The Lord's Return
There are many different doctrines that go to make up the Christian faith. One of the most significant is that which concerns the return of our Lord or the Second Coming.
Some Christians prefer never to consider this important area of teaching and their reason is that it is a doctrine which causes Christians to fall out with each other and they don’t want to see that happen. And they are right to a certain extent – some Christians have indeed fallen out over their differing understanding of the exact details relating to the return of the Lord.
Over the centuries, for example, there have been a number of people who have thought they could predict the exact moment of Jesus’ coming. They thought they know better than Jesus for he said:
In making their predictions these folk had a negative effect both on the church and on the wider population as their announced dates for the return of Christ or the end of the world came and went. The world looks on and interprets the failure of these predictions as proof that the doctrine of Christ’s return itself is false. Sadly, some groups stubbornly persist and instead or repenting of their ways simply recalculate their dates or revisit what they mean by his coming.
However just because some have and some will fall out over details should not lead us to imagine that there is no agreement between Christians on the subject.
There is indeed widespread agreement among Bible-
At the outset of a new year it is always good to look forward towards our glorious hope – the return of our Lord. With the Lord's help that is what we will do this morning.
According to one of my books there are in the region of 250 references in the NT to our Lord's return. This is not therefore going to be an exhaustive study of all of those texts!
In these various texts three words are used repeatedly:
Parousia = Coming
This word speaks of the presence of someone as the result of a definite decisive action. Hence Jesus' coming speaks of His presence that will be made real in a physical way following on the decision to come. As He went to Heaven through the clouds by a deliberate act at His ascension so He will deliberately make His presence known once more upon the earth.
cf. Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Here the context is of evangelistic commission! The disciples are not to stand simply gaping at the empty skies open-
Apokalupsis = Coming/revelation
This time the emphasis is laid upon bringing to light something that had hitherto lain unseen. When our LORD comes He will make it clear just who He is.
In the surrounding verses Paul prays thankful that the Thessalonians are living in such a positive way – their reaction is evidential proof of the righteousness of God's judgments!
Paul goes on to affirm that the Lord will grant relief to His people as the Lord returns. At the same time this return will inflict vengeance upon His enemies.
In thus returning the Lord will be glorified in His people who will be absolutely amazed at the glory of His person and how they will admire Him then!! The chapter concludes with Paul once again at prayer for the Thessalonians that they might be kept by God's power and made worthy for such a high calling.
Epiphaneia = Appearing
This time the idea is of the drawing back of a veil to allow what is there already to be seen truly for what it is:
Tit 2:13 "looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ"
Now let us look a bit closer at the nature of our LORD's return.
A Climactic event
Everything about His return points to a climactic event. In our text the angels are sent out to gather the elect from everywhere in the whole world! Paul in 2Thess.1 speaks not just of the granting of relief to God's afflicted people but also to the judgment of others away from the presence of the Lord.
Are you ready for such a separation of the sheep from the goats? In the Middle East the two animals look similar – do you have more than just the outward appearance of a believer? Do you have the new life that only the people of God enjoy?
A Mysterious Event
Mysterious. While His return is clearly proclaimed in the NT the details of just how and when He will return are not so clear. With regard to the time of His return the Christian is not to speculate but simply to make sure that he is ready when the day does come. His coming is described in Mt.24:27 "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." For folk in NT times lightening was totally inexplicable (and even today remains unpredictable!) So shall our LORD's coming be – it is sure and certain but let's be careful when interest in this coming leads to the elaboration of complicated schemes which pretend to be able to predict just when and how He will appear.
A glorious Event
It will be a glorious coming! Mark says that our LORD's coming would be with "with great power and glory". It is interesting to compare with Matthew's account where we read it will be with "power and great glory" (Mt.24:30). Let's put the two together and we get a coming that will be with both great power and great glory!!
What a contrast this is with His first humble coming into the world. Then He came in obscurity and weakness. Then His coming was largely incognito – yes there was a certain amount of angelic activity drawing the attention of a handful of folk to the birth of the Messiah but how different the return will be. The angels once again will be active but with a wider remit this time. A trumpet will sound out – an archangel's voice will cry out – there will be more signs in the skies -
If you're alive when He returns in glory you'll witness this, you won’t miss it, no-
Will it be with joy and gladness as you behold the One you love?
Or will it be in fear and trepidation as you realise that it was true after all, those things that you have held at arm’s length for so long, for too long?
You must be ready now because when He comes it will be too late to change!
It will be a decisive coming. The event will be an historical reality – we're not talking about fairy tales or dealing with the imaginations of science fiction! Jesus will come, is coming and with His coming he will bring in the end of all things as we know them.
Do you belong to Christ now? If so when He returns then He will raise His people – they will be forever with the LORD. Don't put things off any longer – He returns and for judgment. Sin is real and has caused real offence. And by that I don't just mean sin in general but my sins and your sins. To be safe and secure on the Day of Judgment when Christ appears we must greet that day as repentant sinners. Have you yet turned from your sin and to God through faith in Christ? May God grant us all that new birth without which we will not even see the kingdom of God let alone enter it!
A Sudden Event
It will be a sudden coming. The LORD has told us of various different signs concerning His return but none of these are of such a nature that will prove conclusively beforehand that the LORD is about to appear. The day when it comes will come unexpectedly! Jesus spoke of this to His own disciples urging readiness upon them:
Mt.24:44 "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Because various people have made exaggerated claims concerning the return of Christ is no reason not to prepare for such a return.
Because some people have predicted the return of Christ and got it wrong is no reason for you to think He'll never come!
Because we can't know precisely the moment doesn't mean we can't prepare beforehand.
Because His return will be sudden we put off at our peril thinking seriously about such things.
The return of our Lord is described as the Christian's hope. It is a sure event and certain event which will take place at some time in the future and we can totally depend upon it. Our Lord has spoken of returning to take His people to be with Himself and our Lord does not lie.
His return for judgment shows us that wrongs will be righted and evil punished. If we suffer now we know that such suffering is not forgotten by our Lord but will be dealt with appropriately.
Knowing that He is coming we should learn to keep "short accounts" and quickly confess our sin and receive pardon from Him. Do we want to be embarrassed to have Him come and find us unprepared and wallowing afresh in the mire of our sins?
Our world is not in the grip either of hostile forces or of random chance happenings. History on earth is moving towards a goal – the return of our LORD. We thus can face the future with joy and confidence – each passing moment is bringing the hour of our Lord's return ever closer.
Knowing that He is coming let us pray for one another that the LORD keep us and make us worthy of our high calling.
Our calling is upwards! Yes, we may enjoy poor health, we may suffer and experience death. But our Lord's return guarantees the opening of the graves and new resurrection bodies in which His people will live to enjoy Him forever and forever. Not a boring or dull life but one of progression age after age as we'll be transformed from one degree of glory into another as we contemplate and serve Him.
Our Lord whom we love will be openly and publicly vindicated and what a joy that will be for His people to see Him who has done so much for them receive the honour and glory due His name!
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!