In the last few parts of our series, we’ve been further defining how prophecy and free will work to make sense of Jesus’ prophetic word that he would return within one generation.
If you’ve been keeping up with the series, then you’ve probably guessed where I’m going by now; so if you’re assumption is that I’m going to say, “God changed His mind on his return time,” you are correct. This, at least, is the general theological assumption of the authors that wrote the collectively authored monograph, When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia.
Their diverse team consisted of five authors: “a collaboration of one Catholic, two Orthodox, and two Protestant scholars (a mixture of ordained persons, laypersons, and even a missionary)… an Old Testament scholar, a systematic theologian, a patristics expert, and two New Testament scholars from different Christian traditions.” (Hays, Christopher M. When the Son of Man Didn’t Come. p. 248-250.)
Yet despite their differences, their entire theological team was able to write a unified book that constructively explained the delay in Jesus’ return time according to the understanding of prophecy as we have seen it here: God has the ability to change His mind on a prophetic word, just as He has done so with prophetic words in the past.
This is not to say that God changed His mind about the end times. They are still coming—they are predestined, if you will—but the timing as to when they come has been delayed. I might even be so bold as to say that God planned on Jesus coming back within a generation just as Jesus originally stated He would and that we could have had an alternate history. But for some reason that didn’t happen.
But why change the timing? What was the reason? Eventually even the Bible writers themselves had to ask this question, because it was certainly taking a lot longer than they thought it would for Jesus to return. Peter gives us an answer in 2 Peter, one of the latest authored books of the Bible.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” ….
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Pet 3:1-4; 8-10)
This was Peter’s beautiful answer to Jesus’ delay. The Savior has not returned yet because God is patient and He wants as many people to be saved as possible. That’s not so bad an answer really—it’s certainly not as condemning as most end times preachers make it seem. Where is Jesus? He’s too loving and patient to come back yet. He wants more to be saved from wrath! He’s so patient that He even has angels extend an invitation to come and worship Him well into the book of Revelation (Rev 14:7).
So in the end, though Jesus prophesied that He was coming back within a generation, He said that only the Father knew the full knowledge as to when it would be. Angels who know things we don’t know have no idea when the end is. Even Jesus, God-in-flesh, is kenotically limited to knowing when the end is. Only God and God alone has the answer. And while He may have planned on coming back much sooner, He has changed His mind. He has decided to proceed with patience and love and give us more time to lead others to Him.