24 – He Shall Come Again

Here Comes The Second Coming

Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead!”

This line in the creed speaks about 2 things. One is the Second Coming; and the other is the Day of Judgment.

The first one has become almost unbelievable, and the other one has become unacceptable in our culture.

The first, The Second Coming, is difficult to believe because it has not happened yet, as far as we know.  As I say, as far as we know, because there are other opinions. Some say,

  • He came again when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost
  • He comes individually every time a person is converted.
  • He comes whenever 2 or 3 are met together in His name
  • He comes to meet every saint in their moment of dying.

But the majority voice of the church continues to believe that one day he shall return personally.

But even that causes some consternation.  Jesus seemed to expect his return within one generation. The Early Church believed his return would be “soon”. They believed that they were living in “The last days”, even “the last hour”.  He had said, “Behold I come quickly” and they understood that to mean sooner than later.

But, we have been waiting for this train to come for a long time, and 2 thousand years later we are still waiting at the station.  St. Peter, however, suspects that his return may not be soon.  “Where is the promise of his coming,” ask the cynics. Peter responds, “God is not slow concerning his promise….But, one day is like a thousand years…” because he is not willing that any should perish.

Why the delay?  We can only guess.

  • The church in the power of the Holy Spirit has a job to do, and it has not been accomplished yet. So the suggestion is He will return when the church has fulfilled its calling.
  • Similar voices tell us that we must get the story to all nations first, and then the end will come.
  • Oswald J. Smith preached “Bring the King back!” He presumed that the date of Christ’s  return is a moveable date, based on the church’s obedience.

Of course it is a mystery to us all. Even Jesus will say “But as for that hour, only the Father knows,” not even the angels or Jesus himself or his followers, and not Hal Lindsey, or Tim LeHaye, or any of the rest of us.

The bizarre & the unbelievable

I think that I have spoken about the Second Coming of Christ and the End of the World only three or four times during the past 40 years.  There is a reason for that.  It is cowardice.

I have not wanted to be counted among those who speak too often and with too much precision about the end of history and the return of Christ.  To be very frank with you, I find the usual descriptions of those end-time events quite unbelievable.  In fact, when I see people pulling out their charts and graphs and cosmic calendars I get very nervous.  They usually hold their views with such deep conviction that they try to pressure me into agreeing with them, and my credulity cannot bend that far.   And if I disagree with them on any of the details, I find myself being put on trial and being asked to explain myself.

So silence is the safer option.  If I simply ignore the subject, the debate might go away.  So cowardice is the reason for my silence.   But I’m not really a coward.   And since I have chose to speak about the lines of the Creed, I have no choice!  I do so for another very practical reason. Some time ago we suffered from Millennial fever.  The end of the last millennium brought more cranks out of the closet.  They tried to persuade us that the end was upon us.  They tried to create fear and panic among the gullible.  I would like to be a counter balance to what I see is a continuing trend.  Franklin Graham even suggested recently that if the USA re-elected Barak Obama it would usher in the Antichrist and the end of the world.

But you ask, why do I have a hard time believing in the usual descriptions found in the books written by prophecy experts or in the vivid offerings of TV evangelists?  Because they seem to make a cartoon out of important truths.  The prophecy experts love to talk about secret raptures with the attendant crashing planes and trains.  They talk about the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the coming of the Antichrist from the European Union or from Russia or more recently, from the Islamic world.  Some talk about stocking our basement bunkers with extra food against the coming of the great tribulation and some worry about the Mark of the Beast being slipped on them in some unguarded moment.   I listen to these urgent voices and the whole thing becomes even more unbelievable to me.

But fools rush in where angels fear to tread and wise men never go. So let me attempt o rescue a great truth from the hands of its friends.

But before we look at the Christian teaching on the question of the end of all things and the second coming of Christ, let me turn your attention to two other alternatives that the church has rightfully rejected.

1.         The cycle of meaninglessness in the ancient orient

 The early church was born into an oriental culture.   The ancient world of Babylon and Persia and then Greece and Rome had bought into an old idea.   They believed that life went in circles.  Just as day follows night which follows day which follows night in unending cycles, and just as the moon waxes and wanes in its never-ending cycle, and just as the year follow a cycle of endlessly repeating seasons, so history follows a similar cycle. What is, has already been. What has been, will be again.

 And in this ancient perspective, there is no progress, no beginning, no conclusion, no plot to the story of history, no meaning to life, just a dizzy spinning of life generation by generation.  We are all like people lost in the woods, thinking we are making progress only to find ourselves back where we were before.  We are traveling fast, but going nowhere, getting nowhere, because there is nowhere to get to.  Time is like a great circle.  It has no beginning and it has no end.  As one of Shakespeare’s characters says, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Because of that the entire ancient world was fatalistic.  “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be.”  So let us eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.

