Christians are those who are ‘looking for the appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13). Yet, has the church today lost faith in the hope of his second coming? There is an indissoluble link between faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and belief in his second coming.
The ‘second coming’
The phrase ‘second coming’ is the term most Christians associate with Jesus’ glorious return. However, the nearest we come to such wording in the Bible is, ‘he will appear a second time’ (Heb. 9:28). Rather, the three words most frequently used to describe Jesus’ return are:
parousia – generally translated ‘coming’,
apocalypse – meaning ‘revelation’,
epiphany – which refers to an ‘appearing’.
The Old Testament does not distinguish between Christ’s first and second comings but speaks in terms of the ‘last days’, which denote the period of time between Jesus’ incarnation and his second coming.
The New Testament, once it has recounted the history of Christ’s first coming, is replete with the prominence, certainty and imminence of Jesus’ second coming. The Lord’s return is mentioned over 300 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament and in every New Testament book, except Galatians. On the eve of his departure, Christ comforted his disciples with his promised return, the apostles preached it as a matter calling for urgent action, and taught its daily relevance (John 14:1-3; Acts 3:20-21; 2 Pet. 3:11-12).
Our Lord said, ‘concerning that day or hour no one knows, but the Father only’ (Matt. 24:36). A Christian knows that faith faces a challenge in keeping alive a balanced view on this ‘open secret’. Our faith has to wrestle with the unambiguous way Jesus pronounced his return, and it was taught by the apostles, with faithfully understanding the enigmatic, inexplicable and sometimes opaque biblical teaching on the manner of his return.
The enigmatic nature of Jesus’ second coming is likened to that of a ‘thief in the night’ – completely unexpected. How disturbing a thought is that? This is how Jesus himself says he will come again. In contrast, Paul tells the Thessalonians they are those who ‘wait for his Son from heaven’ (1 Thess. 1:10) – a deliberate act. They are to be ready. How does one expectantly wait for the unexpected?
The inexplicable nature of our Lord Jesus’ appearance is that it will be a unique, universally visible, sudden, personal and bodily appearance (Rev. 1:7; John 14:3; Acts 1:11; Heb. 9:28). How does one explain that? Which one of us can get their temporal, earth-bound minds around it? Faith has to grasp that which reason and logic struggle to perceive.
The chronology of events leading to Jesus’ return is opaque. When will the moment come when the gospel has been preached to every nation (Matt. 24:14)? How will the great tribulation, the great apostasy, the conversion of Israel and the man of sin come together (Matt 24:29; 2 Thess. 2:3; Rom. 11:26; 2 Thess. 2:4)? Are we to expect these events to occur simultaneously or do they flow out of each other?
The truth is the Bible’s perspicuity reveals a mystery, the details of which we cannot fathom. Faith’s certain expectation of Jesus’ return should not lead to speculation about how and when he will come, for the former galvanises faith whilst the latter detracts from hope’s certainty.
How then should faith embed our Lord’s second coming into our daily lives? First, let faith keep fresh in our hearts the hope that Jesus’ appearing will be the revelation of God’s glory. It will be the climax of the Father’s redemptive work, the completion of the Spirit’s work of sanctification and the finality of Jesus’ gathering in of his church and ushering in of the kingdom. It will be that moment when God will be seen to be all in all, and his glory manifested.
Faith’s hope keeps alive the wonderful personal implications of that glorious event. What a change Christians will know! The average person blinks twelve times a minute and one blink lasts a third of a second; yet in the blink of an eye, believers will be changed! A personal change that will see them witnessing death defeated, mortality swallowed up in immortality, a complete victory won and a ring-side seat to view the deliverance of creation into the glorious liberty of God’s children (1 Cor. 15:51-56; Rom. 8:21).
Faith’s hope reflects on the joy of the completion of being made Christ-like. The life of the Christian is empty and aimless without the prospect of our Lord’s return and our own resurrection, for if our hope is in this life alone, ‘we are of all men most pitiable’ (1 Cor. 15:19). The prospect of seeing Jesus face to face is the primary cause of motivation in sanctification, for, ‘everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3). It is the spring of a patient endurance in living Christ-circumspect lives, as we recall, ‘what manner of persons ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness’ (2 Pet. 3:11).
Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so may I
Rise glorious at the judgement day.
‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!”’ (Rev. 22:17).