Second Coming – the Climax of History
other day I saw yet another sign that read, “The end is nigh”.
Nothing else. A man walking through a plaza in one of our cities
with a sign around his neck. People have been predicting the end of
life as we know it for generations. The Black Death in Europe wiped
out of a third of the population and caused people to believe history
was over. A few weeks ago an asteroid passing within a million
kilometres of earth made news headlines – would it knock earth
off its axis and send us hurtling into space? Virulent new diseases
cause entire communities to go into mild panic. Is the end nigh? Do
we need to be worried? Are we all being manipulated by world leaders
who want to keep others under their psychological control and use
conspiracy theories to do so?
climax of human history will not be a Third World War, an explosion
of AIDS, a mutant virus or an out-of-control extremist regime gone
totally mad with chemical, biological and ballistic missiles, taking
out civilisation with it. The end of this stage of history will be
the Second Coming of Christ. Every major event in the human story,
up to that point will pale into insignificance compared with the
breathtaking nature and unmistakable reality of the appearance of
Jesus. The Bible says that every eye will see him.
are some differences of interpretation in the church today as to the
order in which these things will come to pass. Jesus said, “One
will be taken and the other will be left”. Some will be
prepared, others will be caught out and it will be too late.
Whatever the sequence, the reality is that Christ will come again.
It is important that we understand this bottom line, in order to be
are deceived by false religions masquerading as Christianity. In a
series of newspaper advertisements, one group confidently asserted
that “The Christ is now here”. People are prepared to
believe any story, follow any leader, if they appear to know the way.
When the blind lead the blind society falls into a ditch.
are only pilgrims
New Testament church lived with one main thought in its theology and
practice: the return of Christ. While some early Christians were
mistaken in believing it would occur during their own lifetimes
(obviously it didn’t), they never wavered. Jesus had promised
to return and we still hold that promise to be reliable –
because He said it. New Testament Christians didn’t greet one
another with, “How’s the weather been?”, or “Have
you heard what so-and-so did to x?”, but “Maranatha”,
an Aramaic word meaning “The Lord is at Hand”. Whatever
else motivated them, they never lost sight of the fact that what
mattered in the final analysis was God’s Kingdom and the return
of His Son.
Bible says in the book of Hebrews (11:13; 13:14; cf 1 Peter 2:11)
that we are “pilgrims” in this world. We are not to live
as though planet Earth is our only abode. Everything around us is
temporary. The world’s oldest man died a few weeks ago in the
USA, aged 113. More than “three score years and ten”,
but limited nonetheless. Life is short, and God has made us for
eternity. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). What this means
in practice is that we need to live life to the full (it is, after
all, a gift from God) but put our priorities in order and not live
solely for things that will have no value on that day.
Second Coming throughout the Scriptures
Bible contains literally hundreds of verses referring to the Second
Coming of Christ (more than his first coming). From Enoch onwards,
the Old Testament prophets predicted the end of the world and the
return of Messiah. (Even if they didn’t understand what they
were writing about, the Holy Spirit supernaturally led them to
predict the things they did. See 2 Peter 1:21). Ezekiel, Daniel,
David, Zechariah, Malachi and others were persuaded that they wrote
this way because God was instructing them to do so.
taught us to pray that His kingdom would come. To a certain extent,
we experience this kingdom now, if Jesus is King in our lives. In
part the promise is also futuristic. Lengthy passages in the Gospels
discuss the manner and signs of his coming. When Jesus broke bread
during his Last Supper with the disciples he commanded them to share
communion until his return (1 Corinthians 11:26). He told them he
was going to prepare a place for them. “And if I go and
prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to
myself, so that where I am there you will be also” (John 14:3).
In his legal defence before the High Priest Caiaphas, on the eve of
the crucifixion, Jesus spoke emphatically about returning with power.
He said that he would be “sitting on the right hand of power
and coming in the clouds of heaven”. Those who were judging
him at the time clearly understood that he was speaking about himself
(Matthew 26:64-65). After rising from the dead, he told the
disciples to be ready for his coming. The angels who appeared to the
disciples on the mountain, in the wake of his ascension to the right
hand of God, spoke confidently about his physical return to earth
(Acts 1:11). He would come in the same manner as they had seen him
apostles, including John, James, Peter, Jude and Paul, predicted that
Jesus would come again. They made his return a foundation of their
teaching. They discovered that death was no longer to be feared and
that their enemies did not have the final say, because the power and
glory would one day belong to Christ.
