UMC’s General Board of Discipleship denies the Second Coming

How else can you interpret its “Preaching Notes” on Mark 13:24-37, the gospel lesson for the first Sunday of Advent in Lectionary Year B?

After quoting from the text, the author of the notes (which have no byline) writes:

Perhaps we are accustomed to hearing these words of Jesus preached as a prophesy meant for the distant future, a time when recorded history will cease and the world will come to an end with the judgment of God.

Indeed, we are, and for good reason, since this view represents a consensus of Christian thinking on the topic for the past two millennia. And even if, like N.T. Wright, one embraces an orthodox form of preterism, believing that many of Jesus’ words here refer only to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, one does not deny the Second Coming of Christ at the end of history, followed by resurrection, followed by final judgment, followed by a new heaven-and-earth-made-one.

Like Wright, I believe, along with many evangelicals, that Jesus’ words about “this generation” not passing away “until all these things have taken place” is a reference to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, which was a cataclysmic event for people who lived through it. I don’t believe, however, that that’s all Jesus is saying in this passage. And neither does the universal church, which places this text in the lectionary for the first Sunday of Advent because it intends to teach us about the Second Coming. Historically, that’s what the first Sunday of Advent is about.

Regardless, the author isn’t representing orthodox preterism. Not with words such as these:

Peter must have mulled Jesus’ words over in his mind a thousand times, weighing every syllable, thinking about what Jesus meant, and wondering if perhaps his teacher might have been mistaken. Finally, it must have occurred to him that Jesus was not mistaken. It was he, Peter, who was mistaken. He had been looking at the clouds in the sky when he should have been looking at the clouds inside himself…

The Son of Man doesn’t come stepping off of a literal cloud in the sky. When he comes and sends out his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven, where will he find them? Our souls do not blow literally in the winds, the earth has no literal end, and neither does heaven. The souls of men and women are not to be seen with the naked eye, anymore than is heaven.

No. All these things are matters of the spirit, where the present and the past and the future are merged, so that Jesus speaks to us now in exactly the same way he did to James and John and Peter and Andrew long ago on the Mount of Olives.

When does the Son of Man come on the clouds with great power and glory? He comes to us at the same time he came to Peter. He comes after we have suffered great tribulation.

“Looking at the clouds inside himself…” “The earth has no literal end…” “All these things are matters of the spirit…” The Son of Man comes “after we have suffered [personal] tribulation.”

The author seems to believe that because Jesus is employing highly figurative, apocalyptic language here, there is no literal truth about a great tribulation preceding the culmination of history, or final judgment, or even a physical resurrection of the dead, presumably—since all these things are “matters of the spirit,” and Jesus is only interested in our souls and not our bodies.

The author says that Peter himself realized that Jesus wasn’t talking about a Second Coming. How does the author square this view with Peter’s own words about “scoffers” who “will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires”?

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

One thing the author of these notes would say, alongside so many mainline scholars, is that Peter didn’t write 2 Peter. While I strongly reject with this modernist old saw, let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s true: contrary to the earliest Christians who were in a far better position to know, Peter or a scribe writing under his direction didn’t write this letter.

Do we at least believe that the pseudonymous author was representing the apostle’s viewpoint, which he had learned firsthand from the apostle or someone who knew the apostle well—that this letter was somehow an homage to the apostle and his life’s work? (I think that’s the liberal explanation for what appears to us to be a deeply unethical practice.) Do we at least believe that the author of 2 Peter was writing inspired scripture? If so, why does the pseudonymous author believe that Jesus was talking about a literal Second Coming? Why do we know more today than this inspired author of holy scripture?

Sadly, the author of these notes doesn’t wrestle with any of these questions.

But in a way I’m sympathetic: if the author attended a United Methodist-affiliated seminary like me, he or she wasn’t prepared to ask these kinds of questions. Not when the presumption of that education is that the Bible—far from being infallible or (yeah, right) inerrant—isn’t even an essentially truthful document.

7 thoughts on “UMC’s General Board of Discipleship denies the Second Coming”

  1. If someone is going to preach that go ahead. But don’t complain or laugh (I’ve heard it!) when the flock runs to LaHaye or others for a view of the future that at least points to Christ’s coming again in glory. I’ll quibble with him and others over their scheme, but we do agree that.

    This kind of mushy “spiritual” junk is just why we have so little doctrinal awareness in the UMC. Scripture has a story that has an ending. Why is that such a problem?

    1. Why does the doctrine of the Second Coming embarrass so many mainliners? I also reject the scheme of LaHaye and others, but I’d side with them against Christians who deny the Second Coming (not that dispensationalism represents any kind of consensual view, not even close).

      But I meant that last paragraph though: In a way, I really do sympathize with the author. We often graduate unprepared to defend these historical doctrines or even imagine that they could be true.

  2. That’s why I ignore the preaching notes in sermon preparation. I use the site in order to click on the lectionary texts and for help selecting the hymns, that’s about it. This is what happens when you have an “anything goes” theological platform–everything goes out the window, letting in all kinds of garbage. This is just what I wrote about for my Sunday sermon. Our denomination is becoming a mere form of godliness, denying the power of God. We need to seriously study, preach and teach the truth, not our personal or political spins on it.

    1. I hear you. I haven’t looked at them in years, and since I don’t preach the Lectionary, I’m not sure why I looked last week.

Leave a Reply