The previous post arose out of the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ on 8th January and the ‘End of the World’ scenario. My question, following Bishop Lowe’s protestations, was what do Anglicans believe about the Second Coming of Jesus? Has a more modernist reading replaced a literal reading and interpretation of the Bible as Bishop Lowe suggested on The Big Questions debate? My previous post went back into the ‘newspaper archives’ to remind myself what Manchester’s senior Bishop, Nigel McCulloch, once shared on the Bible’s ‘end of the age’ proclamations.
I am back to the newspaper ‘archives’ with this post, back when there was all that millennium hype with predictions of all sorts of ‘end of the world’ scenarios. This is another Anglican contribution to the theme of the Second Advent of Jesus – this one from “The Mail on Sunday,” 19 December, 1999. Media experienced, Anne Atkins has been on The Big Questions and would have related more readily to the view held by the Adventist pastor who was met with protests from Bishop Lowe as well as the atheist line-up on the show of the 8th January.
Anne Atkins prefaced her article with the claim to be “a sane modern woman.” One could understand her doing that. Anyone talking about “the end of things” back then was bound to be under suspicion by the very nature of the subject, and no less today. That kind of language is associated with all that is symbolised by 9/11 and 7/7. But the Anglican in the previous post and this Anglican approached us through the newspapers, with editorial endorsement!
Said Anne Atkins in that article, all up-beat, “world-wide, Christianity is on the increase, currently claiming about a quarter of the population, so billions of otherwise normal, mentally robust individuals believe history will end as suddenly as it may have begun – for that is what the Second Coming must mean.” So if Anne Atkins is right there is a lot more people around who would come under Bishop Lowe’s indictment of being ‘fundamentalist’!
But admitting to a mental blankness on this subject she said, “I was an undergraduate before I realised that the service I attended early every December was about the Advent, not of a helpless baby in a bed of straw 2,000 years ago but a terrifying Judge on clouds of glory, still to come.” And then she went on to say, “And – believe it or not – it was only recently that I made the connection between the millennium and the hype.” Keep in mind this was published 12 years ago.
Then she sent her readers to the two prophecies Jesus gave in Matthew 24, one on the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in AD 70, and the other where Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day or the hour of his coming. For the Christian who would take note, that would remove all credibility from impostors and time setters.
She reminded her readers that Jesus did specify that His coming would be when we least expect it. One thing would be for sure, she said, it would be unmistakable! She then made the point that while most people missed the first arrival of Jesus, no one will miss His second. (Bishop Lowe, this Anglican, and presumably her vicar husband, seem to me to see the Biblical description of the Second Advent of Jesus in literal terms).
And this is what struck me of Anne Atkins being so bold with the Scriptures rather than personal opinion. She said, Jesus likened His Second Coming to lightening, cracking the sky from East to West (Matthew 24:27). The foundations of Creation will shake, stars will fall, the sun will grow cold. We will not be sitting around watching theologians on Channel 5 debating whether or not it has happened. (Today she might replace ‘Channel 5’ with ‘The Big Questions’ debate!). For Anne Atkins, there is no secret rapture! For her, “the trumpet shall sound throughout the four corners of the earth” when the Lord comes (Matthew 24:30-31).
But more important for Anne Atkins than the “when” or the “how” – was the “why?” Look around you she said. Turn on the news. She then referred to the outrages in Chechnya and asked, who hasn’t responded to the outrage, and cried out in horror, ‘is this all?’ Today she would have to include 9/11 and 7/7 and “Bali” and Madrid and Moscow and Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Syria and more. And can we forget Rwanda and the former state of Yugoslavia, and what is happening on the African continent with AIDS – as well as the political and social upheaval in some of its countries such as Sudan. And that is without going back to the two world wars of the previous century! “What is God doing, for goodness sake?” she asked. “Is this what He intended? And how can He be satisfied with it?”
As I read her article she sounded just like a modern Abraham challenging God to be just. But then like Abraham she knows He is just because she went on to say, “The God of love and justice cannot stand by and do nothing. The only question is, why He waits so.” And the answer for Atkins comes from Scripture itself, it is to give us a chance before He puts the world to rights. She didn’t give us any Scriptures but you can find one in 2 Peter 3:9.
Then came the idea of judgement again. Before the Judgement she says, Jesus explained to His friends, every country in the world must have the opportunity of hearing about Him, so anyone who wants can be rescued (Matthew 24:14; 28:19,20). There was no copping out of the Gospel Commission given by Jesus for her! And then she puts in brackets “(We must be getting dangerously near, now).”
She went on to say, “Putting the world to rights is the other compelling reason for future dramatic intervention. If God exists at all, He must recreate it, so we see it as it always should have been. Of course, we cannot imagine it now. The nearest we can envisage is a land without death or mourning, without crying or pain. The reality, if the imagery is to be believed, will be a place of such joy and wonder that . . . well, suffice it to say,” she said, “I don’t think the millennium experience will get very near.” Reminders there of Nicky Campbell stressing that these end time predictions are there in Thessalonians and Revelation. Anne Atkins must also have been thinking of Scriptures like Revelation 21:1-5.
Then she said who the major influence was in her life that persuaded her to take these Biblical predictions seriously. It was her brother. Said Anne, he is used to weighing evidence and is now a physicist and an Oxford professor. But the odd thing is, she said, he still believes these events will happen, as surely as night follows day. And with a sense of humour that also had some seriousness about it she said about her brother, “To meet him, you would think he was as sane as you or I. Except that I believe it, too.”
It did surprise me to read such undiluted end-time teachings of the Bible in the newspaper as in this post and the previous post. I must give credit to Bishop Lowe who sent me digging into the newspaper ‘archives’ of 12 years ago.
There is so much about the Second Advent of Jesus and the “end time” event in the New Testament that no one can be uninformed about what the Bible says of the Second Advent. More on that in the next post.