Gospel Principles 43: Signs of the Second Coming

Today’s Relief Society lesson comes from Erin, today’s guest for The Exponent and Doves & Serpents Blog Swap.

Thinking about this week’s lesson – Chapter 43: Signs of the Second Coming – gave me flashbacks to some of the second coming lessons I have heard over the years. With very few exceptions, they were scary and doomsday-esque in flavor! For some people, keeping track of the signs of the times is a favorite gospel hobby. In fact, for some people, being able to recognize the signs gives them hope. However, I am guessing that an equal number of people start to feel a little anxious when the talk turns to earthquakes in divers places! So any teacher of this lesson should probably be sensitive and should seek balance between messages of hope and hell.

The lesson begins with the question, “What are some of the signs of the Second Coming?” and recommends dividing the class into small groups to study and discuss the various signs, as well as “evidence they have seen that the signs are being fulfilled today. Then have them share their insights with each other.” On the surface, this sounds like a description of any other small group discussion prompt, but in light of people’s strong attractions to or aversions from this topic, such small groups would need to be organized thoughtfully. As well, I would want to steer clear from the kind of pessimistic list-making of “great trials and calamities” that some people would eagerly embrace. When I teach, I prefer discussions that uplift and motivate, but that’s probably because that’s what I want when I’m NOT teaching.

The lesson manual begins with a number of statements and accompanying verses, but close discussion of all of the verses and points listed will eat up the entire lesson block, so perhaps a well-paced skimming is in order:  For thousands of years, followers of Jesus Christ have looked forward to the Second Coming as a time of peace and joy.

If we are obedient and faithful, we will study the scriptures and know of the signs.

Some of the signs foretelling the Second Coming of Jesus Christ have already been or are now being fulfilled. Others will be fulfilled in the future.

People might now be sweating a little, feeling little twitches of anxiety. Indeed, the manual notes that, “Many of the signs are terrifying and dreadful…. Many of these signs are being fulfilled. Wickedness is everywhere. Nations are constantly at war. Earthquakes and other calamities are occurring. Many people now suffer from devastating storms, drought, hunger, and diseases. We can be certain that these calamities will become more severe before the Lord comes.”

It might be interesting to have a candid discussion about which signs most worry class members and which signs bring the most comfort. I would also be interested to hear what kinds of societal and climate changes are most concerning. Maybe some talk about global warming and destruction of the environment could be worked in! But I think it’s important to direct the lesson back to more positive ground, too, perhaps by pointing out the ways in which church members (and others) work hard to help people affected by those natural disasters. Church humanitarian aid offers hope and help to people affected by these calamities, and the aid model seems a good one, instead of standing around wringing our hands. I’ve heard some people say that during the second coming things will be made right, in a kind of perpetually delayed justice, but we can be helping now to make things right, the best we can.
The lesson takes a turn for the positive with this statement – However, not all the events preceding the Second Coming are dreadful. Many of them bring joy to the world. – and suggests multiple examples of joyful events related to the Second Coming, including:

The Restoration of the Gospel
The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
The Gospel Preached to All the World
The Coming of Elijah
Lehi’s Descendants Will Become a Great People
Building of the New Jerusalem
I would be interested to know other joyful “signs” that class members have noticed – signs of progress and development, for example. The internet, maybe? It’s certainly brought great joy to my life! Perhaps there are other events in the modern age that we can be grateful for. It would be refreshing to have a non-gloomy discussion of the 21st century world.
Perhaps the reason so many of the lessons I’ve heard on the Second Coming left me trembling in my seat was because the instructor never made it all the way to the end of the lesson for the stuff about staying calm and peaceful. A wise Relief Society teacher would likely pace her lesson so that she moved the class through the listing of wars and rumors of wars and made sure to arrive at verses like these:

Doctrine & Covenants 45: 35 – The Lord said, “Be not troubled, for, when all these things [the signs] shall come to pass, ye may know that the promises which have been made unto you shall be fulfilled.”

The lesson manual recommends a long list of additional scriptures for in-class reading, and I’m all for reading them, or at least some of them. Sometimes reading actual verses and actual words of ancient prophets can bring more clarity than mere speculation by provident living disaster junkies. However, no one really loves a lesson that consists of nothing more than people reading quotes printed out on slips of paper while everybody else follows along in the book. There’s so much potential for actual discussion, it would be a shame to waste that potential with rote reading.

As the lesson points out, followers of Jesus Christ have been looking forward to his return for thousands of years. In fact, the disciples were talking about it immediately after the resurrection. Paul mentions these signs in his epistles. Christian history and writings are filled with mentions of Jesus’ return, with many generations and congregations hopeful that they would be the chosen group! Our church is not unique in the belief that the Second Coming is near. A discussion of the history of beliefs about the Second Coming might be interesting to class members and might help to diffuse the fear that sometimes attends the topic. (Even a cursory googling of the Shakers and Christian Scientists will provide some interesting information.) It’s also somehow heartening, at least to me, to realize that we are not the only ones who worry about the changes in the world around us, who sometimes think it’s all going to hell in a handbasket, and I’m heartened by the realization that life has continued for thousands of years, even when people thought it couldn’t get any worse. Latter-day Saints at the end of the 19th century were convinced Jesus would be returning before the next century. And then one hundred years later, people worried and hoped that Y2K might usher in the Second Coming at long last. But here we are, still studying. So even as we watch the skies for the signs, we should have our feet planted firmly on gospel sod, remaining anxiously engaged in the good causes that are important to us, our families and our communities.

Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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16 Responses

  1. EmilyCC says:

    Erin, you got a hard lesson for your guest post 🙂

    I love how you focused a lesson that can easily slip into an fire and brimstone apocryphal discussion to one of joy and hope.

  2. Heidi says:

    My favorite memory of a Sign o’ the Times lesson came from a time when we were visiting my parents in Louisiana. We were in Gospel Doctrine with a room full of “provident living disaster junkies” (Great Line!) and things were getting frothier by the minute. And then this old guy who rolled around on one of those motorized scooters (which my mom has forever after called Brother C—mobiles) spoke up and said ( in his slow Southern drawl,) “Well, I don’t think we need to be afraid. I reckon we don’t need to be too worried about the second coming. We’ve got some time, some time to sit around and fry an egg or two.”

    • Erin says:

      What a wonderful approach… and in Louisiana, it’s probably hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk, at least some months of the year. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Maren says:

    Wow, I wish they’d mentioned those ‘not to worry’ parts when they talked about the second coming when I was a kid.
    Some of my lingering church damage is an apocalyptic mindset that I just can’t get past. I have clear memories of my primary teacher telling the room full of kids that ‘we would be the generation that has to stand at the last day’ and ‘we would live to see the second coming’ and then launch into how horrible its going to be.
    The rational part of me knows that its technology, a combination of increased access to information and the media’s twisted dynamics that make us more aware of the awful things in the world. Its not that horrible earthquakes and flooding and civil wars in Chile or New Zealand or Pakistan weren’t happening four generations ago, its that we had no way or reason to be aware of them.
    But the emotional part of me is still screaming ‘end of days! END OF DAYS!’ even when I don’t believe in the 2nd coming.
    I think we’d be a more productive, positive society if we weren’t all so fixated on the inevitability of falling disastrously apart.

    • Erin says:

      I hear you on the baggage of fear. I wish I could *unlearn* a few lessons myself. My hope is that I don’t saddle my kids with the same simmering worry.

  4. Ed S says:

    Today at work I looked out my window and saw a double rainbow. Then I remembered it was supposed to be a sign that God would never destroy the earth by water again, which I found nearly reassuring. I don’t think I’ve ever really focused on the end-times, not even in my more orthodox days. The Book of Revelation is such an odd genre of writing, apocalyptic being more like sci-fi than a gospel or epistle, heavy on symbol and light on details. It seems to say to me that no matter how bad it gets, goodness will win in the end. If taking note of disasters makes me remember this, that’s a good thing to have hope in, that all of the goodness in the world will eventually prevail.

    • Erin says:

      The Book of Revelation IS such an odd book. So true. It’s a book of poetry, IMO, and considering people’s usual response to poetry, I always chuckle a bit at home much people cling to John’s phrases. Perhaps the standard polite ignorance we usually extend to poetry would be appropriate when studying this book as well…

      The more I study the gospels, the greater my sense of Jesus as an enigma develops. Bart Ehrman calls him an apocalyptic prophet and I think it’s an apt label. Yet in all of Jesus’ teachings about the next life or the next kingdom, he gives specific actions and attitudes to cultivate, especially those found in the Sermon on the Mount. What is missing from the Book of Revelation (for me) is that daily application. That said, I look forward to reading it again in a couple of months!

  5. Ziff says:

    Ed, I always thought that a double rainbow meant God was crossing his fingers when he promised not to flood the world again. 🙂

  6. Annie B. says:

    Thanks for this! I really appreciate that you went over the more comforting aspects.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the misconceptions people had about Christ first coming. A portion of people thought Christ would
    be a literal King who would liberate them, while it turns out he was to be a spiritual King to liberate mankind from the agony of sin. So I wonder what misconceptions (if any) modern people have about Christs second coming. I’m not saying I disregard scriptural warnings; I think it’s important to be physically prepared for disasters and live my life honorably regardless of if, how, or when Christ’s second coming comes about. I’m just sayin’…

  7. Nancy says:

    Erin,
    Thanks so much for your insight. I’m already releived. I never quite know how to deliver the information in these lessons. It is a struggle every month. In regaards to the second coming I’m always saying, “Bring it on”, and then I remember all that has to happen to get to that stage. It really doesn’t bother me. It actually makes me think about where I stand with the Lord, or where I want to be standing. Thaks again for the help.

  8. Nancy says:

    So sorry about the spelling and the use of the English language. This is my first time responding to anything on the Internet. (I know…it’s sad). I just had to apologize to the readers. Sorry! (Same Nancy) !

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