“…and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1:10)
No proclamation of the gospel is complete without the thundering, confident assertion that Christ is returning soon.
It’s fully one third of the gospel message: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Its inclusion in the Nicene Creed–“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”–indicates that it is one of the essential, uncompromisable truths of the faith that faithful Christians of all times and places have believed and must continue to believe in order to count themselves Christian.
Of the three parts of the gospel summary, however, Christ will come again is almost certainly the hardest to proclaim because the other two parts, as hard as they may be to share with others, rest safely in the past and involve only a particular belief about what has happened. Christ will come again, on the other hand, is a statement about what will happen–and as Peter points out in 2 Peter 3, it is a claim that almost guarantees ridicule because two thousand years have passed and it hasn’t, you know, happened yet. This likely explains why when you Google a phrase like “The Second Coming of Christ” you do not find yourself discovering the finest in Christian scholarship.
What you do see when you Google a phrase like “The Second Coming of Christ” is, regrettably, exactly what Jesus warns expressly against; namely, speculations on the hour and the day of his return–most frequently in the form of cases being built as to why it’s certain that we are living in the last days and how all the signs point to Christ’s imminent reappearance.
But John MacArthur makes an important observation in his excellent article, Is Christ’s Return Imminent: The New Testament considers the entire Christian age to be “the last days,” and every generation of Christians has thus witnessed the totality of signs Jesus indicated would precede his coming.
This leads to a vital, underobserved truth:
Christ will come again is not a current events claim to be debated; the truth of the claim does not rest on its apparent likelihood of occurrence any more than the other two pillars of the gospel proclamation rest on their apparent plausibility.
That is to say: We believe and proclaim the return of Christ not because we have examined the evidence and stayed up on current events and come to the conclusion that, by George, all the signs are there, but rather because God is trustworthy and fulfills every word he speaks and every promise he makes. If Christ says (as he does in Revelation 22:7), “Behold, I am coming soon,” then we proclaim this and live according to this as an act of faith. It is neither shaken nor bolstered by what we see with our eyes any more than any other act of faith. It is simply the nature of what it means to believe in God.
One terribly overlooked aspect of this is God’s penchant for performance art. Throughout both testaments, God instructs his faithful followers to portray–not simply talk about, discuss, or argue for–various events that he will, in his own time, fulfill. Ask the prophet Ezekiel about his eating dung bread, laying siege to a tile, laying on first one side and then the other, and cutting and burning parts of his own hair. Consider why the Passover meal is always to be eaten in haste “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.” For that matter, ask Noah about the impact of building the ark in public for a very, very long time.
When, in other words, you live out the proclamation that Christ will come again, it will be hard for that to escape the notice of your neighbors, who then must determine what they think about and how they will respond to this claim. For that matter, and perhaps even more importantly, it will be hard for that to escape your own notice–which is likely at least part of what Jesus had in mind when he commanded the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated as a commemoration of his death until he comes. I doubt Jesus is concerned that we do the Lord’s Supper so frequently that it ceases to be special; I imagine he is concerned that we do it so seldom that we frequently forget to portray to ourselves and others in the household of faith that he is coming soon.
Christ will come again is a script to be acted out faithfully until he does come again–whenever that may be. Carrying out the script serves its own purpose, in other words, apart from the event itself. And it is a script that requires serious consideration on our part as to how we play the role well. The Apostle Paul, for example, says quitting your job (on the thought, “If he’s coming soon, why work?) is bad acting, and along with that he’d probably include other tropes like quitting school, opting out of social security, and not paying your taxes.
Why? Because we are being fitted to rule in a new heavens and a new earth. and the best way to prepare for that is to be faithful to rule over our present sphere of influence well as we prepare for it to be expanded.
Still, every aspect of our life should be examined according to this script: Should I be doing this/buying this/watching this/preparing for this/worrying over this if I am acting out the script, Christ will come again? Yesterday on the way to our Sunday household worship practice, for example, I saw what had to be the world’s largest RV rocketing down the other side of the road. As it passed, I saw that it had a golf cart attached to the back. Worth asking: If everything is poised to go up in flames at any moment (as Peter indicates in 2 Peter 3), is that really the best investment?
And that is perhaps the best advice I can give you today on how to enact the Christ will come again script: Get in the habit of asking the question, “Given the flammability of everything I see/touch/think, how should I be living/investing/thinking/acting today?”
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.