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Every now and then you hear someone set a date for Christ’s return.

Such dates are bound to fail –

Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour ... "

And when they do fail -

(Issac Newton) was wary of prophetic date-setting. Newton was worried that the failure of fallible human predictions based on divine prophecy would bring the Bible into disrepute. (Source)

To stop the doomsayers -

He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. (Source)

Now my question -

What is the time or events before which Christ couldn't return no matter what? (to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men and satisfy my curiosity)

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This appears to be an overly-broad question, since many of the relevant prophecies are interpreted in wildly different ways by different branches of Christianity, including fundamental issues such as whether they are intended to be interpreted literally or otherwise, or whether they are meant to refer to the Last Days or to the near future (relative to the time they were recorded). It would be easier to get a clear answer if you were to ask about a specific tradition within Christianity to get answers from. –  Mason Wheeler Jul 23 '12 at 18:58
    
Ooh... interesting question! It'll probably take me some time to post an answer, but you know, the disciples asked Jesus this very question in Matthew 24, and He didn't rebuke them... He answered them! There are some things God wants us to watch for. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 19:15
    
@MasonWheeler Controversial questions that don't specify a tradition are OK as long as the answers do so. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 19:16
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Isn't this a duplicate? What is God waiting for before He ends the world? –  Narnian Jul 23 '12 at 19:36
    
@Narnian I don't know why you'd think of them as same? That question seems to be "why God delays coming"? Mine is - "All right God delays but how long is the delay?" That one is purely theological. Mine could have a logical answer. For example - Christ doesn't come back any later than 10E100 because that is the heat death of universe. Not any sooner than 10E-20 because that is not sufficient time for the light to shine from one corner of earth to other. ;) ;p –  Monika Michael Jul 23 '12 at 19:45
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closed as not a real question by Narnian, Jon Ericson, Andrew, warren, Caleb Jul 30 '12 at 12:42

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

3 Answers

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I believe the only possible answer to this question, that all Christians can agree with is:

For you*, Christ cannot possibly return any sooner than right now.

All anyone can know is that Christ has not yet come, but that he will come in the future. That may be in five seconds, or in 50,000 years. Biblical prophecies are not specific enough that it is possible to come to any consensus as to what specific historical events they might refer to.

The fact that people have been making specific predictions of the second coming for centuries should be the first clue that not everyone will agree there are still specific events that "must" occur before the second coming.

* Some believe that Christ's second coming is referring to a person's individual judgment at the time of death. In that view, the second coming has already occurred for everyone who has died, and is still in the future for everyone else.

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The original context of "No man knows the day or the hour" was exactly so that people would not think Christ's return was far off.

If a man knew when the strongman was coming to break into the house...

Also, Jesus told other parables to warn people that they needed to be ready: The parable of the foolish virgins (the one where 5 of the virgins use up all their oil) is but one example.

As such, it is actually just as counter biblical to say "Christ cannot return until __" as it is to say, he will be here on Tuesday.

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I'm not sure what the lower limit would be on the date, but we do have some passages in Scripture which tell us what events must take place before Christ's return. For example:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. -2 Thessalonians 2:1-4

This is generally taken to be referring to the Antichrist.

  • So, it seems safe to assume Christ won't return until we see a dude sitting in the temple and saying he is God.

Jesus also talked about a number of things in Matthew 24 that are often considered "end-times" events. There are many interpretations for many of these prophecies, but this one seems pretty clear regardless of where you stand on eschatology:

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky ... and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. -Matthew 24:29-31

  • So when you see the sun go dark and the stars start falling from the sky, there's a good chance you're about to meet Jesus!
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Sorry, I only had time to list two signs for now. (The question was about to be closed, so I had to put this together quickly!!) –  Jas 3.1 Jul 24 '12 at 15:36
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We have had "dudes sitting in temples saying they are god" forever. –  Flimzy Jul 24 '12 at 20:17
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Roman Cesars have made such claims. Many monocharial and theocratical rulers have made such claims. Many religious leaders have made such claims. If you take a broad enough interpretation, perhaps even some U.S. presidents, CEOs, coaches, etc, have made such claims. –  Flimzy Jul 24 '12 at 21:00
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I also haven't met anyone (not to say they don't exist, but they're in a minority) who would take your second passage literally. –  Flimzy Jul 24 '12 at 21:01
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That of course depends on how you define "temple." The temple no longer exists. –  Flimzy Jul 24 '12 at 21:03
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