Church and the Second Coming of Christ
there any hope?” My Jehovah’s Witness friend painted a
bleak picture of the world. As he reached into his briefcase he
pulled out one brochure after another that told of war here and
disease there. “The world has become an armed camp”, he
observed. He had copies of news clippings about disasters on every
continent: armed conflict; famine; AIDS in Africa; bird flu in Asia;
rising rates of rape; homicide; ecstasy abuse; road rage; and
environmental disaster, even in the Antarctic. His conclusions were
a Christian, I was able to put a different spin on the events he
described. “My hope”, I told him, “is in Jesus
Christ, who is coming again. It is not in trying to get to heaven by
good works or belonging to an elect group. Only those who trust in
Jesus for their salvation have an assurance against an uncertain
hope: the return of Christ
we all heading towards some sort of catastrophe? Or is it all just a
massive hoax? Do we need to be worried? What can we do about it
grew up in a world that feared the spread of communism and the
possibility of nuclear holocaust. At one stage, the USA allegedly
had the capacity to destroy the Soviet empire fifteen times and the
Soviets had the firepower to destroy the USA only twelve times.
Military strategies were based on a theory called Mutually Assured
Destruction, or MAD. That threat has receded somewhat, but it is
still real. New threats keep emerging – the present one is
radical Islam and Al Qaeda. Some political seers are predicting the
development of an Islamic bomb, which will be used to further the
threat of world Islamisation. That is never going to happen, but
conditions on Planet Earth will go from bad to worse until only
intervention by God will be enough to save us.
have travelled a lot and thought a great deal about conditions in the
world. I have seen (close-up) attempts by international
organisations to bring about peace, security, a better globe and a
fairer world. In the natural, the conclusions have been pretty grim.
However, my hope is not in the United Nations or other world bodies,
made up as they are of so many competing and vested interests. As a
Christian, my only long-term hope (and one that stems from God’s
Word) is the return of Christ. We believe it is inevitable.
Christians should be the most positive people in the world.
Bible tells us Jesus will come again
Bible tells us that, just as Jesus left his disciples to return to
heaven, so he will come again: physically, literally, visibly, in
God’s time (Acts 1:6-11). It is foolish to predict dates or
contexts for the Second Coming – that’s been done lots of
times over the years and it hasn’t happened yet. How
embarrassing! Jesus said that the timing is entirely up to God, not
our speculation (Matthew 24:36, Acts 1:7). However, it will
happen, and when it does we
will all be involved.
more than eight hundred places, the Scripture speaks of the Second
Coming of Jesus. The New Birth is spoken of only nine times.
Baptism is mentioned twenty times. Repentance is spoken of seventy
times. But the Second Coming is the subject of one of every
twenty-five verses in the New Testament alone. Jesus gave us a
number of signs, pointers so that we would not be caught unawares.
Noah escaped the flood because he was prepared (Hebrews 11:7). We
should not be caught out either. There has been disagreement about
what these signs mean, but when you see a sign you know it is
pointing to something.
of the signs of the Second Coming, mentioned in the New Testament,
have to do with the state of the church at the time. When the
pointers become more pronounced that we need to pay close attention.
What will be the state of the church when Jesus comes again? Let’s
look at what the Bible says.
said that many would come in his name, as Christ (Matthew 24:3-5, 11,
23-25). I recently read that a major cult springs up in the United
States alone on average at least once every month. At the same time,
Christianity in the West appears to be hopelessly divided. Experts
have added up established denominations and there are more than
25,000 identifiable denominations in the West alone. Just look at
any phone book or the Internet. I met a man in India who told me he
was Christ and that he had come to unify all the churches. He also
claimed to be lots of other people. On another occasion I visited
the Manhattan Headquarters of the Unification Church, the followers
of the teachings of Korean-born Sun Myung Moon. There I met many
young people who told me they were fed up with traditional religion
and believed Moon has answers for the problems faced by the modern
world. Moon claims he is the new Christ, sent to complete the work
Jesus did not finish. He has several million followers.
day a “super-Christ” (or an “anti-Christ”)
will emerge and many millions of disaffected people will follow him
in a global church. Everything else is being globalised, why not
faith? He will deny the Jesus of the Bible and offer a panacea for
all the political, economic and social ills in the world. He will be
a great leader. He will set himself up in place of God and demand
peoples’ worship (2 Timothy 2:1-4). We are going to see an
increase in false Christs.
false prophets are at work in the world (1 John 4:1). A colleague
who pursues Eastern religions talks about her “guru”, a
spiritual guide who advises her on important decisions. People are
looking for answers, for something or someone to offer them genuine
spiritual experiences and the way to God. The writings of
Nostradamus are still popular and were quoted in length after the
destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001.
