Always alert and awake

What we believe about Christ’s return

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Photo: Lightstock; Inbetween

War in the Middle East always sparks a renewed interest among Christians regarding what the Bible says about the end times, what theologians call the study of eschatology. In recent generations the formation of the state of Israel, the rising threat of nuclear Armageddon, the collapse of the USSR and other massive geo-political events have spurred interest again and again. And in a way, that’s a good thing.

The eagerness to know more may be for the wrong reasons: Who is the antichrist? Is the rapture about to happen? But in Scripture, Jesus calls us again and again to be alert and awake. “So you, too, must keep watch!… You also must be ready all the time” (Matt. 24:42,44); “Stay alert!” (Mark 13:33).

“We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will return visibly and triumphantly at the end of the present age. The church must always be prepared to meet the Lord, living in expectation of his imminent return.” 

So, having been recently alerted and awakened, what are, in fact, the main truths regarding the end times that every believer needs to know? I am deeply indebted to David Ewert and his outstanding book, And Then Comes the End. I cannot commend it more highly.

Our Confession of Faith answers these questions in Article 18, Christ’s Final Triumph. It starts like this: “We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will return visibly and triumphantly at the end of the present age. The church must always be prepared to meet the Lord, living in expectation of his imminent return.”

At the center of our belief, then, is the return of Jesus, a return that he speaks of frequently and that the apostles affirm again and again. In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus says, “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Paul says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.”

So, what do we believe about that day?

We believe that we do not know the hour of his appearing. Jesus made this clear in Mark 13:32, saying, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” And again, in Matthew 24:42 Jesus says, “For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”

We believe, along with each generation of believers in history, that Christ’s return is imminent. We believe this because Jesus taught us to think this way and the apostles modeled this posture for us. Many Christians mistakenly think of the last days as the very last events prior to Jesus’ return. But as David Ewert explains, “The New Testament . . . equates them [the last days] with the new era introduced by Christ’s work of redemption accomplished at his first advent.  We can say that all Christians throughout the interim have lived and are living in the last days.” This is why Jesus repeatedly calls us to be alert and ready at all times.

It will be a day of resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 fills us with hope that at Jesus’ return, “the believers who have died will rise from their graves.” Jesus speaks of that day in John 5 as the day when “all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of the God’s Son, and they will rise again.” What a call that will be. What a commanding shout.

It will be a day of judgment. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says that when Jesus appears from heaven, “he will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” Revelation pictures a great white throne where all are judged and “anyone whose name is not found recorded in the book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).

It will be a day of new creation. Peter speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13). Paul speaks of our mortal bodies being transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Cor. 15:53). John describes at length the beauty of heaven coming to earth as a city (Rev. 21).

It will be a day with Jesus. It’s important to remember that along with all of the “big picture” truths and beliefs that we affirm, there is a deeply personal facet to the return of Jesus. Remember how he speaks of it to his disciples in John 14:3, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” He, too, anticipates the day when he can be with his bride.

How should we live?

Given these things that we believe, how should we then live, to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer?

We are taught first to be “ready all the time” (Luke 12:40) and to “keep alert at all times” (Luke 21:36). We are looking for Jesus’ return and busy with the work that he has given us to do, the work of making more eager disciples. We are keeping an eye on the signs of the times and living as if today was our last day before Jesus’ return. Like the wise bridesmaids we should be found ready and waiting when the shout to meet the bridegroom rings out (Luke 25:1-13).

Second, we should expect challenges, difficulties and even persecution as we go about the work of making disciples.  Paul comforts the church in Thessalonica regarding Jesus’ return precisely because they are suffering persecution and hardship (2 Thess. 1:5) and he describes the time when “God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven” (2 Thess. 1:7).

The whole purpose of the book of Revelation was and is to encourage believers who were experiencing extreme hardship. And Jesus himself warns the disciples that “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33). The return of Jesus gives us an entirely unique and hopeful outlook on life in this world.

Finally, we are to eagerly anticipate and long for his coming. 1 Corinthians 1:7 says, “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (see also 1 Thess. 1:10). Hebrews 9:28 says, “He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” So, are we eager?

There are few contemporary worship songs being written about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but I’ll close with some of the lyrics from a recent exception, a favorite of mine by Chris Tomlin, “Even So Come”:

“Like a bride

Waiting for her groom

We’ll be a church

Ready for you

Every heart longing for our King . . .

Even so, come”

“The Spirit and bride say, ‘Come’ . . . Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:17, 20).

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