The Promise of the Lord’s Return

John 14:3

August 28, 2011 | Brian Bill

This has been quite a week weather-wise in our country.  With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, people are worried and taking precautions.  Earlier in the week an earthquake shook up many of these same people.  Some headlines are asking if we are in the last days because of these cataclysmic events.  Others are mocking and making fun of it all.

This was especially the case when many Californians scoffed at the scared people on the East Coast.  One lifelong veteran of earthquakes had this to say: “Really all this excitement over a 5.8 quake?  Come on East Coast, we have those for breakfast out here!”  Another tweeted, “That’s what us Californians use to stir our coffee with.”

My wife heard some talk radio people laughing their heads off this week after one of them read Isaiah 29:6 in a mocking way: “The Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.” I don’t know what they said next because she switched stations in a hurry.

Let’s face it.  Some of the stuff we hear does make us roll our eyes, like when Harold Camping predicted the world was going to end this past May.  I guess the countdown clock we’re supposed to follow now is the coming expiration of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.  Funny, I didn’t know we were following the pseudo-scientific and superstitious Mayan calendar!

With all this apocalyptic hyperbole, many Americans mock it all and others are seriously questioning if Christ is coming back at all.  Friends, we should not be surprised when unbelievers laugh at the Lord’s return.  Listen to the words of 2 Peter 3:3-4: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?’”

While Harold Camping was wrong in many things he said, he was right when he said Jesus is coming back.  His timing was all messed up, but the truth of the second coming is a promise made by Christ Himself.

Before we ponder this promise, here are three thoughts.

1. This is a deep subject. 

One scholar has estimated that there are over 300 separate prophecies related to the second coming of Jesus in the Bible.  For every prophecy concerning the first coming of Christ, there are eight that look forward to His second!  (Today in the Word, April 1989, page 27).  I’ve included three appendixes at the end of the manuscript for those who would like to study more in-depth.

2. There are differences of opinion. 

The theology of the end times has been debated and argued down through the centuries.  My own understanding of this doctrine has not been without some struggle because no one passage tells us everything.  No matter which view you hold, you have to think about how Matthew 24 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians relate and how all this goes together with the Book of Daniel and Revelation.  When we come to terms with what we believe the Bible to teach, we must be gracious towards those that have different views.

3. Avoid the dangers of two extremes. 

One extreme is to be more concerned about dates and times and signs than with His return.  The other extreme is to ignore the promise of His return and go through life as if He’s not coming back.  Frankly, I don’t know which one is worse.

I’ll Be Back

According to a survey in U.S. News and World Report, 61% of Americans believe in the Second Coming of Christ.  A Newsweek poll reports that 45% believe that Christ will return in their lifetime.  The people at Pew Research report that 79% of U.S. Christians believe in the return of Jesus, but there’s much less agreement about the timing and the circumstances surrounding His coming.

As helpful as polls might be, when it comes right down to it, what really matters are the promises of God as found in the Bible.  That’s what we’ve learned together this summer – the promise of eternal life, the promise of victory, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of guidance, the promise of answered prayer, the promise of wisdom, the promise of peace, and the promise of God’s presence. The difference between all these promises and the one we’re studying today is that we’re still waiting for the fulfillment of His return.

The Bible is clear that the return of Christ is a promise that can be counted on.   Jesus communicated this very clearly in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  This literally reads, “I come again.”  His coming is meant to serve as a comfort to the disciples.  The One who said, “I go,” is the same One who said, “I come.

After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to people over a period of 40 days.  After giving some final instructions, He was transported to Heaven before their very eyes and Acts 1:9 says, “and a cloud hid him from their sight.”  This was no ordinary cloud but was the same cloud that led Israel in the wilderness, God’s Shekinah glory.  Two angels appear and say these words in Acts 1:11, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand 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.”  

Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”  Hebrews 10 calls us to persevere so that we will receive the promise and verse 37 says, “For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay…’”  And in the second to the last verse of the Bible, in Revelation 22:20, Jesus restates the promise of His return: “Yes, I am coming soon.”

When Is He Coming?

The exact timing of His return is a bit more difficult to establish than the certainty of His coming.

Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 24.  This chapter contains more about the end times from the lips of Jesus than any other section of Scripture.  In verse 1, the disciples are showing off the beauty of the buildings that made up the Temple.  Jesus shocks them in verse 2 when he drops a bombshell: “Do you see all these things?  I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  Then, without any further explanation, Jesus walks about another ½ mile and sits down on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple mount.  

