Part 7 - Questions of Interest Relating to the Coming of Christ and His Reign on Earth

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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“If the proper attitude of the Christian is to be at all times expecting the return of his Lord, when did this attitude commence? Paul is said to have completed the scripture as to doctrine (Col. 1:25-2625Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: (Colossians 1:25‑26)), though he was not necessarily the last who wrote. Did Paul expect the coming of the Lord? Apparently John was the last who wrote any part of the New Testament: Did he expect the coming of the Lord? If the apostles thus expected the Lord, how is it that God begot a hope in them which HE knew would not be realized? And how is it that the hope of Christ’s coming was not handed down in the church along with all the commonly received truths of Christianity? We find little or nothing of it until about sixty years ago.”
It should be borne in mind, that whether we are personally expecting the return of our Lord or not, it is plainly revealed in scripture that He will surely come again. While those who saw Him ascend from this earth were looking up into heaven, it was said, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:1111Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)). That the Lord Jesus will bodily come again to this earth, is, we take for granted, commonly believed by all Christians. The simple question at issue is, ought we to be watching and waiting His return, or shall we be expecting other events to happen, and not His return at present? If the latter, what are the events? and where are we told to be watching for them?
To ask these questions seems almost to answer them, for passage after passage occurs to the mind which tell us that we are to expect our Lord. Indeed, before He suffered He began to teach that this should be our attitude. Listen to what He says: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord, when he cometh, shall find watching” (Luke 12:35-3735Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; 36And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. 37Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:35‑37)). Can words be plainer? And if a servant should say in his heart (though he might not express it in words), “My lord delayeth his coming,” his portion would be with the unbelievers!
It is a solemn thing, therefore, to be putting off the coming of the Lord, and to say that He delayeth His coming; for here this is associated with dissolute living. On the other hand, it is declared that those who cherish the hope of His coming, and the being with Him and like Him forever, purify themselves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:33And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)).
It is remarkable that the first allusion to the return of our Lord, after His ascension, was made to the Jews. In grace, they were again exhorted to repent, and be converted, for the blotting out of their sins, that God might send Jesus Christ, whom heaven had received (Acts 3:1919Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts 3:19)). Alas, they repented not; but, as we know, the casting of them away was salvation to the Gentiles.
Thus we see this blessed hope was taught by our Lord when He was on earth, and was more fully explained after His ascension in the very first epistle that was written. That Paul expected the Lord is quite clear: notice how he says, in the above passage, “We which are alive and remain”; he does not say, “they,” as if referring to those who would be alive in some future period. Again, he showed the church a mystery, and said, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:5151Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (1 Corinthians 15:51)).
As “the hope” was fully revealed in the epistle that was written first, so the last book in the New Testament (and perhaps the last written) also names it again and again, and closes the whole word of God with this self-same thing: “Surely I come quickly.” To which is responded, “Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” There cannot be a question that the return of the Lord Jesus was the common hope held by the church in the days of the apostles. Peter did say that he was shortly going to put off his tabernacle; but how did he know that? He tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ had showed it to him (2 Peter 1:1111For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:11)). So we see that an apostle did not know that he would die and not be alive when the Lord returned, except by a special revelation. Paul also, when he had finished his course, and was a prisoner, was able to say, “The time of my departure is at hand.”
It is not right to say that God sets before the saints a hope that will not be realized. It has been sometimes stated that we are to expect the Lord in our lifetime; but Scripture never states it thus. As we have seen, the Lord Himself taught His disciples that they were to be looking for His return: this was to be the habit of their mind; they were not to look forward for death as their hope, but life and glory by the return of the Lord Himself. And should they fall asleep, that would not destroy their hope: it would be realized just the same: at the coming of the Lord “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” and their hope will then be realized. Let us remember that the Lord Himself is waiting. He became man, and suffered the shameful death of the cross: He is now exalted, and is ready to come forth to receive His saints, and also ready to judge the quick and the dead. But He waits for the moment when the last one forming the church shall be gathered in, and for the Father’s time to arrive, which He keeps in His own authority. The living believers and the dead in Christ also wait that moment.
That the hope of the coming of the Lord, and many truths held in the early church, were soon lost sight of, or were given up, in no way disparages what is taught in the word of God. See how almost entirely the knowledge of the doctrine of justification by faith had died out before the time of the reformation, but what Christian thinks of calling it in question on that account? We believe that there are glimpses of the coming of the Lord as a hope being held at various times in the earlier history of the church, though they may have been very faint. But supposing that it was quite lost sight of, does not this rather agree with the description in the parable of the ten virgins? They went forth to meet the bridegroom; but they all slumbered and slept — the wise as well as the foolish, and slept until the cry was raised, “Behold the bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him.” Happy those who have heard the cry, and have gone forth in spirit to meet their Lord, and who are still watching and waiting for that blessed moment that will bring them to the Lord they love. Because He tarries, the tendency is to sleep again. May the Lord brighten the hope in the hearts of all His beloved people. He will soon be here.