The Return of Christ, Pentecost, and Pope John’s “New Pentecost”

The May 19, 2011 issue of the Courier-Journal reported Harold Camping’s prediction of Christ’s Return to earth on May 21, 2011. The retired civil engineer from Oakland, California had based his prognostication on study of apocalyptic texts. Camping insisted in January that, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of Judgment” (Tom Breen, “Some await The End as others party,” Courier-Journal, Louisville, May 19, 2011, A1). Facebookers poked fun at the prediction by organizing “Rapture Parties” or, tongue in cheek, “Post Rapture Looting Parties.” The vast number of failed expectations has me wondering whether dispensationalists take seriously enough the significance of Pentecost in the Christian calendar to ask, “Why set dates?”

Pentecost, you see, reminds us that Christ is with us now in and through the Holy Spirit. Why get antsy about the date of his return and the consummation of God’s purposes for humankind? Such antsyness is not new, of course. The first disciples already were afflicted with it. They wanted to know, “Lord, will you restore the Kingdom to Israel at this time?” Jesus had to clue them in about the coming Pentecost. “It’s none of your business to know the times (chronoi) or occasions (kairoi) the Father has placed in his own power. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judaea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) captured better this directive of the Risen Christ in his longing for a “New Pentecost.” In an address at the conclusion of the first session of Vatican Council II, he spoke of his yearning for “a Pentecost that will increase the Church’s wealth of spiritual strength and extend her maternal influence and saving power to every sphere of human endeavor” [The Encyclicals and Other Messages of John XIII (Washington, DC: TPS Press, 1964), 444]. Did it happen? Not in the sense of a finalizing of Christ’s mission, to be sure. But it did in the same way the first Pentecost signaled a remarkable beginning that hasn’t and won’t stop so long as human life lasts. May we pray for a “New Pentecost” every day and not worry about the End.

Leave a Reply

Web Statistics