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What is God's timetable for mankind and Christ's return?
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What is God's timetable for mankind and Christ's return?
Part 1
By Frank Nelte

The writer is a former pastor in the Worldwide Church of God who operates a Church of God Internet ministry. This essay is an excerpt of a paper, "God's Plan for Mankind and Christ's Return," that is more than twice as long as this excerpt and is available directly from Mr. Nelte. Visit his Web site at

HIDEAWAY, Texas--At this writing we're almost at the end of 2006. Making allowance for the time required for the great tribulation, it seems that the earliest possible theoretical date for the return of Jesus Christ is the year 2010.

Even that date is highly unlikely, unless the prophesied end-time events that trigger the start of the great tribulation were to start in the next few weeks, which I don't believe at all will be the case.

I believe that the date for Christ's return is definitely later than the year 2010. I believe that any predicted date is in error, and I further believe that at this specific point in time it is simply not yet possible for anyone to predict the correct year of Christ's return.

Dates that may seem logical or plausible to me or to anyone else are guaranteed to be in error.

This article explains why that is the case.

God's plan for mankind

All dates that have ever been set or speculated as possible for Christ's return have been based on certain wrong assumptions. Therefore the conclusions reached by using those assumptions are also wrong.

God the Father and Jesus Christ determined to create a family of beings like Themselves, in effect sharing Their own existence with a vast number of other spirit beings like Themselves.


They decided that They would create the family of God, which would be named after God the Father (Ephesians 3:14-15). They decided to first create angels (i.e., messengers), who would be helpers, or "ministering spirits," in the achievement of Their greater plan (Hebrews 1:13-14).

God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings, each with a totally independent mind.

But, even though Jesus Christ has a fully independent mind, He has voluntarily set His mind to "instinctively" think the same way that God the Father thinks, unconditionally embracing the identical philosophy of life, which philosophy is called "love."

No robots wanted

In creating a family, God did not want beings who would be robots or beings who were preprogrammed by instinct. No, God wanted beings who had free minds but who had voluntarily submitted their minds to think the way God thinks, in effect permanently adopting the identical approach to life that Jesus Christ has exemplified in His relationship with God the Father.

The task that God the Father and Jesus Christ (known as the Word at that time) had set Themselves contained a major challenge even for God.

The easy part was to create other spirit beings (the angels) and later also physical beings (humans).

The difficult part involved giving both angels and human beings a truly free mind and a free will, with the ability to make independent choices.

Giving these beings a free will automatically included the possibility that they would not agree with God's way of thinking, with God's philosophy of life, that they in fact might oppose or resist God's intentions, that they might even embrace a philosophy of hostility towards God's goals and intentions.

This was the inherent risk in God's plan.

The attribute of a free will to mold its own way of thinking according to the independent choices it would make is what Herbert W. Armstrong usually referred to as "character."

". . . Perfect, holy and righteous character is the supreme feat of accomplishment possible for Almighty God the Creator--it is also the means to His ultimate supreme purpose! His final objective!" (Mr. Armstrong writing in The Incredible Human Potential).

Independent testing processes

To eliminate the risk inherent in giving a free will and an independent mind to the other beings God would create (angels and, later, human beings), He devised a plan to test all these individuals with independent minds.

The testing processes were designed to show conclusively whether God could trust these independent minds He had created in an unqualified way, or whether there might be some circumstances under which God could not trust these independent minds.

God also designed the testing processes in such a way that His way of thinking and behaving is permanently ingrained into these independent minds (1 John 3:9).

The whole process of testing the free minds of angels had been something new for God the Father and Jesus Christ. They had allowed a long period for the process, and at the end of that time They had achieved a success rate of two thirds.

Put another way, the testing process had revealed a one-third failure rate. One third of the free, independent minds They had created had become set in hostility towards God's philosophy of life.

Expressed in Mr. Armstrong's terms, where God personifies the "give" way of life, Satan and his demons had permanently embraced the "get" way of life.

God had to then determine how He would deal with the one third of the angels who had chosen to set their minds in opposition to God's way of life.

Satan as a test

Thus far God has determined to allow the angels who sinned to be here on earth with human beings, but they are "reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). In effect, God determined to force human beings to confront Satan's hostile attitude towards God's way of living by exposing us from birth to that attitude.

Those who had failed (Satan and the demons) became the tools for testing those who would come after them (human beings).

The failure rate among the angels did not deter God the Father and Jesus Christ from continuing with Their plan towards building a family of beings like Themselves.

But the things They had learned did cause Them to make some modifications to the plan They had originally established. The goal remained the same, but the way towards achieving that goal was modified.

Based on what They had learned, God determined to set in motion a 7,000-year plan for creating and testing human beings for a part in the family that God had determined to build.

