For better or worse, nearly all ministers of the Gospel tend to emphasize, if not over emphasize, a particular theme in their ministry. This is generally related to the pastor or evangelist’s spiritual giftedness. There is little doubt that the minister’s own individual calling and gifts will greatly shape the flock under their care. If one where to attend John Maxwell’s church they could expect to find a disproportionate number of very good leaders; this is Maxwell’s “ministry thing” if you will. However, to fellowship with believers from John Mac Arthur’s church would probably reveal a body of Christians that had an unusually strong grip on the teaching of the scriptures, and many of them good Bible teachers themselves. Why? The same reason R.C. Sproul’s church produces people with a passion for systematic theology, church history, and philosophy. Because, Maxwell is a great leader; MacArthur is a great teacher; and Sproul is a great theologian—the sheep follow their under-shepherd in the direction he himself has gone.
Even the Apostle Paul, the one who made himself become “all things to all men that he might same some” (I Cor 9:22) was not completely unscathed by an emphasis or “a thing” in his own ministry. Paul’s however could not be over done!
The superstructure of Paul’s practical/pastoral theology always worked up from a tripartite foundation. His elementary foundation was the trinity of Christian virtues—“faith, hope, and love.” Nearly all of Paul’s exhortations, admonitions, and reproofs found in his epistles are rooted in one of these three points of the Christian life and there are times when he will bring the three together in a crescendo. Consider a famed conclusion from the “love chapter,”
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (I Cor 13:13).
What distinguishes Paul’s “ministry emphasis or thing” from his fellow modern day co-laborers is the comprehensive nature of faith, hope, and love—it is the summation of the Christian life. Paul’s emphasis is the foundation of all others listed above; teaching, leadership, and theology all must have their referential basis in these three. Of course the question this raises is what does this have to do with Jesus’ Second Advent? Everything!
In I Cor 13:13 Paul clearly magnifies love above, in the qualitative sense, faith and hope. The reason for this is because love is an attribute of the triune God. The believer will rightly maintain that God is the very essence of love—without Yahweh, love is nonsensical. God in Christ is always the object of the faith and hope of a believer, yet with love God is not only the object, but also the active subject.
As for faith, in Lk. 18:1—8, the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, we find Jesus using an antithetical “lesser-to-greater” analogy to teach about his second coming. The parable stresses the importance of tenacity, steadfastness, and patient prayer while awaiting his coming; in a word—hope. Moreover, Jesus’ desired discovery at his coming appears in the final verse—the point of the parable—“will he find faith on earth when he returns?” Our current patience in hope is to be a barometer of our faith in his promise; his promise to return with redemption for his people and judgment for his enemies. The depth and quality of both our hope and faith in his promised coming is regulated by the depth of our love for his person. Thus, faith, hope, and love are central to our understanding of the Lord’s return.
This is no where more clear than in one of Paul’s most commendatory, yet anxious letters to the church of Thessalonica. In the first and fifth chapter of I Thessalonians we find the church exemplifying the trinity of faith, hope, and love in the outworking of the church’s life:
1Th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father...
1Th 5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
From these two verses Paul teaches us that our “hope’s” object is the Lord Jesus (1:3); the “hope’s” outcome is our ultimate salvation (5:8), but it is in 1:10 that Paul defines our “hope’s” content. It is our patient, enduring faith in and longing love for our Lord’s coming:
1Th 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
We can see from this brief analysis that amidst the divergent interpretations of the end product of God’s reign and rule over history; the second coming of the Son, the mean time of the church is to be spent with emphatic interest in the crux of the Christian life—faith, hope, and love. Our unwavering faith in, longing love for, and the fully assuring hope of our Lord’s appearing again is surely to be universally and dogmatically acclaimed in all the church. Despite one’s personal persuasion as to exactly how the chronology will work out, there are several points of sheer facticity and scriptural certainty subject to universal affirmation.
I. The Second Coming is Certain!
A. Our hope is as sure as the word, testimony, and promise of:
a. Mat 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
b. Mat 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
c. Jn 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
d. Rev 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
a. Act 1:11 Which 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.
3. The Apostles
a. 1Co 1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ...
b. 1Co 11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
c. 1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
d. 1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
e. Heb 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
These are just a few verses that can assure us that our “hope” in Jesus’ coming is as certain as anything a person can know. The Lord’s coming rest squarely on God’s fidelity to his word; something which cannot be broken (Jn 10:35), and his character; something he can’t deny. A Christian’s faith in this fact of history future is as reasonable as any belief to be held, this is because Yahweh, the God we love, is the only true “promise keeper.” We have 66 books all in one volume that testify to the fact that God has, does, and will remain faithful to every promise he makes. And it is at this very point—the second coming—that we may be most sure. The “history” God began thousands of years ago is on a steady course which will not be moved or altered and the objective destination of history is the return of Christ, the Lord of history, and the consummation of all things. The decree of Yahweh is more sure than any other knowledge one may have!
