This Same Jesus: The Blessed Hope of the Church
April 5, 1998
“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
“We believe in the personal, bodily, imminent and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Church.” From the Calvary Memorial Church Articles of Faith
In two recent sermons I have mentioned several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith. When I preached on Acts 1:3, I commented that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is one such doctrine. Last Sunday I said the same thing about the ascension of Christ. Today I add a third doctrine to that list—the truth that Jesus Christ will one day return to the earth.
Perhaps a word of explanation is in order. A fundamental doctrine is one that comprises the very heart of our Christian faith. It is a truth so important that not to believe it places you outside the circle of genuine Christianity. Across the centuries only a few doctrines have truly been considered fundamental. Mostly they deal in three areas—the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus as the Son of God, and salvation as a gift of God. There are some things that simply must be believed if you are to be counted as a genuine Christian (and not someone following a religion of your own devising). That may seem like a hard statement, but it is true nonetheless. Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).
Acts 1:10-11 brings us face to face with one of those fundamental, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith. After Jesus ascended into heaven, two men in white (angels) appeared to the disciples, telling them not to waste time looking into the skies because Jesus will return to the earth “in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Professor Charles Erdman points out that the doctrine of Christ’s return is fundamental, scriptural, and controverted. It is fundamental in that all true Christians believe that one day Jesus himself will return to the earth. It is scriptural in that our faith rests not in the dreams of man but in the clear revelation of God’s Word. It is controverted in that Christians have often differed among themselves regarding the details pertaining to Christ’s return.
In this sermon I want to ask and answer one question: What will the Second Coming of Christ be like? In putting the matter that way I wish to make clear that my interest is not in detailing the “signs of the times” or in explaining my own views regarding Bible prophecy. My goal is more modest—and perhaps more crucial. What do we Christians mean when we say Christ is coming back? Let’s consider three answers to that question.
I. His Coming Will Be Personal
Acts 1:11 makes it clear that Jesus himself will one day return to the earth. It will be “this same Jesus” who is coming again. Twice in one verse Luke uses the word “same” to tell us something crucial about the Second Coming. The same Jesus who left will one day return. And he will return the same way that he left.
If plain English can have any meaning at all, those words teach us that Jesus is coming back personally, literally, visibly and bodily. We might also add that his coming will be sudden and unexpected. Luke 24:50-52 informs us that as Jesus reached out his hands to bless his disciples, he began to rise from the face of the earth—evidently without any warning whatsoever. We can assume that his return to the earth will be no less astonishing and no less surprising.
This is truly an astounding thought. The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is coming again. The same Jesus who grew up in Nazareth is coming again. The same Jesus who turned water into wine is coming again. The same Jesus who walked on water is coming again. The same Jesus who healed the nobleman’s son is coming again. The same Jesus who raised Lazarus is coming again. The same Jesus who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is coming again. The same Jesus who wept over Jerusalem is coming again. The same Jesus who was betrayed by Judas is coming again. The same Jesus who was whipped, beaten, scourged, mocked, and condemned to death is coming again. The same Jesus who died on Mount Calvary is coming again. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning is coming again. The same Jesus who ascended into heaven is coming again.
That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is coming again. The actual, historical figure who lived 2000 years ago on the other side of the world is returning to the earth one more time. Kind of blows your mind, doesn’t it?
God and Channel 18
Several weeks ago I mentioned that strange group in Garland, Texas that announced that God would return to the earth on March 31. Later I learned that the group had purchased homes not far from where I once pastored in Garland. They announced that God would make himself known on March 25 by commandeering Channel 18 and announcing his impending arrival on television. A friend who recently visited Dallas brought back a newspaper with a story about this odd group. It turns out that on March 25 the streets were blocked off so that news trucks with their satellite dishes could be there to cover the great event. When asked why, one news director said that he didn’t expect anything to happen but couldn’t afford to miss it in case God showed up on Channel 18.
USA Today ran a rather derisive editorial after God failed to appear on the tube. Later I heard that the group would soon move to western New York—presumably to try again in a better location.
