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The Strange Witness of C.S. Lewis
In a seldom read essay titled “The World’s Last Night” the prolific Christian writer C.S. Lewis turned his learned mind to the subject of The Second Coming of Christ. As many Preterists know, he bears witness in that essay to the reality of the words of Jesus regarding the timing of His return.
His witness or testimony is a strange one, however, and is all too symptomatic of the refusal of many other learned men to deal with reality.
In the opening paragraph of his essay Lewis quotes our Lord’s words from Matthew 26:24 where He said to the leaders of the Jews: Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
And then Lewis makes this very perceptive comment, “If that is not an integral part of the faith once delivered to the saints, I do not know what is.” (Note, this and subsequent quotations are taken from The Essential C.S. Lewis, pages 383-92, Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 1996 edition.)
Surely no one can reasonably disagree with Lewis’ assessment of the gravity of Christ’s words. Of course, the larger issue is, “What did Jesus mean when He said that?”
That C.S. Lewis seemed strangely not to know at all what Jesus meant is evidenced by his statement a few pages later wherein he imagines how the non-believer might respond to the “mistakes” of Jesus:
Lewis writes, “‘Say what you like,’ we are told, ‘the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so…He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong…’” (Page 385)
Lewis immediately adds his own, very telling comment regarding Matthew 24:34, “It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”
Why would C.S. Lewis write such a thing?
Because he believed that if the words are taken to mean what they clearly do mean, then, in his estimation, Christ was wrong. He made a mistake.
Lewis goes on to suggest that Matthew 24:36 provides an explanation of what appears to him as an embarrassing mistake: no man knoweth the day or the hour, not even the Son, but the Father only.
In the final pages of the essay Lewis once more demonstrates the myopia that affects more than a few who have read the words of Christ and have not understood them.
He writes, “[Christ’s] teaching on the subject [of His final advent] quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him.” (Page 389)
One hardly knows whether to laugh or cry over such statements as these.
Here is one of the most lauded and respected Christian writers of recent history, a man of immense talent and erudition, and one who himself quoted the very words from the mouth of our Lord that prove that we can “find out when” He returned!
The thing that our Lord said no one knew was the specific day and hour of His Parousia, but that statement, taken with the other time texts, in no way means that “we cannot possible find out when.”
If a friend of mine is coming to visit me from another state and the travel plans have not been fully confirmed, I may not know the day and hour of his arrival, but I can surely know the year, the month, and even the week he will arrive.
One wonders if C.S. Lewis would have born such a strange witness to the timing of the Parousia had he been made to ponder the meaning of the following verses: Matthew 10:23; 23: 36; 24: 34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32; Hebrews 9:26.
It the Lord’s wise Providence, His infallible revelation to us had been given in words, words that have meaning, words that are clear, coherent, and marvelously logical.
Pictures, photos, images, and other means of communication may be open to a thousand interpretations, but words, in spite of the illogical claims of postmodernists, do not depend upon the reader for their meaning.
The meaning of “this generation shall not pass,” and the several other passages listed above, are inseparably linked to the Man who spoke or inspired them, and what He intended them to mean.
Those words were not spoken to C.S. Lewis or anyone else in the 20th or 21st centuries.
They were spoken to men of a specific time and place (a specific generation) who did not, in fact, pass away, until ALL the things our Lord foreordained came to pass, including His Parousia.