Robert S. Folkenberg is the president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In many ways, Americans living in 1844 would have been more at home in the world as it was when Jesus lived here than they would be in our world of the late twentieth century─only 150 years later. That is not an exaggeration.

Historian Paul Johnson has called the years between 1815 and 1830 the "birth of the modern," a dividing line between the industrial age leading to today's high-tech wizardry and an earlier world that had continued unchanged in many important aspects for several thousand years. For example, the first passenger service using the newly developed steam locomotive began in 1830 between Manchester and Liverpool, England. Until then, the fastest means of travel remained the horse, just as it had since earliest times. The telegraph became a practical device in the United States in 1844 with transmission of a message between the nation's capital and the nearby city of Baltimore, Maryland. Before that, long-distance communication relied on the physical delivery of a written letter─basically the same system used in ancient Persia and Rome. In medical knowledge, military weaponry, industrial technology, scientific research─indeed, in almost every area─the world of 1844 was more akin to the first century than to the late twentieth century.

Arguably, technology and human knowledge have advanced to a greater degree during the last 150 years than they did during all the centuries prior to that time.

Think of what we accept as commonplace today that was undreamed of 150 years ago: 

space shuttles, moon walks, and probes of distant planets; telephones (conventional, cordless, cellular, mobile, even an imagecapable variety that permits the people at both ends of the communication to see each other) with call waiting, one-button memory dialing, caller identification,and built-in answering machines; fiber optics, computers, fax machines, televisions, compact discs, and VCRs; automobiles, wide-body jets, antibiotics, nuclear submarines, and heat-seeking and video-guided missiles; credit cards, supermarkets, automatic teller machines, digital stereos, microwave ovens (now in 70 percent of American homes), video cameras, open-heart surgery, air conditioning, and Nintendo games─to name a few. The pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church never would have believed the world in which you and I live.

Obviously time has continued longer than they ever thought possible. The world has developed far beyond anything they could imagine. Have we also developed beyond the simple belief of those early pioneers in a soon-coming Jesus? Can we still expect Him to come in the high-tech 1990s? Or have we outgrown such a childlike faith?

Christians in every generation have tended to feel that theirs was the last and that Jesus must surely return in their days. In our day we have that same expectation. Many biblical signs of His coming are general enough that each generation has been able to point to contemporary fulfillments. For example, wars, famines, lawlessness, lack of faith, and earthquakes have existed, to some degree, in all generations.

"But," say some, "these things are occurring with greater intensity today than ever before." But what level of intensity is necessary? Could not these situations conceivably continue centuries from now, in even more acute forms, if Jesus still hasn't come?

Do we have any valid reasons to believe that Jesus is actually coming in our day?

I believe our world presently faces several life-threatening circumstances never encountered by previous generations. Here are just a few reasons why it seems to me that life as we know it on our world seems doomed and Jesus must return soon.

1. World population. Note these figures showing the escalating rate of how often world population has doubled, approximately, since Jesus' day.

A.D. 1               250 million

A.D. 1700         625 million

A.D. 1850         1.1 billion

A.D. 1950         2.5 billion

A.D. 1985         4.8 billion

A.D. 2000         8.3 billion (estimated)

(Signs of the Times, October 1985, page 7).

Obviously world population cannot long continue to double at this rate. Already social scientists are looking with concern at the world's bloated metropolitan areas. They are tossing about such terms as "out of control," "widespread hunger and joblessness," "environmental devastation," "global instability," "violence," and "authoritarianism." The world has never before had so many people alive at one time that their sheer numbers threaten the entire globe.

2. Dwindling resources. As world population explodes, the ability of the planet to support such numbers diminishes─rapidly. Today, we face shortages and environmental concerns unknown even a century ago. Not everyone, even in developed countries, can continue to expect, as a matter of course, the necessary quantities of life's basic physical necessities─food, pure air, and clean water. In some cases, humancontrolled factors─economics, politics, and society itself─are responsible. But even with the utmost human cooperation, it seems we cannot continue to live as we do in the numbers that we do. Earth's physical resources cannot cope with the increasing demand and misuse.