I have one comment to make. This group—however misguided—was right about one thing. God in the person of Christ is coming back someday. They were wrong about the time, wrong about the place, and were probably wrong about a lot of other things, but on the central point, they were right on the money. This world won’t continue forever and ever and ever. History will come to a climax when Jesus himself returns to the earth.
Let me contrast this view with several other possibilities. Some people have suggested that the Second Coming of Christ refers to his spiritual presence with his people. This is a blessed reality and one of the most comforting truths we know—that Christ himself dwells within every believer. He comes to empower us for service and to help us live in a way pleasing to God. But as true as this is, it does not equal the literal coming of Christ to the earth. He is with us now spiritually and one day we will see him face to face.
Second, some have suggested that the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 somehow fulfills the promise of Christ’s Second Coming. The Holy Spirit did come in great power on the Day of Pentecost, baptizing believers into the body of Christ. We look on that day as the birthday of the Christian church. But long after Pentecost, the New Testament writers explicitly spoke about the literal return of Christ. The coming of the Spirit is not the Second Coming of Christ.
Third, some suggest that Christ came spiritually when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. No doubt that tragic event can be seen in the words of Christ in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17. But when you examine the text closely, you discover that what happened in A.D. 70 is only a partial fulfillment, a prefiguring if you will, of the cataclysmic events of the Great Tribulation that will come on all the earth just before Christ comes to establish his kingdom. No, Jesus did not return in A.D. 70, but he is coming again at the end of this age.
Fourth, the coming of Christ to the believer at the moment of death is not the same as his literal Second Coming to the earth. Thank God, he does come for us as we walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death. As the song says, we won’t have to cross Jordan alone. Millions of saints have gone out into eternity singing the praises of Christ who redeemed them from sin. Millions left behind have found comfort in the promise that the Lord himself escorts his children to their heavenly home. But this—as wonderful as it is—is not the Second Coming of Christ.
No, there awaits in the future an event more marvelous, more startling, more amazing, and more blessed than anything that has happened in the last 2000 years. I speak of the literal, visible, bodily return of Christ to the earth. No event may seem less likely to modern men and women; no event is more certain in the light of inspired Scripture.
“I will come back,” Jesus said (John 14:3). One day those words will be fulfilled before our very eyes.
II. His Coming Will Be Glorious
Acts 1 tells us that Jesus was caught up in a cloud and taken to heaven. The cloud that carried Jesus into heaven was no ordinary cloud but was in fact the same cloud that led Israel in the wilderness. It is the cloud that represents the glory of God. Luke 21:27 tells us that Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory.” Perhaps the best way to understand that statement is to compare the circumstances surrounding the first and second comings. The first time Jesus came unnoticed into the world, the second time “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7). In his first coming Jesus humbled himself, being born in a stable in Bethlehem. When he returns, he will come back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In his first coming he endured the mockery of men who despised him for his goodness. Although he was the Son of God, he allowed them to put him to death, that he might thereby provide salvation for the world. When he comes again, all mockery will cease for he will rule the nations with a rod of iron. He came the first time as the lamb of God; he comes again as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Two thousand years ago the religious leaders shouted in scorn, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (Matthew 27:42). The day is coming when the whole world will see Jesus as he really is. When that happens, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Around the first coming inscribe the word HUMILITY in letters large and bold. Around his second coming inscribe the word GLORY so that all the world may see. Nothing could be more natural than a triumphant return of our victorious Lord. Though he was once “despised and rejected of men,” he will one day return “in power and great glory,” heralded by angels and accompanied by the saints of every age.
What Will Happen When Christ Returns?
What will happen when Christ returns in glory? First, he will raise the dead in Christ from their graves (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The bodies of dead believers will return to life in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. They will be raised immortal and incorruptible with a glorified body just as Jesus had when he rose on Easter Sunday morning. How will such a great miracle happen? I cannot answer that question but only refer you to this truth: If God can raise his own Son from the dead, he can also raise those who follow his Son.
