“The time of my coming”

For several days odd signs had been showing—the sky was yellow and the sun was red.  Suddenly, the sky darkened further.  Animals ran for cover.  When seen, the moon was red and soot was seen to be floating in the river.  By noon it was dark, forcing people to light candles and wonder—was the great and terrible day of the Lord’s return at hand?  With all the signs at hand, it was proposed that the Connecticut legislature be adjourned in case the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was going to occur.  One of their members, Abraham Davenport, opposed the move, and supposedly went on to say that: “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, then there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.”

The setting for all of this wasn’t some apocalyptic novel, but 19 May 1780 A.D. in New England.  Known as the Dark Day, the event was likely caused by smoke from severe forest fires in the area, but the highly religious Puritans didn’t know that at the time.  I can’t be sure if I have the words correct (not having seen the primary documentation), but I like what is portrayed in Davenport’s words above.  Our church is committed to an apocalyptic worldview, but we don’t know when the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the dawn of the Millennium will come.  As such, it’s always best to prepare as best we can for it to happen, but also plan and live for the long haul.

Christians have expected the end of times since the beginnings of Christianity.  In the words of BYU scholar Richard N. Holzapfel: “It has not been unusual for nearly every generation who has lived on the earth since the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ to believe they might witness the terrible events immediately preceding the Second Coming and be present at His coming.”[1]  At least at one point, even Paul seemed to feel that he would be alive when it would happen, writing that “the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.”[2]  While later writings, such as 2 Thessalonians, indicate a longer timeline for the Lord’s return, over the years various natural disasters, specific dates, plagues, conquests and political events, or declarations of religious leaders have led to speculation that the end is near on a regular basis.  I’m always reminded, for example, of my own ancestor who lived in the early 1800s, who wrote that: “In the fall of [1814] there were the most Extraordinary Northern Lights that I had Ever seen it was the Caus of many speculative notions among the people but my father said it was the signs of the Last days and of Christs second Coming of Christ I regarded my fathers remark as specimens of good sense.”[3]  Christians generally find good reasons to believe that they live in the end of times.

The early Latter-day Saints were no exception, and the expectation of an imminent return of Jesus Christ is on full display in the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that were focused on this week in the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum.  While the major focus was on calling missionaries to “Preach my Gospel” and “to lift up your voice as with the sound of a trump,” the coming apocalypse undergirded the urgency of these calls.[4]  For example, Thomas Marsh was told in September 1830 that: “ Thou shalt begin to preach from this time forth yea to Reap in the field which is white already to be burned.”[5]  Ezra Thayer and Northrop Sweet were similarly told in October 1830 that they needed to preach because “it is the Elvenenth hour & for the last time that I shall call labouerers into my vineyard,” and they were warned to “be faithful praying always having your lamps trimmed & burning & oil with you that ye may be Ready at the coming of the Bride groom for Behold Verily Verily I say unto you that I come quickly.”[6]  About a month later, Orson Pratt was told to preach as part of the efforts to prepare “the way of the Lord for his second Coming for Behold Verily Verily I say unto you the time is soon at hand that I will come in a cloud with power & great glory.”[7]  Another month after that, Sidney Rigdon was told “the poor & the meek shall have the Gospel preached unto them & they shall be looking forth for the time my coming for it is nigh at hand.”[8]  These revelations indicated that Jesus Christ was coming very soon.

Although somewhat tempered by the passing of time, the trend for expecting the Second Coming continues in our own day.  President Russell M. Nelson has continued to use rhetoric about being in or near the Last Days, including references to Millennials helping “prepare the people of this world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His millennial reign,”[9] a call during general conference to those who are not currently involved in the Church to “do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now” because “time is running out,”[10] and an article in which he stated: “We are just building up to the climax of this last dispensation—when the Savior’s Second Coming becomes a reality.”[11]  Turning to some of the general Church membership in Utah, when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, many of my friends and family members offered passing speculation that it might be part of the prelude to the Second Coming.  That speculation was intensified by a moderately-strong earthquake in Utah and other natural disasters around the world throughout 2020.  Social media posts and memes abounded with mentions of apocalypse bingo, speculation about whether frogs or locusts (or Mormon crickets) were next on the list, and images of the Salt Lake City Temple Angel Moroni (sans trumpet) “checking his watch.”

