Grudem on Christ’s Impending Return

Wayne Grudem, in his well-used Systematic Theology, writes on the question of whether Christ could return at any moment. Grudem, an historic premillennialist, argues that the signs that must precede the coming of Christ may have already been fulfilled, although it is unlikely. Because of this possibility, the passages that warn Christians to be ready in light of the Parousia can be taken seriously. I have sympathies for Grudem’s view, as a lot of the signs—especially apostasy and persecution—might be evident in the world today. However, because of the unlikeliness that these events have all happened, I don’t ultimately buy this view. Instead, I prefer that of Ladd and Hoekema that I posted previously. They, and many like them of all eschatological stripes, argue that we must hold the signs and the need for readiness in tension.

For interest’s sake, it is worth quoting Grudem’s conclusion (for the whole section dealing with the signs in more detail, go here):

Conclusion: Except for the spectacular signs in the heavens, it is unlikely but possible that these signs have already been fulfilled. Moreover, the only sign that seems certainly not to have occurred, the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, could occur within the space of a few minutes, and therefore it seems appropriate to say that Christ could now return at any hour of the day or night. It is therefore unlikely but certainly possible that Christ could return at any time.
But does this position do justice to the warnings that we should be ready and that Christ is coming at a time we do not expect? Is it possible to be ready for something that we think unlikely to happen in the near future? Certainly it is. Everyone who wears a seatbelt when driving, or purchases auto insurance, gets ready for an event he or she thinks to be unlikely. In a similar way it seems possible to take seriously the warnings that Jesus could come when we are not expecting him, and nonetheless to say that the signs preceding his coming will probably yet occur in the future.
This position has positive spiritual benefits as we seek to live the Christian life in the midst of a rapidly changing world. In the ebb and flow of world history, we see from time to time events that could be the final fulfillment of some of these signs. They happen, and then they fade away. During the blackest days of World War II, it seemed very likely that Hitler was the antichrist. During times of persecution against the church, it can seem more likely that Christians are in the middle of the great tribulation. When we hear of earthquakes and famines and wars, it makes us wonder if the coming of Christ might not be near. Then these events fade into the background and world leaders pass off the scene, and the tide of events leading to the end of the age seems to have receded for a time. Then once again a new wave of events will break on the world scene, and once again our expectation of Christ’s return is increased. With each successive “wave” of events, we do not know which one will be the last. And this is good, because God does not intend us to know. He simply wants us to continue to long for Christ’s return and to expect that it could occur at any time. It is spiritually unhealthy for us to say that we know that these signshave not occurred, and it seems to stretch the bounds of credible interpretation to say that we know that these signs have occurred. But it seems to fit exactly in the middle of the New Testament approach toward Christ’s return to say that we do not know with certainty if these events have occurred. Responsible exegesis, an expectation of Christ’s sudden return, and a measure of humility in our understanding, are all three preserved in this position.
Then if Christ does return suddenly, we will not be tempted to object, saying that one or another sign has not yet occurred. We will simply be ready to welcome him when he appears. And if there is great suffering yet to come, and if we begin to see intense opposition to the gospel, a large revival among the Jewish people, remarkable progress in the preaching of the gospel through the world, and even spectacular signs in the heavens, then we will not be dismayed or lose heart, because we will remember Jesus’ words, “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1104-1105.

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2 Comments

Filed under end times, eschatology, quotes, wayne grudem

2 responses to “Grudem on Christ’s Impending Return

  1. Appreciating your drawing from the different convictions of the parousia within Christendom. Great comparisons here – good to see the default of these is a readiness & watchfulness for Jesus’ return. Actually, it would be interesting to hear Edwards on the parousia if you know of a good statement of his to include.

  2. David

    Actually the Christ has already returned last year. He is still incognito, acting as an ordinary person without declaring himself.

    You just need to recognize him for yourself. This may not be that easy, since he will appear as an ordinary man until most people acknowledge him. The way to recognize him is thru his words or the message that he brings – the message of peace, brotherhood and justice. (Also, It will definitely not be the end of the world).

    See http://www.christmaitreya.org for more info.

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