, they will be surprised to see how confused are their ideas of what they had accepted as truth. . . . Precious light has come, appropriate for this time. It is Bible truth, showing the perils that are right upon us. This light should lead us to a diligent study of the Scriptures and a most critical examination of the positions which we hold. God would have all the bearings and positions of truth thoroughly and perseveringly searched, with prayer and fasting. Believers are not to rest in suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth. Their faith must be firmly founded upon the word of God so that when the testing time shall come and they are brought before councils to answer for their faith they may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear.” 5T 707.2, 707.3.
We tend to accept Bible studies without looking at the passages used in context. This is great when you talk with people who do not study their Bibles about our doctrines. The problem is when you run into someone who does study, and then they start pulling passages out that you have not seen or using logic you have not heard of. Unfortunately for many this point may not come until it is too late to reform. This is why we have different gospels going around in the church when there should be only one. With sincere, thorough study we will get back to the point where there will be only one gospel preached from our pulpits. x The delay has been caused by a largely unconverted church that is ignorant of the gospel. Our only hope of ending the delay is learning the true gospel and preaching it. May God help us to that end.