3. Nuclear weapons. The nuclear age dawned only about fifty years ago, yet already, two nations─the United States and what was once the Soviet Union─possess between themselves some 48,000 nuclear weapons with an explosive power thirteen million times greater than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. A single Poseidon submarine─less than two percent of the United States's totalnuclear force─is able to destroy every large- and medium-size city in the former Soviet Union. In addition to the United States and Russia, a growing number of nations also belong to the "nuclear club," and still others have the potential to quickly develop nuclear arsenals.

I know that we live now in the age of glasnost, or openness. We are reducing our military capabilities and forging alliances with our former cold war antagonists. The world is looking to a time of "peace and safety." But I also know that human history has been an unending story of aggression and war. Peace is a fragile condition with a tenuous life. Past experience indicates that humankind will eventually use─intentionally or other wise─the technology for killing that we have developed. It has ever been so. Never before in history has humanity held in its hands the ability to actually destroy life as we know it on the entire planet in a matter of minutes.

4. Fulfilled prophecy. A fourth consideration deals not so much with world conditions as with God's perspective.

The Bible presents two basic types of predictive prophecy─event-oriented predictions, such as those in Matthew 24 and in many Old Testament writings, and linear time prophecies, such as those of Daniel and Revelation. The longest of these linear time prophecies is the 2,300 days (prophetic years) of Daniel 8 and 9, which extend to the year 1844, the last fixed prophetic date in Scripture. Today, even more so than 150 years ago, the Bible tells us that we are living in the end time and that the next great prophetic happening will be the return of Jesus. The Millerites were wrong about the time for the second coming, but they were as right as they could be in determining that the time prophecies of the Bible end with 1844. Since that time, we have walked to the end of the biblical time line. The Bible is clear that Jesus' second coming is the next major event to take place! Ellen White calls this teaching the "keynote" of the Bible.

One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ's second coming, to complete the great work of redemption. To God's pilgrim people, so long left to sojourn in "the region and shadow of death," a precious, joy-inspiring hope is given in the promise of His appearing, who is "the resurrection and the life," to "bring home again His banished." The doctrine of the second advent is the very key-note of the Sacred Scriptures. From the day when the first pair turned their sorrowing-steps from Eden, the children of faith have awaited the coming of the Promised One to break the destroyer's power and bring them again to the lost Paradise (Maranatha, page 13).

The Millerites, who were so terribly disappointed in 1844, looked for Jesus to come for two reasons. First, they based their belief on the teaching of the Word. Second, they wanted Him to come; they longed to see Him. Both these reasons are still valid today.

Scripture clearly declares that Jesus is coming. We can agree with the pioneers on that. The question for us, then, is this: Do we want Him to come as badly as they did? Is our uncertainty about His coming caused, in part, at least, by our loss of a sense of urgency? Have we allowed the delay to blind us to the reality of His coming?

I would like to suggest three points to consider when dealing with the delay of Jesus' return. They do not necessarily explain why time has continued so much longer than we anticipated. But they help us put the delay into a biblical perspective that can help us preserve our certainty that He is coming.

1. God is sovereign and can choose the time He thinks best for His Son to return.

We may feel confused by the delay, just as the disciples were confused and disappointed following the crucifixion. They had a preconceived notion of what the Messiah's role would be, and when Jesus didn't follow their ideas, they didn't know what to make of it. "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel," they reflected (Luke 24:21). In the same way, the passing of the years may leave us wondering if we can have any sense of urgency about the return of Jesus─or whether He will come at all. But God is under no obligation to follow our expectations. He is always in control and has determined a time for Jesus' coming that will accomplish His eternal purpose: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36).

The apostle Peter points to God's sovereignty as an important factor in dealing with the apparent delay in Jesus' return. Peter predicts that in the end time men and women will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4). We have usually applied this verse to non-Christian "scoffers," and rightly so. But could it not also apply to those within the church who have begun to question the soon return of Jesus because of the time that has passed since we first began to look for Him?

