The Second Coming

April 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Transfiguration-of-the-Lord-Jesus-Christ-St2,000 years is a long time to wait. So long in fact that I humbly admit that the return of Jesus scarcely crosses my mind. When I am confronted by it in the Scriptures, in ways so matter-of-fact and so full of certainty, I cannot help at times to scoff at the wishful hopes of persecuted disciples left longing for the impossible to be true.

This is not to say that I disbelieve the validity of Jesus’ physical and bodily return to Earth. It is, in fact, a cornerstone of my faith. It is written on nearly every page of the New Testament and is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament where the Messiah is repeatedly described as the one who will “rule forever on Davids throne” (Is. 9:7; Ps. 89:4). It is the climactic end to the entire story of human history depicted in the book of Revelation and the very promise of Jesus himself who spoke of the things to come “when I return in my glory” (Luke 9:26). It is the declaration of two angles who stood among the bewildered apostles as they starred at the sky through which Jesus ascended to the Father:

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11-12).  

But 2,000 years is a long time to wait. 

My complacency about Christ’s return has often been made worse by the seemingly endless cycle of theologically inept speculations of the Left Behind variety and its facsimiles. While I admit it is shallow to allow my theology to be so reactionary, it is honest to confess that the more Jesus’ return is reduced to popularized fiction, the less I want anything to do with it. But it is too my demise.

I have been working my way in the past month through Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica. In them he makes numerous references to Christ’s return, arguably more here than anywhere else in his writing. But as I have read the letters in their entirety I have been struck again at how easily we (“we” being the church, the academy, preachers, commentaries, etc…) have often reduced Paul’s message to a theological argument about the details of timing and circumstance rather than his intended focus on hope in the midst of suffering. Paul writes,   

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4: 16-18)

If you have heard this verse before, most likely it has been in reference to some irrelevant debate about the rapture, or the millennium, or the tribulation or a beast, a dragon, the antichrist or the perpetually mysterious “666.” Maybe you have heard this verse as I once did  in a conference during my teenage years in which I remember little except the evil’s of Nancy Reagan’s New Age leanings and the Satanic mission of the United Nations. 

Today, I can hear Paul with greater clarity and can read his words within the context they were first delivered, to a persecuted people desperate for justice, for freedom, for life and for hope. The promise of Christ’s return is not merely an opiate to get them through the day or a manipulative ploy to create fearful converts longing to escape Hell by the skin of their teeth. The promise that Jesus will stand once again on the soil of this planet is a deep and powerful reminder that the King is coming back to right everything that is wrong once and for all. No evil will go unpunished. No righteousness will go unrewarded. “Hold on” Paul tells us. “Hold on.” 

But 2,000 years is a long to wait, and Paul knows that we will inevitably grow weary, and our patience will wane. This is perhaps why he reminds us of Abraham who waited decades for a child that never seemed to come. So cynical did he and his wife grow that they eventually laughed in God’s face. Yet, we are told that despite all the evidence to the contrary, Abraham continued to hold on for dear life for God to make good on his word.  

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:18-21)

Our King is coming. And while you wait, prepare his Kingdom. No matter how many years we wait, eternity will be infinitely longer. Hold on.