March 19, 2008

Can We Hasten or Delay the Second Coming?

Parley P. Pratt June 29, 1856 Can the world affect the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? Can the Latter-day Saints, through righteousness, hasten that great millennial day, or through wickedness cause God to bring down the curtain on an awful scene? A plain answer from explains:

At the beginning of the Millennial Era, Christ will return to the earth. This event will mark the end of the mortal probation of this earth. The wicked will be removed from the earth and the righteous will be caught up in a cloud while the earth is cleansed. While no man knows exactly when Christ will come for the second time, he has given us signs to watch for that indicate the time is drawing near (Guide to the Scriptures, "Second Coming of Jesus Christ,"
So a few basics include the righteous being caught up, the wicked being removed, and the earth being cleansed. Christ will then reign. We have been given signs to watch for, but no date.[1] One Latter-day Saint referred me to the Pearl of Great Price, which contains the words of the Lord to Enoch:
60 And the Lord said unto Enoch: As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance, to fulfil the oath which I have made unto you concerning the children of Noah; 61 And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve; 62 And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem. 63 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other; 64 And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest. 65 And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years; 66 But before that day he saw great tribulations among the wicked; and he also saw the sea, that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God, which should come upon the wicked. 67 And the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world...(Moses 7:60-67).
This scripture envisions a city of Zion built below and a city of Zion from above meeting at the millennium. Does this mean the early Saints, had they completed the temple in Missouri and built up the New Jerusalem, could have ushered in the Millennium then? Parley encouraged the Saints to prepare for this meeting of Zions. Do his words indicate the timetable can be effected by our actions? He speaks of keys that need restoring before that day:
We should prepare for the ministration and society of the pure in heart, for they are preparing to meet the people down here. And I know not but that some among us are looking for the Lord Jesus Christ to appear very shortly with all his Saints and angels publicly. Well, I am looking for it too, but it is not the first thing that I am looking for, but I am looking for it when all things are ready, and when all things are prepared, so that when coming he will not break one jot nor tittle of the prophecies, but they will all be fulfilled in their time and place. If the coming of the Savior is the next thing in order, I consider that it would become all of us, so imperfect, so unprepared, so far from being perfectly united in righteousness, to become sanctified and made ready for his appearance. There will be people on the earth that will be ready when he does come, and how will it be at his coming? There are a great many that stand between us and Jesus Christ, and who stand in more immediate relationship to this work, and also to us. There is our leader, and many others that are leaders, and who hold the keys, and who have gone before us; and they stand between us and Jesus Christ, they hold keys between him and us, and then again there are others of the former-day Saints, such as Peter, James and John, and they hold keys which are ahead of our leaders that are dead, our Prophet, for instance? Yes, they hold keys between him and Jesus. Here we all see that we have only got a portion of the Priesthood and the keys, the others are in the possession of the congregations of Saints in the heavens, and before we are prepared to be ministered to by them and enjoy their society, we must alter considerably. Some say, "why, the coming of the Lord is nearer than some of you suppose." Well, I would not wonder if it was further off than some of you suppose, from the fact of the things that have to be accomplished.
Many things remain to be accomplished, to be sure. Countless books, sermons, seminars and websites have been created discussing the signs of the times.[2] In the LDS community there have been different schools of thought on the subject, but it seems the partly line today holds to the view expressed by Bruce R. McConkie (not that he originated it, but I use his example because it is readily available):
Our Blessed Lord will come at the appointed time. The great conference at Adam-ondi-Ahman will assemble to worship the King on schedule... As we have seen, many of the events incident to the Second Coming will take place during the close of the sixth seal and others after the opening of the seventh seal. And yet the formal beginning of the Millennium will take place at a fixed and determined and set moment. It cannot be hastened by righteousness nor delayed by wickedness. The old Earth will die, and the new heaven and the new Earth will be born at as exact an instant as is the case with the birth or death of any form of life. We speak thus so there will be no confusion or misunderstanding when we also say that the full glory and wonder of the millennial day will unfold gradually; that there will be wicked men on earth after the Millennium has commenced; and that the final glory and triumph of Israel will take place gradually after the Millennium itself has been ushered in (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, p. 649).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks was slightly more vague:
While we are powerless to alter the fact of the Second Coming and unable to know its exact time, we can accelerate our own preparation and try to influence the preparation of those around us (Dallin H. Oaks, “Preparation for the Second Coming,” Ensign, May 2004, 7. This is an interesting and, I believe, important take from a current apostle of the Lord).
Whether or not we affect the actual time table, Parley believed we have things to do in order to fulfill certain signs of the times. Ultimately, we all must prepare fore that "great and terrible day":
If we were to say that before the coming of the Lord many great things await us, and that we are to be prepared for all the changes which have to take place, and that they are nearer at hand than we would imagine them to be; and if we should say that that event was much nearer than many of us suppose, and that we have already received many warnings, most certainly we ought to prepare to receive greater covenants, to become more closely acquainted with the Spirit of God, to be more perfect in union, to know how to act more in concert, to overcome our weaknesses and errors of judgment, and ignorance and follies, learn to be happy and to come up to the mark, and be sanctified before the Lord, that peradventure some portion of the keys and powers from the eternal world may be more fully bestowed upon us, that we may be prepared by gradual experience from time to time, that we may progress in the science and plan of salvation, and be prepared for the greater things that await us. I will not complain of our deficiencies for we have to be satisfied with the things which we have accomplished, but we have full confidence in the union and power that attends this work. It is for us to prepare ourselves and to repent of all our errors, and follow our leaders until we reach celestial glory.
Does this mean we can reach Celestial glory before the millennium by our own actions? Theoretically I suppose it's possible; the City of Enoch accomplished such. However, I am not sure the scriptural record including the signs of the times necessarily points to another City of Enoch-like experience prior to the Second Coming. Pratt continues:
The powers of heaven are neither ashamed nor afraid, but they have confidence in us and will dwell in our society. There are a great many keys, and manifestations, and preparations, and associations between us and that great and perfect day, when the Lord will come in the power of heaven. Let us all do our duty, and be faithful to our covenants (JD 4:14-15).
Christ will come again as a "thief in the night," though signs of the times will point to His coming for those who are aware. Regardless of whether we can speed up the process, no matter who you cite as a reference, all seem to be agreed that Saints ought to "stand in holy places" and "watch," "for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matt. 25:13, see also D&C 45). As Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained:
"Our task is to react and to notice without overreacting, to let life go forward without slipping into the heedlessness of those in the days of Noah. ….. To ponder signs without becoming paranoid, to be aware without frantically matching current events with expectations, using energy that should be spent in other ways--these are our tasks." (Neal A. Maxwell, For the Power is in Them, 20).
Footnotes: [1] It should be noted that Joseph Smith taught even some righteous would be subject to end of time calamities. He “explained concerning the coming of the Son of Man; also that it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’” (see History of the Church, 4:11). [2] A relatively comprehensive look at current Millennial expectations is on the blog LDSLastDays. For a look at how millennium expectations fueled early Saints only to become a less immediate expectation, see Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism, University of Illinois Press, 1999.