Christ is Coming? Christ is here!

by Stan Moody, Ph.D

To properly study Christian Zionism, it is critical to examine certain presuppositions. Universally accepted among Evangelicals is the dogma that Christ's so-called Second Coming will be personal, corporeal and visible. Once we begin from that premise, there is no alternative than to ask, "Where?" and "When?" The "How" and "Why" become subordinate.

Thus, all our time is spent on the timing and locus of the event rather than on its nature. Even efforts to counter the extremism of Christian Zionism emanate from the assumption that Jesus has to return at some concrete/specific, cataclysmic moment in human history to rescue the world from the weight of its own sin. An inconvenient truth is that this was the mission of the First Advent.

Key to this thinking is a little verse in the Book of Acts, Acts 1:11. Its setting is the Ascension of Jesus, who has just risen into the air and disappeared into a cloud. The witnesses are found to be staring up into the heavens, when two men dressed in white appear:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (NIV).

If we who believe are to interpret that literally, we are left stranded between the Advents.[1] The spiritual Jesus remains with the believer through the ministry of the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onward through redemptive history, while the human or bodily Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father until the moment when His sandals land on the Mount of Olives.

It was said of the Father by King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, however, that even the highest heavens could not contain God (1Kings 8:27-29), much less a temple in Jerusalem. The term "sitting," therefore, requires some work in order to posit a physical Christ sitting beside a God whom the heavens cannot contain.

The resolution of tension between Jesus who is spiritually present in the representative form of the Holy Spirit but physically "away" gives rise to what is referred to as the Blessed Hope of His appearing and the consummation of the Kingdom of God.[2]

Christians, who profess to have been liberated from the need for theophanic revelatory acts in redemptive history (signs and wonders), now "congregate" at the Mount of Olives preparing for the moment of return of the physical Jesus. They raise red heifers (Numbers 19), fund illegal settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank and prepare for building the Third Temple in the present location of the Moslem Dome of the Rock. They do their theology from below, treating God as the Great Gargoyle in the sky who awaits our next move before acting in redemptive history. You might say that the reception committee has a lot riding on Jerusalem: "Let it not be in Bethlehem or Peoria!"

In the Gospels, we find the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, coming with His angels on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 16:27;Mark 14:62). He would be coming at an unexpected hour (Matt. 24:42; Luke 12:40). He would expect to find His servants faithful (Luke 12:37, 43).

In the Book of Acts, we see that Jesus will return in the "same manner" as His disciples saw Him leave (Acts 1:11), presumably slowly and out of a "Shekhinaw" (theophanic) cloud of glory. There is no suggestion, however, that "same manner" means the reverse order of ascent. A literal read would have Jesus appearing and bodily ascending into rather than out of a cloud, suggesting the appearance of a Lord who already is here.

The epistles posture a sudden and cataclysmic appearance: "Thief in the night" (1Thess. 5:2); "The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5); "…bring to light the things now hidden in darkness" (1Cor. 4:5); "…our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior…" (Titus 2:13); "…will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28); "…we shall be like him, since we shall see him as he is" (1John 3:2).

In Revelation we read: "…every eye will see him" (Rev. 1:7); "I am coming soon" (3:11); "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (22:20).

The panoply of "How" and "Why" becomes a virtual nightmare for the literalist. While we may all agree that the appearance of the Christ will be personal, corporeal and visible, is the Christ who will appear already present as Prophet, Priest and King? What was the significance of the AD 70 destruction of the Herodian temple in this redemptive drama (Matt. 24:15)?

Surely, the fulfillment of "every eye will see him" must take on a more awakening moment than that of the evening news. Could it be possible that the Holy Spirit shows the way into His presence and what remains is our glorification so that we will be able to "see" Him as He is, and not as we imagine Him to be? In that sense, Jesus comes to get us in the same way that He came to get His disciples – not that He might be where they are, but that He might take them to be with Him where He is going (John 14:3).

We have, then, come full circle from the Ascension. There now is an expanding crowd of "sky gazers" figuratively gathered on the Mount of Olives. These Christian Zionists adhere to a strange and inconsistent belief. The bifurcated Jesus whom they await is spiritually present but physically "away." On the other hand, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus came to inaugurate, is physically present in the true church but spiritually "away."

Evangelicals rest too much hope in the return of Christ and not enough in the person of Christ. The return for the Christian Zionist is wholly future, while the person of Christ encompasses past, present and future – Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8). In Paul's address to King Agrippa, his defense was that he was on trial for the very hope which God promised to the ancient fathers – the person of the Messiah, who to Paul had come already (Acts 26:6).

The "blessed hope" mentioned in Titus 2 has been mistranslated to reinforce the Zionist position as, "looking for the blessed hope," the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Here is another take:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13 NASV).

Much power is packed in that brief passage. The grace of God already has appeared in Jesus Christ. Salvation already has been brought to all men. We who believe in this Christian Messiah have our marching orders – to "…deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age…" The hope that we await is not the glorious appearing but is the consummation of the Kingdom marked by the appearing of the glory of the Christ who already is present.

One has to ponder whether, in fact, sky-gazing in Israel is a denial of worldly desires and represents sensible living, or whether it is a demand that God do our bidding now and in the manner in which we should like Him to so do, characteristics of insensible living.

We need not secure national boundaries to receive the blessed hope and the glory of Christ. While there is much in Israel that warms our hearts, there is much there that ought to remind the Christian of his own complicity with sin and death.

The tragedy lies in the unmistakable meddling of American Evangelicals with politics in the most volatile and dangerous place in the world – the Middle East. One would be hard pressed to find a denial of worldly desires and a life lived sensibly in that agenda.

[1] John Stott, "Balanced, Biblical Christianity," Mission and Ministry Online, Internet (Spr.1995): 1-6, p. 1.
[2] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, p. 109.

Stan Moody, Ph.D

Dr.Stan Moody, an evangelical Baptist minister and founder of the Christian Policy Institute, has served in the Maine House of Representatives as both a Republican and a Democrat. Dr. Moody is the author of several provocative books, including, "Crisis in Evangelical Scholarship" and "McChurched: 300 Million Served and Still Hungry." Pastor of a rural country church in Central Maine, Moody has enjoyed a long and productive career in small business development and management.