Wednesday
Jul302008

Jesus Is Coming Soon?

The song says something about Jesus coming soon, morning or night or noon.

Soon being a relative term since the song itself was copyrighted in 1942 and renewed in 1980 and Jesus has not come even yet, nearly three decades later.

The truth is that no one knows how soon Jesus will come back and ever before he left, he urged his believers not to engage in prognosticating about the timing of his return. After listing a number of signs that would portend the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Lord commented on his second coming: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

Of course, at that point, the disciples didn’t really expect Jesus to be going far. Peter had rejected that notion soon after his famous and courageous confession, going so far as to promise to defend his Great Commander to the death (see Matthew 16:21-23, 26:30-35). The other apostles heartily agreed and, indeed, when his betrayer approached, Peter assaulted the officer who would dare arrest Jesus (Luke 22:47-53).

Instead of commending his swordsmanship, Jesus reproved Peter, healed Malchus’s ear and went away in chains. Peter was devastated because he imagined Jesus to be a latter-day Gideon, about to muster a force powerful enough to evict the hated Romans from the Holy Land. This alone would be sufficient to explain Peter’s subsequent unwillingness to risk his life for Jesus again when identified as a disciple three times in the high priest’s courtyard (see Matthew 26:69-75). 

It is on the walk to Emmaus, which Luke describes, that Jesus explains how integral his arrest and death were to the actual plan of God – redemption from sin and Satan rather than a Roman occupation of Palestine. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (24:25)?

The Jewish rejection of Jesus as God’s anointed was no surprise, having been foretold since the days of the Law and Prophets (see Isaiah 53:1-12). Neither the cross nor the church was a contingency plan; each was a part of God’s higher mission to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21, Acts 20:28, 2:47). 

Perhaps the sight of a resurrected Teacher only reinvigorated certain nationalistic impulses among the disciples, for when he prepared to ascend back into Heaven without so much as shedding an ounce of Roman blood, they asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)? Dismissing their concerns, Jesus recommissioned them to testify of his good news “to the end of the earth” (1:8). As he rose into the clouds, the disciples stood staring into space, unable to believe their eyes – unwilling to believe he was gone again – heartbroken at his absence – confused about what to do next – until two messengers in white robes announced, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (1:11).

From this point, the promise of his second coming has been the most vital prophecy of Christianity. Others were announced and fulfilled – an apostasy (Acts 20:29-30, First Timothy 4:1-5), the termination of miraculous signs (First Corinthians 13:8-13), the end of Roman persecution (Revelation 18:1-3). Nearly two millennia have passed, however, and many are left to say, “Where is the promise of his coming” (Second Peter 3:4)?

Paul reiterated what the messengers told the disciples, that Jesus would return in the clouds just as he had departed. He explained to the saints in Thessalonica that, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of a trumpet of God” (First Thessalonians 4:16). Nothing suggests that Jesus will soil his glorified feet with earth again, nor that he must try once more to establish an earthly kingdom where some say he failed the first time.

This is the only notice anyone will get that Judgment Day has dawned, and it will leave no opportunity for last-second reformations and restorations (Hebrews 9:27-28). The fates of billions of souls will be utterly and eternally sealed as both the quick and the dead appear before his judgment seat. “And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:17).

Likewise the wicked must bow before Jesus and receive their bitter sentences when he returns. Persecutors, liars, cowards, sodomites, murderers – all are obvious candidates for eternal torment, but in the simplest terms, their number will include “those who do not know God and … those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (Second Thessalonians 1:9; see also Revelation 21:8). All those who spent their lives avoiding God, ejecting him from their homes and thoughts, begging that he would go away will get their wish (see also James 4:7-10). Where Heaven is defined by an intimate divine presence, Hell is the divine absence in outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth upon its soundtrack and an eternity to regret all those expired seasons of indulgence, apathy and rebellion (see Revelation 21:1-4, Second Peter 2:20-22).

Jesus is coming again, but not until his father’s patience is exhausted as he waits and hopes for one more soul to repent and come to know the truth that will set him free from the devil and death (Romans 2:1-11). Jesus is coming without warning, like a thief, and the earth will meet its end. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (Second Peter 3:11-12). 

Are you ready, should Jesus come soon, even very soon?