Coop's Column - He Shall Come Again

One of my former pastors told me that in his -then- 27 years of ministry in five different congregations he had met only two persons-an elderly wife and husband-who lived in daily excitement at the fact that Jesus shall come again. At every day's beginning they exclaimed to each other, "This could be the day! Let's be ready to greet our Lord!"

One of my former pastors told me that in his (then) 27 years of ministry in five different congregations he had met only two persons—an elderly wife and husband—who lived in daily excitement at the fact that Jesus shall come again. At every day’s beginning they exclaimed to each other, “This could be the day! Let’s be ready to greet our Lord!”

But only two in 27 years. That, despite the fact that more than 300 times throughout the New Testament—in the four Gospels; in the Book of Acts; in the letters of Paul, Peter, and John; and in the book of Revelation—Scripture’s Spirit-guided authors remind us of the fact that very soon and very certainly our Lord shall return in triumph and shall complete, once and for all, his mission of turning this world right-side up again. Despite the fact, too, that ever since the time of the New Testament church, generation after generation of Christian thinkers and pastors has recommended the practice of “meditation on the future life” as a healthful exercise for vigorous Christian living (and dying). Consider John Calvin as an example: “Let us, however, consider this settled: that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection…. Let us, then … not hesitate to await the Lord’s coming, not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs…. He will come to us as Redeemer…. He will lead us into that blessed inheritance of his life and glory” (Institutes, III.x.5).

The New Testament writers claim that Jesus’ return will be sudden and unexpected. His coming again will be like “a thief in the night” (Matt. 24:43; 2 Thess. 5:2ff.). It will catch people unawares, like a housemaster who returns from a long journey “at a time you do not know” (Mark 13:34-36). It will be as a bridegroom who, “after a long time in coming,” finally arrives in the middle of the night (Matt. 25:1-13). Knowing all too well that his followers would become weary of waiting for him and tire of staying alert, Jesus warned: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

How to counteract our tendency toward sleepy inattentiveness and slothful disregard of our Lord’s epic return? One way is to join weekly for worship with fellow expectant ones. There—“in the sanctuary” (cf. Ps. 73:17)—we can rouse one another to that appropriate sense of eager expectancy which ought to mark our waiting. There, through our reading and hearing of Scripture’s promises, our minds can take in again the truth that our Lord shall return. There we can participate in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, heaven-sent messengers for us to touch and taste and smell and see—and thus to remember—that indeed he is coming again. There we can affirm together the Church’s ancient confession: “He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” There we can plead and pray together: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

Unless from week to week we keep on practicing these holy activities—the listening, the communing, the affirming, the singing, the praying—our sense of expectancy gradually will become dulled, and our horizoned future become shriveled, short-sighted, and far too small.

Prayer

The Lord will come and not be slow, his footsteps cannot err; Before him righteousness shall go, his royal harbinger. Truth from the earth, like to a flow’r, shall bud and blossom then And justice, from her heavenly bow’r, look down on mortal men. Rise, God, and judge the earth in might, this wicked earth redress; For you are he who shall be right the nations all possess. For great you are, and wonders great by your strong hand are done: You in your everlasting seat remain the Lord alone. (John Milton, 1608-1684)

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