What is an overlooked purpose of New Testament prophecy about Christs glorious Second Coming?
The Second Coming of Christ
In our day, we find a special interest approaching a passion to examine the New Testament regarding prophecy. This dominant theme of sermons, books, and conferences focuses on the second coming of Christ Jesus our Savior. But how does the second coming of Christ related to our present preparation for this approaching, climactic event of history?
Has this become your own theme in Bible study? On the one hand, we are to be aware of the many references to the return of our Lord. As we leaf through the pages of the New Testament, we may be surprised to notice how often this theme is found. On nearly every page we find a direct statement or allusion to the Second Coming of Christ.
But why did the writers refer to Christs approaching return? There are many reasons, but one purpose may often be overlookedor at least minimized. However, this purpose is dominant in the Holy Scriptures. What is it? What does God actually say about the coming of His Son? Let’s learn something about the Second Coming of Christ and How We Should Prepare!
The Second Coming of Christ and How We Should Prepare
The voices in our day are manifold that proclaim on the radio and TV that Christ is returning very soon. Many are the preachers and teachers who write articles and books, and who shout from the pulpits that Jesus is coming again!
End times movies add to the confusion, for people come to expect Christs return any timesecretly, silently, and imminently. These preachers, authors, and film makers tell us to look for the signs of Christs coming and say that we should be prepared for His any-time return along with the rapture of believers. Elaborate end-time schemes are devised to inform us of the part that Russia, Iran, China, and Europe will play in this theological drama! These are exciting times as well as confusing times!
Years ago I met with a new convert and soon discovered that he had a passionate and all-consuming fascination with prophecy and coming events. This is about all he was interested in discussing. He was quite aware of the intricacies of prophetic details from Revelation and elsewhere. Yet his own personal and family life lacked so much and he definitely needed to grow as a new believer. Sadly, he would not be dissuaded. Soon this obsessive brother (?) fell away and could not be reached. While many do not become this devoted to prophecy, they too may manifest an abnormal fixation on the details of future prophecy and show a disinterest in practical righteousness, doctrinal soundness, and character development.
This topic of the second coming of Christs is part of the theological study known as eschatology, a term based on the Greek words, eschatos (last) and logos (word or study). This refers to the study of the last things or last days. Students of eschatology are particularly drawn to Daniel and Revelation as well as other prophetic portions of Scripture as they carry on their interpretation of present trends and their forecast of future events.
There are several competing prophetic understandings of Revelation, including the popular futurist school of interpretation, the historicist, the preterest, and the idealist. In the Western world, the most popular contemporary view is the dispensational one that promotes an imminent, secret rapture (the catching up of believers to meet the Lord).
Formulated and popularized by British John Darby in the early nineteenth century, along with the American evangelist D. L. Moody, C. I. Schofield (who edited his popular study Bible), and other more modern teachers such as David Jeremiah, Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, and the producers of the highly-popular Left Behind series of books and movies. This Protestant view of Fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, and many Evangelicals is dominant in our day. Perhaps you have been exposed to it yourselfand maybe you have embraced it. Some assume that it alone is the Biblical view!
We would like to deal with Christs second coming here but won’t be treating the various authors and teachers above nor will we be dealing directly with the schools of interpretation we’ve just surveyed. We simply want to go to the Bible and discuss what we find on the pages of Holy Scripture. Further, instead of interacting with extrabiblical sources, we simply want to discover what the Bible itself says about Christs return and the purpose of the teachings we find in Scripture. Why were these teachings given? What was the basic purpose?
While the early Christians definitely recognized the prophetic writings as true and were concerned about coming events, they saw a strong ethical emphasis in prophecy. Christ, His apostles, and New Testament writers repeatedly related future events to present living. They taught that the coming of Christ should motivate us to diligent labor, holy conduct, growth in spiritual maturity, separation from the ways of the world, and endurance under persecution. They presented Christs glorious return as an encouragement to suffering and persecuted believers. Instead of simply satisfying curiosity, the Lords coming and all that this coming will entail should provide the incentive to live earnestly and fully for Him in the present time! We might call this faithfulness in the midst of present trials. In other words, the second coming of Christ is directly related to our present living.
