In the 1950s, Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot, a play about two homeless men on the side of a road awaiting a mysterious figure called Godot, who promised to come and offer them deliverance—but never did either. Beckett’s point was to emphasise what he believed was the futility of the great Christian hope: that Jesus Christ will come back to the earth. In short, Beckett’s play derided the promise of the second coming.
Of course, one shouldn’t be surprised at such mocking. Almost 2000 years ago, Peter warned that “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’ ” (2 Peter 3:3, 4). Beckett, in his own way, was a fulfilment of that prophecy.
Now to be fair, I must concede that many centuries have indeed passed since the promise of Christ’s return was first given, things do (in a sense) continue as they have from the beginning and Jesus hasn’t returned!
Why, then, do so many Christians still fervently believe not only in the certainty of the second coming but in its nearness as well?
Jesus’ first coming
To begin, of all the reasons Christians have for the hope of Jesus’ second coming, the greatest one is, ironically enough, His first coming. Talking about the nearness of the
Cross, Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The apostle Paul, too, in reference to Jesus’ death, wrote that He “gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time” (1 Timothy 2:6). Both verses talked about Christ’s life as a “ransom.” What is a ransom, other than a price paid to retrieve something that was taken unfairly, stolen or kidnapped? According to these texts, Jesus Christ gave His life as a ransom for the human race, for those who had, in a sense, been kidnapped by sin, suffering and death.
Now, why would Jesus pay such a price—that of giving His own life as a ransom for lost souls—and not come back and get what was ransomed at such great cost to Himself? That would make no sense, which is exactly why the New Testament repeatedly talks about Christ’s return.
“We believe,” wrote Paul, “that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17).
In other words, “Jesus died and rose again” so that He could “come down from heaven” and retrieve those for whom He died. If He doesn’t return and do just that, the Cross procured for us nothing. Christ’s death is, then, the guarantee of His return (Mark 14:62). As sure as Christians can be about the Cross is as sure as they can be about the second coming.
Another reason Christians believe in the second coming is that the Bible itself, over and over, promises that He will return, and Christians trust their Bible as the Word of God. Jesus Himself was unambiguous on the topic. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3). “As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27).
Paul, too, expressed hope and certainty about the second coming. “We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Numerous other texts in the New Testament by other writers talk clearly about the second coming. Hence, many Christians who believe in the Bible also believe in the second coming of Jesus as well.
Signs of the times
A third reason that Christians believe in the hope, and nearness, of Christ’s return is the signs of His return—the things Jesus and other Bible writers said would indicate the approach of His second advent.
The prophet Daniel, in chapter 2, outlined world history, beginning with ancient Babylon and continuing up through the nations of modern Europe. And it’s during this time, that of modern Europe, that he predicted that Jesus would come back—the time in which we are now living!
“As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27).
Throughout the Bible, we have been given various markers, indicators of the events that would precede Christ’s return. One indicator that Jesus Himself gave has never taken place at any other time in history. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Today, the “gospel of the kingdom” has spread as never before in history. In almost every nation of the world, people are hearing about Jesus, something that has not previously happened. And with the modern communication technology in our information age—satellites, radio, TV, fibre optics and other means of spreading information—“this gospel” could be preached “in the whole world” with amazing rapidity, fulfilling what is perhaps the most important prophecy of Christ’s return.
No wonder Christians, despite all these years, haven’t given up hope in the second coming. Now, more than ever, they have good reasons to still expect it.
Waiting for Godot
Beckett’s drama ended with Godot never returning. For Christians, their drama will have a much more glorious ending than this play. Godot didn’t fulfil his promises. Jesus will.