Monday, December 31, 2012

JESUS IS COMING

Though I first heard the Gospel when I was in about the second grade, I never set foot in a Bible preaching church until I was in my late teens.  I was not too surprised to hear the same message from the pulpit there that I had heard years before from a rural school missionary.

But one thing did amaze me about that little church -- one thing I heard that I had not heard before.  It was that Jesus is coming back!  I had known that He had died and risen and gone up to heaven, but somehow I'd missed this important claim.  It sounded strange to my skeptical ears and it seemed even more strange that these folks believed it -- sort of like believing in space aliens.

As I came to a clear faith in Christ and began to grow in knowledge of the Bible, I became a solid believer in what is known as "the Second Coming."  The Bible taught it and Jesus Himself had a lot to say about it.

I read books, studied and learned many terms associated with the Second Coming and learned how to sprinkle them around in pious conversation:  the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium (though it took me years to learn to spell that word) and Antichrist.  I also learned the various views -- the pre-, post-, a-, mid-, pan-, etc. and how all the views not held by the Scofield Bible notes were wrong.

I also learned to look for the "signs of the times" -- signs which point to the nearness of His coming:  Israel as a nation back in their own land, an "apostate church" (i.e., those who disagree with us), a Communist conspiracy, the Soviet Union, the European Union, along with hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.  There were always new signs.  Every crisis in the Middle East, or for that matter anywhere in the world, was subject to intense scrutiny, scanning of the Bible and all those books for some coordination.

Is this what it's all about?  Were we given the promises of Christ's return just so we could amuse ourselves with the intricacies of the details?  Or perhaps use them to scare people into the Kingdom?  Or is there more to this belief than that?

I'm not trying to belittle or discount the study of Eschatology (the doctrine of last things).  I have studied and taught it for years and hold to some (to me) clear positions, though I'm a lot less dogmatic on the details as I used to be.  And I must confess I've become more and more skeptical of the "signs," especially since I've seen some of them disappear during my lifetime.

But the New Testament not only tells us that Jesus is coming back; it not only gives us many of the details and many of the signs to look for; more importantly it gives us instructions concerning our behavior in light of these truths.  And the first commands are given by Jesus Himself, especially in His "eschatological sermon" on the Mount of Olives, a brief time before His death.

The first thing we need to realize is that we cannot know for certain when Jesus is coming back!  Though the past two millennia are littered with predictions that have failed, whether from kooks or cultists or supposedly reputable scholars, in spite of all our studies and speculation we just can't know!  In fact, Jesus told us so!
  "... you don't know what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42).
  "... you don't know the day or the hour" (Matthew 25:13).
  "... you don't know when the time is" (Mark 13:33).

And especially note this one:  "But concerning that day and hour, nobody knows -- not the angels of heaven, not even the Son -- but the Father alone!" (Matthew 24:36)

Jesus said that He Himself didn't know!  So what makes us think that we can?

And some of His imperatives in view of His coming:
  "Watch out that no one deceives you!"  (Matthew 24:4)
  "See that you don't get shaken up! (by supposed signs)  (Matthew 24:6)
  "... learn ... know ..." (from the signs)  (Mark 13:28, 29)
  "Stay awake" (because you don't know the time)  (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:33, 35, 37)
  "... straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is getting closer!"  (Luke 21:28)

Throughout the New Testament we find bits and pieces -- hints -- about Jesus' return.  As good systematic theologians we attempt to assemble them all together along with passages from the Old Testament to form a coherent doctrine.  We should do this, but not so that we can appear well taught and erudite.  Every passage is given for a purpose.  But that purpose is to increase own desire for His return and to cause us to adjust our lives accordingly.

"We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2, 3).

"Therefore beloved ones, since you are expecting these things, be earnest to be found by Him in peace, without spot or blemish" (2 Peter 3:14).

"The One who testifies these thing says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.'  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!"  (Revelation 22:20)

5 comments:

Canadian Atheist said...

"Or perhaps use them to scare people into the Kingdom?"

Yes. Christianity uses fear for many things. I'm glad that you're skeptical about the claims though.

Bill Ball said...

Hello CA. Glad you're back. I've missed you. You keep me on my toes.
While I believe that fear can be a good motivator in some situations, I also recognize that it is way overused by many Christians. I'm glad you understood that I was using sarcasm.

Canadian Atheist said...

I've missed you too. I recently lost my father and my 45 day old grandson. It's taken a while for me to get over the losses but I'm back now. I look forward to reading more of your work, my friend.

Sherry said...

I'm sorry to hear about your double loss CA.

Canadian Atheist said...

Thank you, Sherry. I greatly appreciate it. :)