Some time ago I traveled from Spokane, Washington, to New York with my son and my seven-year-old grandson Marcus. We had a short layover in Chicago.
The flight from Spokane to Chicago was on time. When we got off the plane in concourse B, we looked at a big monitor to find the gate for our next flight. It was in concourse C, and beside the flight number the monitor had those two wonderful little words: "On Time." Marcus loved the walk from concourse B to concourse C. We went down an escalator, under the runway, and onto a moving sidewalk that had neon artwork above us and the sound of chimes all around us. He wanted to do it again, and since we had time, we let him.
When we arrived at our gate, we looked at the monitor again, only to discover that the words "On Time" beside our flight number had been replaced by a not-so-wonderful single word: "Canceled."
I went to a customer service counter to get help but found no agents there, only kiosks, which I couldn't get to work. Never fear, there was a phone beside the kiosk that gave a number for those who needed assistance. I called the number and got a recorded message that it was no longer in service. Pulling out my cell phone, I dialed the airline and learned that they had already booked us on another flight—five hours later!
Needless to say, we were frustrated because we had plans in New York that night that were now in ruins. Then we learned about another flight scheduled to depart in just two and a half hours, and the airline told us they could put us on the standby list for that one. We didn't have much hope of getting on the plane since we were number 17 on the list. After waiting a while our names were dropped to number twenty, and we were ready to give up. But just before they closed the gate, they called our names, and we got on the plane.
After 2,000 years
It's hard for us moderns to wait. We're simply not used to it. We have fast cars, fast planes, fast Internet and even fast food. And this presents a dilemma to Bible-believing Christians. It's been almost 2,000 years since Jesus promised His disciples that He would come back (John 14:3), and we ask, How long is it going to take for us to see You again?
Even as the New Testament was being written, some people were concerned that Jesus had taken longer than He should have to fulfill His earlier promise to His disciples about His return. Revelation 6:9, 10 presents a symbolic image of souls under an altar who represent Christian martyrs. These martyrs cry out, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" In Matthew 25, Jesus told His disciples several parables about His second coming. In the parable of the 10 maidens, the bridegroom delays his arrival, and in the parable of the talents, the master is away for a long time. Jesus seems to be preparing His disciples for a longer period to pass by then they would have expected before His return.
He Himself made it very clear to His disciples that it was not for them to know when He would return. Their responsibility was to witness to what Jesus had done (Acts 1:7, 8). But can we really keep up hope for so long? Isn't 2,000 years too long to wait?
Well, no, not if we remember that the issue is not time but trust. Only God knows the time of Jesus' coming (Matthew 24:36). He hasn't asked us to count or decipher but to trust Him and witness and carry on His work with faithfulness until He arrives.
Admittedly, this is especially hard for an impatient generation like ours to do. But that's where trust in God leads us. God has given us the assurance of His promise by raising Jesus from the dead. We trust that since we have already seen the firstfruits, the rest will follow in God's own time.
A personal experience
I remember the story of an old friend of mine. He was a longtime teacher at Walla Walla College and was about ready to retire when I began teaching there as a rookie instructor during the early 1970s. He and his wife had gone as missionaries to South Africa in the 1930s. They finished their term, secured employment back in the United States, packed all of their belongings, got tickets on a passenger ship and were ready to return in just a few days. But their trip was delayed, and they waited—not five hours, five days, five weeks, or even five months. Their ship was delayed five years!
You see, World War II had just broken out, and the American military had requisitioned their ship. Furthermore, the seas were not safe to travel. Five years went by—and I had complained about two hours! Their waiting time did eventually end, and they returned to the United States.
In the mid-1980s, I went to South Africa for a teaching stint. Before I left, an older teacher, who has now been retired for several years, asked if I would do him and his wife a favor. When they were in South Africa, they had a baby boy that died when he was only a few months old. They had left South Africa convinced that Jesus was coming very soon and that it wouldn't be long until they saw their child again.
My friend said that he and his wife were so sure about Christ's imminent return that they were willing to leave his grave there and looked forward to seeing him in the very near future. But 40 years had gone by, Jesus had not come, and they had never returned to South Africa. Now they often wondered if the grave was still there. Since I would be near that cemetery, they asked if I would try to find their son's grave.
So one sunny afternoon in South Africa I set out to find the gravesite, and I found it. It was in some disrepair, but I pulled the weeds from around it, found some flowers to put beside it and snapped some photographs.
When I returned, I took the pictures to them, and they were extremely grateful. Tears came to their eyes, and they expressed their undying trust in God and their hope in the second coming of Jesus Christ. They had never imagined that 40 years would go by, but they did not waver in their hope. Now they also rest in their graves, thousands of miles from where their son lies, and they are all awaiting the same resurrection.
Our hope is not related to time but to our confidence that God is faithful, and He will fulfill His promise. We don't know how long, but we are now in the very last part of those "last days," and Jesus is coming very soon. More important than "how long" is the absolute confidence that we can trust God and know that His promise is sure. Jesus is risen. He's alive. And because of this, we have the assurance that He will fulfill His promise. He will come again.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, July, 2012.