Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Coming of the Lord

What do you think would be the biggest event that could occur on the world scene? Another world war? The discovery of a cure for some dread disease? World peace, once and for all? Contact with some extraterrestrial intelligence?

For millions of Christians, the answer to this question is simple: The biggest event that could ever occur is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The Bible’s central message

The whole story of the Bible centers on the coming of Jesus Christ as Savior and King.

In the Garden of Eden, our first parents, by sinning, fractured their relationship with God. But God foretold the coming of a Redeemer who would repair that spiritual break. To the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to sin, God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Genesis 3:15).

This is the Bible’s earliest prophecy of a Savior who would smash the power that sin and death hold over humans ("he will crush your head"). How? By the sacrificial death of the Savior ("you will strike his heel"). Jesus accomplished this at his first coming. John the Baptist recognized him as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

The Bible reveals the central importance of God becoming flesh at the first coming of Jesus Christ. The Bible also reveals that Jesus is coming now, in the lives of believers. And the Bible most surely states that he will come again, visibly and in power. Jesus Christ actually comes in three ways:

Jesus has already come

We humans need God’s redemption—his rescue—because Adam and Eve sinned, bringing death on the world. Jesus accomplished that redemption by dying in our place. "God was pleased," wrote Paul in Colossians 1:19-20, "to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Jesus healed the breach that first occurred in Eden. Through his sacrifice, the human family is reconciled to God.

Old Testament prophecy pointed to the kingdom of God in the future. But the New Testament opens with Jesus "proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come.... The kingdom of God is near,’" he said (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus, the King of the kingdom, was walking among humans! Jesus offered "for all time one sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:12). We should never underestimate the import of Jesus’ incarnation, life and work two millennia ago.

Jesus came. Also —

Jesus is coming now

There is good news for those who believe in Christ: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.... But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions" (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5).

God has raised us with Christ, spiritually, now! Through his grace, "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (verses 6-7). This passage describes our present condition as followers of Jesus Christ!

God "has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade" (1 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus lives in us now (Galatians 2:20). We have been born again, spiritually, and can see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Asked when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied: "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21). Jesus was in the midst of Pharisees, but he lives within Christians. Jesus Christ brought the kingdom in his person.

In the same way, as he now lives in us, he inaugurates the kingdom of God. Jesus’ coming to live in us also anticipates the ultimate revelation of the kingdom on earth at Jesus’ second coming.

But why does Jesus live in us now? Notice: "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10). God has saved us by grace, through no effort of our own. But though works cannot earn us salvation, Jesus lives in us so that we may now do good works and thereby glorify God.

Jesus came. He is coming. And —

Jesus will come again

After Jesus’ resurrection, as his disciples watched him ascend to heaven, two angels asked: "Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Yes, Jesus is coming again.

At his first coming, Jesus left some messianic predictions unfulfilled. This was one reason his own people, the Jews, rejected him. They saw the Messiah as a national hero who would free them from Roman domination.

But the Messiah was to come, first, to die for all humanity. Only later would Jesus Christ return as a conquering king, and then not just to exalt Israel, but to claim all earth’s kingdoms as his own. "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

"I am prepare a place for you," Jesus told his disciples. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:23).

Jesus’ Olivet prophecy (Matthew 24:1-25, 46) addressed Christ’s disciples’ questions and concerns about his return and the end of this age.

Later, the apostle Paul told the church how "the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). At Christ’s return, he will raise to immortality the righteous dead and change to immortality the faithful who are still alive, and they will all meet him in the air (verses 16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

But when?

Throughout the centuries, speculation about the second coming has caused uncounted arguments—and untold disappointment when prognosticators’ various scenarios failed. Overemphasizing the when of Jesus’ return can divert our minds from the central focus of the gospel—Jesus’ saving work for all humans, accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and continuing redemptive work as our heavenly High Priest.

We can become so engrossed in prophetic speculation that we fail to fulfill the rightful role of Christians as lights to the world, exemplifying the loving, merciful, Christlike way of life and glorifying God by serving our fellow humans.

"When anyone’s interest in the Scriptural announcements of the Last Things and the second advent degenerates into a subtle drawing up of precisely worked-out future events, then he has strayed a long way from the content and spirit of Jesus’ prophetic utterances," says The New International Commentary on the New Testament on Luke, page 544.

Our focus?

If knowing when Christ will return is not possible (and therefore, by comparison to what the Bible does tell us, unimportant), then where should we focus our energies as Christians? Our focus should be on being ready for Jesus’ second coming whenever it occurs!

"You also must be ready," Jesus said, "because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44). "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22). We need to be ready for him to come into our life right now, and to direct our life right now.

The Bible’s focal point

The whole Bible revolves around the coming of Jesus Christ. As Christians, our lives should revolve around his coming, too.

Jesus came. He is coming through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit now. Jesus Christ will come again. Jesus will return in all glory to "transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). Then, "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).

Yes, I am coming soon, says our Savior. And as Christians, believers in and disciples of Jesus Christ, we all can reply in unison: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).

Is The End Near? from LuMeL on Vimeo.

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