Apostle Paul wrote at least two letters to the infant church at
Thessalonica. The first one was written specifically to counter the
assertions of some wandering teachers that Jesus had already come
back. If he had, they had missed out and were living for God in
vain. Paul wrote to tell them the return of Jesus had yet to occur
and that, when it did, it would be physical, literal and
unmistakeable. By contrast, Peter predicted that mockers would come
in the end times ridiculing the fact that the return of Christ had
not come to pass, and making those who hoped for his return appear
naive and gullible. The unbelief of some men and women does not
cancel out God’s truth.
ongoing tragedy in the human story demands a climax. Living in the
West as we do we are almost oblivious to the scale of tragedy around
the world. The Bible says the whole of creation has been “groaning”
until now, because of the weight of sin and its consequences in the
world. The Bible says the world as we know it is passing away and
that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Peter tells us that
the earth will be one day be consumed by fire (2 Peter 3:3-11). I’d
like to think we were getting better, but I’ve seen too much
with my own eyes to believe man can do it by himself. I don’t
believe in the Utopian zeal that pretends we are all gradually
God is in overall control, and if He is truly a God of love, he must
surely come and save us before we destroy ourselves. What we need is
not better medicine, improved social and economic conditions,
disarmament, an end to fighting in Iraq and a dozen other conflicts,
better responses to genocide, suicide bombers and fundamentalists.
What we need is Jesus. “When you see the signs, remember”,
Jesus counsels us. I want to talk about those signs elsewhere.
manner of his coming
will Jesus come again? The first time he surprised almost everyone
by entering the human race as a baby, the son of peasants, instead of
being related to nobility, as they hoped Messiah would. By contrast,
the Scripture is detailed in its description about how Jesus will
come again. Whatever the sequence ends up being, we are taught that
He will return physically and literally (read Job 19:25 and 1
will come unexpectedly (1 Thessalonians 5:2), like a thief in the
night. The houses of two friends were recently burgled. Before they
realised it, the thieves had broken in, gone through all their things
and taken many valuable items. What surprised them was the speed
with which the thieves worked. Likewise, Jesus will be on the scene
before we realise it. He will come to judge the world. We have to
told an audience in Athens that God calls people everywhere to
repent, to turn away from sin, because Jesus is coming to judge the
world (Acts 17:30-31). Peter tells us that God is merciful. He does
not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). That’s why Christ
died on the cross. That’s why the Holy Spirit convinces people
of sin and their inability to set things right in their own strength
and leads them to the source of forgiveness and power to live.
That’s why we preach the Gospel the way we do, appealing to
peoples’ hearts and the urgency of getting their lives in order
before with God. Every knee will bow before him. Every tongue will
confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10- 11). I sometimes hear
people saying that, if God exists, he should come back and fix up the
world. He will do so.
is the purpose of his coming?
this “virtual” age, why is it necessary that Jesus come
again physically? Why can’t he simply manage everything by
a start, he is coming for His people, the world-wide community of
Christian believers. I was recently asked by an official, “What
is your hope”. To which I replied, “The return of
Christ”. We will have new bodies; the dead will be raised (cf
Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52). God will wipe away every
tear. He will be in total control. No hope is greater than this.
On a practical level, it means that we look at the way we are living
and change aspects of our lifestyles and life choices that are at
odds with God’s purpose. John says that if anyone has this
hope he or she “purifies themselves” (1 John 3:3). We
are confronted with the challenge to re-order our lives in line with
what is really important, what has eternal value (Colossians 3:2).
Jesus says that the wise person builds up treasures in heaven, where
they can’t touched (Matthew 6:19-21). Whatever we do here is
of limited intrinsic value.
Christians, the return of Christ is our greatest hope (1
Thessalonians 4:18). We echo believers down through the ages, “Come,
Lord Jesus”. We know this world is only a temporary home; that
we have been created to live for eternity; and that our future lies
in God’s plan. Death loses its sting, the grave loses its
victory where the promise of resurrection and eternal life are ours
he is coming to judge the world. The first time Jesus came as a
Saviour; next time it will be to judge unbelievers. At present, John
tells us, the whole world lies under the control of the devil (1 John
5:19). When Jesus comes again he will reassert God’s control
in the world. The lives of those who rejected him will be opened for
inspection and judgement according to his standards. Make no
mistake, we will all give an account of ourselves to God (Romans
15:12; Revelation 20:12-15). Only those who have trusted in Christ
have an assurance their sins are forgiven and that they will escape
eternal judgement (John 5:24-29). Amos warns us to “prepare to
meet God” (Amos 4:12). This is not a question of “fear
tactics”, but a reality that will involve every one of us
sooner of later.
you ready to meet him?