End-times – I know I know, these two words have the power to evoke such strong responses from Christians. As a consequence of such strong responses and the resulting unpleasant arguments that have arisen between Christians, apathy has sprung up in the church that goes something like this: “we can’t know the day or the hour and therefore the study of Jesus’ return is a pointless exercise”. I’ll admit I have been in this camp at times. The number of theories about the second coming, the jargon associated with it, the long academic arguments that often turn nasty about how to interpret individual chapters and verses– it’s little wonder that these two words, “End-Times” are enough to make eyes glaze over. But what if it wasn’t meant to be that complicated and what if it really was something that our beloved, Jesus wanted us to know about? Afterall there are at least 150 chapters in the Bible that directly relate to and speak of the second coming of Christ. That’s over 10% of the whole Bible. And here are two key reasons why Jesus thought an understanding of His second coming was important.
Firstly, in Matthew 24, that famous second-coming passage in which Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” He also said after He listed a number of signs that would precede His return: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: “When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that that it is near – at the doors.” In other words, in the same way that you know when seasons of weather change because you observe the leaves on trees, you will know when my coming is near because of the signs that I described to you in my Word. You won’t know the exact day or hour but you will know the season. Then in Luke 21:36 Jesus says, “Watch therefore (for the signs) and pray always (that you might interpret the signs)…” It seems that Jesus wanted us to understand and know the signs of His return.
Secondly, in the churches that I have been a part of through my Christian life in Australia there has been an overwhelming emphasis on the gospel of salvation – on bringing people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is such a key part of our faith but it is only one part of Jesus’ gospel. Time and time again, through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Jesus proclaims in teaching and parable that He comes to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom. The word gospel means the heralding of good news about the Lordship of a King. Jesus is saying, “I am a King who has come to rule and reign and restore everything that was broken by sin and to do this I have a plan.” When Jesus speaks about the gospel of the Kingdom, the gospel of salvation is but one part of that gospel. The apostle Paul interprets and describes this clearly in Titus 2:11-13:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Here we find three parts to the gospel of Jesus’ Kingdom:
- Justification (salvation/we have been saved/past),
- Sanctification (being transformed into the likeness of Christ/we are being saved/present continuous),
- Glorification (the return of Jesus to rule as King and restore the earth fully/we will be saved/future).
This is the Gospel of the Kingdom and to miss any one of the three elements is to miss the fullness of the Gospel that Jesus came to proclaime and called us to proclaim as His friends and ambassadors on the earth. Therefore, if the gospel of Jesus Christ includes His second coming how can we neglect to study it and talk about it and proclaim it? It is meant to be, as Titus wrote, “…our blessed hope.” Could it be that we have neglected a core part of the Gospel and core part of our faith?
And so, over the next 4 posts, let me attempt to give you a doorway into beginning to understand what the Bible says about the second coming of Christ. To leave you with a taster for my next post, let me start with an overview. When it comes to the end times and all the theories about the end times and all the arguments about Biblical End Time prophecy everything centres around 5 key questions and how different people interpret the Bible to answer these. They are:
- The Tribulation – is it literal or symbolic and when does it happen in relation to the rapture?
- The rapture – is it literal or symbolic and when does it happen in relation to the millennial Kingdom?
- The millennial kingdom – is it literal or symbolic and when does it happen in relation to the rapture?
- Israel – is Israel still the chosen people of God or have they been replaced by the church?
- In light of your answers to the first 4 questions, how should we then live?
That’s it. Seriously. If you look at those 5 questions and you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what the Bible says about Jesus’ second coming.