Jesus is coming again!
In the pages of history, there have been some remarkable days when God has visited this world.
At Sinai, at the time of the giving of the law to Israel, God came with terrifying power and the people trembled (Exodus 19:16). At Bethlehem, he came in great humility to bring salvation. In the last day, he will come with great glory to put an end to this present age and usher in the eternal kingdom.
Of those three ‘comings’, we focus most on the birth of our Saviour, and rightly so, because there God’s plan of salvation began to unfold, though of course it was conceived in eternity.
While the Bible has a lot to say about Christ’s coming at Bethlehem and the salvation he purchased at the cross, it also has a great deal to say about the Second Coming or return of Christ.
The Christian community is sharply divided over this doctrine. There are those who seem to talk or preach or write about little else except Christ’s return and related topics, such as the millennium or antichrist, though it seems that the stress on this is a bit less common than 25 years ago.
On the other hand, because the doctrine has been pushed to excess by some, there are those who say, ‘There has been so much emphasis on the Lord’s return that we will keep off the subject altogether’.
So it is feast or famine! In the former case, it was wearying in some circles to hear an unbalanced emphasis on the Second Coming, but in the latter case it is sad that such a wonderful truth is often neglected.
We ought to rejoice in this glorious hope: Jesus is coming again! Paul tells the Thessalonian believers to encourage one another with that truth (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Admittedly, there are a lot of differences between Christians on the subject. Some believe Christ will come secretly to take believers out of this world; others that he will come openly to set up a millennial kingdom; still others, that there is no literal millennial reign at all. But these differences should not detract from the clear truth that Jesus Christ is coming back.
I don’t believe these things should divide believers. If learned and theologically sound biblical scholars who believe that the Scriptures are God’s inspired Word can come up with different opinions, it suggests that these truths are not too easy to figure out.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t study the subject. Paul did not want the Thessalonians to be ignorant of this matter (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but if Christians cannot all agree on the details, then we should not make it a test of fellowship, but rather focus on what is clear.
It doesn’t matter from the final perspective, whether Christ returns before or after the millennium, or even whether there is a literal millennium at all. We know for sure that God will fulfil every aspect of his Word, however the details finally work out.
The big picture
It may encourage some as they believe that there will be a world-wide revival in the last days to usher in the eternal kingdom, but for the here and now the great thing is that we are ready for Christ’s return, whenever it should occur.
When Paul addresses this topic in 1 Thessalonians, he speaks of a concern on the part of some believers about Christians who had already died, but basically he also deals with two other aspects of Christ’s return.
He teaches, first, that this event should be eagerly anticipated by all Christians. Those who die go immediately to be with the Lord. Their bodies will lie (‘sleep’) in the grave, but they will have a conscious existence with the Lord Jesus until he comes. Their spirits will be with him in heaven and accompany him when he returns.
Their bodies will rise from the grave renewed and be reunited with their spirits. Immediately afterwards, those still alive will be caught up and their bodies changed. Both groups will then be with the Lord for ever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). That much is clear.
Why should we spend so much time debating the details that are less than clear? On the other hand, why do we neglect such a glorious truth? Perhaps one reason we think of this so seldom is that life here is too comfortable.
For Christians who have suffered, the idea of their trials ending and their being with the Lord for ever is a wonderful incentive to endure the hardest of circumstances.
To those who experience great persecution, the doctrine of Christ’s return brings great comfort and joy. But if we know little of hardship, then our thoughts will not turn in that direction.
When Jesus returns, all suffering will be over. There will be no more sickness, no more tears, no more disappointments, certainly no more persecution; and best of all, there will be no more sin.
The thought of being with Jesus and also being like him is a wonderful stimulus to keep us going, no matter how tough things are, because we know that our trials will not continue for ever.
Not only should this truth encourage us, it should have a very practical effect upon us. We need to be ready for that day. As the apostle puts it, that day should not surprise us like a thief (5:4).
We need to be watchful and live in such a manner that, whenever Christ comes, we would not be surprised and ashamed. I always think a good question to ask as we consider a certain course of action is, ‘Would I be ashamed to be doing this if the Lord should come at this moment?’
The second aspect of Christ’s return that Paul deals with is how it applies to unbelievers. While Christians should think of that day with joyful anticipation, unbelievers, if they believe in that day at all, should consider it with terror, because for them it will be a day of destruction (5:3).
Of course, many will try not to think about that day. For them, everything seems to be going along just fine; they say ‘peace and safety’ (5:3). Satan has blinded their minds so that they do not think about eternal matters (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Perhaps someone reading this is in that category. You refuse to think about death and the world to come. Somehow you hope that things will go on as they are at present. But life will not go on for ever; at least, not in this present world.
There is coming a day of destruction; Christ will surely return. You will stand before God at the judgement and, if you are not ready for that day and if your trust is not in Christ and his work upon the cross, you will hear those dreadful words, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41).
No one will ever hear more terrible words than those. May God help all of us to be ready for the great day of the Lord!