Before we discuss the bulk of scriptures dealing with Christs return, lets examine an example of how exhortation to present faithfulness is related to the second coming of Christ expressed in terms of reward and punishment. The passage well examine is Hebrews 10:23-39. Notice first the connection of faithfulness with the coming fulfillment of the promise:
Persevere (v. 23) Promise (v. 23)
Stimulate and encourage The day drawing near (vv. 24-25)
Endure suffering (v. 34) Better possession (v. 34)
Confidence (v. 35) Great reward (v. 35)
Endurance and do the will of God Receive promises (v. 36)
Faith (v. 39) Preserving of the soul (v. 39)
Next, notice below how sin and turning from Christ is related to the judgment of God:
Sinning willfully (v. 26) Judgment (v. 27)
(Same) Fury of fire (v. 27)
(Same) Punishment (v. 29)
(Same) Vengeance and judgment (v. 29)
Shrink back (v. 38) No pleasure of God (v. 38)
Shrink back (v. 39) Destruction (v. 39)
Now lets discuss how certain passages illustrate how present behavior is related to Christs second coming in the Sermon on the Mount.
Present behavior and life Future result
Gentleness Inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)
Merciful Receive mercy (5:7)
Pure in heart Shall see God (5:8)
Peacemakers Sons of God (5:9)
Persecuted Kingdom of heaven (5:10)
Persecuted Reward in heaven is great (5:12)
As we continue through Christs teachings, notice Matthew 6:19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We can see that the Lord contrasted having treasure in heaven and laying up treasure on earth. We must choose one or the other. The way we view earthly possessions has a direct bearing on our eternal future!
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this:
Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23)
Here again we see that entrance into the coming Kingdom of heaven is contingent on doing the will of God the Father in heaven. Jesus doesn’t just give a statement about His return or tell us when it will be. He connects that return to judgment, then He connects the judgment with the obedience of all before Him.
Lets look beyond the Sermon on the Mount to the remainder of the New Testament. Jesus then discusses the importance of hearing a favorable verdict at the judgment: Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33). In this sobering warning, Jesus says that His approval or denial of all people depends on whether they will deny Him or are willing to confess Him before others. Christs future judgment is related to how we relate to Him now.
The Lord Jesus gives a serious warning about His treatment of all people at the end of the age (Matthew 13:40). Notice how He connects His return and judgment with ones present living:
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:41-43).
Ones destiny is either the furnace of fire on the one hand, or shining forth as the sun in the Fathers kingdom on the other hand. And these radically different destinies would be related to lawlessness for the first group and righteousness for the second. Our present character and life will be reflected in our coming destiny.
In Matthew 16:27 the Savior issues this forecast: The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Christ will not only come with the angels, but at that time he will repay people according to their deeds. Our present living is directly related to the treatment we can expect when Christ returns.
We know that the Lord Jesus made many references to His return in the so-called Olivet Discourse (cf. Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21). Notice a few of these statements:
· Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:42).
· For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (Matthew 24:44).
· . . . the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:50-51).
Christs unexpected coming in judgment should have something to do with how we respond to Him presently. We must be alert and we must be ready! His coming will be unexpected and for those unprepared, there will be deep grief and pain!
The great judgment scene at Matthew 25:31-46 offers much to ponder. When He comes again (the second time), Jesus will separate people according to whether they are sheep or goats. He then says:
Then the King [Jesus] will say to those on His right, Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . . Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (vv. 34, 41, 46).
Notice that the second coming of Christ is not just a matter of curiosity or interest, but this climactic, dramatic event offers a sober warning to the listeners. Ones eternal destiny has something to do with how we live right here and now, in the relationships we have. In the omitted portions of the section above, we learn that ones destiny has something to do with our treatment of Christs brothers (v. 40). Those who were compassionate and generous will be accepted whereas those who were not merciful will be rejected. Our eternal future has something to do with our present living!
A very solemn warning came from Christ about His future coming and how this relates to what we do right now. Carefully notice His words:
Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospels will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:35-38).
Jesus speaks of the future when He refers to saving ones life, forfeiting ones soul, and of His being ashamed of us when He returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. In light of the future, the Lord says that we must be willing to lose our life and not be ashamed of Him and His words here on earth. What we do now is directly related to our future destiny! How are you and I applying Christs critical forewarning?
The Gospel of John also records a number of teachings that show how we live now will affect what will happen in the future life. Notice this: This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. . . . He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40, 54). Here we see that our response to Christ in genuine faith will bring about the assurance of the resurrection on the last day of judgment. What we do now affects what our state will be for all eternity! Let us take warning!