And what does Peter say about those who doubt that Jesus is returning soon? They deliberately forget, he says, that in His own good time God once acted decisively to destroy the world by a flood in response to sin. And in His own good time, He will alsoone day judge the world by fire when His Son returns: "By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment. . . . But do not forget this one thing dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise" (verses 7-9).

Peter points us to God's sovereign will and His power to act when He decides it is best. And He assures us that day will come.

We may be puzzled by the delay, but the fact is that Jesus will come, and He will come when God chooses for Him to come. Each year, each month, each week, each day actually brings us closer to that glorious time.

Have you ever found yourself driving home, only to discover that your gas tank is almost empty? You keep going, nervously  looking for a gas station, but none appears. Each mile, you tell yourself, "I've made it this far, so I probably won't run out of gas before I get home." Of course, you know that isn't logical. Actually, you are all the more likely to run out of gas soon precisely because you have traveled so far. And the farther you go, the more certain it is that you will run out of gas.

In the same way, it's easy to delude ourselves by thinking, Jesus hasn't come for the last 150 years, so the chances are good He won't do so soon. Actually, each passing day brings His coming that much closer.

In a very real sense, we don't have to worry about the timing of the second coming. It is out of our hands. Jesus will come in God's own time, because God is in control. He is Lord of time.

2. The delay is evidence of His incredible patience and love for you and me.

The second consideration we need to be aware of is that God is waiting in love. Peter says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Ellen White echoes the same thought: "The reason why the Bridegroom delays is because He is longsuffering . . . not willing that any should perish. ... 0 the precious longsuffering of our merciful Saviour!" (Sons and Daughters of God, page 118).

God has always held back His judgments as long as possible in order to give us every opportunity to repent and be saved. He will act to destroy sin and those who insist on being identified with it, but He does so reluctantly and only after every possible appeal has been made. Even when He determined that the world must be destroyed with a flood, He waited 120 years while Noah preached repentance and salvation. When He determined that Sodom and Gomorrah had passed the limits of forbearance, He granted Abraham's repeated requests to spare the cities if only a minimal number of godly people could be found there (see Genesis 18:20-33). He deferred judgment on Israel time and again in the Old Testament─and forgave the people repeatedly when they repented and turned again to Him. And, according to Peter, the main reason Jesus has not yet returned is God's great desire to give everyone as much time as possible to be ready. He doesn't want anyone to lose out on eternal life.

Christ's parables also incorporate the concept of unanticipated delay. Recall the ten virgins, who found that the bridegroom "was a long time in coming," much longer than they had expected (Matthew 25:1-13). The calculating, unjust steward concluded that his Master's return was "taking a long time in coming" (Luke 12:42-48).

From this perspective, the delay is evidence, not that God is unconcerned about us, but, instead, it is evidence of His incredible patience and love. We tend to focus on the fact that Jesus has not yet appeared, but we need to focus more on the fact that God is still holding open the door of mercy, inviting all to enter.

This perspective can even help us grapple with the length of the delay. In one sense, it's true that a long time has elapsed since 1844. But in the scheme of earth's history and certainly in the scheme of God's eternity 150 years are not all that significant. Perhaps we need to shift our focus from how long it has been since 1844 to the fact that these 150 years represent only a small fraction of the time that has gone by since Creation.

Think of it like this. If the approximately six thousand years of earth's history could be compressed into a single 24-hour day, the Flood would occur before eight o'clock in the morning. The Exodus would happen about 10:00 a.m. Jesus would die on the cross at approximately 4:00 in the afternoon. And the time from 1844 to 1994 would be only thirtysix minutes—from 11:23 p.m. to 11:59p.m.

Seen from that standpoint, the delay doesn't seem so significant, especially when we realize that God is waiting a little longer in order to save as many as possible.