At this stage we should clearly understand one basic point. Whenever God gives complete free moral agency to a category of beings He has created (e.g., human beings), God relinquishes control over exactly how many of those beings will fully accept and how many will reject His way of life.

At the time of Adam

I believe that when God created Adam and Eve He intended to allow exactly 7,000 years for working with human beings, testing their free wills.

At the end of that period God intended to terminate the process and accept into His family those human beings who had shown themselves to have developed holy, righteous, godly character.

While God would have hoped for a high return, God would have accepted whatever number of people had met His criteria, even if that number were lower than His expectations.

But God would not have had any control over exactly how many human beings would have responded positively towards His way of life, since all those human beings would have had free minds with the potential to reject God's ways.

The process God intended to use with mankind would have been parallel to the way God had tested the angels, which process had yielded a two-thirds success rate. This process would be carried out over a long period and would therefore have required for human beings to have a long life span to allow ample time for testing.

God never breaks His word. God had created the angels in good faith, assuring them up front that He had given them an immortal existence. It is not a matter that God somehow cannot kill the angels, because God could do that if He wanted to do so.

The fact that Jesus Christ ceased to exist as a spirit being for more than 33 years is proof enough that God can indeed blot out the existence of any spirit being, if God were to choose to do so.

It is really a case of God having made a commitment up front to the angels He had created, that they would live for all future eternity, that therefore they cannot die.

Having learned that some of the beings with free, independent minds would resist His way of life, God now laid plans for dealing with such opposition to His purposes.

Instead of assuring man of an immortal existence up front, as He had done with the angels, God gave man a mortal existence to start with, with the potential to upgrade that existence to immortal life within His family if man would meet God's requirements for such an upgrade.

God confronted Adam and Eve with two options:

The first option

  • If you reject the tree of the perception of good and evil and instead take the fruit of the tree of life, then you will never experience death. You will live for the entire 7,000 years, at the end of which you will be changed into a spirit being, a son of God.

Jesus Christ would have stayed here on earth in person for the entire 7,000 years, ruling over mankind. None of Adam's and Eve's children would have been exposed to any influence from Satan.

Perhaps God intended for no additional human beings to be born after the first 6,000 years, to ensure that every human being, who would eventually become a member of God's family, would have experienced at least 1,000 years of physical life.

However, there would also have been no Savior, no Messiah, no sacrifice by Jesus Christ for any human being to appeal to. Those human beings who rejected God's way of life would at some point have been destroyed.

Perhaps God considered that this option might also have a two-thirds success rate, since under this option human beings would have been just as much aware of God's existence and powers (with Jesus Christ always being on earth) as were the angels before them.

It is clear that God desires a 100 percent success rate. So, if God sees that many are indeed "perishing" with the plan God is using, that will motivate Him to make changes to the plan to increase the success rate.

The second option

  • On the other hand, if you take of the tree of the perception of good and evil, death will enter into the human experience and your life span will be limited to be less than 1,000 years.

That is still a long life span, but Satan would be around (would that have been for only the first 6,000 years or for the full 7,000 years?) to tempt and influence human beings to accept his selfish way of thinking.

While the ready access to God's Holy Spirit (pictured by the fruit of the tree of life) would be cut off, God would still have made the Holy Spirit available to all who would meet God's criteria, shown by their willingness to "walk with God."

Also, this choice meant that Jesus Christ would not remain on earth for the entire period, that He would then at some point come as a human being, live a life without sin and give His life as a sacrifice, as payment for all human sins.

This option also did not set any specific numbers of human beings who would end up in God's family. This option did not make provision for what we refer to as "the second resurrection."

The long life span, coupled with access to forgiveness and God's Spirit, would take care of giving all human beings adequate opportunities to respond positively to God's offer of salvation.

Adam's and Eve's choice

By taking the fruit of the tree of the perception of good and evil, Adam and Eve effectively selected option No. 2 above for themselves and for their descendants.

God then, for the next 6,000 years, removed option No. 1 from the menu of possible ways to deal with human beings.

This is what Mr. Armstrong used to mean when he said that God in effect "sentenced man to be cut off from God for 6,000 years."

The reason God removed option one as a possible way of dealing with humanity was that the speed at which Adam and Eve had succumbed to Satan's temptation showed God that, not only would this course of action not produce a two-thirds success rate, but it would produce a failure rate way in excess of 99 percent.

That was not acceptable to God. Therefore He set the second option into motion.

One opportunity

Even after Adam and Eve had sinned, it was still God's intention to give all human beings only one opportunity for a physical life. A second physical life (i.e., for those in the second resurrection) was still not a part of God's plan at the time of Adam's sin.

There would be the first resurrection and the one we call the third resurrection, but there was still no provision for the second resurrection.

Here is what God, right after Adam and Eve had sinned, still intended things to look like:

  • God had given earth a perfect solar year of exactly 360 days, each year consisting of 12 lunar months of exactly 30 days each.

