In addressing the truth of the Lord’s return, the difficulty lies, not in uncovering the facts, but rather in rediscovering its freshness. It is true that the passing of time seems to have dulled somewhat the words of the Lord Jesus to His own, ‘I will come again, and receive you unto myself’, John 14. 3. The spirit of expectancy can so easily be dampened by the cares of the day and the burdens of the way. The late Hugh Scott once said that we need to think of the Lord’s coming, not only as a fact of prophecy, but also as a fulfillment of promise.
The first coming of the Lord Jesus was divided into two parts. Firstly, He came to Bethlehem, Matt. 2, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5. 2. ‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting’. Only a few godly souls were made aware of His coming and awaited the arrival with great anticipation. Secondly, He came to Jerusalem fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9. 9, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’. This was a more public coming and many awaited His arrival.
The second coming of the Lord Jesus is also divided into two parts. Firstly, He will come for His saints, thus fulfilling the prophecy of 1 Thessalonians 4, and, secondly, He will come with His saints, fulfilling the prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 1. When He comes for His saints He will come alone, but when He comes with His saints He will be accompanied by mighty angels. The first reference made to this great event is in John 11, a day of family sorrow. The Lord was particularly sensitive to the feeling of those who mourned. It is possible that the Lord Himself lost His earthly father when He was quite young. He had witnessed the sorrow of a father who lost his only daughter, Matt. 9. 18; a widow who lost her son, Luke 7. 12; and now a sister who lost her brother. He knew the emotional turmoil she was going through, compounded by her knowledge that, had the Lord come when He knew of Lazarus’ sickness, things would have been so different. Many of God’s people have faced similar circumstances and reflected on how things might have been had the Lord granted the requests of their prayers. There was, however, the glimmer of hope, v. 22, ‘I know, even now, that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee’. Martha’s hope lay in an immediate resurrection and re-uniting with her brother, but our hope lies yet in the future. At this present time, however, God has answered the prayer of His Son in that some of those whom God has given Him are with Him where He is, John 17. 24. From the darkness of Bethany’s experience however we can learn two great things. From verse 24, we can be assured that those who die believing in Him shall rise again, and verse 25, those who are living and believe in Him might never die.
When we come into the epistles, there would seem to be three main reasons for presenting the truth of the Lord’s coming.
The resurrection of the bodies of dead believers forms the greater part of the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15. The assurance of our resurrection is His resurrection. If Christ has been raised, we shall be raised, and if Christ be not raised our faith is in vain. Christ has been raised and become the firstfruits of them that slept, 1 Cor. 15. 20.
With reference to the resurrection of the dead we should note the following:
With reference to those who are living we learn the following:
‘O the rapture of the hour when the everlasting doors shall be lifted up and we, being made meet for the inheritance, shall dwell with the saints in light; sin will be gone, temptation will be past, Satan will be shut off and we ourselves will be faultless before God; this will be heaven indeed’.
Wouldn’t it be sad if such a prospect failed to challenge us to a deeper exercise before God and a more holy life?
In Romans 13. 11, 12 Paul writes to challenge the saints in Rome, ‘Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed … let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light’. The works of darkness are listed in v. 13 rioting, drunkenness, chambering, wantonness, strife and envying. Ephesians 5. 8 reminds us that ‘we were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord: walk as children of light’. Peter in 1 Peter 2. 9 tells us that we have been called out of darkness into His marvellous light.
A second challenge found in connection with the Lord’s return is in Titus 2. 13. Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should cultivate the discipline of living soberly, righteously and godly in this present age. This should encourage us to look for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
A third challenge is found in 1 Thessalonians 4, when in view of the Lord’s return, the apostle exhorts us to be marked by a walk which pleases God, 4. 1; a life of sanctification and holiness, 4. 9; the qualities of brotherly love, 4. 9; personal discipline, 4. 11; a walk which is honest before them who are without, 4. 12.
In the light of this truth Paul writes, ‘Be ye steadfast.. always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 15. 58.
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