I was honoured by the invitation from the Nabi Akram Islamic Centre in Granville to speak at their seminar on ‘The Promised Saviour’ on February 26th, 2024. The event brought together representatives of both the Abrahamic religions – Jews, Christians and Muslims – as well as Buddhists and Sikhs.
The topic of ‘The Promised Saviour’ focused us on the way our theology shapes our view of the future. Where do we think the world is going? Is there any hope? Not surprisingly, perhaps, we found there was a lot of overlap between the different faith traditions. It seems that we are all looking forward in hope.
I am still waiting for a video recording of the event that I can post here. In the meantime, I’ll post the paper I gave on the hope for Christ’s return.
The Promised Saviour
An interfaith seminar at Holroyd Function Centre on February 26, 2024
Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
While not ancient piece of Christian liturgy, this three-fold affirmation is considered to be a concise summary of the faith and is featured in the worship services of almost all Christian churches in all denominations – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.
This three-fold statement encapsulates the Christian view of history – that it is linear, with a beginning and an end, moving from a garden to a city (from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem), and it affirms the centrality of Jesus, the Christ, in Christian understanding. Christians believe that the death of Jesus changed the course of history. We believe that His resurrection means that He is still with us, and we believe that Jesus will come again to wind up history as we know it, bringing in what He called ‘the Kingdom of God’.
As I say, I think this much is agreed upon by all Christians of all shapes and flavours. What is debated amongst Christians, and what has been debated since the beginnings of Christianity, is whether we can predict when Jesus will make that final return, and whether we can do anything to hurry Him along.
I believe there is a similar debate in the Shia community as to whether we can influence the timing of al-Mahdī’s return, but I will leave discussion of that subject to my colleagues who are far more educated in this area. The issue I want to comment on now (briefly) regards Christian speculation concerning the return of Jesus.
In the Christian Gospels of both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, with regards to His final return, that “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32).This though has never discouraged people from speculating, with varying degrees of confidence, as to when that actual day and hour will come, and whether we can influence the timing.
This sort of speculation has been especially prominent with groups of the fringes of orthodox Christianity, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and more recently with a group I consider for more dangerous – namely, the Christian Zionists.
Christian Zionism, which is especially popular amongst Evangelical Christians in the United States, doesn’t normally speculate as to a specific date and time for Jesus’ return, but they do believe that Jesus’ return will not happen until the current state of Israel destroys all its enemies. What this means is that Christian Zionists will support any military action taken by the current government of Israel against its middle eastern neighbours because they believe that Jesus cannot return until all of the state’s enemies have been destroyed!
I personally believe that this ideology is as misled as a form of Christian theology as it is dangerous, and I note that it is not really pro-Jewish either, as Christian Zionists believe that once Israel’s enemies have all been conquered, all remaining Jews will be suddenly converted to Christianity either before or when Jesus makes His return.
As a Christian, I share in the prayer with which our New Testament concludes – “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), and indeed I yearn for that new world, spoken of by the prophets, where ‘the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9), where ‘every tear will be wiped away’ (Revelation 21:4).
Indeed, there is violence and pain in this world that runs so deep that I believe only a total renewal of the cosmos will finally solve things for us, and I believe that the final return of Jesus will bring in this new age. As to exactly when this happens though – when Christ returns, and whether He will have al-Mahdī at His side, I’m happy to wait to find out.