There is always the chance that the end really is near and that some of us who are alive may see the Second Coming.  My feelings, since it seems like every generation over the last 2000 years have felt that way, is that we may not be among that group.  I am, however, the type who likes to hedge my bets and be prepared either way.  When Jesus taught about the Second Coming, he made it clear that it would be unexpected and we should be prepared for it at any time: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. … The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[12]  He went on to teach the following parable:

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[13]

The point, to me, seems to be to live in such a way that I am prepared for the Second Coming or judgement day whether it comes in my lifetime or not.  As Wilford Woodruff reportedly once said: “I would live as if it were to be tomorrow—but I am still planting cherry trees!”[14]

While the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants do seem to indicate that the Second Coming is close, experience seems to indicate that eschatological anxieties and preparations for the Second Coming of the Christ do need to be balanced with preparations to be here for the long haul.  As President Boyd K. Packer taught:

Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth: ‘The way things are going, the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be.’ Not so! You can look forward to doing it right—getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren.”[15]

Whether that ongoing commitment to enduring takes the form of starting a family as President Packer suggests, to take seriously Elder Steven E. Snow’s statement that “God expects every one of His sons and daughters to act as good stewards of the land He created,”[16] or any other number of things, it’s worth working and planning like we have centuries before the Second Coming, even when the end seems nigh.  As Abraham Davenport supposedly said, “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, then there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.”

 

Footnotes:

 

[1] Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “The Glass if Half Full: The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ,” BYU address, 10  July 2001.

[2] 1 Thess. 4:16-17, NRSV.

[3] Zerah Pulsipher Autobiographical Sketch #2, Typescript prepared by Chad L. Nielsen, September 2019. Spelling, punctuation and paragraphs retained as presented in the original. See Church History Library in Salt Lake City, MS_753_f0001_item_1-Record_book_circa_1858-1878.

[4] “Revelation, 4 November 1830 [D&C 34],” p. 45, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-4-november-1830-dc-34/1

[5] “Revelation, September 1830–F [D&C 31],” p. 43, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-september-1830-f-dc-31/1

[6] “Revelation, October 1830–B [D&C 33],” p. 44, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-october-1830-b-dc-33/1

[7] “Revelation, 4 November 1830 [D&C 34],” p. 45, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-4-november-1830-dc-34/1

[8] “Revelation, 7 December 1830 [D&C 35],” p. 47, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-7-december-1830-dc-35/2

[9] Russell M. Nelson, “Stand as True Millennials,” Ensign, Oct. 2016, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2016/10/young-adults/stand-as-true-millennials?lang=eng.

[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Come, Follow Me,”  CR April 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/46nelson?lang=eng

[11] Russell M. Nelson, “The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming,” Ensign  April 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/04/the-future-of-the-church-preparing-the-world-for-the-saviors-second-coming?lang=eng&fbclid=IwAR2Mq05-vU-zqL94LdkTmx1lmL59TBJj9cFDQr0W5JMKT7oSo0lw-js3s5E.

[12] Matthew 24:36, 44 NRSV.

[13] Matthew 24:45-51, NRSV.

[14] Richard L. Evans, CR, April 1950, 105-106.

[15] Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” CR October 2011, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2011/10/counsel-to-youth?lang=eng.

[16] Steven E. Snow, “The Moral Imperative of Environmental Stewardship,” Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10 October 2018, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/the-moral-imperative-of-environmental-stewardship-elder-steven-e-snow

4 comments for ““The time of my coming”

  1. Thanks for this.
    I tire of hearing about dreams and visions resulting specific immanent months or dates for the apocalypse.
    Years ago someone published in Sunstone Magazine (I’ve forgotten who or just when) suggested the possibility that the reason for the instruction to watch of the signs of the second coming when the “day and hour no one knows” (and therefore cannot predict), may be that most of such “signs” are disaster that bring pain and suffering and corresponding opportunities and motivations to help. When I’ve repeated that idea, it has been dismissed out of hand, as if somehow watching for signs was clearly meant to allow predication and frustrate the notion that it will be “unexpected.” What do you think? Why watch for signs?

  2. That’s a good question, Wondering. I know a lot of times, the rhetoric about the Second Coming is tied towards motivating change-which is probably part of why early missionary work and Zion building are so closely tied to the coming judgement in the Doctrine and Covenants. That could potentially be tied to what you’re saying with the Sunstone article.
    Another thing is that the signs might actually have been included as a way of telling people that it’s not happening right away (i.e., there are still things that need to happen first, so chill). That’s how I read 2 Thessalonians, anyway.

  3. Framing the second coming as an event is one way.

    Framing the second coming as a dispensation/age/aeon is another way.

    In any case, escatology (end-times) and apocalypse (unveiling, revelation) are both easier for me to digest in the framework of aeon. Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. He continues to appear from time to time. It seems that certain dogmas help us forget that Earth is already celestial.

    Consider the gravity of Joseph Smith’s escatology: the Earth is already celestial, and the age, or aeon, is marked by the second arriving(s) of the Son.

    How might we know if He is already Here, and working quietly among us–like a thief in the night…? This framework better feeds my faith.

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