Over the years, I have heard people express views that Jesus Christ’s return is imminent. As a young Christian, it was difficult to match such clear supposed insights with Jesus’ teaching, about only the Father knowing the appointed time.
I now receive a state pension and I find myself doing a lot of reflecting. When I recall those who made those predictions, they were folk in their older years, a vulnerable age when one does not manage life as proficiently as one used to. It is a time when Satan, our spiritual enemy, shows no mercy and pounces to take advantage of our physical and mental decline to try and undermine the faith.
The world around us seems to have deteriorated further. The pronouncements I heard of Jesus appearing for the second time were probably more expressions of desire than insider information. Over the centuries, every generation of believers will have experienced similar emotions. This year we have marked the centenary of the Somme. Sitting in those trenches, who would not have thought that the end of the world was near.
In fact, any warfare of the twentieth century would have raised questions of the culmination of ‘the last days’. Previous centuries too, had their phases when all seemed to be going from bad to worse. What was it like to be a follower of Christ in the reign of Henry VIII? Then, many people’s nominal religion alternated with the political wind. For the believer, remaining faithful to Christ could end at the stake.
The apostles had to reassure the first generation of believers that they were not to assume Christ was coming back in their lifetime. Consequently, they had to get on with their lives in the manner Jesus had instructed.
When our thoughts are in danger of being overwhelmed with the state of the world around us, that is when we need to reassure ourselves that God continues to be in control.
The dark days of 2 Kings in the Old Testament gave rise to many of the prophets whose oracles are recorded for us in the Scriptures. As Isaiah came on the scene, both Judah (Israel’s two southern tribes) and Israel’s northern ten tribes had experienced political stability and economic prosperity.
All that changed quickly, and mixed with the spiritual decline that had been going on for over 100 years, disaster loomed. Within a short time, the ten tribes had been deported by the Assyrian conquest.
Judah limped on for another century, with a sprinkling of God-fearing kings, but people’s hearts were not changed. In the midst of the gloom, came the prophetic words of Isaiah about a ‘Servant’ — the Messiah.
For Israel’s small number of true believers — the faithful remnant — this prophecy was the good news that God was on course to fulfil his covenant promises, despite the unfaithfulness of his chosen people.
What must it have felt like, then, for the remnant when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah too? Some of Judah were carried off to Babylon to be in exile, such as Daniel. Others were left behind and, if they survived the conquest of Jerusalem, may have been dragged into the foolish, voluntary exile of Egypt, despite the warnings of Jeremiah.
When we come to celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of the year, we would do well to remember the historical context.
Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would be born of a virgin and that he would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This was spoken to King Ahaz, despite his refusal to trust God.
A couple of chapters later, we have Isaiah’s great prophecy that the government of this world will be on Messiah’s shoulders (Isaiah 9:6-7). We look back in history and see how clearly the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus so fulfil the Old Testament prophecies.
But the remnant, including the prophets, would have struggled to work out how all this would take place in the midst of the turmoil that Judah was experiencing. They did not try and work it out: by faith, they believed.
This pattern of trusting faith in the face of political, economic and spiritual adversity was to continue throughout Judah’s exile in Babylon, the return of the few from Babylon to Israel, and the prophetic silence of God that lasted for 400 years.
Then bursting onto the scene came the promised Messiah, preceded by John the Baptist. The very announcement by Caesar Augustus of a census was God putting into place the final piece of the jigsaw, to move Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
As we appreciate the background leading to the first coming of Jesus, so it should help us to believe in his second coming. We are a bit like the remnant of the Old Testament era. We don’t understand the detail or the timing, but we trust and live by faith.
The political events of the 700 years from Isaiah’s day to the first human entry of Christ did not thwart in any way God’s plan and purposes. So we believers living today should not be overwhelmed by world events or be hoodwinked by God’s enemies that the church is on the decline.
There is nothing wrong in having a desire for the Lord to return. That, after all, should be our hope. What we cannot do is speculate from what we observe around us — they are all just reminders that we live in ‘the last days’ and that we should live lives that are obedient to Christ, in readiness for his coming. That coming again will happen, and it can be at any time. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!
The author was born in the UK of Polish parentage and was converted at university. He worked in local government as a town planner, before joining Grace Baptist Mission in 1998, as their literature coordinator. Since retirement, Maciek continues to travel, teaching in Africa and SE Asia.