Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book. Revelation 22:7.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The apostle John, the youngest of the disciples when he walked with Jesus, was an old man when Jesus gave him the great vision called "The Revelation." Today, the last Sunday of the church year, the church of Jesus is reminded of its old age and that the day of the Lord will soon be here.
I hate to wait. As I drive on north Prospect avenue or out towards the mall, the traffic is getting really thick. Inside the stores the shoppers are crowded and hurried. It's not the kind of place I like to be. I get someone else to do the shopping for me if I can. It's a sure sign Christmas is only a month away.
As we start to get ready to celebrate the first coming of Jesus Christ into the world at Christmas, we do well to prepare for his second coming. With regard to this there are many questions people have about the second coming of Christ. Let us consider a few of them.
First of all, the Bible speaks a great deal about the Last Day. What is the Last Day? In the Old Testament, we hear about the Day of the Lord. The day of the Lord was the time that God would show everyone that he is the victor. It was the day he would come and reckon his accounts, or balance the books as we say today. God's Old Testament people wrongly expected that he would raise them up as a nation, so they longed for that day to come. That is why many did not follow Jesus, because he did not agree with their political aspirations. God warned the people to repent, because on his day he would punish his enemies and bless his friends. What they didn't understand is that even though they were his people, Israel had made an enemy out of God by her sins.
In the New Testament we see the Day of the Lord revealed in two ways. The first is the day when Christ was crucified. This was the day when God's plan was fulfilled. He established his kingdom on earth through his own death. It was not a kingdom of visible power such as our country possesses today, able to fight wars on the other side of the world. It was a kingdom of grace and goodness. From that day on all who believe that Jesus died for them are a part of his kingdom of grace. God rules over them by showing mercy and not punishing them for their sins, blessing them with his loving presence. This is the first day of the Lord, when on the cross Jesus accomplished our redemption. We look back and celebrate this first victory whenever we gather on a Sunday morning, the weekly anniversary of Christ's resurrection.
There is another Day of the Lord which we are still waiting for. It is the day when Jesus will come again to earth, raise up the dead, cast out the unworthy, and bring the faithful to eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. This is the day we turn our attention to today.
When this day of the Lord will come has not been disclosed. God chose not to tell us because he wants us always to be ready. Jesus himself said no one knows when it will come, not even the angels, but only our heavenly Father. He wants us to go about our daily work as Christians, doing the Father's will in our lives. We should live each day as if it were our last, putting our trust in God for our future.
Those he finds doing just that when he returns are those who have true saving faith. It will go well for them, says Jesus. But if we are caught without faith in Christ, it will be a great human tragedy. Therefore, every one of us who call ourselves Christians should devote our lives to preparing for his return by waiting for him, going about our daily work serving God, and by depending on his forgiveness and love to save us.
The Lord says in our text that he is coming soon. Why then is it taking such a long time for him to come? He has his reasons for waiting so long. The ultimate reason is that more people will have time to repent and come to faith. Everything is already set to go. All the prophecies of the end time have already been fulfilled and continue to fulfill themselves in greater ways. We have wars and rumors of wars. We have famines and earthquakes, strange signs in the skies. Many today are betrayed by false prophets and led away. God tells us to stand fast to the end.
When Christmas day comes, we know what to expect. We have a routine. Perhaps we attend Christmas Eve service as a family, go home for some good conversation, and open presents in the morning. We know what to expect because we set the itinerary.
God will be directing everything on the Last Day. The Bible does give us a picture of what's going to happen. The 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, the fourth chapter, says when Christ comes again, those who have died will be raised up from the grave first. The Lord will come down from heaven with all the angels shouting and a great trumpet call. The faithful dead will rise up to meet him. After that, those who are still alive on earth will be rise up to meet the Lord in the air.
There has been a lot of talk lately about what people call the rapture, that is, where some are taken away while others are left behind. This idea comes from Jesus' words, "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." Jesus is not leading us to believe that those remaining are left on earth for a long time to give them a second chance. The point of these words is to say that these people will be left out of the kingdom of heaven because they did not prepare for his coming. I don't even like to use the word "rapture" because it gives the impression there's a second chance somewhere. Instead, we should be teaching people to get ready for the end of the world at any moment by seeking God's forgiveness and holding on to his mercy with all our might.
There will be a judgment on the last day. Jesus said he will sit on his throne and gather the nations before him. He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Now if you have something to hide from the rest of the world, secret sins of the heart, take notice. To those who had no saving faith, all they have done and thought will be displayed as evidence against them for all to see in the courtroom of God. That is how he settles his accounts with them. Then they will be cast out from before him. But for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their only Savior, there is no cause for worry. Romans 8:1 says, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." With our heavenly Father, forgiving means forgetting.
Can't you see how wonderful the forgiveness of God that we have in Jesus Christ is? It guides you through this life and prepares you for the last day. When the Lord comes, it will be his cross that raises you up, and defends you in the great judgment.
We have great encouragement here. When we are suffering and having a tough time of it, beset by problems and anxiety on the left and the right, we can look to the words of Jesus, "Behold, I am coming soon." This will be enough to get us through another day. These words are also a warning to the others. The Lord is coming soon to bless all who call upon his name, but to punish those who do not.
Another great source of encouragement is living with Jesus forever. When we die, our soul goes to be with the Lord. Very little else is known about this stage. The Bible refers to the dead in Christ as having "fallen asleep." But it is not as if they are unconscious. In the 6th chapter of the Book of Revelation we see the souls of the martyrs under the altar of heaven, and we hear them say, "How long, O Lord, until you judge the earth and avenge us." They are certainly not unconscious. They recognize the passage of time and what is happening around them. Those who have already died are now with the Lord, anxiously looking forward to their own resurrection and the final judgment where the evil that was done to them will be avenged.
While death brings peace to a believer, there is a greater gift still to come. The resurrection of the body is the greater celebration. In our new, perfected human body we will be impervious to pain, hunger, disease and every kind of sorrow, just as our Lord Jesus is now that he has risen from the dead. So we can certainly sing, "I'm but a stranger here, heaven is my home." But the last day will come and bring us triumph over everything that hurts us here.
In the weeks ahead, I will have to learn to wait. I look forward to the new year when the stores return to normal.
The last day is a time to look forward to also. We long for it and pray that it will come soon. In the meantime we are to get ready, so we are not distracted by anything we see here. Lord Jesus Christ, come soon. Come to take us home to you. Amen
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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