I have been reflecting this week on the Second Coming of Christ and how that can, and should, impact the way I live my life. In my preparations for this week, I came across these words written by John Soper, pastor of Ridgeway Church in White Plains, NY. It is a beautiful expression of not just the biblical account of the Second Coming, but, more importantly, how that should impact our own life.
Sometime near the end of his life, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, is reputed to have said: “In the last 40 years, I do not believe that I have had one conscious thought that did not include the idea of the return of Jesus Christ.” An overstatement? Perhaps, but it goes a very long way toward explaining the amazing career of one of the Victorian era’s most successful social reformers.
That same preoccupation is evident throughout the New Testament. It is the stated or implied reason behind nearly every ethical injunction in the writings of the apostles, and without question, it framed the life of the Early Church. The first generation of Christians even began their ordinary interactions with the greeting “Maranatha,” an Aramaic expression meaning “The Lord is coming”!
“Jesus Christ, Our Coming King” is the expression that captures the same passion exemplified by the apostles, the Earl of Shaftesbury and a million other devoted followers of our Lord throughout the centuries. It is, to use the words of the apostle Paul, “our blessed hope.”
Belief in the Second Coming of Christ is rooted in the experience of the followers of Jesus who, a few days before Pentecost, gathered on a mountain to listen to the last teaching of the resurrected Christ. He commissioned them to be His “witnesses” to the entire world, and then, as they watched breathlessly, He ascended into heaven. While they stood gazing at the sky, two angels appeared and delivered this message: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).
The clear implication (and the equally clear teaching of the entire New Testament on the subject) is that Christ’s Second Coming will be personal—He Himself, not some representative, will return to the earth. Further, His return will be both public and visible; that is, we will be able to see Him come. In fact, the writer of the Book of Revelation says that “every eye will see him . . .” (Rev. 1:7). We are also told that when Christ returns, He won’t be alone. He will be accompanied by “thousands of his holy ones”—angels (Jude 14)—and by “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15).
Many volumes have been written exploring the events that will occur when Christ returns, but here are a few things the Bible says will happen: Jesus Christ will be vindicated in the eyes of those who crucified Him (Rev. 1:7); the whole of creation will be liberated from the curse imposed upon it after the sin of Adam in the garden (Romans 8:20–21); the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9); God’s righteous reign will be established upon the earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1–6); and, ultimately, the final destruction of Satan will be accomplished (Rev. 20:7–10).
Since it is clear that the writers of the New Testament expected the Lord’s return very quickly, many skeptics have suggested that nearly 2,000 years ought to be enough time to convince us that they were mistaken. The Scripture, however, anticipates that attitude and warns us (2 Peter 3:8–10) that while God restrains His judgment (just as He did in the time of Noah) so that more time can be given for men and women to repent, this gesture of patience will be misinterpreted. Most of humanity will conclude that the promise of Christ’s return is nothing more than pious fiction. His return will catch them off guard like the coming of a thief!
Over the last four decades I have read a great many books about the Second Coming of Christ. Unfortunately, most were devoted to predicting when this cataclysmic event will occur (something the Bible explicitly tells us NOT to do), to debating the order of events connected to His return or to splitting the eschatological “hairs” that separate one group of evangelical believers from another. All of this speculation entirely misses the point of what the Bible says about the matter. The whole focus of the New Testament’s teaching about the return of Christ can be summarized in two simple propositions: first, because Christ is coming, we need to be ready—living lives that are pure, steadfast, prayerful, holy and reverent; and, second, because Christ is coming, we need to finish the task He has given us—the preaching of the gospel.
Maranatha! The Lord is coming. Are you ready?
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.