People are worried about the future and comforted by someone who
claims to be able to predict what is going to happen. But false
prophets have always existed. What else are we going to see?
Bible says that much of Christianity as the end of this age
approaches will have a form of godliness, a name, a power base, but
be without the power of God (2 Timothy 3:5). That is the story of a
large percentage of churches in the West, where Christianity has
become largely commercialised. The best preachers seem to be those
who attract the highest TV ratings. World church organisations are
more interested in ecological and gender issues than in proclaiming
the message of the Bible. Contemporary religion is a mix between
secular humanism and a brand of Christianity that gets embarrassed
about the Bible. Look at the growing influence of the homosexual
lobby in established denominations. Godless religion goes through
the motions, but has nothing “real” to offer its
followers. It therefore becomes irrelevant. I once read a Unitarian
prayer that started out “To Whom it May Concern”. They
weren’t even sure to whom they were praying. While it is
important that the people of God have Biblical responses to the great
social issues of our time, without the Gospel, without the risen
Christ, without the power of God we are nothing.
grew up in a period of “modernism”, where the
supernatural elements of the Christian message were denied and
quietly removed. We have witnessed a great outpouring of the Holy
Spirit in recent years, but people who deny the virgin birth, the
deity of Jesus, the miracles of the New Testament, the resurrection
and the return of Christ continue to work their magic. Our response
can’t afford to be an over-emphasis on Western values such as
self-image, prosperity and the “me” culture. Nor can it
consist of censoring the message so that it doesn’t offend
others. The true message is bound to offend the sensibilities of
non-Christians. Paul said the cross would be a stumbling block and
an offence (1 Corinthians 1:23). People need hope and they will
latch onto whoever offers it.
high profile cases involving Australians accused of working for
extremist Muslim organisations have identified Anglo-Saxon Australian
men who rejected institutional Christianity when they grew up and
adopted Islam as an alternative way of life. The church failed them
and Islam offered the answers and purpose they were looking for, so
they embraced Mohammed and the Koran.
Christians do not have time read the Bible, pray and support
fellow-Christians they will become irrelevant, ineffective and
unattractive. The message that Jesus is coming again should be
enough to get our attention and focus our lives on what is really
change the New Testament discusses in relation to the Second Coming
is growth in alternative religions (1 Timothy 4:1). Time Magazine
recently ran an article about the religious nature of man. It
concluded that religion is alive and well because people are looking
for God. There is almost a “God gene” in every one of
us. Religion is still on the agenda, but the format is different.
People are prepared to believe anything, but they are not necessarily
prepared to come to church. The so-called “New Age Movement”
(which is still in vogue) is simply a collection of variants on
paganism. Some environmentalists are pagans in disguise. Take David
Suzuki, who claims: “All is interconnected”. The Bible
does not teach we are part of God; it says we are accountable to God;
some people don’t like that responsibility and opt for false
religion in the name of personal freedom.
religion is confused, while occult groups thrive. In case you
thought they were no longer prevalent, they are everywhere. I was
beginning to think the word occult was passé, however in a
recent official interview I was asked if I belonged to any occult
groups, including witchcraft and Satanism. My questioners told me
people frequently answer those questions in the affirmative.
element is growing persecution of Christians (Matthew 24:9, 10). Who
wants to be a Christian “witness”? The New Testament
term for witness is the one that gave us the English word “martyr”.
Now who wants to be a witness? The past century has seen more
people give their lives for Christ than at any time in human history.
