Waiting for God: The return of Christ

In the last issue of the magazine, we looked at the way the Old Testament believers were waiting for their Messiah. And He came! As you read this issue, you are in that exact same situation. You are waiting for your Messiah. And He’s coming!
Tragically, there has been a lot of nonsense written and spoken about the return of Christ. For example, in 1988 Edgar Whisenant published a wildly popular book (which sold around 4 million copies), entitled 88 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988. It wasn’t, of course, but undaunted Whisenant wrote a sequel the following year. In a rare moment of common sense the publishers decided not to call it 89 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1989. Instead it was titled The Final Shout – Rapture Report 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993. I suppose that’s what’s called hedging your bets.

But don’t let the nonsense put you off. The return of Christ is glorious and well worth dwelling on.

Of all the questions we could consider when looking at the return of Christ, the most important is probably ‘Why is Jesus coming back?’ It is rarely answered. Whenever your thoughts wander to Christ’s return, let them dwell on this question before you ever start thinking about dates and signs and millennial views.

Great grace

When Jesus came to planet earth as a man, he created great excitement. He also created a lot of confusion. He just didn’t seem to match up with all the prophecies in the Old Testament. When in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21) he read from Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

And then he stopped – halfway through a sentence – said, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’, and sat down. Why didn’t he continue to read:

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God

It meant even John the Baptist was confused about Jesus. Matthew 11:1-18 tells us that he ‘sent his disciples to ask [Jesus], “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” If anyone should have been sure who Jesus was, surely it would be then man who had earlier said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!… I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’ (John 1:29-34).

Understandably John couldn’t understand why he was still in prison, and wicked men were still prospering when the Holy, Just, and Righteous Son of God was here! After all, Jesus had been sent ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners’, and ‘to release the oppressed’. But Jesus told him: ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’ It was enough to answer John’s questions. I’m sure he still didn’t understand fully, but it was enough to be reminded of the many, many things that Jesus was doing, and he learned to trust Him in the things that he couldn’t yet see.

John was killed soon afterwards. He was killed by a wicked man who deserved the day of vengeance of our God. Within a few years Jesus too had been killed by wicked men who likewise deserved to see the day of vengeance of their God. Killed by wicked men like you and me.

Jesus is coming back, because God is gracious. Against all expectations, there has been a wonderful, glorious, gracious, forever-planned pause in the work of Jesus Christ. We live in a day of the Lord’s favour and before the day of vengeance of our God. And in this day, men and women, boys and girls – even people like you – are being saved and brought into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Had the pause not been planned then you and I could never be part of the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul would at this moment be a rebel in Hell. The thousands converted at Pentecost would never have been forgiven. Jesus is coming back because God graciously planned for you and I to be born, to hear the gospel, and to have the opportunity to respond in repentance and faith. What grace!

God’s holiness and our hope

Every single day billions of people shake their puny fists at God in rebellion and refuse to worship Him as He deserves. How can a righteous God allow this to continue? Every single day, every person on the planet feels the effects of sin: illness, decay, sorrow, and – worse of all – death. How can an all-powerful God allow this to continue? Every single day, the devil and the fallen angels are allowed to roam to and fro on the earth. How can a holy God allow this to continue? The day of vengeance has not been cancelled. There will come a day – and it will come soon – when He will return, and will bring all things under His feet.

God can only allow rebellion, the effects of sin, and the work of the devil to continue because on that day wickedness and rebellion will come to an end. It is not that God will not punish sinners as they deserve. He must, and He will.

The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men… But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
2 Peter 3:3–10

A new beginning

It’s impossible to imagine fully what life will be like after that great day. But the Bible is far from silent.

First, and most importantly, we know that on that day Jesus Christ will be universally acknowledged as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. On that day all, even those who have spent whole lifetimes abusing God, will be forced to admit their rebellion, and bow their knees to Jesus Christ.

God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
Philippians 2:9-11

Second, as we have seen already, those who have rebelled against God – both the living and the dead – will be judged, found guilty and punished. The devil and the fallen angels will suffer the same fate.

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it… And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened… If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:7-15

Third, those who have been given faith and repentance will be given new, resurrection bodies, and will live forever with their God in Heaven. There they will love Him, and praise Him, and serve Him for the rest of eternity!

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Revelation 21:3

Fourth, the heavens and the earth will be destroyed and re-created. This corrupt, ageing universe that is so polluted by sin will be re-created in perfection, and the new heavens and the new earth will become home to God’s redeemed people. All enemies will be vanquished: rebellious men, Satan and his angels, pain, sorrow, death and decay, even sin itself.

‘…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’
Revelation 21:4–5

How then should we respond?

…in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.…Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.
2 Peter 3:13–18