According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “An overwhelming percentage of Christians (79 percent) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.”
That statistic isn’t surprising when one considers that most Christians also believe in the devil, resurrection, angels, heaven, hell and other fairy tales. Irrational beliefs can be benign or directly harmful. For example, the silly assertion that Jesus was born of a virgin probably doesn’t negatively influence opinions on important matters and policies. The widespread belief in the “second coming,” however, can have significant public consequences.
Voters convinced the return of Jesus is imminent may find themselves rather unconcerned with solving problems requiring long-term perspective and commitment.
A 2004 article in The Christian Science Monitor on apocalyptic end-times theology, quoted one man as saying, “I know people who have sold their houses and lived with relatives because they thought the world would soon come to an end … I know others who’ve cut their education short because they thought it more important to witness to people than to get their degree.”
An Associated Press poll, conducted in late 2006, found that 25 percent of Americans (and nearly half of white evangelical Christians) believed there was a good chance that Jesus would return in 2007.
Translation: Tens of millions of Americans expect Jesus any day now.
For these people, issues like energy independence, the federal budget deficit, sustainable environmental practices or global climate change aren’t a big priority. Instead, their attention is focused on religious “moral issues,” like protecting marriage from homosexuals or arranging burials for embryonic stem cells.
Earlier this year, the National Association of Evangelicals, an erudite group to be sure, rebuffed forward thinking religious leaders for suggesting that global climate change represents a genuine crisis. They claimed that such talk shifts “the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time,” such as the “integrity of marriage,” and promoting “sexual abstinence.”
Preserving the global ecosystem for future generations simply isn’t an important moral consideration for anyone convinced Jesus is rounding the corner with a fistful of tickets to heaven. For this reason, and others, I think it’s important to point out something rather obvious.
Jesus isn’t coming back.
Consider the most obvious reason. Assuming someone resembling Jesus ever lived, the guy has been dead for nearly 2,000 years. This fact represents very compelling evidence for why Jesus won’t be coming back. Actually, it’s so compelling, rational people are quite satisfied to stop there.
Bible fans, however, also may wish to consider what Jesus allegedly said. Many passages in the Gospels make clear that Jesus believed the end was nigh. He predicted an imminently approaching apocalypse, which would establish the Kingdom of God (aka Kingdom of Heaven) on earth.
In the Gospel of Mark, for example, Jesus asserts that the end would occur within the lifetime of some he was addressing, “Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
In Matthew, Jesus says, “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
That simply didn’t happen. Jesus was wrong. This creates quite a problem for Bible believers, which they solve in their normal way. Passages fitting their particular brand of Christianity are to be taken literally, whereas passages that disagree, make no sense, or are obviously incorrect need to be somehow “interpreted.”
However, the writings of Paul make it absolutely clear that early Christians took Jesus at his word, literally, and were convinced the end would come quickly. In First Corinthians, for example, Paul’s advice to single followers was to not bother getting married. Paul wrote, “the time is short … this world in its present form is passing away.”
Jesus was a false prophet. The end simply didn’t come as he claimed. His followers have been proven wrong.
Believers need to shed their puerile fantasies.
John Bice is a State News columnist and MSU staff member. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.