2.         The mindless evolution of time and chance in our day

There is a second perspective on this issue that is much more modern.  There are those who tell us that life is an accident.  By some strange quirk of chance, a universe came into being, and by some rather remarkable strokes of blind luck, life came into existence on this planet, and by other strange turns of chance, simple creatures transmuted into even more complex creatures until you and I arrived on the scene.

Then during the millions of years of slow change we developed a strange quirk of our own.  We began to think that life must have meaning and purpose.  But of course, these persuasive voices insist, it doesn’t.  Oh, we long for purpose and for progress – but it is a false hope. There is no purpose to life, except living it as comfortably as possible.  And since there is nothing beyond this life, let us make the best of this one.

No purpose, no plan, no destination to history, or to any of our lives, except to live as well as we can, for as long as we can.  I suspect that this view of things is one of the causes for the sense of meaninglessness and despair that pervades our culture. We do not know where we have come from, what we are supposed to be doing here, and where we are going other than the grave. So let us eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow we die.

However, many of these voices do believe in the end of the world as we know it.  They fear the end may come by means of an ecological disaster, or a self-induced nuclear war, or by the eventual death of the universe due to old age.

 3.         History with purpose: Origin, Continuance, Conclusion.

I need to mention that I believe in evolution as well as creation.  But I cannot for the life of me believe in mindless evolution, or mere accidental change.  I am convinced and so is the Christian Church that there is a backbone of meaning that runs through nature, and through human society and through the choosing of Israel and through the coming of Jesus Christ into our life 2,000 years ago, and through the creation of His church.

When Ancient Israel began writing the book we call the Old Testament, they began with a beginning point.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”   Matter was not eternal.  Only God was.  And life was no accident, but a gift from God who created this thing of beauty, this world too fair for words.

But then Israel does a very strange thing.  They not only tell a Creation story, they begin to write a history.  The rest of the ancient world was writing fairy stories. Writing songs. Writing stories about mythical heroes.  But they never wrote histories.  Because to most nations, life was going nowhere.  There was no plot to trace; there was no purpose to human life.  There was no intended outcome.

But Israel knew that God had invited them to help change the course of human events, to help move it towards its intended end.   That is what the call of Abraham is all about.  Before Abraham came, chaos reigned in a world growing up without any sense of purpose.  But after God called Abraham, the story of human life becomes a great drama heading to an even greater destination.

The Prophets of Israel kept talking about it.   They pointed out a future that Israel and the world could arrive at, if they followed God into the future.  Then Jesus and the writers of the New Testament continued to point to the future, and to invite people of both Jewish and Gentile origins to participate in the great goal of helping to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

It is for that reason that all the scriptures assert that God created all things with a purpose in mind.  And asserted too that history is going somewhere even now, and one day will come to its grand conclusion, when Christ will hand over the Kingdom to His Father.

When that will be, is not disclosed.  Every generation has thought that it may very well be in their lifetime.  That has not yet happened.  St. Peter knows that the time line may be long.  With God, one day is like a millennium, but history has purpose and so does the church.

4.         The indescribability of the end of the process.

But some of us want more detail.  We want to know the when, and the how, and the who, of those end times.   But here is the difficulty.  First – knowing those details will not help us live life.  And secondly – knowing the details is impossible for us.

For with what language can we speak that describes what is actually indescribable?  How could we describe something so different than what we have ever known?  The Bible when speaking about the end of all things is forced to leave literal language behind and must use the language of the poets and the prophets.  Prophets describe what they see, but know that they look through a glass darkly.  But they also know that what they dimly see from a distance, is something substantial and real, even if it is beyond all their abilities to speak about it clearly.   Their language is strange, because they have no language that can approximate the reality that one day will dawn.

So they describe the end with trumpets blowing, and the appearance of Christ in the heavens.  They speak of bright lights and loud sounds, and angel hosts and apocalyptic horsemen, and darkened moons and falling suns and melting planets and the dislocation of all things normal.  These words are the best that our broken language can do, to describe the indescribable event of the end of all things, and the renewal of all things.

But what is the bottom line in all my words.  Very simple.  Two things –

  • There was a beginning point to all that exists, and one day there will be a conclusion.  A grand finale.  A day for a graduation celebration.
  • And secondly, all this is of very practical consequences for you and me: Life has purpose.

History is being guided by the Sovereign God to its great destination. And God has called the church to join Him in helping bring His Kingdom into every part of human life.  The work of the Church is one of God’s major means for getting all of us to that great destination when sin, suffering, loss and death will have been swallowed up in life – life that is eternal.

And finally I would remind us that our personal lives can have purpose too. Meaninglessness is the curse of our day.  For so many, nothing is worth living for or dying for.  “We lay waste our powers.”  “We are the hollow men.”   But if we were to connect with the great purpose of God, you and I could discover that our personal lives can be meaningful.

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