LifeWay Family Bible Series for April 25
The return of Christ should affect everyday life
Matthew 24:42-44; 1 John 2:28-3:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
By Rodney McGlothlin
First Baptist Church, College Station
Jesus is coming again! This New Testament teaching has been the source of great hope and endless controversy. Most of our point-making on the subject continues to miss the point.
We often act as if Jesus told us of his return simply to let us in on a little heavenly trivia. Remember that Jesus did not say, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you put them in a chart and pound the less-informed over the head with them.”
The biblical teaching on the return of Christ can be summed up in three points: He is coming again; we don't know when; and be ready. That is all I know of chartmaking. The last point is the key. This teaching is more concerned with the ethics of everyday believers than with the events of some-day history.
Jesus' disciples were simple folk, regional fellows picked up around Galilee. Matthew tells us that when they finally made it to Jerusalem, they were duly impressed with the city and its buildings (Matthew 24:1-2). They pointed this out to Jesus, as if it had somehow escaped his notice. He told them a time was coming when everything there would be destroyed.
They reacted the way we would if Jesus told us our churches would all be leveled in our lifetime. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
That is quite a jump from the destruction of the Temple to the “end of the age.” It seemed to them that if the Temple were destroyed; you could pretty much write off the rest of history. Their pessimism was not unlike Thomas upon learning of the death of Lazarus. He said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Despair comes quickly in the face of great loss.
Put yourself in the place of the disciples. In their lifetime, they will see their Master crucified. They will be persecuted themselves. They will see their Temple and nation destroyed. How do you go on serving in a world that destroys its temples and crucifies its messiahs?
The answer? The kingdoms of this world may be disposable, but the King of Kings is Lord of all time. He cannot be run out of town. Tear down his body, and in three days he will rebuild it (John 2:19). His body is more important than any institution of man, temples included.
That Jesus is coming again should become a foundational principle for how we face life in a changing world. Things will change. Ministry continues.
These disciples will find out they do not have to have a temple to serve the Lord. They do not need a nation to build God's Kingdom. They do not need an institution to carry on the work of the gospel. They will not need the protection of a friendly government to carry on the work of the church.
Within a few short years, they will carry the gospel into new continents. They will debate the inclusion of the Gentiles. They will adapt to new cultures, customs and languages. They will face a Roman persecution that will make the earlier trials in Jerusalem seem trivial by comparison. They will face threats of prison, beatings and executions from without. They will face heresies, jealousies and strife within.
How do they carry on? Because there is an unchangeable in life! There is an absolute. It is not some propositional absolute. It is a personal absolute. Jesus is Lord. You face a changing world with an unchanging gospel. He is here now through the witness of his church. He is here now through the witness of the Holy Spirit. And he is coming again to get his bride, the church.
Sometimes the changes that impact us are as sudden and obvious to us, as when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings. Other times, it is as subtle as a shift in worship styles.
I have a cartoon I love that shows two ladies in church, one staring at a hymnal and the other looking at a projection screen. The caption under the picture says: “Would you look at this! They are projecting hymns on the screen and printing choruses in the hymnal. Which one is it we don't like?”
You think my comparison of terrorism and tunes is extreme? Show me a church that has split over 9/11, and I will show you a hundred that have fractured over what kind of songs we will use to praise our King. Shame on us. Jesus told terrified disciples they would keep on going because he would surely come again. We give up when folks don't want to hum our tunes.
These Second Coming texts were not given to make us arrogant about the future. They were given to help us cope with the present and to remain faithful throughout centuries of changes. In Matthew, it is a church continuing to be faithful in a world of radical institutional and political changes. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, it is a church staying true to the course even after the death of faithful members. In 1 John 2:28-3:3, it is about continued spiritual formation until Christ appears. “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Jesus is coming again. Therefore, you can be faithful in the midst of any changes.
Question for discussion
What emotions and actions does the return of Christ stir in you?