* November 30 - December 6
Hope and "The Delay": Part 2
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Pet. 3:3-15.
MEMORY TEXT: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:5, NIV).
KEY THOUGHTS: As we touched on last week, all of us who have the hope of the Second Coming have to deal with the problems caused by the "delay." Sometimes delay becomes doubt and doubt denial. Some may even question the validity of the promised hope, saying it has been preached for so long it can no longer be valid. This week we'll explore that challenge a little further.
THE YEARS, THE DECADES, THE CENTURIES, and soon the millennia can weaken the resolve of those who await the Lord's return (and all the hope contained therein).
The Bible's answer is that the Lord is not slow, that He will do what He has promised, and that continued readiness is essential. To give up on hope is to give up on the vital aspect of the Christian message; indeed, for without the hope of the Second Coming, very little, if anything, of the Christian message makes sense.
To identify a delay suggests the passing of some definite time. But God has not expressed a definite date; delay is a term that comes from only the human perspective. Time has continued longer than webut not the Lordmay have expected.
*Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, Dec. 7.
Sunday December 1
A young Adventist man and woman, hopelessly in love with each other, decided to get married, despite counsel from caring, loving relatives that they should think carefully about their decision, because, after all, the Lord was coming soon. "However," they were told, "if you believe you should get married, go ahead. But don't even think about having childrentime is too short."
Well, they not only thought about having children, they had them (five, to be precise); eventually, too, their children had children. And, if the Lord does not come soon, the children of the children they were told not to even think of having because time was too short will probably be having children, as well!
No doubt, while we can argue about whether there is a delay or no delay, this remains certainthe longer we wait, the longer the shadow of time stretches over our churches and homes; the longer we keep saying "time is short," the greater the chance we have of doubting the Second Coming, especially when we are sure the Lord will be back before a certain time, only to find that time has long ago passed.
Ask yourself this question, you who are now well into the new millennium: Have you had doubts about the Second Coming? If you have, think through logically for a moment the implications of that thought. Take it to its logical conclusion. In other words, if there were no Second Coming, what would the alternatives be?
French secular intellectual Jean-Francois Revel said that he did not think that any human being who knew himself or herself to be mortal and did not believe in an afterlife could experience a feeling of total fulfillment. (See The Monk and the Philosopher [New York: Shocken Books, 1998], p. 339.)
What a quote! One, at least, can admire Revel's honesty and ability to take his premises to their logical conclusion. In the context of today's lesson, the point is this: When you doubt the Second Coming, you are doubting away the whole reason for your Christian faith, the whole foundation of the hope that you have, because, without it. what do we have?
|Read 1 Corinthians 15, Paul's argument, ultimately, for the Second Coming. Follow his line of reasoning (perhaps outline it) until you clearly understand what he is saying. How could focusing on these points help alleviate the doubt that, considering the passing of time, is understandable, if not justifiablenot in light of the Cross?|
As some texts have shown, the "delay" is nothing unforeseen. In fact, it is probably not the best word to describe the unexpected continuance of time before the coming of the Lord. The word is loaded with associations of imperfection, changeability, adjustmenteven error and unwillingness.
Unforeseen circumstances cause a "delay." A mistake on someone's part results in a "delay." Technical problems are the reason for a "delay." Unpleasant tasks are avoided or "delayed." This list of negative implications could be extended, but it well illustrates the danger of using the term as a description of the work of God. Do we really want to associate the divine coming of Christ with such dubious connotations?
Can we really term God's actions as "delayed"? If He is eternal and outside of time, how can He "delay"?
"But do not forget one thing, my dear friends! There is no difference in the Lord's sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same" (2 Pet. 3:8, TEV). What point is Peter making here that can help us put things in perspective regarding the time of Christ's return?
Albert Einstein proved that time is elastic. Depending on where you are and how fast you are moving, time can move at one rate for one person and at a different rate for another. Though it is not an easy concept for us to grasp, time is relative, depending on where you are and how fast you are moving.
Imagine, then, how different time must be for God, the Creator, than it is for us, mere finite beings whose only knowledge of time is what we can ourselves experience.
