In our comfortable society, with our eyes closed to the brokenness all around us and our hearts fixated on the fleeting pleasures this world offers, it may be hard to get excited about the Lord’s return. The problem for most western Christians is not that we are so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good but that we are so earthly-minded we don’t hope for heaven.
For many of us thinking of the Lord’s return stretches our faith! Yes we can picture an end to all this—leave humanity alone long enough and we will choke this world with carbon fumes—it’s just that it’s hard to believe the end will be as the Bible describes. ‘Lord, we believe, help us in our unbelief!’
Then some will want the Lord to delay in order that loved ones will have more time to become Christians. God actually shares this concern. Peter addresses those who are complaining that the Jesus has not yet returned and writes: 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 (2 Peter 3:9). When Jesus returns all who are going to repent will have repented!
If you are not a Christian thinking of the Lord’s return should be a massive wake-up call. If you refuse to let Christ be your Saviour and King, then Christ’s return will be more dreadful than you have ever imagined. Jesus will come and the result of his judgment of you will be a righteous, horrific, holy and eternal punishment. Hear this warning and repent!
So far in this series we have seen that Jesus has existed for all eternity and that his earthly ministry was anticipated in the Old Testament. We have seen that during the ministry recorded in the Gospels Jesus became fully-human while remaining fully-God, and that he died to reconcile sinful people to God for the glory of God. We have seen that Jesus is alive today, remains both human and fully-God, is the object of heavenly worship, and prays to the Father on our behalf. Now this evening we are thinking upon his return and about how we will view him for all eternity.
We don’t know when he will return
As the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven two angels appeared beside them and declared, ‘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 1:11). Jesus will return from the sky in his risen, glorious body but we don’t know when.
Many groups in history have made fools of themselves trying to predict dates for the Lord’s return despite the fact that the Scriptures say that it is not for us to know the day or the hour. Jesus told the disciples, “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Yet he warned people to be prepared. He will come at a time when people do not expect him (Matthew 24:44) so we must be sure that if it that time was now we would have reason to be glad to see him.
He will judge the living and the dead
It is right that we feel angry when crimes are committed and no-one is brought to court. It sickens us when guilty people walk out of court having gotten off on some technicality. It is wrong when some awful crime is met with an overly lenient sentence. It is twisted when evil is simply overlooked. God does not overlook evil and will judge with perfect justice!
Jesus will judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1). Those who have not availed of his mercy and forgiveness in this life will receive the right punishment for all their evil. Every word, deed and attitude will be brought out into the open. Nothing will go unnoticed. On this day of wrath (Romans 2:5) the unrepentant will experience the holy fury of God. Listen to these words from the book of Revelation. ‘Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it ... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened ... The dead were judged according to these books ... If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire’ (Rev. 20:11-14).
He will reward Christians
The Christian will face Christ’s judgement too (2 Cor. 5:10), but the outcome will be entirely different. Jesus has paid the price for our sins so it would be an injustice to condemn us for them. Jesus said that those who are born again are not condemned (John 3:18) and Paul assures the Christians in Rome writing that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
At this judgement the fruit of our faith will be seen. Jesus had taught that our fruitfulness is proof of the reality of our relationship with Christ: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me he can bear nothing ... This is to the Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples’ (John 15:5-8). In his wonderful generosity God will reward his people for the things they did to honour him. We are not told what this reward will look like but surely it will be awesome. Don’t imagine that it is only those things that we think of as being religious that he will reward. All of our lives will be assessed and nothing we have done for him will go unnoticed or unrewarded. ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free’ (Ephesians 6:7-8). And if there is the possibility of gaining reward there also is the possibility of losing out on reward (see 1 Cor. 3:8-15).
He will be worshipped by his people in the new creation
In Genesis 3 we read about how our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God’s rule. This treason was met with God’s judgement. The world has never been the same since the fall and the curse. Now humankind lives in hostility towards God and each other and this world is a place of toil, suffering and death. Yet in the book of Revelation we read that when Jesus returns he will establish a new heaven and a new earth and there will no longer be any curse (Rev. 22:3).
Living in this fallen world we watch our bodies decay and soon we will die. Yet when Jesus returns he will give us resurrected bodies. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus’ resurrection body is the pattern for our resurrected bodies. When Jesus returns the decaying bodies of living Christians will be instantaneously transformed into glorious bodies like that of the risen Christ and the decayed bodies of Christians who have died will be raised to be like the imperishable body of our risen Saviour. In the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). God will dwell with his people (Rev. 21:3). In the city of God there will be the throne of the God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:3) and we shall live wonderful, joy-filled lives of loving worship to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
At the end of the book of Revelation, having seen how this age would come to an end and the kingdom that will be established at the Lord’s return the apostle John exclaims “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). Christ’s people await his return!
But what are we to do in the meantime? We are to be prepared—may the return of Jesus be a joyful day for each person here this morning! On that day may we be found to be in a living relationship with the risen Lord! At his judgement may his fruit in our lives demonstrate that we are one of his people! May we have lived lives of great service for his glory so that we receive an abundance of gracious rewards for the things he has enabled us to do. May we look forward to living with his people and enjoying the presence of God for ever!