One other word from the Lord Jesus shows how our thought of the future should bring present encouragement and comfort. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus said, Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Fathers house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going (John 14:1-4).
We see that not only should we fear and be forewarned about the consequences of present unfaithfulness and disobedience, but we are encouraged to have faith and look forward toward a blessed future with God and with Christ. Christs teachings of the future are meant to encourage the faithful and true disciple!
As we go to the book of Acts, notice how Peter uses future blessings to stimulate a present response: Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you (Acts 3:19-20). Repent now so that future refreshment may be ours! Today is the only time of preparation!
When Paul and Barnabas worked their way through Galatian cities that they had earlier visited, Luke says that they were strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Here we can see that our present living (of continuing in the faith in spite of persecution and trials) is directly related to future blessing. As we encounter and overcome tribulations for Christ, we can look forward toward entering Gods kingdom! This is a promise to us as well.
After Paul preached to the philosophers at Athens, he concluded his message with this sobering warning: Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). The present response we need is genuine repentance in light of the future. And what is that future? God will judge the world in righteousness through Christ. This should have alarmed the unrighteous philosophers for they would need to face a God of righteousness in judgment! Sadly, the evidence is that few were willing to humble themselves and repent (vv. 32-34).
Lets notice also the book of Romans. Here Paul issues this warning: Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds (2:5-6). Just as the future promise of blessing provides a compelling motive, so the prospect of Gods coming wrath and righteous judgment should also bring a responseof sincere repentance of sin!
Present Response and Living in Light of God’s Coming Judgment!
Lets notice some of the motives awakened in light of the wrath that will be revealed one day. After this, we will notice our present motives in light of Gods promised blessing. First, Gods coming judgment: If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22). The one who does not love Jesus not only misses out on a blessing right now, but he is under Gods curse! Maranatha means, Our Lord, come! Or it could mean, Our Lord has come or Our Lord, come (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Indeed, Christ will comeand part of the result of this coming will be fulfilling the curse on those who fail to love Jesus, the most lovable of Beings!
When one of the New Testament writers give a list of sins, this is often connected with a warning of coming judgment because of those sins. For instance, Paul lists 15 sins in Galatians 5:19-21, ones that he calls the deeds of the flesh, and then he concludes by writing, . . . of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. While the coming kingdom will be a blessed experience for the righteous, here we see that those who commit sin and refuse to repent will not enter Gods kingdom. It is that decisive! In an age that either scoffs at sin or takes it lightly, passages like this should terrify our heart and make one flee from the wrath of God that will surely come (Matthew 3:7).
One of the most dreadful warnings of the future is given by Paul in Ephesians 5:5-6: This you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. These three sins (and others) will prevent one from inheriting the kingdom of Christ and God; further, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the unrepentant sinner. How much of a warning like this is needed in our day!
One of the clearest warnings about Christs return in judgment is found in Hebrews 10. Notice these verses:
If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. . . . (vv. 26-27).
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God (v. 29a).
We know Him who said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge His people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (vv.30-31).
The future will hold judgment and the fury of a fire to one who has sinned willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth. Further, there will be punishment awaiting one who has rejected Christ. Jesus will be Judge and will exercise His righteous vengeance (cf. Romans 2:3-11; 12:19). The result: It is a terrifying thing to fall into Christs hands! Christ will returnand He must not find us unprepared!
Present Response and Living in Light of Gods Eternal Blessing
Now that we have noticed a number of Biblical passages that speak of Christs second coming, judgment, and wrath, what about His return to true believers who are spiritually prepared?
In Romans 8 we have an instance of Gods coming blessing and how we are to relate to it: . . . and if children [of God], heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (vv. 17, 18). Notice that we are to be willing to suffer with Christ but the result of this suffering will be future glorification with Christ. This provides a tremendous incentive to faithfulness under trials.
First Corinthians 15 is the great (and long) chapter in Scripture dealing with Christs resurrection and our coming resurrection. After Paul discusses the nature of the resurrection body, he concludes with this admonition and promise: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (v. 58). We are presently urged to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in Christs workbut why? Because we know that our labors are not in vain in the Lord! We will be rewarded! We must persevere in light of what God has planned for us.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, we have another instance of Gods promised blessing in light of our present distress: Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Are you and I afflicted in our service to the Lord? Lets not lose heart since an eternal weight of glory awaits us! That which is eternal is before us! Press on!
