THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST
A famous, and well respected bible
scholar has confidently asserted that,
"It is clear from the scriptures that no more temporal events are left to happen. All things have been fulfilled. The world is cracking on all sides almost as if it would break and fall apart entirely. The last day is near at hand. These words of Christ compel me to believe so."
Who was it? Martin Luther writing in 1530. Was Luther wrong?
Perhaps his timing was a bit out
but not his motive.
Christians have for 2000 years rightly assumed their generation to be the last. Its has been a positive incentive to tell others about Jesus and not sit back procrastinating, like the unfaithful stewards of Jesus parables. In one sense these predictions of Jesus came true in the 1st Century. But there is another element that has still to be fulfilled.
"As soon as attempts are made to draw up a programme of the future worked out in greater detail than is offered to us in God's Word, it causes discord and sectarian dissension. Clearly and gloriously, the Scripture presents the main facts with regard to the Saviour's advent. What a mighty comfort lies in the prophesied facts, and what a tremendously urgent call that we should be vigilant and prepared." Norman Geldenhuys."
That is our starting point this evening. You may be surprised to know, that of all the certainties proclaimed in the Scriptures, none is so frequently mentioned, so clearly foretold and so forcefully applied as the fact that Jesus Christ will literally return to earth. And yet the fact is, judging by the infrequency with which it is mentioned, that the second advent of Christ is a vital and stimulating hope to only a minority of Christians. To the first generations of Christians, His promised return gave them unwavering hope in spite of intense persecution. Christians greeted each other in the street with the word "Maranatha" - meaning "The Lord is coming". To them the second advent was the joyous climax of God's eternal purpose. However, today it is something of a neglected doctrine, associated with fanaticism and fundamentalism, a kind of Christian astrology, trying to read the signs, promising the correct key to unlock the mind of God. (insert Dyer's book on Babylon) C.S. Lewis regarded the second advent of Christ as a essential doctrine of the Christian faith not an optional extra.
"It seems impossible to retain
in any recognisable form our belief in the divinity of Christ and the truth
of the Christian revelation, while abandoning, or even persistently neglecting
the promised return of Christ."
Lets start with reflecting on the
fact that Jesus promised to return.
The Fact of Jesus Return
On the dark night of our Lord's betrayal, in an intimate talk in the Upper Room, He opened His heart to His beloved disciples and shared with them matters of deepest concern both to Him and to them. He began this discourse with words so unexpected, so mysterious, that it was only later that their immense significance began to dawn on them.
"In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:2-3
"I am going away...I will come again." These words, although only dimly understood at the time, were to afford un-dying hope to His countless followers throughout succeeding generations. How are we to understand these words?
His going is recorded in these words taken from Acts 1:9,
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. While the astounded disciples were gazing into the sky where He had disappeared, two heavenly messengers came and stood beside them, and gave the explanation, "I will come again."
They were looking intently up
into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside
them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking
into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will
come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
This explanation is clear and uncomplicated at some time in the future Jesus will return to earth, "In the same way" that He left it. Alexander Maclaren, an early 20th Century expositor put it like this..
"He will come in like manner as He was gone. We are not to water down such words with anything short of a return precisely corresponding in its method to the departure: and as the departure was visible, corporeal, literal, personal and local, so to will be His return from heaven to earth, and He will come as He went, a visible manhood."
If these two passages stood alone in the Scriptures, they would be sufficient to command and secure the belief of all who accept the Bible as the fully inspired Word of God. But they are not alone. In fact they are only two of the 318 times which the second of Jesus Return. Having discovered how central this doctrine is to the heart of the Christian hope, lets try and briefly answer five basic questions:
1. Why Will Christ Return?
2. When Will Christ Return?
3. What Will be the Signs of Christ's Return?
4. How Will Christ Return?
5. How Should we Live in the Light of Christ's Return?
1. Why Will Christ Return?
Several reasons. The most important reason is quite simply,
1.1 Because Jesus promised to: Matthew 24:30
We have already considered Jesus private discourse with the disciples in the Upper Room. There are several other times when Jesus made the same promise. Here is just one.
