Unification News for September 2001

How, Where and When Christ is to Return

Volume 6, Part 1

For Divine Principle, the deepest meaning of resurrection lies in the triumph that spiritual life can eternally have over spiritual death. Like the mythical Phoenix bird, which dies consumed by fire and yet rises again out of its own ashes, humanity is also destined for eternal spiritual life. Such has been the work of God since the dawn of history.

This work is to be consummated in the return of Christ, the actual fulfillment of the Second Coming. Christ comes as the manifestation of perfected humanity, the exemplar of love on the individual, family, national and world level. He thus comes to transform the world according to God's purposes and to facilitate he establishment of His Kingdom.

"Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." In this incantation, recited daily at Catholic masses throughout the world, lies the promise of our age. There are, however, many unanswered questions regarding the cosmic event of the Second Coming—questions which have been debated within the Christian faith for centuries. When will the Second Coming take place? Where? How can we recognize the new Lord? How can we participate in his work?

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand...
And what rough beast,
Its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

The Return

Ever since the tragedy of Golgotha, the central hope of the Christian faith has been the return of Jesus. Many of the immediate disciples of the Nazarene expected that he would return in their lifetimes. John of Patmos records in his Book of Revelation that as Jesus left him, the Master promised "Surely I am coming soon." John's response—"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus"—has been the watchword of millions of sincere believers since. Seldom has an era passed in which the imminent return of Christ was not hoped for by many and anticipated by at least a few.

Today, however, this hope is not as crystalline as it once was. For example, when in 1954 the World Council of Churches took as its theme "Christ, the Hope of the World," the delegates at the Illinois general assembly were forced for the first time at an ecumenical conference to consider the question of Christ's return. A very impressive committee of Christian theologians and churchmen, including such luminaries as Karl Barth, T.S. Eliot and Emil Bruner, was assigned to prepare a report on the main theme.

When this distinguished group had finished its deliberations, however, the result was a disheartening and uninspiring compromised. What emerged was not a clear affirmation of the hope of Jesus' return, but instead a string of stuffy, stereotyped phrases asserting "the guarantee of God's promise that in good time His victory will be manifest to all. His kingdom will come in glory, and He Himself be known everywhere as King."

Not yet

While, as some have suggested, such vagueness on the part of institutional Christianity may well undercut its own strength, it is at the same time understandable. Despite numerous times at the plates, prophets of the Second Coming remain hitless.

Dr. L. Berkhof, president emeritus of Michigan's Calvin Theological Seminary, has chronicled some of the strike-outs; Christ was to return in 1000 A.D., as was hoped during the Dark Ages, in 1260 A.D. as predicted by the disciples of Joachim of Fiore, during the 16th century Reformation as preached by the German Anabaptists of Munster, in 1843 as the Adventist founder Miller prophesied and in 1914 as anticipated by the founding leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

With such a record as this, it is no wonder the modern institutional Church is wary of investing itself too deeply in any substantial anticipation of the return of Christ and the establishment of his Kingdom. Also, that the most ardent exponents of Second Coming theology today are frequently either Biblical literalists or dogmatic sectarians does not help the situation. Few thinkers in our liberal and scientific age seriously expect a supernatural return on the clouds of heaven by a majestic, airborne Jesus.

The prevailing hope, instead, at least among those Christian liberals who still believe in the coming of God's Kingdom, is that it will gradually evolve as humankind progresses. Walter Rauschenbusch, for example, the founding theologian of the Social Gospel, urges us "to see the Kingdom of God as always coming, always pressing in on the present, always big with possibility and always inviting immediate action" (A Theology for the Social Gospel).

While Divine Principle in one way supports such a view, it nevertheless argues that the Kingdom can never be realized merely as an effect of human progress. As we have learned from the two world wars in our century, the advance of history does not inevitably lead to universal redemption. Beyond the blessings which the progressive development of civilization can bring us, therefore, the coming of the Kingdom requires something else—a messianic catalyst.

Rule of self

Confucius is reported to have said that before a man can rule the world, he must be able to rule his country, that before he can rule his country he must be able to rule his family, and that before he can rule his family he must be able to rule himself.

Divine Principle would wholeheartedly agree with this, and argue therefore that the hope of the world is one man of perfected individuality. The re-creation and re-ordering of our chaotic and confused world must begin with the re-creation of one man as the center of goodness, wisdom, power and love. This person is the Messiah—the person who can provide the vision, inspiration and leadership necessary to the reconstruction of the fragmented human family. He is the person who is to enable the divine ideal of God's creation to be realized. And because that divine ideal is to be realized, Divine Principle affirms the Messiah must indeed return.

But how is such a person to come among us? Will he arrive, as has been frequently thought, with a blast of angelic trumpets accompanying his descent on the clouds of heaven? And what of the timing? Despite prior failures to anticipate properly when the moment was at hand, is there a way to know correctly the hour of the Second Coming? As two thousand years ago Jesus was born at Bethlehem, is the Second Coming also to occur in Israel? Is it indeed Jesus himself who is to return? Next month we will discuss such questions as these in the light of Divine Principle.

Next Month * Part 2 * Supernatural Savior?

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