Paul encourages his readers in Philippi in light of Christs coming: . . . so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (1:10-11). Youll notice that the apostles emphasis here is that they are to be prepared for Christs return by being sincere and blameless and by being filled with the fruit of righteousness. We too need this motivation since our Lord is coming. Let us live changed and transformed lives since Christ is coming back!
In the same book, Paul focuses on the future transformation of our body: Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21). There is no timetable here but the apostle does have us look forward with anticipation to our bodys transformation by the appearance of Christ Jesus who Himself has a glorified body.
Again, Paul encourages us to holy endeavor in light of the future: He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproachif indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. . . (Colossians 1:22-23a). Let us press on to Godly living because we will one day be perfected!
Later in the same book, Paul made reference to the Lords return: When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). This is the kind of motivation we need each day
Each chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to Christs second coming. In chapter 3, verse 13, we read, . . . so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Notice that Pauls concern here is that we might be without blame in holiness when Jesus returns. This is our own concernto live holy lives here and now in light of Christs coming! References to Christs approaching return are not given to satisfy curiositybut to motivate us to holy character.
One of the most blessed passages in Pauls writings is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as well as 5:1-11. Well not quote all of this section, but we do notice that Christ will come at the time when dead saints will be resurrected and living saints will be transformed and in view of this glorious reality, comfort one another with these words (4:18). He then says that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night (5:2) but that day will not overtake you like a thief since you (we) are prepared (vv. 4-5). We must be prepared: You are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. What we do now has a direct connection with Christs coming.
Pauls final words in this portion is of significance: God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11). We look forward toward salvation (a salvation from sin, death, and hell) and anticipate being together with Him when Jesus returns. All of this is meant to encourage and build us up in hope of His return. Let us have this frame of mind in regard to Jesus coming!
One of the most dramatic depictions of Christs return is found at 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, a passage in which Paul contrasts the Lords treatment of the unprepared and His treatment of believers who are prepared. First, notice the former:
. . . and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. . . (vv. 7-9).
The mass of people on earth are not spiritually prepared to meet the Lord Jesus when He returns in flaming fire. And how are they described? They dont know God and they dont obey the gospel/good news of Christ. And what will be their eternal destiny? They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction and will be separated from the presence of the Lord forever! How tragic . How eternal!
In contrast, Paul goes on to speak of those who are prepared:
. . . when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believedfor our testimony to you was believed. . . . with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:1).
In contrast to the unbelievers, true followers of Jesus will meet the Lord with overwhelming joy and blessing! We will give glory to Christ at His coming and will marvel at Him in His glory and power! We will be gathered together to Himand will forever be with Him. What amazing blessing! And the difference will be how we respond to God in faith and how we respond to Christ by obeying His gospel (or good news). What we do now has a direct bearing on where we will be in eternity!
Later in 2 Thessalonians, Paul relates Christs return to our present behavior: God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2:13b-14). We look forward to glorification with Christs glory, but before then, we are sanctified (made holy by the Holy Spirit) and hold to the truth of the gospel by faith. What we are and do now does have an effect on the future!
Now notice 1 Timothy 6:14-15: . . . keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper timeHe who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are encouraged to live a life of obedience until the Lord Jesus comes in the future. Think of the future, but lets make sure that we live responsibly in the present!
Later in the same chapter, Paul encourages the wealthy in this way: Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:18-19). We can prepare for the future and take hold of eternal life in what way? By using our material and financial resources now for the Lord and to bless others!
Our past and present response to Christ and His way of life must issue in a future blessing: It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died for Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:11-12). This is a combination of positive and negative motivations. If (and only if) we died with Jesus will we have the blessing of living with Him. If (and only if) we endure (through suffering, persecution, and hardship), will we reign with Jesus. If we deny Jesus (by words or life), then He will deny us (see also Matthew 10:32-33). Paul encourages all of us to bear in mind the connection between our present response to Jesus and our future consequences.
What kind of motivation should we have in our preaching and teaching? Paul answers with clarity: I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Timothy 4:1-2). He could have just given us a command to preach and teach. Instead, he does so with a direct view to Christs coming judgment as well as His appearing and the appearing of His kingdom. This is the stimulus we need to fulfill Gods will!
