Things Christians Say: If the Lord Tarries . . .

imminent return of jesus

Most Evangelicals believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ is imminent; that Jesus could either, depending on which particular eschatological viewpoint one holds to, come in the clouds and rapture (carry away) True Christians®, or physically return to earth to establish God’s millennial kingdom/new heaven/new earth. Evangelicals, since Israel became a nation in 1948, have been saying that this or that generation is the last one before Jesus comes again. Dates have been set for Christ’s return, yet Jesus remains on a 2,000-year-long vacation. Of course, the reason for this is that he lies buried in a grave somewhere in Palestine. Dead people — Jesus included — stay dead, so that’s the obvious reason for Evangelicalism’s coming Lord and King being AWOL. Deep in their heart of hearts, many Evangelicals know this. How can they not? Every person they know who has died has stayed dead. Yes, the Bible speaks of a resurrected Jesus, but until he actually makes a grand appearance – against which the odds are one gazillion to one — all we have in the Good Book are fanciful, fictional stories of a resurrected, coming-again Lord and Savior.

I am sixty-one years old. Evangelical preachers have been authoritatively saying that the return of Jesus Christ could happen at any moment — in the twinkling of an eye, as the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15 — my entire life. As the years have gone on without Jesus returning, preachers have taken to using various clichés to “explain” his absence. One I heard quite often as a teen at First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio was this: IF THE LORD TARRIES. Jack Bennett — married to my uncle’s sister — was the pastor at the time. He loved preaching on future events, and when he spoke of things we might do tomorrow or in the future, he would often say: IF THE LORD TARRIES.

The idea behind this cliché is that Jesus is at the start line revving his engine, ready to speed to earth to rapture True Christians® from the evil, lawless, wicked earth. A popular Evangelical children’s song from yesteryear best illustrates this point:

Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS:
10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
BLAST OFF!

Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled and died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

Sing along with Brother Bruce, brethren! You know you want to!

Video Link

The countdown is getting lower every day . . . so low that it has been stuck on one for what seems like forever. Why is this? Because Jesus is tarrying; he is waiting. Ask Evangelical preachers what is causing Jesus to tarry, the most common answer is that there are more souls that need saving. If Evangelicals would only get off their lazy asses and go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, well, Jesus might get around to f-i-n-a-l-l-y returning to earth. It seems, then, that the moment Jesus returns is dependent on human volition; that Jesus can’t return until soul 7,000,000,000,000,666 is evangelized. Wait a minute, I thought Jesus’s return was imminent; that nothing was preventing him from splitting the eastern sky and planting his feet on the Mount of Olives. If Jesus is tarrying, this means his return is NOT imminent; that there’s at least one thing standing between Jesus and the finish line.

Further, if Jesus is God, doesn’t he know EVERYTHING? And wouldn’t everything include the exact date and time for his Second Coming? Or maybe, as a very old deity, it takes a long time after his first coming before he is ready to come again. Doesn’t Jesus, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world and the sovereign ruler over all, know exactly who will and won’t be saved and when they will have their come-to-Jesus moment? How, then, is it possible for Jesus to “tarry?”

Did your pastors ever use the if Jesus tarries cliché? In what context did they use it in? Please share your stories in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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9 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    My great grandmother used to say, “if the Lord don’t come and the creek don’t rise” with regard to her future plans. Bad grammar aside, I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning eschatological underpinnings of this statement until I was nearly an adult.

    My church and Christian school had a very urgent message that we needed to get our butts out there soulwinning because Jesus was coming back any day now! Still waiting…..

    Reply
    1. Matilda

      Yes, I supported bible translation missions who impressed upon us that we were ‘hastening the lord’s return’ by giving the bible to everyone in their mother tongue. But I read somewhere there are more people alive today without access to the bible in their own language than there were in Luther’s time. But no True X-tian Missionary Society would admit they are not achieving their target…or funds would dry up….they just tell their sheeple to keep on…and on…with the donations as it’s gonna happen and the lord will be back as soon as they finish the task.

      Reply
  2. Dave

    So Jesus is tarrying because there are more souls that need to be saved. Well by that logic he will tarry forever since every day produces more people in an increasingly non-Christian world. Just another rationalization from a group that needs to rationalize just about everything they believe.

    Reply
  3. Troy

    There is a campy BBC version of Douglas Adams’ “Restaurant at the End of the Universe”. I think I watched it on Netflix. (Amusingly patrons deposit a couple of pennies before they time travel to the end of the universe to pay for their restaurant bill) At any rate Adams makes fun of an extraterrestrial demigod that had better “hurry up”. Unlike J.C. he does make a showing…just in time.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      Ah, yes. The Great Prophet Zarquon.

      Reply
  4. Jeff

    From my recollection the IFB preachers I grew up listening to would say, “If jesus tarries…and we live” (Or jesus let’s us live). They were BIG on letting us know that there is no guarantee we’ll see the sunrise tomorrow. Walking out the church doors and being run over by a car/bus/truck; die in your sleep, heart attack, etc. Don’t leave tonight if you’re unsure of your salvation, repent and come to jesus and if you are saved make sure you are “right with the lord” (yet another cliché).
    I think, as an unintended consequence, many christians lived in fear of the second coming.

    Reply
    1. Matilda

      Yup, I recall lots of ‘you might get run down by a bus when you leave here tonight’. But worse was, that person you should have witnessed to, but didn’t, could get run down by a bus tonight (it was usually a bus for some reason), they’ll go to hell and it will be your fault. As I lived in London back then and red buses were everywhere, I crossed roads with caution. Fifty years on, I still give them a wide berth on my occasional visits there….just in case one of them is out to get me!

      Reply
  5. Steve

    Heard this phrase all the time growing up in the IFB, lol

    Reply
  6. mary g

    lots of the same fear/guilt/shame trash here while I was growing up. if you were not being berated for perceived worldliness, you were being shamed or terrified of the rapture and being left behind. sick and tired of it by the time I left home. now 40 yrs later,they are still waiting on jesus. I just roll my eyes and go on. my parents will never leave this crap behind.

    Reply

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