Reformed theologian John Piper has shared his thoughts on the End Times and explained what Jesus meant when He promised to return "soon" 2,000 years ago.
Piper shared his thoughts on the issue in a recent "Ask Pastor John" podcast in response to a question posed by a reader identified only as "Ron".
"In the New Testament we find repeated evidence of people whom we would call inspired who evidently believed - and sometimes claimed - that Jesus would come back soon, even during the writer's own lifetime. Examples would be 1 Peter 4:7; Matthew 24:34; 26:64; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; and 1 Corinthians 15:51," Ron stated.
"How can we still consider them authoritative while discarding modern-day messengers whose prophecies don't materialize?" he asked.
Piper explained that issue needs careful and patient attention, as "it's fairly easy to comb through the New Testament superficially and gather a lot of texts together that seem to indicate a false teaching about how quickly the second coming of Jesus would happen."
"But if you take each one, each text or each group of texts carefully, patiently, and study it out with the help of those who have perhaps given more thought to it, what I have found is that there are explanations of how to understand those texts that do not impute error or false prophecy to what Jesus or the apostles taught," he added.
Explaining what Jesus meant by "coming soon", Piper said:
"Now, that Greek word tachu, 'soon,' does not always or necessarily mean what we ordinarily mean by the word 'soon,' that is, after a short space of time. Rather, it regularly means quickly, suddenly, unexpectedly, fast."
He also noted certain biblical passages refer to "things leading up to the coming of Jesus" and not the very coming of Jesus.
"Here's an example: Matthew 24:33, 'So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.' Next verse, and this is the problem verse for a lot of people: 'Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place' (Matthew 24:34).
"Now, notice carefully the phrase, 'all these things' that are going to take place within a generation, does not include the actual coming of the Lord, because in the previous verse it says, 'When you see all these things,' the very phrase of verse 34 used in verse 33, 'You know that he is near,' not already here. The fact that these things will happen within a generation, these preparations for his coming, does not mean that his coming would happen in a generation."
Ultimately, the exact date of Jesus' return remains unknown, the "Don't Waste Your Life" author said.
"My main suggestion for Ron is that he be very slow to assume that the apostles and Jesus himself show themselves to be false prophets because of a quick and superficial reading of the New Testament," Piper stated.
"Be patient and be careful. There are answers to these seemingly problem texts."
According to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, roughly half (48%) of Christians in the U.S. say they believe that Christ will definitely (27%) or probably (20%) return to earth in the next 40 years. Somewhat fewer (38%) say this definitely will not happen (10%) or probably will not happen (28%).
In an earlier op-ed, the pastor contended that while none of us know when Christ will return, He is clear about how He wants us to live while on earth.
"I am pleading that pastors, evangelists, teachers, parents, and friends to warn those they love that, if they do not repent, they will be speechless, helpless, and hopeless when the end comes," Piper said. "The Bible is replete with warnings about the failure to rejoice in God as our greatest Treasure."
"Therefore, say to those you love - your children, your friends, your flock - 'Delight yourself in the Lord!' (Psalm 37:4)," he advised. "'At his right hand is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore!' (Psalm 16:11). And say to them, 'If you love the world more than God, what will you do when the end comes?'"