Thus, implicit in Peter's words is the notion that we cannot speak of a delay, at least not from God's perspective. It is from our perspective that we see time continuing longer than anticipated. But that says more about us than about God and His plans. Of course, we are keen for hope to be fulfilled. But we must learn not to limit God and His actions, not to set any times in our minds apart from the Bible's answer of "Soon"!
|Skim through the Bible and look at such things as the time the children of Israel were in Egypt (Exod 12:40), the time from the command to build Jerusalem until the coming of the Messiah (Dan 9:24-27), the time when the saints were persecuted by the little horn (Dan 7:25). What is the one thing they all have in common, at least, from our narrow perspective, and how can these time periods help us put the "delay" in its proper perspective?|
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prov. 13:12, NIV).
For many Christians, January 1, 2000, was surely going to bring the end of the world, the Second Coming, and the end of all our suffering.
Well, as we all know, January 1, 2000, came and went, and the world is still here, there was no Second Coming, and suffering remains.
Hope again deferred?
No questionwaiting is not always fun, especially when there's so much pain, suffering, and disappointment in the interim. We are, in fact, in between the promise and its fulfillment; and, no doubt, as time continues, we feel that the end is not coming as fast as we want. Thus, many of us are just being set up for one disappointment after another in regard to the Second Coming.
There is, however, one solution that could help us. Look up the following verses: What do they all have in common that could help spare us from the pain of hope deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred...?
Matt. 24:36 _________________________________________________
Mark 13:32 _________________________________________________
1 Thess. 5:2 _________________________________________________
2 Pet. 3:10 __________________________________________________
In one sense, there should not be any disappointment on the part of those who hope for Christ's returnthat is, if we take the Bible for what it says. Jesus is clearno one knows when He will come back; thus, to speculate, to produce charts with dates, to give any generalized time setting in regard to His coming, is (as it has always been) a guaranteed way of setting yourself (not to mention others) up for a disappointment. And there's no need for that, not with clear Bible testimony that we simply don't know; the day will come unexpectedly.
|It is clear that Christ's return is very important. Without it, in fact, nothing we believe as Christians has any enduring value. But does it really matter, really, when Christ returns? If so, why? What difference does it make when He returns (just as long as He eventually does)?|
"Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation" (2 Pet. 3:15, NIV). What is the apostle saying here?
I f our Lord's patience means salvation, why cannot our patience follow suit? We are impatient people, and, at times, we fail to see that patience on our part is also required. If God is not willing to rush and hurry and force but patiently allow His children to come to His salvation, why should we do any differently?
From this perspective, God is seen as allowing further time so people may accept His promises and enter into a covenant relation with Him, based on love. God is patient, supremely patient, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). This is the same God we should recognize and not "show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance" (Rom. 2:4, NIV).
The parallel of the Exodus experience is useful here. God's will was for Israel to go in and occupy the land given by promise. Yet, God cannot save people without their assent. The Israelites erred in their hearts (Heb. 3:10), and most did not enter their promised rest. Their participation in salvation depended upon their response. They spent 40 unnecessary years wandering over the rocky wilderness of southern Palestine. This was not the result of the will of God but of the rejection of His promises by His covenant people. Ellen White remarks on this subject: "The same sins have delayed the entrance of modem Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years."Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book l, p. 69.
God is patient with us, because He is a saving God. It pains Him to give up on any of His children. Yet, in the end, the end will come. Opposition to God will not prevent the ultimate fulfillment of hope.
|Dwell more on the often-controversial question of why we are still here. Ellen White, more than once, indicated that were it not for the sins and unbelief of God's church, we could have already been home. How do you understand what she meant? Could it really be that it is because of us, we who long and look for the hope of the Second Coming, that the Second Advent has not yet occurred (talk about irony)? Be prepared to discuss (and, no doubt, debate) in class the implications of that teaching.|
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
Perhaps time has "continued longer" than we expected, but that is only because our expectations are faulty. That disappointment is absolutely no reason to reject the blessed hope, the great and precious promises of the Saviorpromises made certain by the death of Christ at the Cross. By bearing God's wrath against sin (Isa. 53:4, 5), by facing the Father's judgment against sin in Jesus Himself (vs. 6), by offering Himself as our Substitute (1 Pet. 2:24), by becoming our Sacrificial Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7)Jesus is our absolute surety. Without that surety, without the Second Coming, the future offers us nothing but a cold hole in the ground, hardly a fitting or glorious end for all the toils, struggles, and problems that precede it. Though we came from dust, and though we return to dust, our hopesealed in the blood of Christ is that we do not remain in the dust.