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory."
Is there any evidence from the Gospels to suggest that Jesus ever lied or tried to deceive? Jesus will return, if for no other reason than that He has promised to. You have His word on it. But there are other reasons why Jesus will return.
1.2 Because Jesus will complete His work of redemption: Rom 8:23 The atoning work of Jesus on the cross is not complete yet. Yes, Jesus fully and finally redeemed all who believe, from the penalty and power of sin, but there is one aspect of our redemption that still awaits completion. Only when Jesus returns will our redemption be complete, for only then will we receive our new bodies and be freed from the presence of sin. So there is more, so much more to come. The apostle Paul put it,
"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
1.3 Because Jesus will come to execute judgement: 2 Thess 1:7-10
However unpopular the idea may be, the Scripture plainly and repeatedly teach that another reason Jesus will return is to separate Christians from non-Christians, and to judge those who have spurned His love and rejected His gospel. He has no choice. We are free agents, and one rebellious person forced into heaven would turn it into hell.
"This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you."
Three reasons then why Jesus will return. Because He promised to, because he must complete the work of redemption, because he must execute judgement on those who have refused to submit to God.
2. When Will Christ Return?
I can tell you with absolute certainty the answer to this question. No one knows when Jesus will return. Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6-7
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."
Dr Campbell Morgan warned that,
"Every attempt that has been made to fix a date even approximately has brought the truth into discredit, especially in view of the fact that many predictions have been made, and changed with startling adroitness, in order that the date might still further be postponed in view of previous mistakes."
We have to recognise that what God has revealed in the Bible is sufficient to satisfy faith, but it may not always be enough to gratify our curiosity. However, while we do not know the exact time of the second advent, we do know, from the teaching of Christ and His apostles, the general characteristics and conditions of the times in which He will come.
To the unbelieving Pharisees who demanded a sign to confirm His messianic claims, Jesus uttered a stern rebuke: Matthew 16:2-4
"He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, 'And in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah."
Jesus makes it clear that while the exact hour of His return is withheld from us and that the only miraculous sign of the kind the Pharisees wanted would be His resurrection, Jesus nevertheless teaches that there will be clear "signs of the times" which will enable the believer to recognise its approach. A "sign" is an indication or happening by which a forthcoming event can be recognised, and we are encouraged to be alert to detect them.
3. What Will be the Signs of Christ's Return?
Matthew 24:32-33; Luke 21:25-26
""There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."
The troubles and sorrows predicted by Jesus are not the end but only the birth pangs that will precede the visible appearance of Jesus Christ.
We should understand the word "sign" to mean a mark or an indication by which an event may be recognised and anticipated, like the new leaves on a tree mark the beginning of spring. It is true that these signs have been characteristic of many ages, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus wanted us to understand that the magnitude or frequency of these signs would increase as the time of the end draws near. Or at least they will appear in such proportions that the believers for whom they were intended, would not be able to mistake their presence or significance.
We don't have time to expand on this section, and so I would simply invite you to check out the corresponding verses to these X signs.
3.1 The Political Sign - wars and rumours of wars: Mark 13:7-8
3.2 The Natural Sign - plagues and famines: Luke 21:11
3.3 The Social Sign - lawlessness, violence and immorality: 2 Tim 3:1-5
3.4 The Religious Sign - apostasy: Matthew 24:10-13
3.5 The Geological Sign - earthquakes: Luke 21;11
3.6 The Economic Sign - unstable riches: Revelation 18:14-19
3.7 The Military Sign - Jerusalem and Gentile domination: Luke 21:20-24
3.8 The Evangelistic Sign - world missions and mass media: Matt 24:14
As you read your newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the TV news it is surprising how much of the news is taken up with these very signs. But that has been true for 2000 years. The signs were evident then as now. When Jesus will return no person knows. Two things are certain though. First, we are nearer to that day than ever before in history. And secondly, these signs seem more evident in our generation than ever before.
A friend recently heard Dr Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, say, "If God does not hurry up and judge New York soon, he's going to have to apologise to Sodom and Gommorah..." The signs of Christ's return.
