It is said that Christ is both "immanent" and "imminent." Immanency being the quality of presence in His creation (not in a pantheistic way, but in the sense that He took part in the human experience of a sinful world); imminency being the quality of soon-coming-ness. Jesus is a God who dwelt among His people and continues to be present with them (by way of the Holy Spirit), as well as a God who has promised to return and take those people home when the time is right--and we are told that is soon.
This article focuses on the second of those qualities: Jesus' imminency--the "coming-soon" aspect of His story and character--and seeks to address the question: How soon is soon, when it comes to Jesus and our eternal salvation?
The Second Advent has been on our minds since the beginning of our movement. So much so, that we put it in the name of our movement: Seventh-day Adventist. "Seventh-day" refers to our commitment to keeping all of the commandments, including the fourth commandment of Sabbath, and "Adventist" refers to our faith in Christ’s imminent soon return.
But as wonderful a hope and faith as we have—believing Christ will come soon—it has at times been handled in a very unhealthy way. For example, as the expected second coming of 1843-1844 came and went, people came to some confused interpretations of what had happened.
Before Christ was supposed to arrive, many people sold all they had so that no earthly possessions would drag them down when they went to heaven. As a result, many had nothing after the expected coming. To add insult to injury, they were ridiculed by their non-believing neighbors.
Because of this, some just got rid of their religion altogether. Jesus hadn’t come back and so in their mind it was all a sham. Ellen White recounts how she couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t give up her religion but there was a great sadness among all who truly believed.
Others thought Jesus had come back, but spiritually instead of physically, and so they acted accordingly in various and unhealthy ways:
- Acting like literal babies because Jesus said whoever does not have the faith of a child will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Calling sin obsolete because Christ has already returned, defeated sin, and cleansed us of all unrighteousness.
- Seeking to build a literal, physical new Jerusalem. Many groups attempted this at some point or another--the Mormons, for example.
Of course there was another group that came to the belief that the date was right but the expected event was wrong, and that is where our present movement of Seventh-day Adventism was birthed.
Even until the end of their lives, Ellen White and her family believed Jesus would come back in their lifetime. And this has been the case for many a Seventh-day Adventist since: Jesus WILL come back in our lifetime.
My parents had a pastor a number of years back who told his church that he expected Jesus to come back before the end of the year. Then, when the new year rolled around and Jesus had not yet returned, he expressed his displeasure that the church had not worked hard enough to invoke Jesus' return. Does that sound healthy? No, not particularly. But it indicates that many in our church are still grappling with this idea of Jesus' immanence: When will He come back? And what does it mean if He doesn't in my lifetime?
Now, I'm not suggesting He will not come back at all. I'm also not suggesting He could not come back tomorrow. But plenty of people have expected Him and passed away before having seen the Advent. How do we react to this?
- Just like after the great disappointment, we sometimes face mini disappointments and the reactions are similar.
- Many say: We were wrong, so is the story even true?
- Losing faith, changing faiths.
- Others: Maybe should reinterpret it?
- Not losing or changing faiths, but making up new rules to help them feel better.
- Yet others: It has to be true, but were we wrong about some of the details?
- God’s ways are not our ways. Maybe we thought we fully understood His plan but did not.
David Asscherick has a sermon entitled Why Not Tomorrow? in which he describes the dilemmas he perceived when it came to planning for the future (you can view the sermon in its entirety here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT4xxrqfTxQ). When it came time to go to school, he thought: Jesus is coming back soon, isn't he? Who has time to go to school? But he's gone to school and graduated and Jesus still hasn't returned. When he fell in love with a girl, the question of marriage came up. He thought: Who has time to get married? Jesus is coming back soon! But he got married and Jesus still hasn't come back. Then, when he and his wife started talking about having kids, he thought: Who has time to have and raise kids? Jesus is coming back! But now they have kids and Jesus isn't back. He benefitted from education, he got married to a wonderful helper, and now they have a full family, and they're still working for Jesus. So what of urgency in a world where even those who are expecting Jesus to come back are left, seemingly, with time to spare to live life and accomplish things like school, marriage, and raising a family? Is Christ imminent or is He not? Is there urgency to be prepared for the Second Coming or is there not?
Karl Barth, famed Neo-Orthodox theologian, agrees with these sentiments by Pastor Asscherick. He says that every person has their own personal (Vertical) eschatology. It is a life and death choice and is very serious. Not to deny the global, cosmic urgency well all definitely face, but everyone has that confrontation within themselves that has eternal implications. We don’t doubt the Advent, but imminency is more than that.
That’s where the Great Controversy comes in.
Satan would like, more than anything, for us to stray from the truth of the Great Controversy narrative.
- There is a battle for your salvation going on RIGHT NOW.
- The decisions we make NOW impact the rest of our lives and solidify which side of the Great Controversy we are on.
- We need to ask ourselves: Are we living NOW like we believe God is good, or are we planning on Him failing?
- Jesus may very well come back in our lifetime. He could come back this year, this week, or tomorrow. And we should live accordingly.
- But there is a secondary imminency that reminds us there is never a good time to get lax in our right living: The Great Controversy.
- Even if Jesus takes 1,000 more years to come back, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be preparing for His return NOW.
- Not planning for His return, getting relaxed, not having our proverbial lamps full of oil and wicks trimmed: These are good ways to let our lives take us the wrong direction in the story we are a part of.
- It is sometimes easy to get discouraged when asking the question: When will Jesus come back? But even asking that question might be missing the point. It might be taking our focus off of what is going on right now.
- In future posts, we'll talk more about what Jesus is up to at this moment when we talk about the doctrine of the Sanctuary later on this year, and that helps answer that question partially by analyzing what Jesus is up to now and why He might be waiting.
- The question is also answered in our studying of signs of the times: Jesus tells us that there will be signs that will indicate the end is near (Matthew 24:3-14) and then, after a time, the time of the end will be upon us.
- But the other answer is this: Who cares? We need to be ready in and out of season. We need to be prepared whether Jesus comes back tomorrow or after we’ve gone to sleep in the Lord. And the example we set with our living NOW can make the difference in the eternal destiny of others around us, whether the Advent is far or near.
In light of all of this: What are you doing today to prepare for Christ's imminency?