The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine.
In 2002, my brother passed away from cancer. My mother followed him a number of years later. In the wake of their jarring deaths, my family held to our faith that their spirits had not “ceased to exist”—and that one day we would be able to be with them again.
But when would that be? Like Christians the world over, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ will one day come to earth, to usher in a thousand years of peace, healing, and joy for the human family. Since those painful years, my family began to speak of that anticipated day of His coming as the “family reunion” we longed for…and so, started paying a little more attention to the many scriptural prophesies of that coming millennial day.
Like this from Isaiah: “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee…for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (60:19-20).
And this from Jeremiah: “They shall come and sing in the height of Zion . . . and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. . . For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (31:12-13).
Do these sound like fearful and ominous forebodings?
Nope. But you could be forgiven from reading all the national commentary about end-times believers these days to think we were all about panic, fear, and self-survival.
In a recent Salt Lake Tribune piece on those anticipating the coming of Christ, one journalist went so far as to frame up the entire conversation about end times around the sad case of a couple who murdered their children. Similar to other national news sites, the overriding portrayal is one of frenzied minds, suspicious hearts, and fear-driven lives.
That’s been the very opposite of my experience. Through days of great difficulty in my life, the anticipation of those future days has brought me great comfort. I’m not alone in that—with many fellow believers finding peace in knowing what is to come.
President Russell Nelson himself, who has spoken plainly (and increasingly) about the coming of Jesus Christ, is far from an alarmist—with his video counsel in the early days of the pandemic having little to do with fear—and everything to do with assuaging that kind of panic.
So, why does talk of the second coming inspire such resistance and angst among some observers—including believing ones?
I can’t say I have a satisfying answer, except perhaps to acknowledge an unhealthy obsession that can develop among some anticipating these events—especially when it comes to the darker side of what is to come.
After all, believers don’t only see roses and hollyhocks ahead, with anticipated events described by the prophet Joel as both “great and terrible.” Or as Charles Dickens prophetically put it, we may yet live to see “the best of times,” and “the worst of times.”
Whatever difficulties arise, however, all are understood as ushering in wonderful, amazing times that follow. Hence, the classic scriptural metaphor for the last days: a woman giving birth to a baby.
However awful that moment of travail clearly is . . .
Then comes the baby!
Fresh. New. And more beautiful than anything.
That’s what believers the world over anticipate to follow whatever pain precedes Christ’s coming.
So, can you blame us for getting a little excited about it? And after all, don’t we all yearn to see that kind of new rebirth happen in our society one day…somehow?
My Marxist friends certainly do. And people working in anti-racism or fighting poverty or sex trafficking.
Ask yourself honestly: When will the women and children currently entrapped in sexual trafficking truly all be freed—and the awful statistics on exploitation decline? How will the tragic numbers of sexual abuse, molestation, rape, and victimization change—along with domestic/family violence stats?
And when will starvation around the world be truly eradicated? Furthermore, how will statistics on suicide, depression, and anxiety ever go down— along with cancer, heart disease, and so many other conditions that sap our collective strength?
Not anytime soon, at least. Not without a more dramatic kind of intervention.
That is coming, according to believers—not from a grand new national policy platform or creative new global intervention.
But from Jesus Christ Himself.
As King Benjamin put it in the Book of Mormon, “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
This is not to say that our own human policies cannot be inspired, nor that our revised plans can’t or won’t make a measurable difference.
They can! And we see evidence of that often—in many places.
Neither is it to suggest that we shouldn’t continue fighting for a decrease in these tragic numbers—and an increase in everything good.
We can, and we should.
So much good has been—and will continue to be accomplished by divinely-inspired actors in the world around us displaying compassion, courage, and faith. On days when I’ve felt discouraged at the meager results of my own efforts in this regard, I’ve felt comforted by a sense that perhaps our work is more like that of John the Baptist’s—limited by nature, but pointing to beautiful things to come, including healing possibilities we’re hardly capable of achieving ourselves.
Not yet. But soon.
How soon? It’s true (as many like to point out) that Jesus told his disciples: “of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only.”
It’s also true, however, that he said right before that: “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” [As another translation puts it, “So likewise, mine elect, when they shall see all these things, they shall know that he is near, even at the doors.”]
Did you hear that?
“They shall know.” Not guess. Or speculate.
It’s true—no one knows when a baby will come—not exactly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t know anything—as many like to infer.
After all, when the contractions for a pregnant woman start to come, you kind of do know what’s coming. And that’s what Jesus teaches. We will know, more or less…when He’s coming.
At least the believers will.
It’s true this will be a surprise for many in the world— including those mocking and disparaging those who anticipate this day.
But it won’t—or at least doesn’t have to be—a thief-in-the-night surprise for believers. As Jesus Himself tipped off his followers anciently, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”
Some push back, “Oh, but people have been saying this kind of thing for thousands of years—‘oh, he’s coming soon.”
You’re right. And people will say things like that right up until the end, too (or rather, the beginning).
When it happens for real. And Jesus Christ comes again – in the flesh – upon the earth again.
Yes, it’s true: That’s what believers the world over anticipate and long for—including me.
And we’re not ashamed to say it. Indeed, we hope to persuade you of it too!
Imagine the comfort it could bring. To recognize the swirling signs all around us not as symptoms of a planet soon to burn up for good—but, rather, of a planet preparing for its King.
(Oh, and the scriptures speak of climate change as well, yes—but well within the power of God’s hand. See here: Revelation 16:9).
Even with all the craziness around us, no – you don’t have to be so full of angst, despair and frustration. What peace and joy there is in this hope!
Can a belief that these are the “last days” or the “end times” invoke unnecessary fear?
Sure, of course—especially if the harder things ahead become a singular or obsessive focus. And, yep, we sometimes fall into that trap – we do.
But in fairness, there is legitimate reason to preoccupy a little with the fear and concern for what lies ahead as well (the “terrible” part of these anticipations). Like prophetic leaders in our day, however, our hope in the good that lies ahead can and should transcend that all—and must dominate our message to the world.
That is one of the essential messages of Russel M. Nelson—a man Latter-day Saints, myself included, embrace as a living prophet of God. He’s not a doomsday prophet – and yet, he believes Jesus is coming. It’s refreshing to hear his excitement, hope and joy (See for yourself, for instance here: The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming.)
Let’s maybe all who are believers take a cue from President Nelson—whose every message overflows with hope, peace, and joy. Following the Master Himself, it is the hope and salvation of the world we raise up—not its condemnation: “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
And it’s not God that brings condemnation in the end, but our own acts of selfishness, lust, pride, and abuse: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Inviting our brothers and sisters beyond and away from these patterns is the passion of Latter-day Saints, alongside many other Christians and believers the world over. And pointing towards a world of greater peace, hope, and joy is our message.
If that’s troubling to you, then maybe we need to talk a little more. Until you at least understand what we’re saying – and not saying.
Difficult times will continue to come in the days ahead. That much is guaranteed.
But no matter how bad they get, they’ll be worth it in the end.
And trust us: the hard times won’t last forever.