By the way, it is highly significant that Jesus chose to teach on the end times while He was sitting on the Mount of Olives.  This is one of those goose-bump moments in the Bible.  Referring to the second coming of Christ, Zechariah 14:4 says, “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”

After hearing the prediction of the temple’s demolition, the disciples come up to Jesus privately and ask Him some questions in verse 3: “…when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  In the first part of his answer in verses 4-14, Jesus gives us three noteworthy signs to let us know that His return is right around the corner.  

3 Signs

1. Destructive Deception.

We see this in verses 4-5: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”   There have been many examples of false messiahs in recent memory: Jim Jones in Jonestown and David Koresh in Waco to a Puerto Rican Preacher.  As we near the return of the real Jesus, there will be a growing number of leaders who will claim that they are the Christ.  There will also be an increased amount of false teaching as the end nears. 

2. Terrible Times. 

Check out verses 6-13.  Our world will increasingly experience cataclysmic natural disasters to an outpouring of evil like we’ve never seen before.  Killer hurricanes, famines, deadly floods, and life-shattering earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence in the news.  Jesus very clearly taught that earthquakes and famines are only the beginning of birth pains in verse 8. Along with natural disasters, we will see an acceleration of unbridled evil.  

Things are bad now but the greatest evil is yet to come.  In verse 10 we read that “…many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.”  Verse 12 tells us that even love will be in short supply: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  I wonder what the answer to this question asked by Jesus in Luke 18:8 will be: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  2 Timothy 3:1 says, “But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.”

3. Expansive Evangelism. 

every group of people must hear the gospel message before the end will come

These first two signs are negative; let’s take a look now at a positive precursor that will indicate that the return of Jesus is close at hand.  Listen to the words of Jesus in verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The word ‘nations’ in this verse does not refer primarily to political entities but to the various ‘people groups’ of the world.  In other words, every group of people must hear the gospel message before the end will come.  Did you know that there are still about 7,000 unreached people groups?

As we approach the end times, there will be a marked increase in the tempo of world evangelization.  There will be a renewed interest in communicating the good news of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ.  We will see a new sense of urgency to penetrate the entire world with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.  

I believe that is precisely what is going on right now.  There are reports of unprecedented church growth from China, Latin America, in India, in Africa and even in Iran.  A friend of our daughter Emily has been serving in Iraq, and shared with Emily this week how eager people are to hear about Jesus.  

When I was preparing this message, I received an email from someone in Pakistan: Dear pastor Bill.  In 2004 you sent me a book about sin.  That book and Bible reading healed me and I am now a Christian and was baptized in bath tub secretly by a missionary. My family are Muslim scholars.  Thank you.  Now I need you to pray for me.” 

In verses 15-28, Jesus reveals some specific events that will take place just prior to His return.  Then, in verses 29-31, He speaks of His return to the earth in great power and glory.  I want to focus now on the last part of chapter 24, where Jesus addresses the question of “when.”  

When Is He Coming?

1. The timing is unknown. 

No one will ever know the precise moment of His return as Jesus declares in verse 36: “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  The best we can do is to read the signs and know that the time is at hand.  If anyone ever tells you that they know exactly when Jesus will return, don’t believe it. 

2. Jesus will come when most are unprepared.

Look at verses 37-41: “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.”

While Noah patiently built the ark and warned people of coming judgment, people laughed at him and said, “It will never happen.”  Noah’s day was like our day – an age of scoffing skepticism and moral relativity.  The more Noah preached, the more his contemporaries mocked him.  And just as the ark saved Noah, even so Jesus Christ is the “ark of safety” for those who believe in Him. 

3. Make sure you’re ready. 

Look at verses 42-44: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

keep your eyes on the skies and be ready at any moment to meet the Lord face-to-face

Note the two main commands: “Keep watch” and “Be ready.”  A burglar comes unannounced and suddenly.  In a similar way, Jesus is coming like a thief in the night.  When we least expect Him, He will return to the earth.  Therefore, keep your eyes on the skies and be ready at any moment to meet the Lord face-to-face.  

In the last chapter of Revelation, Jesus announces that He is coming soon.