II. The Second Coming is a Personal Event
A. The Personal Presence of Christ
1. παροΰσια (Parousia) Defined. This is one of the central Greek NT words that speaks of Jesus’ second advent. Thayer defines it best as:
2) the coming, arrival, advent
2a) the future visible return from heaven of Jesus, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of God
And Strong as:
A being near, that is, advent (often, return; specifically of Christ to punish Jerusalem, or finally the wicked); (by implication) physical aspect: - coming, presence.
Cf. “Parousia” in connection Christ’s coming, past and future: Mat_24:3, Mat_24:27, Mat_24:37, Mat_24:39, 1Co_15:23, 1Th_2:19, 1Th_3:13, 1Th_4:15, 1Th_5:23, 2Th_2:1, 2Th_2:8-9 (2), Jam_5:7-8 (2), 2Pe_1:16, 2Pe_3:4, 2Pe_3:12, 1Jo_2:28
The first century church, much like the church today, was steeped in a pluralism of sorts. Greek philosophy largely held to a cyclical view of history, determined by Fate—not unlike Hinduism’s eschatology. With this view on the one side there was the dominate view of Judaism on the other. They originally believed “the day of Yahweh” and the ushering in of the “golden age” would be the subsequent results of a series of purely historical events. However, after centuries of oppression by foreign foes with no immanent victory in sight, Jewish writings saw a spike in apocalyptic literature during and shortly after the intertestamental period (400 B.C.—A.D. 150). There was then a shift in ideology from God’s immanent orchestration of the events of history in the life of national Israel with the end being a golden age of victory and peace for Israel as she ruled the nations, to the forecasting of God’s messianic figure bursting upon the scene in one catastrophic eschatological event which would in a moment trigger “the age to come.”
Against this diverse eschatological backdrop, the Bible presents the end of this age with the return and personal presence of God in Christ. As the Angels said in Acts 1:11, it will be “the same Jesus” the disciples saw ascending on the clouds who will return in like manner. This is in polar contrast to the Greek understanding of history, but for obvious reasons bears some likeness to the Hebraic view, yet there is one clear distinction.
2. The Two Age Synthesis
The Church Age can well be understood as the overlap of “the present age” and “the age to come.” The OT prophets foresaw the Messiah’s reign as a single historical, eschatological event, which once commenced would provide the people of God with victory, vindication, and peace; this is sometimes called prophetic telescoping. This type of futuristic revelation can be likened to looking at a distant mountain range. From the prophet’s vantage, what once looked like one large mountain upon nearer inspection (the revelational epoch of the NT) it becomes two mountains; a lesser mountain in front of a greater mountain with a valley of time (overlap) between them. Likewise, the Lord’s comings, first and second, are like the smaller mountain before the greater mountain. This helps to explain several things:
1. The disciples’ concept and confusion of the nature of the Kingdom of God. While there are many passages in which their misconceptions are evident, perhaps none is more clear than at Jesus’ post-Resurrection meeting with them in Acts 1:
Act 1:6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
2. It is Jesus himself who reveals the binary nature of the Messianic age in Lk.4:18—19. Here Jesus preaches from an explicitly Messianic passage in Isaiah which in the original context presents “the coming age” as a single event, however the Lord stops in mid-verse and proclaims the first part of the passage as fulfilled in his first coming and upon the hearing of the audience (v.21).
3. Also in Jn 5 Jesus makes prolific use of the word ώρα or “hour,” a term from Dan 8; 11; and 12, all of which have clear Messianic/eschatological overtones. It is in Jn 5 that Jesus again divides the Ages as the “hour” that “is coming and now is” (presence—the spiritual resurrection) and the “hour that is coming” (future—the eschatological resurrection and the consummation of all things). See: Jn 5:24—29; cf. Rev 20:4—6. This presents the Church Age as a time of overlap between the present age and the age to come. At his first advent Jesus inaugurated the age to come in his ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation. In the pending period of time the Church is to be an outpost or sign of “the age to come” within “the present age.” Life in the new covenant community of Christ is to be a prefiguring and foretaste of the new creation which will be ushered in finally and fully at our Lord’s Parousia.
The Christian eschatology is not only unique, but is the only one that makes sense of human history and offers hope (I Thess 4:13). Unlike the Greeks of Paul’s day (e.g. most all philosophies of our own day), Christians from all ages have understood the history of man and his world as linear, moving from alpha to omega, it has a definitive beginning (i.e. Creation) and is moving rapidly towards a definitive end (i.e. New Creation)—history has a point and purpose—that point is a Person, Jesus Christ.