3. To be Christians means that we are called to an ongoing sense of imminence, expectation, and trust.

Here is the third factor to consider when we deal with the delay. Jesus says:

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 

It is like a man going away: He leaves his house in charge of his servants, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" (Mark 13:32-37).

This means we should live our lives every day as if Jesus might come at any time as indeed He might. It also means that we should live every day as good stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care to make a better world. In this parable, and others, Jesus made it clear that while we are to live in expectation of His soon return, we are also to "occupy till I come" (Luke 19:13, KJV). When asked what he would do if he knew Jesus would come tomorrow, Martin Luther is supposed to have replied, "I would plant a tree today."

Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy consistently present the second coming as near. Apparently, the disciples fully expected Jesus to come again in their lifetime (see Acts 1:6). The apostle Paul exhorted the Roman Christians, "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here" (Romans 13:11, 12). He told the Corinthian Christians, "The time is short" (1 Corinthians 7:29). At Thessalonica, some even quit their jobs in their fervent expectation of Jesus' coming, so that Paul had to warn them against fanaticism (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 3:6-13).

Ellen G. White writes "The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been represented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional." (Evangelism, page 695)

How are we to live, then, in light of the fact that there has been such a long delay? 

Apparently, we are not to be anxious about the time of His coming. We are to anticipate it, expect it, look for it. But at the same time we are to trust Jesus so that we continue to occupy the place and the work He has left us to do: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19, 20).

While we wait for Him to come, we are to live and work and witness in a way that testifies to our confidence in His love for us. We are to rest in His salvation here and now even as we anticipate the fullness of the salvation to come when He appears. The apostle John puts it this way: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! . . . Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:1-3).

What a wonderful description of what it means to live in expectation of His appearing while trusting Him to sustain us day by day! The time is near. Jesus will come soon. Each passing day brings us closer. This is true in a very personal sense as well as in absolute terms.

How much time is left on God's clock for earth? The fact is, we simply don't know. All the indications are that Jesus will come soon. But no matter how many years earth may have in absolute terms, in a personal sense, the return of Jesus is no farther away than our last heartbeat-only decades away, at most, for any of us.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been concerned to uphold the biblical truth that those who die sleep in death until the resurrection at the end of time; so much so that I sometimes think we have tended to overlook another truth─the truth that in practical terms, death and eternity do mean virtually the same thing. Those who died in Christ last week will not realize that eternity has arrived for them sooner than for those who died in Christ 50 years ago or 150 or 1,500 years ago. For each, the next conscious moment following death will be the sight of their precious Lord returning.

It was the evening of October 22, 1991. Mother and Dad had spent a pleasant evening together in their basement study in Spokane, Washington, doing what they loved most, being together and studying the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. Dad went upstairs to the kitchen to get one of his loose-leaf notebooks in which, over the years, he had compiled his favorite quotations. Sitting at the kitchen counter, he began to read the material he planned to share with some conference workers. When Mother came upstairs a few minutes later, she found him with his face down on the book.

Like his father before him, my father had preached the soon return of Jesus all his life. He rests now, sleeping and awaiting the call of the Life Giver. But, as far as he is concerned, the second coming will interrupt his reading. When the Lord returns and Dad is raised to eternal life, the train of Dad's thoughts will momentarily pick up where they left off. However long it may be in real time before Jesus comes, for Dad, at one moment, he will be reading a favorite quotation and the next instant, he will see his Saviour! I can hardly wait for that day to come!

Why has Jesus waited so long? We want Him to come. We long for Him to return.

I believe the primary reason for the delay is the reason we have looked at from the apostle Peter: "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God is waiting in love for you and me and everyone else who will turn to Him with all our hearts, repent of our sins, and allow Him to fill us with His righteousness. Praise the Lord for His patience and His overwhelming love! Though delayed, He will come, and come soon, for He has promised. "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).

Texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Robert S. Folkenberg is the President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This article was taken from his most recent book, We Still Believe, published by the Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1994.