When you come to the end of your life, surely you want to be found faithful in all ways. We will wish that we could say what Paul said at the end of his earthly journey: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). This is what he has done, but what does this prepare him for after death? . . . in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (v. 8). What will be our future? Will we receive a crown of righteousness? Will Christ our Judge give this to us as we have loved His appearing. These verses stimulate us to faithfulness and to a firm hope in Christs second coming. This is how we can be prepared and receive Christs reward.
The last of Pauls statements on Christs coming is taken from his words to Titus, his child in the faith. Notice this rather long section:
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
First, notice that we are to respond negatively to certain thingsungodliness and worldly desires. Then, we are to respond positively to certain othersliving sensibly, righteously, and godly. We are to look with hope and earnestness toward Christs glorious return! Notice then three characteristics of those who eagerly await the coming of the Lord: (1) We are redeemed from every lawless deed, (2) We are purified for Christs possession, and (3) We are zealous for good deeds. Our present attitude and living are directly related to Christs coming in glory!
Hebrews 10:32-39 is another section that has deep content for us. Notice, for example, verses 35-36: Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, in that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. Present confidence and future reward! Present endurance and obedienceand receiving what God promises to the faithful. We look to the futurebut we see the need to live devotedly for the Lord right here and now.
We may think that seeing the Lord and being with Him is a definite assurance to the believer. Notice how the Hebrew writer encourages us to prepare now for the blessing of seeing the Lord in the future: Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord (12:14). How do we live presently? We are to be at peace. And we are to pursue a holy attitude and life. If we do this, what can we experience in the future? The writer says that if we dont have holiness (i.e., if we live in known and unconfessed sin), then we will not have the privilege of seeing the Lord!
A blessed promise for the future comes to the one who endures trials in life. Notice how James puts it: Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (1:12). He just doesnt urge his readers to persevere under trial; instead, he says that God promises the crown of life to the one who endures. Our present living has a direct bearing on our future blessing.
In 1 Peter 1:3-5, the apostle describes our present and eternal blessings in Christ. He concludes with verse 5: . . . who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Notice that our present faith is directly connected to our future salvationa salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Verses 6-9 should also be read, with verse 9 stating: . . . obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. Once again, the apostle relates our present living by faith to the future salvation of our soul!
As we continue in 1 Peter, we notice this sobering warning about the future: The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Again we can see that the future (the end of all things) is to be encountered with our present responsibilitybeing of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. How mistaken it is to think that discussions about the future were given for the sake of mere information rather than sober present realities.
Here is an interesting statement about how we presently live and what awaits us in the future: Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things [the virtues of vv. 5-9], you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:10-11). How do we receive an entrance into Christs eternal kingdom? We do so by practicing the many virtues that Peter mentions in verses 5-9! Future blessing is related to present living.
We must not overlook several verses toward the end of chapter 3 of 2 Peter. Notice these words:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness. (2 Peter 3:10-11)
In view of the coming destruction of the entire universe, we are to live holy and godly lives! How clear it is that our present living directly relates to the destruction of the world and the new earth to come.
Lets continue with the following verses (vv. 12-14):
. . . looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.
As in the previous verses, here again we see that the heavens and earth will be destroyed, but we have the promise of new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (cf. Revelation 21:1-2). But do we simply find this future promise to be a matter of interest and information? No, it should make a huge impact on our lives! We are to be in peace. We are to be spotless and blameless. Our lives are directly related to whether we partake of the blessings of Gods promise for the future.
When we come to 1 John, we have further promises for the future. Notice how the apostle relates our present earthly experience with preparation for the future:
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (2:28-29).
Do we wish to have confidence when Christ returns or do we wish to be ashamed to face Him? The text addresses this. John says that we must abide in Christ if we wish to have this confidence rather than shame. Further, we can see that our righteous lives give evidence that we are born of the Lord. We can only be prepared for the glorious return of Jesus if we continue to abide in Him and live righteously.
In 1 John 3:1-2, John says that we will be like Christ, because we will see Him just as He is. He then makes a practical application to our life: And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (v. 3). When we learn of Gods glorious provisions for our future blessing, this should make a direct impact on the way we live lives of purity and holiness! We dont just learn of Christs return for information sake, but as a great motivation to purity and holiness.
