By 2050 (read: in our lifetime).
Or so say 4 in 10 Americans.
For over two thousand years people have believed Christ would return “in their lifetime.” According to the Pew Research Center, that belief persists.
Jesus Christ’s Return to Earth: By the year 2050, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth. However, a 46%-plurality of the public does not believe Christ will return during the next 40 years. Fully 58% of white evangelical Christians say Christ will return to earth in this period, by far the highest percentage in any religious group. Only about a third of Catholics (32%) and even fewer white mainline Protestants (27%) predict Christ’s return to earth by 2050. One-in-five religiously unaffiliated Americans also see Christ returning during the next four decades. Americans with no college experience (59%) are much more likely than those with some college experience (35%) or college graduates (19%) to expect Jesus Christ’s return. By region, those in the South (52%) are the most likely to predict a Second Coming by 2050.
I’m sure many of you are growing tired of all of the talk surrounding Harold Camping and his May 21 prediction of Jesus’ return. What I am growing tired of is the persistent belief in a literal “second coming” of Jesus. Here’s what I wrote back in January about the situation:
No, We Are Not Living in the “End Times”: The apocalypticism of Jesus and Paul was predictable. It meshed with the larger genre of apocalyptic literature and contained certain elements, most notably, a dissatisfaction with a present negative situation and an assertion that the “end” would come soon and it would be a time of divine intervention where the righteous are blessed and the wicked punished. I know this to be true because I can see it in Ezekiel, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, and the countless other examples of apocalypticism from that time period.
Further, apocalypticism was not written to be taken literally. It was riddled with symbolism so that the apocalypticist could speak openly about his current situation and not get in trouble with the powers that be. So, when we encounter Daniels visions in chapters 7 and 8 it is perfectly clear that he is referencing the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the persecution of the Jews that he led. The same is true when we read Revelation in the New Testament. It is symbolic and is not meant to be read literally. Christians were being persecuted and could not openly criticize their situation so they did so through symbols and the genre of apocalypticism.
The best discussion I’ve read on this topic recently comes from James McGrath.
Why There Will Be No Rapture: It isn’t just the timing that is the issue. The idea of a second coming with Jesus appearing in the sky is based on a view of the universe, which heaven literally “up there,” that is also hard if not impossible for anyone to accept today without serious cognitive dissonance.
A time eventually comes when, instead of clinging to older beliefs, no matter how central they may have been historically, it is time to rethink them, and perhaps even set them aside in some cases.
So, go ahead and claim Harold Camping’s prediction to be the nonsensical, superstitious drivel that it is, but remember to examine your own beliefs as well.