How crucial, then, that we practice the "long patience" mentioned by James (5:7), that we "hope to the end" (1 Pet. 1:13), and that we "abide in him" so that "when he shall appear, we shall be like him" (1 John 2:28; 3:2).
Notice the many times the psalmist commands waiting on God:
"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Ps. 27:14, NIV).
"We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield" (Ps. 33:20, NIV).
"I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope" (Ps. 130:5, NIV).
If you have a concordance, look up the word wait in Psalms and Proverbs and see how often we are admonished to wait upon the God of our hope and our salvation.
Suppose you had the opportunity to speak to the entire church, every Seventh-day Adventist in the world. Suppose your topic was "How Not to Lose Hope as We Wait and Wait and Wait. . ."Suppose you had three minutes to give your speech. Using Christ's blood atonement as the foundation of your message, what would you say? Write it out and share it with your Sabbath School class.
FURTHER STUDY: "When a love for the Savior's appearing begins to grow weak, and the attractions of this present life begin to grow stronger, it becomes easy to imagine that the time is to be prolonged, and that there are so many things to be accomplished, and so much yet to be fulfilled, that the coming of Christ cannot be very near. This is the sophistry of unbelief. Beware of it."Uriah Smith, Review and Herald, Aug. 31, 1897.
"The thrilling truth that has been sounding in our ears for many years, 'The Lord is at hand; be ye also ready,' is no less the truth today than when we first heard the message."Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 14.
"There are those who say not only in their hearts but in all their works, 'My Lord delayeth His coming.' Because Christ's coming has been long foretold they conclude that there is some mistake in regard to it. But the Lord says, 'The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come.' . . . Shall we be found among the number who, having ceased to cooperate with God, are found saying, 'My Lord delayeth his coming' ?"Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, June 18, 1901.
SUMMARY: God in His wisdom continues to be patient with us, not wanting any to perish but for us to come to repentance. This is in no way a denial of hopebecause hope is part of the salvation God offers. But we should be careful not to set any kind of time limits, because if we begin to doubt the time of the Second Coming, we may doubt the Second Coming itself. Doubt must be driven out by the blessed hope, and recognizing God's patience, we must also be patient.
J. H. Zachary
"The president of Rwanda wants to talk with you. Come with me," the soldier ordered. Amon Rugelinyange, president of the Rwandan Union Mission, picked up his pocket Bible as he left his home. He could read while he waited for the president.
The officers interrogated Amon at some length then took him to an adjoining room that held more than fifty persons.
The next day the prisoners were loaded into a bus and taken to a prison where 800 men were being held, many of whom had no charges brought against them and none of whom had lawyers. One by one they were interrogated. By Friday afternoon the interrogators had not questioned Amon. As they left for the day, they told him to be ready to appear the next morning.
"Sir," Amon said, tomorrow is the Sabbath. I do not take part in secular activities on the Sabbath."
"You could be released after the interrogation," the officer said. "You'd better show up."
The next day the officer took Amon to his supervisor and reported that the pastor refused to be interrogated on his Sabbath. The supervisor replied, "I will see that you are called for interrogation only on Saturdays."
"The Sabbath is not mine," Amon replied. "It belongs to God."
When the supervisor left, the officer said, "You do not know my supervisor! You could spend the rest of your life in prison if you do not come when you are summoned for questioning."
"But I know my God," Amon replied. "And I must obey Him."
Amon spent his days studying the Bible with interested prisoners who gathered around. Sometimes nearly everyone in the prison listened in.
One Christian told Amon, "Pastor, I believe that God sent you to prison to do His work right here. You teach us the Bible, you pray with us, you visit the discouraged. Priests from my church who are in prison do not offer help or consolation to the prisoners."
A month later Amon was called for interrogation. It was on a Thursday. When the officer began questioning him, Amon learned that he was in prison because a "friend" had brought charges against him. One day the warden called him to his office. "Gather all your belongings," he said. "You are free to go home."
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour.
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