Among Christian communities that believe in a literal Second Coming of Jesus Christ, there are many expectations and opinions about when that event will occur. I’ve read or listened to messages that attempt to pinpoint when that will happen. Some claim to know the answer. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen the works of scholarly people who attempt to calculate when Jesus will return, based on personal interpretations of specific prophecies, Jubilee Year cycles, biblical time cycles, etc. In this post, I intend to show that even if someone, somewhere was able to calculate when the “scheduled” return of Jesus Christ should occur, he/she will still be wrong.
There are various clues in the Bible concerning the likely general time of Jesus’ return. Many feel the time of year is at least discernible via the history of the biblical Holy Day schedules. We know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb (Revelation 5:12), was crucified and resurrected during the Passover season (Luke 22:1-23). The coming of the Holy Spirit in great power came on Pentecost Day (or the Feast of Weeks in the Bible listing of Holy Days). Therefore, if this trend continues where the event foreshadowed by the biblical Holy Day is fulfilled on that very Holy Day, it makes sense that Jesus Christ would be scheduled to return on a Feast of Trumpets in whatever year he comes. That Holy Day includes the blowing of trumpets, and Jesus is prophesied to return accompanied by the sounds of a great heavenly trumpet being blown (Matthew 24:31, I Corinthians 15:52, I Thessalonians 4:16). I concur with that viewpoint.
However, while the Holy Day schedule likely indicates the month of the year in which Jesus will return, it does not tell us what year that event will happen. Some think a calculation of Jubilee year cycles will give us the year of his return, but I have a problem with this. Over the decades, I’ve been contacted or I have seen various calculations of what year is the most recent Jubilee year, and many of these predictors disagree among themselves. I do not speak Hebrew and I am no biblical calendar expert; therefore, I am in no position to evaluate whose calculation is correct. Jesus addressed the topic of when he would return, and he told his disciples that “no man” or even the angels in heaven know when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36-39). Some have noted that, technically, that passage tells us that no man knows “the day or hour” of the Second Coming, which means, according to their reasoning, that perhaps the day or year can be determined. That passage also tells us that only the Father in heaven knows when Jesus will return. That means that deciding when Jesus Christ will return is a decision that is going to be made at a far higher spiritual “pay grade” than any human being possesses.
Even if we cannot determine that exact time of Jesus’ return, the Bible does give us various signs to look for so we can be aware that the time of his coming is drawing near. We do know from various prophecies that the Second Coming occurs at the end of the latter day period of prophetic time on earth. Zephaniah 2 tells us that one sign of the latter days (or “the Day of the Lord”) is that the Jews (“Judah”) will again have an independent nation in the old Promised Land. That prophecy was fulfilled in 1948. Matthew 24:21-22 tells us that the latter days will include some kind of threat(s) that could render extinct all fleshly life on earth. The detonation of the atomic bombs that ended World War II proved that a technology had been invented that could fulfill the warning of Matthew 24:22. Those of us who grew up in the Cold War often heard the dictum that the two superpowers (the Soviet Union and the USA) possessed enough nuclear warheads to kill everything on earth many times over. The book of Revelation has the vision of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” that reveal major global trends/threats that will affect the earth’s population in the latter days (Revelation 6:1-8). The four crises pictured by these four horsemen are (according to the best interpretations I’ve read or heard) deception, warfare, hunger/starvation and diseases. Matthew 24:6 also records that Jesus warned of wars, deceptions, famines and pestilences spreading on the earth during the latter days. That sounds like a direct parallel prophecy to Revelation 6. Matthew 24:7 also warns about increasing “earthquakes” which i believe would include all seismic activity (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis caused by underwater earthquakes). Luke 21:25 warns about “the sea and waves roaring” in the latter days, which sounds like increased hurricanes as well as tsunamis. Since famines (drought), earthquakes, hurricanes/tsunamis are all part of the latter-day “signs” and all are natural events, it does indicate to me that the latter days will be a time of climate and atmospheric events that limit the food supply and jeopardize life and properties on the earth. Revelation 11:1-2 sounds like a new Temple will be built in Jerusalem, or at the very least it will be “measured out” or under construction.
There are also specific timetables of “days” that apply to the very end of the latter days. Revelation 11:3 foretells that two immensely-powerful prophets (called the Two Witnesses) will conduct a final warning message to mankind that will last 1260 days (see my article, The Two Witnesses, for much more on these two prophets). Daniel 12:4-13 prophesies that “at the time of the end” there will be three prophetic timetables: “a time, times and half a time”), 1290 days and 1335 days. Christians have argued whether these timetables are overlapping or sequential. I favor the overlapping viewpoint.due to the language of Daniel 12:11-12. It states that after the 1290 days are finished, “blessed” will be those who “wait” a little longer until the 1335th day. I also believe that the 1260 days of the Two Witnesses ministry in Revelation 11 parallels the “time, times and half a time” period in Daniel 12:7. If a “time” is one year, “times” represents two years and “half a time” equals half a year, we can approximate the days represented by this phrase as 360 days plus 720 days plus 180 days.” That would equal 1260 days, the same as in Revelation 11:3. There is a caveat though: The Hebrew calendar is lunar/solar while the modern calendar is solar with leap years added occasionally.
Let’s assume someone, somehow, does all the calculations and interpretations correctly regarding the timetable of Jesus Christ’s return. Jesus Christ himself told us any such calculation will still be wrong.
In Matthew 24:22, Jesus warned his disciples that “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved, but for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened (emphasis added).” The New Testament had not been written at the time Jesus wrote those words, but he would have been very familiar with the timetables of “days” mentioned in Daniel 12 regarding the end of this age. Jesus categorically says that the end-time prophetic timetables “will be shortened” in order to save mankind and all flesh from extinction. Notice that the term “days” is plural, but that can mean the prophetic timetable will be shortened by anywhere between two and many hundreds of “days.” God has given himself a lot of leeway about how many days will be shaved off the prophetic timetable to send Jesus Christ in time to rescue mankind from extinction. The key point to realize from Matthew 24:22 is that Jesus’ return will come earlier than his followers expect. To drive this point home, Jesus repeats this message in his Matthew 24-25 discourse. In Matthew 24:42-51, Jesus again tells believers that he will return at a time they will not expect (verse 44). In verse 46, Jesus tells his disciples to be actively doing his work when he returns in order to obtain a reward. Jesus drives the point home again in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. In his parable, he likens himself to a “bridegroom” who will arrive for his wedding after a night-time period passes. Thinking that the “bridegroom” will not return until the morning of the next day, the “virgins” (his followers) all go to sleep. However, the “bridegroom” arrives much earlier than expected (at “midnight”–early in the overnight period). Half the “virgins” were foolish and did not have enough “oil” to trim their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Half did have enough oil to light their lamps to receive the bridegroom and enter the wedding ceremony. The “foolish virgins” were excluded from the ceremony. This parable repeats the theme that Jesus Christ’s return will occur before his followers except him to arrive. The use of the term “midnight” (i.e. early in a night’s time period) in this parable infers that the “bridegroom” (Jesus Christ) will come considerably earlier than his followers expect him.
The lesson of the above-cited scriptures is that it is far more important to be actively serving God and producing fruit for his Kingdom and Divine purposes than to be preoccupied in trying to accurately guess the day or year in which he will come.
So, to answer the question posed in the title of this post: “Will Jesus Christ return earlier than expected? The answer is a very clear “Yes,” and that, my friends, is very good news!