Believers in Christ in most parts of the world have had to choose
between faith and relationship with God, on the one hand, and
communism, Maoism, Islam, radical Hinduism, militant Buddhism and a
host of other belief or anti-belief opponents on the other. They
have lost houses and land, jobs and financial security, children and
marriages, finally even life itself – by the millions.
largest church on the globe is in China, where some estimates suggest
there are more than seventy million people who identify with the
Christian faith. China is also the leading nation where men, women
and children perish in the name of Christ. Jesus said there would be
massive persecution. He also said the love of many would grow cold.
Peter’s promise to die with Jesus melted away when he got too
close to the cross. That’s perfectly understandable to those
of us who value material possessions, wealth, comfort, our homes, job
security and family above all else. But Jesus called his disciples
to leave all and follow him; most of them died as a direct
consequence of doing so. No religion, no faith system in history has
paid the high price that Christians have. Jesus said it would get
worse before the end of time. Persecution, betrayal, mistrust, abuse
would come from within.
also said there would be a great falling away (Matthew 24:11, cf 1
Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4). It is not easy to be a Christian in
a majority of countries. Church surveys in Australia reveal a
continuing, massive decline in church attendance and belief. It only
takes one generation for a nation to go from strong Christian
influence to almost total secularism. There are few prophetic voices
genuinely speaking for God; little apostolic influence moving in
power and authority to bring about His purpose in the church; few
Christian leaders declaring God’s message; only a minority
really care. Only a few Christians support evangelical Christian
candidates in elections. It is easy to talk about faith, we must put
it into practice or it will empty and meaningless to those around us.
largest newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, recently reported that
those who explore their faith and put it to the test are likely to be
amongst the best adjusted people in society. The unbelief and false
teaching of some should provide a warning to us, but a warning that
points the way to the return of Christ, not to a bunker where we hide
from the verbal barrage of an unbelieving society. We have to
choose. Let’s hold firm. The Bible says that those who hang
on will be saved.
Gospel will be preached throughout the world
seems that all we have talked about so far is bad news. In fact, the
fact and timing of the return of Christ are good news. God is still
in control. That is the bottom line. Man is not in control. Satan
is not in control. Jesus predicted that the Gospel would be preached
throughout the world before his return (Matthew 24:14). There are
more missionaries than ever before in human history. Five hundred
years ago the Bible was available in only fourteen languages. Two
hundred years ago this number stood at seventy-five. Today the
number is around four thousand. The Internet is able to penetrate
the most “closed” societies. This is the first
generation in history in which it is possible for all nine thousand
ethnic groups to be reached with the Gospel.
great spiritual outpouring
Old Testament prophet Joel predicted that, in the last days, the Holy
Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28). I don’t
know all that means, but in spite of persecution and falling away in
some parts of the world, there has been a mighty outpouring of God’s
Spirit in others. I have been privileged to see the results in
different parts of the world. I once told a Muslim sheikh who
boasted about the spread of Islam that millions of people are coming
to Christ in the greatest move of God in history. Across the massive
continents of Africa and South America millions are turning to
Christ. Some traditionally Catholic countries in South America have
become missionary-sending nations. The massive turning to Christ
recorded on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2) is being repeated in
greater dimension in many parts of the world. God is moving, and no
one can stop him. The astonishing thing is how little press this
great outpouring receives in the West. I think it is because we are
so parochial we don’t have time to look over the horizon and
see what fantastic things God is doing elsewhere.
should we live?
we believe in the return of Christ, how should we live? For a start
we should start living as though He will return (Hebrew 9:28). We
should put Christ first in our decision-making and live faithfully
for him, instead of being dragged down with the rest of society. We
should be ready and make every day count, as though today could be
“it”. Like the Italian gardener who told a journalist
that he kept the estate ready for the owner to return. The
proprietor hadn’t visited for a number of years, but “could
come at any time”, so the gardener worked hard to keep the
trees and flowers in peak condition (Matthew 24:44). Let’s
live as though Jesus could come at any time. Let’s be faithful
to Him and remain alert, so that we will be able to rejoice at his
coming. I don’t know when that will be. As believers you and
I should be looking for Him and working hard to fulfil his purpose in
our lives (Titus 2:13; Hebrews 10:36, 37).
the Christian believer the return of Christ will be the greatest
moment in history. What a hope! What an expectation!