  • 22:7“Behold, I am coming soon!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
  • 22:12“Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
  • 22:20“Yes, I am coming soon.”  This is the last promise made in the entire Bible.

That leads me to ask a simple question: When was the last time you said to yourself, “Jesus may come today?”  

The Relevance of His Return

So what are some practical applications that flow out of the promise of His return?  There are many but let me offer just three.

1. Encourage one another. 

This topic is not meant to terrify you…unless you are not yet a born again believer.  After a lengthy discussion of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul points out the comfort that comes from knowing that Jesus is returning and in verse 18 he says this: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”  

The first Christians used to greet each other with the phrase, “Maranatha,” which literally means, “Come, Lord Jesus!” from Revelation 22:20.  This is the last prayer of the Bible.  Believers also used it when they wanted to emphasize something as seen in 1 Corinthians 16:22“If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him.  Come, O Lord!  I wonder what would happen if we started using this phrase in our conversations?  Let’s try saying, “Maranatha” to each other right now.  Turn to the person next to you and say it.

2. Live pure lives. 

Here’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re sinning: “Would I want to be doing this when Jesus returns?”  Wouldn’t it be terrible to be ashamed when Jesus comes back?  1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.”  

We don’t have to sell everything and move to the wilderness of Wisconsin to wait for the Lord.  Matthew 24 ends with a challenge to be faithful and wise servants.  Be faithful today and you’ll be ready today.  Be faithful tomorrow and you’ll be ready tomorrow.  Be faithful next week and you‘ll be ready next week.  Be faithful always and you’ll be ready always.  Someone has said the biblical balance is to plan as though Jesus won’t return for a thousand years but to live as though He might come today.  

One church leader put it like this: “As far as predicting the approximate time of Christ’s Second Advent is concerned, I resigned from the Planning Committee and have joined the Welcoming Committee.”  If you knew that Jesus was coming tonight at 8:00 p.m., what would you do differently?  What changes would you make?  Here’s the deal.  One day He will return.  Therefore, let’s live in light of His coming today because every day we move closer to Christ’s return.

3. Ask Jesus to save you. 

If you have never turned your life over to Christ and received His salvation, then I want to appeal to you with all my heart.  Be reconciled to God before it’s too late!   Listen to 2 Peter 3:9-10: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”  

Friend, I can’t beat around the bush.  The consequences are too staggering and the stakes are way too high.  Let me say it as clearly as I can.  If you have never made a decision to put your faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, you will be in deep trouble when Jesus comes back.  Your judgment will be certain, swift, and severe.

Don’t be left behind.  Jesus right now is seeking a relationship with you.  Respond to Him before it’s too late! 

All Shook Up

After listening to all the mocking done by Californians, an op-ed piece in the LA Times quoted this statement from another writer that appeared just hours after Japan’s massive earthquake and Tsunami in March: “It’s not a question of whether we’re due for a catastrophic quake, but when.”  I don’t know if you’ve ever hunkered down during a hurricane or lived through an earthquake.  When we lived in Mexico I was studying Spanish in a McDonalds when everything started moving and shaking.  I felt dizzy and sick and all shook up on the inside.  

I wonder if any of you feel shaken spiritually this morning because you know that if Jesus would come back right now you wouldn’t be ready for His return.  The only way to be ready is to receive Him as your Lord and Savior because it’s not a question of whether but of when.

You see, one day all mockery and scoffing will cease.  Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Let’s go back to the promise stated in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  After telling his disciples that they knew the way to that place, Thomas replied, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Check out what Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Are you ready to come to Christ right now?  It’s not enough to just be moved on the inside; you must actually move and come to Christ.  Listen to how this word is used in several passages:

  • Isaiah 1:18“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”
  • Isaiah 55:1Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!”
  • Matthew 11:28Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 
  • Luke 14:17“At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’”
  • Revelation 22:17“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

Are you ready to come to Christ right now?  If so, you could express your desire in a prayer similar to this.

“Lord, I confess that I’m a sinner and that I fall way short of your standards.  Thank you for paying the price for my sins and for dying on the cross as my substitute.  I believe that you rose again on the third day and I affirm that you will return one day.  I want to be ready for that so I now repent from the way that I’ve been living and receive you into my life.  Please forgive me for all my sins and make me into the person you want me to be.  As best I know how, I surrender all that I am and all that I have to you.  If there’s anything in my life that you don’t like please get rid of it and help me to live for you.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?