God intended to allow exactly 7,000 years, each 360 days long, for working with mankind. That would have been exactly 2,520,000 days.

That is 3 x 7 x 10 x 12 x 1,000 days, 1,000 times the product of the four numbers God uses to represent different aspects of perfection (i.e., 3, 7, 10 and 12). That is the total number of days God had set aside for working with mortal human beings.

Change to spirit

  • At the end of the 7,000 years God planned to change human beings who had met His criteria into spirit beings (by a resurrection for those who had died, like Abel and Enoch).

Then the whole present universe would have dissolved or burned up, and it would have been replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. In effect, God would build His whole family in one step. The concept of "firstfruits" was not a part of the original plan.

  • Man's sin had immediately created the need for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The decision that Jesus Christ would give His life as a sacrifice for our sins was not made when God first created Adam and Eve; that decision was taken only when Adam and Eve sinned.

Building confidence

  • Human beings would be limited to a life span of just short of 1,000 years. By our standards that is an unbelievably long life, but such a life span was needed to give God the confidence that He could trust the human beings He would eventually resurrect into His eternal family.
  • Human beings and all animals were to be vegetarians. God had not intended for any man or any animal to have a diet that included eating meat. This is spelled out in Genesis 1:29-30.
  • After they had sinned, Adam and Eve were denied automatic access to the Holy Spirit, but such access was still available to man but required "a repentant frame of mind," a mind that had consciously and deliberately rejected Satan's ways of thinking.

After repentance, man would have had a long lifetime to prove his commitment and steadfastness to God.

Long opportunity

  • Even after they had sinned, God wanted Adam and Eve to have such a long life span so they could repent, confess their faults and weaknesses and still respond correctly to God.

In effect, the long life was intended to give them the same opportunity for salvation that we, who are in God's church today, have.

Had Adam developed the godly attitude of Abel and Enoch, God would also have given Adam His Spirit, to help him maintain that right attitude, nurture it, and hold fast to it.

  • The long life span God gave man before the flood is proof that at that time God had not yet conceived the idea of "a second resurrection" for man.

The long life shows that God wanted to give man enough time to repent and make good in this lifetime, because that was the only chance all human beings had.

The idea of a second resurrection was developed by God only as a response to the way human beings conducted their lives, which was a way of total opposition to God's intentions and desires.

The mark of Cain

  • Even criminals were to have the chance to live a long time, giving them ample time to repent. That is precisely why God did not want Cain killed by anyone (Genesis 4:15). The mark God set on Cain is clear proof that God Himself was against the death penalty for any crime in the time before the flood.
  • God was still optimistic that a fair number of human beings would voluntarily accept His way of life, the way of unconditional submission to His will and instructions. After all, with Adam's first two sons God had a 50 percent success rate.
  • But Abel's responsiveness to God was a rarity among the descendants of Adam and Eve. Almost 100 percent of human beings turned out to be so wicked, perverse and depraved that God was actually shocked (Genesis 6:6).

Modifications when necessary

  • We see something in Genesis 6:6 that is repeated throughout the Bible. Whenever we human beings disappoint God, our actions invariably cause Him to introduce modifications into His plan.
  • After putting up with man's evil for 1,536 years, God made a decision that exactly 120 years later He would wipe out all mankind and start all over from scratch, as it were, with just one family (verse 3).

At this point Noah was 480 years old, and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives had not yet been born. God was clearly planning for the drastic action He would take.

History tends to repeat

  • There is something here that we generally miss. Genesis 6:5-7 says man's wickedness made Him grieve that He had made man on the earth.

"And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them."

The point is this: Unless God implemented some changes after the flood, exactly the same conditions would develop again.

Think of God as an inventor, or as the one directing a major project. What do you do when the course you are pursuing leads to a dead end?

Why, you make some changes, and you learn from the things that did not work.

Almost-universal rejection

  • The first 1,656 years of human history (up to the start of the flood) had reaped an appallingly small harvest for God. Fewer than one out of every one million human beings had responded positively towards God.

Those 1,656 years had produced no more than a handful of people who "walked with God." God had not anticipated this almost universal rejection by humanity of His way of life.

After 1,656 years God's plan for working with mankind was markedly behind schedule, as far as the number of "fruits" it had produced is concerned.

  • The reason for the flood was to provide the right circumstances for God to introduce a new dispensation, a new way of working with man towards the achievement of the goal that God had set of building a large family of God.

The goal remained the same, but the way towards achieving that goal radically changed after the flood.

The low success rate God had achieved over that 1,656-year period did not cause God to downgrade His expectations to more-realistic returns.

No, it had the opposite effect. The major changes God introduced after the flood reveal a far more ambitious plan. The changes God made at that time will ensure a far higher success rate than experience would have caused one to expect.

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