Last things first

Putting the second coming and eschatology back into prominence in preaching.

A friend of mine pursued his master’s degree on why preaching on the second coming of Jesus had declined. It is a fact that such preaching has indeed received less attention. Of course, if we are preaching systematic expository sermons through bible books the subject will be looked at from time to time. In some circles the topic does receive frequent attention, but often with an unhealthy emphasis on reading too much into current events and unwisely suggesting dates or possible dates, albeit in a rather cryptic way. Doubtless too there are notable exceptions of solid and substantial preaching on the matter.

I am thinking of specific, clear and applied messages on this most certain of subjects

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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 1:10-11)

Prominence in the NT

We know there are an abundance of statements and allusions in the New Testament, quite apart from Old Testament passages that bear on the subject. The Lord Jesus preached it, the angels preached it, the apostles preached it. The New Testament church lived in expectation of it. It is essential to many aspects of theology, the resurrection of Jesus and later his church (1 Corinthians 15), the inauguration of a new creation (Romans 8). Neglecting it will bring a lopsided handling of many biblical themes and limit valuable motivation and application. It is applied to the life of the church in many different ways in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. It is the essence of our HOPE: ‘When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory’ (Colossians 3:4).

Reasons for neglect?

Is it because of unbelief? ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ Have we forgotten, like those in 2 Peter 3:5-7?

For this they wilfully forget that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

Is it because of the further passage of time? Is it fear or uncertainty because of the difficulties of the subject and the differences that exist? Maybe we keep silent on it because we fall into the idea that we do not or cannot know enough about the matter. Perhaps the subtle, drip-feed from a variety of quarters of evolutionary thought weakens our focus on the revolutionary event/s of the Lord’s return? Does it reveal that we are indeed too fixed to this world, that we do not want ‘the age to come’ to be constantly before our eyes as it should be? Or that with all our western comforts we are not longing for ‘His appearing’ as our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world are? Perhaps, knowing our own weaknesses, we are somewhat fearful of the words:

It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn.If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’ (Mark 13:34-37)

You may recall the story of when Robert McCheyne asked his deacons if they thought the Lord would come in the evening.  Their reply was that they did not.  He then said, at such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man comes!

‘Waiting’ and ‘Expectancy’

Inevitably believers wrestle with matters around when, how and what in relation to the Lord’s coming again. There are passages that indicate a delay and passages that indicate the nearness of the coming. There is a wonderful, practical balance to scripture that we must not neglect. Perhaps the matters of ‘waiting’ and ‘expectancy’ are two great examples of this balance. Waiting in this context is not that of some static boring or agitated pause. The gospels often use the idea of ‘readiness’ – prepared and ready (Matthew 25:1-10). Anthony Thiselton helpfully writes: ‘The word denoted the actions of the bridesmaids. To ask, “Were they ready?” concerns not their conscious thoughts and certainly not their emotions, but their state of readiness. What constitutes “being ready” depends on readiness for what, and how we prepare. Augustine and Luther regarded readiness for the coming of Christ as continuing in everyday Christian trust, work, and obedience in everyday tasks.’1

So much point to it all

Christ at his second coming will accomplish so much:

Vindication – to judge all people (Ps. 96:13)

Condemnation – to judge the wicked (2 Thess. 1:7-10)

Separation – to separate the wicked from the righteous (Matt. 25:31-32)

Destruction – to destroy all evil and opposition to God’s kingdom (2 Thess. 2:8)

Commendation – to reward believers (Matt. 24:46-47; Luke 12:37; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Jn 3:1-2)

Communion – to gather the church together (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17; 2 Thess. 2:1)

Salvation – to bring final salvation (Luke 21:28; Heb. 9:28)

Transformation – to transform the saints into his likeness (1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 3:4)

Conclusion – to end the present age (Matt. 24:3; 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12)

Restoration – to restore and renew all things (Acts 3:21; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5)

In these careless, earth bound, man centred times, let us prayerfully ponder again these words from Matthew 24:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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.

Sadly, for me and my wife, when we visited Washington D.C. the Capitol building dome was covered in scaffolding. But I understand that there is a quotation in the dome which says: ‘One far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves.’ The event of course is the second coming of the Lord. A wise man once said, ‘The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is never to forget the presence of Christ’. Such a subject should never be neglected. Make the ‘last things’ amongst the first things of your ministry.

1 Systematic Theology (SPCK), p. 351.