Second, living believers will be raptured off the face of the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will be lifted off the earth and changed forever. Our mortal bodies will put on immorality so that we will never die. Jesus will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Sometimes people say that nothing is as certain as death and taxes. But I know one thing more sure than that: Some Christians will never die. One generation—the final one—will be living when Christ returns, and that generation of Christians will never taste death but will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Third, Christ will reward his faithful servants when he comes again. Sometimes we say that when a Christian dies, he has “gone to his reward.” In one sense that is true, of course. But in the fullest sense, the full reward waits for the moment when we stand before Christ individually to receive his evaluation of what we have done on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Fourth, when he comes again, Christ will establish his kingdom and rule over the nations of the world. In the present age the devil is still the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 KJV) who has usurped Christ’s rightful place as king of this earth. That is why the Apostle John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). One has only to read the headlines each day to know how true this is. How else does one explain a 13 year old and an 11 year old opening fire on their classmates in Arkansas? How else can we understand all the greed that causes men to destroy one another? What else could account for broken homes, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, theft, and the flood of immorality flowing like a polluted river across our land? The Bible offers us only this explanation. The devil has hijacked this planet and will not let it go without a fight. For thousands of years God has been moving to wrest the earth and its people out of Satan’s angry grasp. Two thousand years ago Christ defeated the devil when he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. But that evil spirit still fights away even though his doom is sure. When Christ returns, the devil will be defeated once and for all and the world returned to its rightful owner.
Thus the return of Christ will usher in an age of unparalleled peace and prosperity for the world. A better day is coming for this sin-cursed planet. When Jesus returns, everyone will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest, from the youngest to the oldest (Jeremiah 31:34). Nations will no longer go to war against each other and men will beat their swords into plowshares. As the old spiritual says, “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside. Ain’t gonna study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Of such an age the poets have sung, the philosophers have dreamed, and the politicians have waxed eloquent in their promises. It will finally come true when Christ returns in his glory.
III. His Coming Is Imminent
The Bible also tells us that the coming of Christ is imminent, which means that it could happen at any moment. No matter what else might be said about the writers of the New Testament, and of the first Christians in general, there is no doubt that they all believed that Christ might return in their own generation. This is the normal attitude of Christians in every generation. It should be ours as well.
Again and again, the New Testament exhorts us to “watch” and be ready for his return (Matthew 24:42). Why watch if his coming must be thousands of years away? When Paul uses the phrase, “we who are still alive” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he teaches us that the Christian life is best lived in the future tense—expecting at any moment that Jesus will soon return to the earth.
“I knew that you would come”
The story is told of a businessman who, having an errand to run at his office, took his young son along with him. He asked the boy to wait on the steps while he went inside to do his work. Soon he became so engrossed with his business that he forgot about his son waiting outside. Leaving the building by a different door, he went home alone. Several hours later the family sat down to dinner, but the son was not present. His mother became anxious and wondered where he might be. Then the father remembered where he left his son. Hurrying back to his place of work, he found his son, tired and hungry, waiting as he had been instructed to do. “I knew that you would come, father,” he said, “you said you would.”
It’s been 2000 years and some of God’s children feel tired and hungry. We wonder why Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Perhaps he has forgotten us. Perhaps he made other plans. If you feel like that little boy, take heart. It’s been a long time from our point of view, but he’s only been gone for two days from heaven’s perspective (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). He said he would come back—and he will. Fear not, child of God. Keep believing. He hasn’t forgotten you. Soon and very soon Christ will return for his own.
With this hope we lay our loved ones to rest in the sacred soil of death. With this hope we rise each morning, look to the eastern sky and murmur, “Maybe today.” All true Christians believe that Jesus will come back someday. He said he would—and he never forgets his promises.
Stay Busy Until He Returns
Please note that imminent does not mean immediate. Paul was not mistaken in the least. He expected to see Christ return in his lifetime, and said so. When the word imminent is applied to the Second Coming, it means two things: 1) Uncertainty as to time, and 2) Possibility of nearness. “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:33). This should warn us against the danger of setting dates and reading too much into the “signs” of the end times. This very week I heard a radio pastor state with great fervency that he believes we are living in the closing moments of world history, the final days before the return of Christ. I feel the same way, but we can’t be certain and should not say more than the Bible itself says.
