About a month ago I posted on the blog Old Testament Origins of the Second Coming. In that post we acknowledged, in passing, a small selection of the vast number of New Testament references, so we won’t rehearse those here. Rather, today I want to note three implications of this doctrine for our Christian lives.
Jesus, in Matthew 24, taught his disciples that the Son of Man will come. In speaking of the Son of Man he was making reference to himself and his promised return.
Immediately after stating that the Son of Man will return, Jesus proceeds to tell the parable of ten virgins. In more modern vernacular, ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive so the wedding party can start, but the bridegroom is a long time coming. So, all of the women go and grab their torches – but only five of them lift some extra batteries for their torches. The bridegroom is so long in coming that eventually all the women fall asleep. But, in the middle of the night the call goes out, ‘the bridegroom has arrived.’ The bridesmaids with their extra batteries are able to replace the worn out batteries in their torches and join the party, but the bridesmaids who lifted only their torches must go find batteries and as a consequence end up getting locked out of the wedding party! What is Jesus’ teaching point from this parable? Well he tells us himself: ‘Watch…for you know neither the day nor the hour’ (Mt. 25:13). He then goes on to make a similar point with another parable immediately afterwards. In essence Jesus is saying be ready for his return.
For the Christian, this means we are to be found faithful. We are to live in such a way that we exhibit the belief that Jesus could come back at any time. One of my friends on Facebook recently posted that she was doing four weeks of food shopping and cleaning in one day before her parents arrived home from holiday! This confession revealed that she hadn’t been living faithfully, but she planned to be ready when her parents arrived home. The difficulty for Christians is that we do not have the luxury of knowing when Jesus will come back – imagine if my friend’s parents had arrived home four days early. They would have found her lying on the sofa in her pj’s, scoffing Doritos, with a mountain of washing overflowing the washing basket, dust sitting thick on all the furniture, bin stuffed full of takeaway wrappers and food crumbs on the floor! She would not have been ready.
Jesus tells us he shall come – when he does will he find us ready? Faithfully serving him or dozing on a spiritual sofa so to speak?
One theologian writes:
Why, then, does Scripture have so much to say about the last days?…So that we can reorder our lives in the light of Jesus’ coming. So far as I can see, every Bible passage about the return of Christ is written for a practical purpose – not to help us develop a theory of history, but to motivate our obedience. (John Frame, ST, pg. 1094).
This is exactly the point that James makes toward the end of his letter:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (5:7-9)
One of James’ major themes is speech and the use of the tongue. It makes an appearance again and again in his letter (1:19; 3:1-12). Therefore, it is safe to assume that the church or churches he is writing to have an issue with their use of the tongue, with the way they speak to each other. Here at the end of the letter James uses the fact that Jesus is coming to motivate obedience in controlling the tongue. He shall come, so do not grumble against one another.
One day we will stand be Jesus, face to face with the king of kings, victor of all and we will have to give an account for our actions. That tax return that we dishonestly filled out, that lustful look at the skimpily dressed lady on the TV, that angry outburst at our family, that gossip we spread or listened to, that inappropriate emotional connection with a work colleague, that arrogance in conversation – all of that and more we will have to answer for. But look again at James’ phrasing, not only do we have to answer for it…the judge is standing at the door, he may open it and catch us in the act! The return of Jesus is always taught with ethical implications, it is always taught to encourage us to be obedient.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul spends a lot of time talking about the Second Coming. Part of the reason was that Paul was concerned for his friends in the Thessalonican church. His concern is their grief at the death of loved brothers and sisters in Christ. To comfort these grieving brothers and sisters Paul tells them Jesus will come again, and when he does our brothers and sisters in Christ who are dead will come with him and we will be caught up to join them! The fact that he shall come should encourage us to be comforted. This is how Paul words it:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. (4:13-18)
The fact that Jesus will come again should comfort us as beloved brothers and sisters who have died will be seen again; as death, sickness and pain will cease; as injustice will be eradicated. He shall come, and that should encourage us to be comforted.
There are numerous other implications to eschatology, but these three are among the most prominent in Scripture as I understand it. For further reading I suggest the Systematic Theologies of Louis Berkhof, Millard Erikson, John Frame and Wayne Grudem.