4. How Will Christ Return?
If the timing may be ambiguous, the manner certainly is not. It will be,
4.1 A Personal Return: John 14:3-4
"I will come" said Jesus - in person, the very same person.
4.2 A Literal Return: Acts 1:11
The angel explained to the apostles on the day of the ascension He "will come in just the same way". As real and as literal as his first coming, not symbolic but personal, literal.
4.3 A Visible Return: Matthew 24:23-27
Jesus was warning against being taken in by claims that the Messiah had returned secretly or invisibly. "Just as the lightening comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be." Publicly and visibly. Revelation 1:7 even says "He is coming with the clouds and every eye shall see Him." Personally, literally, visibly and,
4.4 A Sudden Return: Mark 13:36
Jesus warned His disciples to keep on the alert. In Mark 13 Jesus says,
If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
Paul also asserted that Jesus advent would be "in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye." (1 Cor 15:52).
4.5 An Unexpected Return: 2 Peter 3:4,10
When Jesus came to earth the first time, He was not expected by the majority of His people, and it will be the same at His second coming.
In warning His disciples to be ready and expectant, He gave as His reason, "for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will." (Matthew 24:44). As for the unbelieving world, "While they are saying "Peace and Safety" then destruction will come upon them suddenly. (I Thessalonians 5:3). Peter foretold that in the end time people would deny that Jesus is coming again,
"They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."
And that was written 2000 years before the invention of the atomic bomb. Personal, literal, visible, sudden, unexpected.
4.6 A Glorious Return:
With Clouds: Revelation 1:7;
With great Power: Mark 13:26;
With His Angels: Matthew 16:27
In startling contrast to His first advent epitomised by the weakness of an infant, Jesus will come again in the full manifestation of His power. Personal, literal, visible, sudden, unexpected and glorious.
While there will always remain an element of mystery as to the details of our Lord's coming, He has told us sufficient as to the manner to satisfy our faith, and to give us an unshakeable confidence that He is really coming again to take us to Himself and to reign in glory. This leads us to our final and most important question this evening.
5. How Should we Live in the Light of Christ's Return?
Hope and belief in the second coming of the Lord, the knowledge that He is coming again, is something meant to sustain us in trial, to strengthen us in weakness, to solace us in mourning, to stir us up in service.
It is something that explains the past, cheers the present and promises perfection in the future. The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is, and is meant to be, a continuous power in the minds of those who know and believe in Him as the one who died for our sins and rose again for our justification. A power to change our behaviour. This is how Paul put it,
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ," (Titus 2:12-13)
It is sad therefore that there appear four very different attitudes manifested in the professing Church towards this blessed hope; aggressive hostility, listless apathy, fearful apprehension and loving expectancy. Some hate the thought of it, some are totally ignorant of it, some are afraid of it, and only some love it. That is what we are instructed to do, love His appearing.
5.1 Love His appearing: 2 Timothy 4:8
"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.""
Do you long for his appearing? That's the first test.
5.2 Look for His appearing: 2 Peter 3:10-12
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives As you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat."
It is true that terrible judgements lie ahead for a world that has rejected the mercy and salvation of God when Christ returns. Only the wilfully blind can fail to see that. But God's eternal purpose includes the final vanquishing of Satan and his hosts of evil, and the establishing of new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will reign. Are you looking forward to that day or not? Story of George Muller's priorities in the light of the Second Advent... Are your personal priorities taking you nearer or further away from that day?
5.3 Loyal till His appearing: Revelation 3:11
"I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one takes your crown."
In loyalty to our Lord we must hold tenaciously to the deposit of truth entrusted to our care. The verb means to "take a firm grip on."
Are you looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ? Or are you afraid or apathetic?
Is there unfinished business in your life? then finish it quickly. Be ready before its too late. Is there anything more important than Jesus in your life? then its too important. Revise your values before he has to, to your shame. If you knew that the Lord was returning tomorrow would you change your priorities today? then change them. Live today as if it were your last. Live as if it were only yesterday that Christ died, as if He rose from the dead today, as if He were coming back tomorrow. Then you will not be ashamed at His appearing and will not lose your reward.