I have already alluded to the fact that Christians differ on the details surrounding the Second Coming. Some questions won’t be resolved until Christ comes back. But I would press upon your heart that the points of agreement are far greater than the points of disagreement. All true believers unite in proclaiming our faith that the Lord himself will one day return to the earth. I recall to your mind the words of the two men dressed in white, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” As if to say, “Don’t spend your days looking at the clouds, aimlessly dreaming and drifting along.” Before he left, he told us exactly what to do. We are to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth. After 2000 years the job is still not done, which means there’s enough work to keep us all busy until Jesus comes back.
While we work and while we pray, let us take to heart the “Blessed Hope” of the church, the return of Jesus to the earth. No other truth can move us to serve the Lord with such zeal, holiness, compassion, and purity. Jesus is coming again. The King is returning to establish his kingdom on the earth. Strengthened by this hope, let us press forward with passionate zeal to the task the Master has assigned to us.
Are You Ready To Meet Him?
One final word. If Jesus were to come back today, would you be ready to meet him? Let me speak to those who aren’t sure how to answer that question. Are you ready to meet the Lord? If you say “I hope so” or “I’m not sure,” you really aren’t ready at all.
But you can be ready by opening your heart and trusting him as your Savior and Lord. This is Palm Sunday—the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. Five days after the cheering stopped, he died on a bloody Roman cross. From the pain of Good Friday comes the best news the world has ever known. I bid you now to run to the Cross. Lay hold of the bleeding form of the Son of God. Rest all your hope in what Jesus Christ did when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. Rest your full weight on Jesus—pin all your hopes on him. Lay aside your trust in anything you have done and trust in Jesus Christ alone. Trust Christ with all your heart and you will be ready to meet the Lord when he comes.
Jesus is coming again. Spread the Good News!
Appendix – The Second Coming of Christ in Outline
Many years ago the Sunday School Times published an outline (later reprinted in the Biblical Illustrator) of biblical truth related to the Second Coming of Christ. I found the material so helpful that I am reproducing it here—with a few revisions and corrections.
I. Time of Christ’s Return
A. Unknown: Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32
B. Unexpected: Matthew 24:44
II. Other Terms for Christ’s Return
A. The Times of Refreshing: Acts 3:19
B. The Day of God: 2 Peter 3:12
C. The Last Days: 2 Timothy 3:1
D. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Revelation 1:1
E. The Glorious Appearing of Our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Titus 2:13
F. The Day of Jesus Christ: Philippians 1:6
G. The Appearing of the Chief Shepherd: 1 Peter 5:4
H. The Blessed Hope: Titus 2:13
III. The Manner of His Coming
A. Sudden and unexpected: Matthew 24:44; Luke 12:40
B. The same way he ascended: Acts 1:11
C. Like a thief in the night: 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 16:15
D. Like a flash of lightning: Matthew 24:27
E. In the clouds: Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7
F. With a trumpet, a shout, and the cry of the archangel: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16
G. Accompanied by angels: Matthew 16:27; 2 Thessalonians 1:7
H. With his saints: 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 14
I. With great glory: Matthew 16:27, 25:31
J. In flaming fire: 2 Thessalonians 1:8
IV. The Purpose of His Coming
A. To be glorified with his saints: 2 Thessalonians 1:10
B. To raise the dead in Christ: 1 Thessalonians 4:16
C. To rapture the living saints: 1 Thessalonians 4:17
D. To reign on the earth: Isaiah 24:23; Revelation 11:15
E. To judge and reward his saints: 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10
F. To defeat the devil forever: Revelation 20:10
V. Our Duties in Relation to His Return
A. Consider it close at hand: Romans 13:12; Philippians 4:5
B. Be prepared: Matthew 24:44,46
C. Look for it: Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:13
D. Love his appearing: 2 Timothy 4:8
E. Put on the armor of God: Romans 13:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:8
F. Wait patiently for it: 1 Corinthians 1:7; Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7-8
G. Purify ourselves in light of it: 2 Peter 3:11-12; 1 John 3:1-3
H. Pray for his coming: Matthew 6:10; Revelation 22:20