LIVING WITH THE DELAY OF CHRIST'S RETURNJ
by Calvin Burrett
When Christ returns, will He find faith on the earth?
How do we respond when Christ seems to have delayed His
return; when our blessed hope is postponed and injustice prevails
in the land?
The facts are these:
Scores of Bible texts foretell a last great day in which the Lord
will intervene in history to judge the wicked and reward the
righteous (for an Old Testament example, see Daniel 7:13,14).
Some New Testament texts (1 Corinthians 7:29, for example) imply
that the writers expected His return in their lifetime. The most
compelling promises are from Jesus Christ himself: "I will come
again ... quickly ... to give to every one according to his work"
(John 14:3; Revelation 22:12). Fifty generations later, Christ
has not returned and the promises are not fulfilled. In the face
of this, many have given up hope in a heavenly kingdom to come,
yielding rather to doubt and earthly temptation as Jesus
predicted (Matthew 24:48,49). This backsliding has increased the
violence, corruption, and spiritual darkness that envelope our
In a passage focused on His return (Luke 17:20-18:8), Jesus
anticipates that many will falter under the delay, so He asks,
"When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the
earth?" (18:8b). The question is poignant and penetrating, with a
potential for powerful impact on those who hear and reflect on
it. Each of us should answer individually: When Christ returns,
will He find faith in me?
The answer may be uncovered in the story Jesus tells in Luke
18:1-8a, just before He asks our key question (v.8b). It's the
story of a judge, he of considerable power and position. A judge
can change things and bring justice at the drop of a gavel. It's
also the story of a widow, she of little or no power. Most widows
in Jesus' day were poor and weak, working twice as hard for bare
existence. Living with chronic injustice, the widow petitions
this judge to take vengeance upon her adversary.
This adversary, the third person in the story, is the
widow's enemy - her antagonist. She hears his insult at every
turn; she feels his oppression. He adds to her daily burdens and
won't let up!
Now the judge can do justice for the widow anytime he wants.
But he doesn't want. Instead, he delays. He delays because he
is basically a selfish guy, having great care for his own
personal convenience and very little for any poor widow. "No," he
tells her over and again, until he can take no more of her
Finally, in exasperation, the judge agrees to rid the widow
of the adversary, not because he is just but because then he'll
be rid of her too.
Who is this judge, this widow, this adversary in the bigger
story of life?
The widow reminds us of the church. Its members are like
this poor, weak woman in many ways. Most of Jesus' followers are
not among the world's powerful, rich, and famous (1 Corinthians
1:26). Culture's movers and shakers do not often value godly
faith and moral conduct as highly as do Christians. More often,
they enjoy poking fingers in the eye of God and His people.
Like the widow, the church of God has constant cause to cry
out for justice. Believers see oppression as did a number of
psalmists. In fact, the early verses in Psalm 94 sound like the
widow in Jesus' parable:
Rise up, 0 Judge of the earth; render punishment to the proud ...
Lord ... how Long will the wicked triumph? They ... speak
insolent things; all the workers of iniquity boast in themselves.
They break in pieces Your people, O LORD, and afflict Your
heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger .... (vv.2-6a).
In verses 16 and 23, the writer asks who will stand up for
him against the evil workers who gather against the righteous and
condemn the innocent.
What this psalm asks is no different than what Jesus taught
His disciples to pray: "Deliver us from the evil one" (Luke
11:4b). Rescue from evil and relief from worldlings who "lord it"
over the righteous are as needful in this perverse generation as
they ever were. Consider a list of injustices that oppress people
of faith and obedience today, using Psalm 94:3's "How long?" as
How long shall ...
* evil be exalted as good and good be regarded as evil?
* dishonest people prosper at the expense of the just?
* criminals terrorize our streets and neighborhoods?
* drug dealers and alcohol manufacturers entice our youth to
* rap artists fill our ears with vile language and moral garbage?
* rich men use deception and dishonesty to heap up their
* arrogant athletes and movie stars, flaunting sin, be heroes for
* greedy preachers fill their purses through false teaching and
* politicians make public policy when they can't keep their own
private lives intact?
* popular media present sex as a right of all, with no regard to
moral responsibilities or natural consequences taught by hard
* we be a nation that approves killing our children before they
are even born?
Taking cues from the psalmist and the widow of Luke 18, we
may well echo their cries and sign their petitions: "Lord, mete
out punishment to the wicked. Render justice to the proud and
greedy. Avenge us of our adversary."
And who is our major adversary, this third person of Jesus'
parable? Is he the drug dealer, the criminal, the rap artist, the
rich and dishonest person, the arrogant athlete, the godless
movie star, the false religionist, or the proud politician?
Though all these appear on our "How long?" list, we should not
regard them as our absolute enemies.
The absolute adversary of God's people is identified in
another place: "Your adversary the devil walks about like a
roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Without
ceasing, we do well to pray "Lord, deliver us from this Evil One
- the Devil."
What about the judge of Jesus' story? Whom does he represent
in the drama of life? The easy answer is to say that he is God or
Christ, judge of all the earth.
It is true that God is like this judge in some ways. God has
power and position like the judge. Like him, God can do justice
and punish the enemies of right anytime He wishes. And like the
judge, God delays doing so.
The reasons for heaven's delay, however, are opposite the
judge's reasons. Because this unmerciful and unjust judge neither
feared God nor respected man, the righteous judge of Scripture is
more to be contrasted with him than compared. If a cruel judge
will finally hear a widow's troubled cry to protect his schedule,
will not a merciful God care much more for those who consistently
cry out to Him?
Though He long delays (v.7b), God is not uncaring, not
unjust, not slack in His promises. If we understood His reasons
for delay and His plans for vengeance, we would do exactly as He
does and call it perfect justice.
Though this parable doesn't directly address the issue of
Christ's return, Jesus' question at the parable's close returns
us to that theme: "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find
faith on the earth?" (v.8b). The answer to this question is
suggested in the parable itself:
* Divine delay is a reality: "though He bears long with them" (v.
* Human persistence is a necessity: "Men always ought to pray and
not lose heart" (v.1).
* Delay will not forever last: "He will avenge them speedily"
Those who respond to Jesus' righteous delay with continued
hope and persistence - they will be found faithful when He
Yes, the Son of Man will find faith on Earth. He will find
it in those who, like the widow, pray for justice, trust for
mercy, leave vengeance to God, and don't lose heart unto the end.
They will be delivered speedily when Jesus comes quickly.
From "The Bible Advocate" - December 2009 - a publication of the
Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA