Growing up in a Christian home, ever since I can remember, one fact was impressed on my mind: Jesus is coming again! Jesus is coming again, and He is coming soon!
I remember one home we lived in, right on the edge of the wheat fields in Washington state. A tall fir tree grew right next to the house, and as a kid I climbed that tree and built a tiny platform, high up in the branches. I remember going outside, climbing up to that little platform and just sitting there. I’d look out to the east, over the waving fields of wheat, and watch the clouds float by on the breeze. “When is He coming back?” I would wonder to myself. Maybe today? I would squint my eyes at the clouds, trying to see if perhaps one of them was carrying Jesus.
When would He come back? Would I have time to finish school? Would I ever get a job? Maybe get married? I must confess, there have been times when I hoped He wouldn’t return too soon. Far too many times when I had more desire for things in this world, than for our heavenly home. Perhaps, yes, a fear—if He did come, would I be ready to meet Him? It’s a struggle, no doubt, that every Christian has faced.
But what does the Bible say about this grand and glorious event? Is Jesus’ coming a Biblical reality, or a figment of childish imagination? Should we expect a literal and physical coming, or are the prophecies speaking of something more spiritual? Is it something, perhaps, that’s already happened, something far in the distant future, or is this an event we should expect and prepare for now in our lifetimes? These are a few questions I hope to explore today as we take another walk in God’s beautiful creation!
He had lived with them for three and a half years. Then, they had seen him die on a cross. Their hopes had been dashed, but the third day, He had risen again. Now for forty days since his resurrection, they had had time to fellowship, to eat together, to hear his teaching and encouragement just as before. Their joy had returned—they knew without a doubt that Jesus was their Lord and Saviour, and that He is still alive.
Luke records what happens next in Luke 24:50-51 “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.”
Luke begins his second account, in the book of Acts, right where he leaves off, but he tells the story of Jesus ascension in a bit more detail:
Acts 1:9-11 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
This was by no means the first time the disciples had heard this message. In fact, if there was one topic that Jesus emphasized above all others, it might have to be this subject of his going away and soon return. He had said to his disciples:
John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
Jesus to Pilate: Matthew 26:64: Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Over and over again, Jesus emphasizes to His disciples the importance of being ready for His return. In parable after parable, and teaching after teaching, he speaks of this idea that, after a time of “probation” if you will, when Christians are given an opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of grace, a time of judgment will come. A return of the master, when a reckoning will be demanded. The solemn story I shared last week touched on this theme of judgment. We have spoken at length about the reward of the faithful. But today I want to focus specifically on this climactic event that Jesus foretells, again and again.
When will Jesus return? We find these words in Luke 12:39-40 “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
So, if we can’t know exactly when He will return, why should we be concerned? After all, it’s been nearly 2,000 years and He hasn’t come back. Whose to say He couldn’t wait another 10,000 years or more?
Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:32-33 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!”
In fact, most of the chapter of Matthew 24 is Jesus’ teaching on the signs of His soon return. He gives His disciples specific events that will be fulfilled in preparation for His coming. We could study this at length, but we won’t do that today. But suffice it to say, that as you read these signs, and compare these with things that we have seen in history, and yes things that are happening even today—I’m convinced that we are living in the very last days and hours of this earth’s history!
What will Jesus’ second coming look like? Is this some kind of secret event? Perhaps a spiritual coming—a revival among the hearts of men? A beginning of a thousand years of peace and prosperity upon this earth? I’ve heard all of these theories and more being taught among Christians.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a Christian pastor, who told me he didn’t believe Jesus would come again. He proceeded to give me a Bible study about how Jesus coming represented a spiritual phenomena, and we shouldn’t expect to see Him literally again.
But Jesus Himself says in Matthew 24:26-27, “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
You know friends, if we would just commit these two verses to heart, I believe we could avoid a lot of deception. How many people have come claiming to be Christ? But have any of these pretenders come in flaming glory, riding on the clouds of heaven?
Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”
Every eye shall see him. A popular theory these days is the so-called “secret rapture.” It’s based on the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, where he says his coming would be “like a thief” and that “one will be taken and the other left.” But Jesus explains Himself clearly—he says it will be like the days of Noah. Certainly the flood came as a surprise to the unbelieving world, but once the flood carried away the wicked inhabitants, it was no secret!
Peter says in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night…” If we stop right there, we might be justified in believing in this secret rapture theory. But keep reading in the same verse, we see: “in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” Now, that doesn’t sound like a secret, to me!
Not just for Peter and John, but really for all the apostles and early believers – the second coming of Christ was the center of their faith and hope. At first, just like when I was a child, they expected to see Him return within a few days or years. As time went on, we find the apostles continually encouraging the believers to keep up their hope in His return.
James 5:7-9 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
As time went on, and one after another of the believers died in the hope of Christ’s coming, some became troubled. What would happen to those who had died, while waiting for Jesus to return? Would they miss out on all their hopes and dreams? Paul answers this in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
There is so much in this passage that I fear many of us, as Christian, have forgotten. I don’t want to divert to a different topic, but let me say this: much of the Christian world has adopted a lot of ideas about death that come, not from the Bible, but from Greek and Pagan mythology. We’ve embraced the belief in a mind-body dualism, in which your soul – the real essence of “you” – is inherently immortal and continues to live in eternal consciousness after death. In this view, the death of the body becomes the gateway to eternity, a “liberating” of the soul from the shackles of this life. As such, there is no need of a resurrection. The dead are not asleep, but awake. In the popular Christian view, the dead live on in either heaven or hell, in eternal consciousness either in bliss or in torment for all eternity. The resurrection becomes meaningless, and judgment by definition must happen at the moment of death, or before. Therefore, what meaning does Jesus’ second coming even have, except as a means of escape for the few who remain at the end of the world?