The book of Revelation, written to seven assemblies in Asia, offers many examples of Gods promises linked to our present response of faith, love, and obedience. For example, notice 2:7: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. Only those who overcome in this life will be given the privilege of eating of the tree of life in Gods Paradise. This is a conditional promise. In 2:10b, Christ makes this promise: Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Who will be given the crown of life? The one who is faithful to death. Is this something that is taught today in prophetic literature and on the radio?
Jesus continues in Revelation 2:11: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Again, this is a promise to the overcomersthose who overcome the world, the flesh, the devil, and sin. Such a person will not be hurt by the second death, which will be the lake of fire (cf. 21:8).
Another promise to the overcomers is found in Revelation 3:5: He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Present faithfulness in overcoming will issue in the gift of white clothing (the garment of the redeemed). Further, the overcomer will have his name in the Lambs book of life and Christ will confess his name before the Father. This is only for those who confess the name of Jesus and not those who deny it (cf. Matthew 10:32-33).
We have noticed a number of positive teachings showing that we look forward to Gods coming blessings of eternal life, the kingdom of God, entrance into the Heavenly City, and everlasting joy. Connected with these future blessings would be our present holy, godly, faithful, loving live and service. In light of the coming rewards, we live now to please God and serve Him.
Here are a few other passages to examine with this positive view: Philippians 3:10-11, 12-16; 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 9-10; 2:12, 19-20; 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 6-10; 1 Timothy 4:7-8, 16; 2 Timothy 2:9-10; 4:16-18; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 6:10-12; 10:23-25; 11:35; James 5:7-8; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:13; 5:1-4, 5-6, 10-11; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 5-9, 10-11; 3:9; 1 John 2:28-29; 4:17-18; Jude 21-24.
On the other hand, we have also examined a number of negative statements that warn of the consequences of not preparing for the future and living a life of compromise and sin. These tell of the disaster that entails Gods judgment and wrath on those in known, deliberate, and unforgiven sin.
Here are a few additional passages with this negative theme: Colossians 3:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Hebrews 4:1, 11; 10:26-31; 1 Peter 4:2-5; Revelation 3:15-16.
Lets Have the View of the Early Christians
We have seen enough to conclude that the early Christians were definitely interested in Christs second coming. But this pervasive interest majored on what we are to do to prepare for that magnificent climactic event. We are to grow in our personal character of righteousness, holiness, and godliness. We are to avoid sin, worldliness, and all doctrinal compromise.
As we have noticed, the popular prophetic teachers blueprint for the future may sound quite convincing. Never mind that some Scriptural verses are lifted from their immediate and broader context and made to do service to their system of prophetic interpretation. Never mind that a large amount of human speculation and fertile imagination is involved. Never mind that some scriptures must be twisted and distorted to fit into their futuristic theories. Never mind that hundreds of date-setters of the past have ignominiously failed to predict coming events and been proven in error on the date of Christs return.
Seemingly this is what popular religion thrives on. Sermons with this theme can bring out the people. Books on the subject are ever-popular. Without doubt, our Lords second coming fascinates our mind and stirs up our curiosity.
Our study, in contrast, shows that we should not only be interested in the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2, the antichrist of 1 John 2, the two beasts of Revelation 13, and the abomination of desolation of Matthew 24, but we should have another emphasis. Yes, we are to take note of these difficult references in Scripture, but we should be highly motivated to live presently in light of whatever comes to pass. We should grow spiritually for the Lord!
Many have been mistaken about prophetic events. Charles Taze Russell was mistaken about Christs return, even though the so-called Jehovahs Witnesses continue to hold to his prophetic scheme. William Miller was mistaken about Christs return in 1843 and 1844, even though Ellen G. White and others used the latter date in her prophetic scheme. Hal Lindsay was wrong about Christs return one generation after Israel became a nation in 1948. And Harold Camping was wrong about Christs return on various occasions, beginning in 1988.
Lets not become embroiled in such speculations; rather, lets live holy and righteous lives right now. This we know: Christ Jesus is coming back. He will come back in the clouds, with power and glory. He will come back to destroy those who do not know Him and who do not obey the gospel of Christ, His Son. He will come to be glorified in His holy ones on that welcome day!
Lets look for the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior, Christ Jesus and welcome Him with open arms and worshipful hearts (cf. Titus 2:13). In the mean time, lets live our lives in love, faithfulness, holiness, and truth. Eternity is before us! Earthly trials will be in the past and future joys will be ours. Praise to our glorious God through Jesus Christ, His Son!
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