WE HAVE SEEN THAT THERE IS A GATHERING unto Him connected with His death, a gathering unto Him arising from His resurrection, a gathering unto Him associated with His Name, and finally there is a gathering unto Him peculiar and particular to His coming back again. A Saviour to come, to come back again, is constantly kept before us in the Scriptures; and a Saviour to come, to come back again, is the hope and expectation of every well-instructed child of God. The New Testament clearly teaches that believers are to look for their Lord’s return from heaven, and to expect that His coming would be visible, personal, and real: as visible, personal, and real as His departure had been. Having, like the Thessalonian believers, ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’, it is intended that we should ‘wait for his Son from heaven’, 1 Thess. 1. 10. We should be joyfully anticipating ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him’, 2 Thess. 2. 1. Unhappily, for many, the subject of the coming of the Lord has lost its savour because of conflicting systems of interpretation, and in dealing with this subject it is not our purpose to add anything to this regrettable state of things by being controversial. The doctrine of the Lord’s coming was never intended to be a matter of controversy or debate, but of comfort, inspiration, and hope. We are here concerned with that which is positive and constructive, and we must confess to having little liking for controversy, the dust of which has blinded and bewildered so many. To see clearly we must climb steeply; and if we are to see the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in its true and proper perspective, we must get above the obscuring dust of controversy.
It is characteristic of the New Testament to follow statements of Christian doctrine with exhortations to Christian practice. It is incumbent, therefore, on all who name the name of Christ to ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’, Titus 2. 10. This is no less true of the doctrine of our Lord’s return, and herein lies its greatest value. It is intended to regulate our walk as a heavenly people, to keep us in heart-separation from an ungodly world, and to influence every aspect of Christian life and conduct. Such was its effect in the earlier centuries of the Church’s history, and Gibbon the historian testifies to this. Speaking of the doctrine of the Lord’s return, he says: ‘this doctrine was not only the reigning sentiment of orthodox believers: it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christians’. So it should be now: ‘Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’ involves ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts’ and ‘living soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’, Titus 2. 12, 13. Here the coming of the Lord is seen in its true perspective. It is not the time and manner of His coming, but the fact of His coming and its moral effect upon the heart and lives of believers, that matter most. Here also is the secret of its separating, transforming, and sanctifying power: for ‘we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure’, 1 John 3. 2, 3.
The essence and power of this hope whether to comfort or to sanctify, depend not upon when and how He comes, but upon the absolute certainty that He will come. Many study prophecy without any consideration of its moral implications; they regard it as a novelty or as a matter of mere curiosity, and it effects them spiritually not at all. Nor is this surprising, for, as we have just seen, it is the fact of our Lord’s coming and not portents or events associated with it, which con¬stitutes the soul-comforting, soul-sanctifying hope.
We have not got everything yet, for hope implies something future. When God called us by His grace He gave us a wonderful hope, and this hope is inseparably connected with our heavenly calling. Our hope is the hope of the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven: He is coming back again.
WHO IS COMING BACK AGAIN?
Paul says: ‘the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout’, 1. Thess. 4. 16; and our Lord says: ‘I will come again, and receive you unto myself, John 14. 3. Our hope is in the personal return of the Lord Jesus. We are going to see His face, that once disfigured face, and in that wonderful moment shall be like Him.
WHEN IS HE COMING BACK AGAIN?
We do not know for no date has ever been given. After all what have we to do with dates, we who ‘walk by faith, not by sight’? Our great business is to see to it that we are morally fit for His coming. When men are presented to kings they are prepared beforehand and suitably dressed for the occasion. We are to be presented to the King of kings, and the Spirit of God is here to prepare us for the dignity and glory awaiting us in that day.
WHY IS HE COMING BACK AGAIN?
He is coming to receive us into all the fulness of His Father’s house. We who have received Him in His coming in grace will have a personal, distinctive, and essential connection with Him in His coming in glory: ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory’, Col. 3. 4. But the Lord’s coming has other implications for believers – implications connected with our present responsibility to Him. We are not only children of God, we are stewards and in that day we shall have to give an account of our stewardship. In the words of the apostle Paul: ‘Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire … if any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved’, 1 Cor. 3. 13-15. That day shall declare what sort of work we have done. If the work is poor and mean – wood, hay, and stubble – the fire will expose its worthlessness, but the Christian, no matter how insignificant, will be saved. If the work is good – gold, silver, and precious stones – the Christian will be rewarded. How heart-searching is this aspect of the Lord’s return! He is coming, not only to receive us, but to take account of us. All that goes to make up the believer’s life – his outward conduct and his inward motives – will then be brought under review. What reward shall we receive? Shall we receive any at all? How am I spending my time during the Lord’s absence?
Thus the coming back again of the Lord Jesus is the true and proper hope of the believer, and the realization of it will constitute the completion and consummation of our gathering unto Him. May its nearness and its vastness encourage us to occupy patiently and diligently until He comes.