What does Paul say? He speaks of the dead as “asleep.” Not awake and conscious—not already in heaven or hell, but sleeping. Waiting until the great resurrection, when that trumpet will sound and “the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Oh, what a glorious day that will be! I can’t wait, my friends. To see my father, who all his life longed to see Jesus coming in the clouds. He will be there, raised from the grave at the sound of that trumpet. My grandfather, who spent his life preaching the words of this book—He will rise, too. And together, we will meet the Lord “in the air.”
I think this is an important point, too. Remember, Jesus says in John 14 that He will take us from here, to His home with His heavenly father. And in 1 Thessalonians 4, we rise to meet Him in the air. My friends, if anyone ever tells you that Jesus’ second coming is about setting up a glorious utopia here on this earth, remember these verses. Jesus warns over and over of false Christs and false prophets. Any Christ that shows up on this earth can’t fulfill these prophecies. Yes, it’s true that at a later time, God will come and re-create this earth, too, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth. But that’s later. At the second coming, Jesus doesn’t touch the ground—we go to meet Him in the air!
But it still begs the question: why have we waited so long? Can we still count on His coming soon? Paul gives prophetic insight to the Thessalonian believers in 2 Thessalonians 2. He spoke of a great apostasy that would come across the Christian church first—a time that we have seen in history during the 1,260 years of darkness and persecution of the middle ages.
Revelation gives an even clearer picture. Jesus reveals to his servant in symbols the history of the world, from John’s day down to our own. Over and over, the theme rings again: Jesus is coming, and he is coming soon!
Revelation 22:12 “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”
If Jesus is coming so quickly, what does that have to do with you and me? Or, in the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:11-12 “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…”
If we truly believe this, how will our lives change? Certainly, we wouldn’t want to be like those unfaithful servants, who said, “My master is delaying his coming” (Matthew 24:48). Has Jesus, like the master in the parable, given us a work to do?
While we don’t have time today to study all the signs of Jesus coming, I want to go back to this one verse, in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
My friends, this message of the soon return of our Lord and Savior should mean everything to our lives. It’s not just a fire-escape. Not a life-insurance plan, to get us where we want to go after we die. No—this should be our one goal in life, not only to long for but, as Peter says, to “hasten” the coming of our Lord. Because as we are faithful in living the Good News in our lives and in sharing this Good News with others, then the world will hear, and soon every decision will be made.
Now that is not to say, as some may be tempted to believe, that it all depends on us. No, it doesn’t. And no, He will not wait forever. He will cut short the work “in righteousness” (Romans 9:28).
In ancient times, God called the prophet Elijah to lead a great reformation in Israel. After three years without rain, all Israel came together for a great demonstration on Mount Carmal. Who is the God who can answer by fire? And when fire came down from the mountain in answer to Elijah’s prayer, the congregation of Israel proclaimed with one voice, “The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39)
Elijah told Ahab to go eat and drink, because there was the sound of abundance of rain. But there was no literal sound of rain. Elijah climbed to the top of Carmal and began to pray. Seven times, he sent his servant to go look out over the sea. Each time, the servant came back and reported, “there is nothing.” But on the seventh time, the servant reported, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea.” (1 Kings 18:44) That tiny cloud was the sign Elijah was waiting for. He sent the message to Ahab, “Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.” Before Elijah and Ahab made it back to Jezreel, the rain came pouring down.
Friends, I believe the conditions are right. Just like Israel, there on Mount Carmal, world today is on the brink of a tremendous crisis. I cannot predict the future, and I cannot say for certain that this present crisis is the last. But I believe each day the news gets worse, and this world is headed quickly to a point where every soul will have to make a decision. Just like in the days of Elijah, every one will choose—worship God, or worship the idols of man’s making? Once that decision is made, Michael will stand up as it is written in Daniel 12:1. Terrible calamities will befall the world, but God’s people will be delivered. Then, just as that small cloud appeared on the horizon in the days of Elijah, so we will see that cloudy chariot shimmering on the eastern horizon.
Jesus says in Matthew 24:30-31 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
My appeal to you today, my friend, is simple: which side will you be on? Are you preparing each and every day, for this great day of God? I know it’s tempting to say, “ah, I have time. He’s not coming tomorrow.” But that is exactly the trap the devil wants us to fall into. Because as long as we put off that preparation until tomorrow long enough, soon the day will come when we won’t have a tomorrow. Soon it may be too late. None of us is promised tomorrow. And sadly, the scripture testifies that day, many will be unprepared:
Revelation 6:14-17 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. 15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Who will be able to stand? Certainly not those who have put off the preparation. Certainly not those who have tried to prepare by hording up riches, and honor, and power, and every good thing this world has to offer. No, not even those who have tried in their own works to please God—for many will say “Lord Lord” only to hear the response “I never knew you.”
No—only those whose hearts are sealed by Christ. Only those whose lives are covered in His righteousness, and who are daily abiding in relationship with him.
It’s not hard, friends. It’s not rocket science. It’s not something to be afraid of—even the weakest, most sinful child of God can stand with confidence in that day. We can say with Paul:
“Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14
Then, on that great morning, we will have no need to fear. Then, as we see our glorious Lord and Savior, coming on the clouds to take us home, we will look up and proclaim in the words of Isaiah:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)
In the closing words of Revelation:
Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!