Unlike the “either-or” Jewish understanding of the “last days;” which is either, the former view contingently based upon the volatile flux of historical outworking, or the latter view that was dominantly a-historical and passively awaiting a single apocalyptic event in the unknown future, the Christian hope is both historical and eschatological. Concerning the surety of the basic historical components and of the very “day” itself, the believer (indeed the world) has an unequivocal promise of not only the “events,” but also the Person and purpose of the end. Moreover, due to Christ’s current Kingdom reign over history and more intimately his Church, and one’s union with Christ and his covenant community, the logical—rational certainty of the Second Coming is bolstered by the believer’s experiencing and realizing “the new creation” personally and already in an inaugurated sense. Thus, believers realize the regeneration of all things now via their own incorrigible experience of personal regeneration which is wrought by the Holy Spirit in conversion. Therefore, the Christian has for certain this “hope” now and in the age to come, as do all “who love his appearing” (II Tim 4:8).
III. The Second Coming is a Purposeful Event
A. Purpose # 1. The Resurrection of the Dead/Change of those Still Alive
1. In General
a. Joh 5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, v.29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
b. Act 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
2. The Changing of Believers Still Alive
a. 1Co 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
b. 1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
B. Purpose #2. The Judgment
1. Of the Believer’s Gospel Stewardship
a. Rom 14:10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we (Christians) shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
b. 2Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
2. General Judgment of Eternal Life or Death
a. Joh 12:48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
b. Act 17:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
c. 2Th 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9. Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10. When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
C. Purpose # 3. The Kingdom—Finally and Fully—The New Creation
1. As Promised
a. Isa 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. 18. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. 19. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
b. Isa 66:22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.
c. 2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13. Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. 14. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
d. Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
e. 1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
Summary and Conclusion
The above prospect will evoke a spirit of vigilance, perseverance, self-examination, and sanctification within the being of every born-again Christian. Sadly there are many Christians who live under the paralyzing fear generated by a particular teaching that one’s justification is subject to loss, and there is utterly no constant hope of security and assurance that they will be certainly spared of final and fatal eternal Judgment. Many proponents of “eternal insecurity” believe that such teaching promotes piety and devotion. Rather, this doctrine stunts genuine personal growth in grace and inevitably slides down the slippery slope into legalism and spiritual paralysis. Often people under this regime qualify as “people who are really saved, but don’t know they are.”
Of course legalism has an evil twin sister, her name is antinomianism. The easy-believe-ism so rampant in the church today is quick to call anyone who will simply nod their head in the direction of Jesus a bona fide Christian...saved and sealed...never to fear judgment again—eternally secure. However, their lives show no signs of any scriptural fruit of conversion, there is not even an inkling of grief or conviction sin. By all outward indications, these are still dead in their sin. Yet they will show you the card they signed at the crusade, and tell stories of how the preacher told them they would never have to fear the final Judgment again, despite there being no change in their attitude and lifestyle. These are called “carnal Christians”—Jesus calls them “tares...goats...workers of iniquity.” These generally qualify as “people who know they are saved, but really aren’t.”
A balanced understanding of the Second Coming of Christ is a remedial means to cure the ills of either extreme listed above. The Christian with no assurance can find “hope” in a biblical understanding of the Parousia. Indeed, she will, like all believers, give an accounting of the life she lived in Christ, yet will grow in her assurance knowing that Christ comes for his own with redemption and salvation—not wrath and Judgment. The “carnal Christian” is confronted to “make her calling and election sure,” to “examine herself to see if she is in the faith.”
The sheer suddenness of that day also should fuel a fire in the bosom of all Christians, prodding the slothful to a life given over to “seeking and saving that which is lost.” The Second Coming teaches all of us to redeem the time given us for the work of evangelism, at home and abroad.
The Parousia finds its end in the full and final realization of the enduring covenant promise of God, The Theme of all the Bible—“they will be to me a people and I shall be their God.” While there are literally thousands of ideologies concerning reality, its nature and extent, there is only one right one, and this is it. Everything Yahweh had for man in the Garden is now perfected at the Parousia of the Perfector himself. The People of God in the presence of God, in perfect communion and worship of God, this is reality! This is the very apex of our “faith, hope, and love.”
The Christian’s readiness for that day is not a matter of having their nose pressed to the window and their eyes skyward, but it is to have their nose pressed to the grindstone of “faith, hope, and love” and their eyes steadfastly fixed on the final great promise of God—his return!
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4