The Return of Christ
Those of us who have the privilege and responsibility, under Paul’s leadership, for preaching and teaching in St Paul’s consider it important to set out our understanding of the Biblical teaching concerning the return of Jesus at the end of the age. It is inevitable, in the context of the current pandemic, that a wide range of views and opinions concerning Christ’s return will be promoted, some of which might be confusing or even disturbing.
Throughout history, since New Testament days, and especially in times of disaster or at historical high points there has been substantially increased attention given to truths surrounding the Lord’s return. There have been many mathematical predictions and considerable speculation, but none of them have proved correct.
There is considerable emphasis on the return of Christ in the Scripture, primarily in the New Testament. The Old Testament is concerned largely with the first coming of the Messiah. Every New Testament book, with the exception of Galatians, includes reference to this future event. Jesus and every apostolic author refer to it, and it is evident in the three strands of New Testament writings, the Gospels, the Epistles and the Revelation to St John. All this gives emphasis to the perceived importance of the final act in the redemptive purposes of God.
There are about eight different Greek words used in the New Testament to refer to this event – here are just some of them;-
parousia – meaning coming / presence / arrival – probably one with which we are most familiar; see 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 5:23 and 1 John 2:22
apokalypsis – meaning revealing / disclosure
see 1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:7
epiphaneia – meaning manifestation
see 1 Timothy 6:14 and Titus 2:13
These references give a flavour of the substantial amount of material on the coming of Christ throughout the New Testament Epistles.
In addition to the above and other related references there is considerable content in the teaching of Jesus. Perhaps best known are chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. Chapter 24 sets out some of the heavenly drama which will surround that coming and Chapter 25 focusses on the judgement that will follow. These and other passages in the Gospels indicate that this truth was very much a part of the message of Jesus to his followers.
The Manner of His Coming
There are a number of passages that indicate the way in which he will return – which will in some way be visible to all. It will be immensely dramatic as the trumpets of heaven create a cacophony of sound and the angel hosts, accompanied by the redeemed who have gone to be with the Lord, all in a triumphal, earth encompassing procession. See, for instance, Acts 1:11, Luke 17:24 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Why Is He Coming?
Jesus will come to complete the final act of redemption and to establish a new order.
When he comes Satan will finally be dealt with and evil will be destroyed.
He comes to initiate judgement.
He will establish a new heaven and a new earth.
Some of this is an inevitable mystery – we do not necessarily have insight into all the future plans that God has for us. What has been revealed in His Word must suffice and speculation is at best a waste of time and at worst dangerous.
When will these things be?
This is probably at the heart of most unhelpful opinions about the coming of Christ. As suggested above at particular times and in difficult circumstance speculation is especially rife. Such speculation, however, is unhelpful, achieves nothing, and detracts from the primary responsibilities of the People of God.
There will always be those, even within the Church, who deny that there will actually be a return of Christ. (See 2 Peter 3:3-4)
In the light of verses such as Mark 13:32 it is surprising that others claim to have inside information concerning this event. Take on board what it says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Certainly there are signs that remind us of His coming, but many such signs have recurred through the centuries to keep us on our toes, and to ensure our readiness. And that’s the Biblical emphasis, knowing of a certainty that Jesus will come at a time of the Father’s choosing, and to be ready to meet him at any time and on any day. He may return at any moment, unannounced, and when least expected.
This last point finds emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” The paragraph continues to challenge us, reminding us that we have no excuse to be unprepared as we have such abundant evidence for this event in Scripture and are called to be ready at any time.
The above is not exhaustive by any means, rather a guide and an encouragement to persevere in following Christ and holding firm to all his promises. Remember to avoid unnecessary speculation, and resist the temptation to determine what God has not revealed. Do, however, expect the Lord’s return, be ready to meet him and share the good news of salvation with those whose lives you touch.
Authorised by Paul Brooks, Ray Speck, Nicola Speck, Ian Le Marquand, Peter Clayton