Summary: Fifteenth in a sixteen-part series on the Nazarene Articles of Faith, this sermon looks at our hope in the future coming of Christ.
Article of Faith #15 - Second Coming of Christ
Date: Sunday, September 26, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
Today we come to the fifteenth article of faith in the Church of the Nazarene. We’ve been studying together this summer learning about the Nature of God, the nature of our sin, and God’s plan of redemption to provide eternal salvation for us. So far, much of our study has been about the past. We spoke of creation and the fall. We discussed what happened at the cross and the empty tomb. We brought those lessons into modern day as we spoke about how God comes to meet us through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. During our last lesson, we spoke of His healing power, and anointed many for healing in their lives and the lives of their family and loved ones.
Today, we turn our attention from studying about the past and the present to studying about the future. Instead of talking about what has already happened and was recorded in God’s Word, we look at what God has revealed to us about the future. Instead of discussing our experiences of enjoying God’s presence now, we shift our focus today to looking forward to our final redemption at the end of the world.
With this shift from the past and present to the future, comes a recognition that we tread on much more fragile territory. Instead of retelling the story of what has already happened and attempting to understand how it impacts us today, we are now faced with the task of attempting to understand what happens in the future. We are also faced with the task of trying to interpret prophesies, for which we have received very little training. Fundamentally, we must return to the understanding that Scripture should never be twisted to mean what it never meant to its original audience. Our interpretations of scripture prophecy should not only make sense to us, but the same interpretation should also make sense to the original hearers. If they did not understand the prophecy in their time, they would not have likely preserved and passed it down from generation to generation.
We call the study of end times eschatology. Many other phrases and words have been developed to describe different camps of eschatological doctrine. We speak of premillenialists, postmillennialists, and amillenialists. Within the group of premillenialists, we find those who believe in a Secret Rapture, and those believers are often further described by pre-, mid-, and post-tribulationists.
Without taking time to define each of those terms and describe their positions, let me share with you the sorts of eschatalogical questions that divide one camp from another: Will there be a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth (a millennial kingdom)? Will this millennial reign be brought about by Christ ’s return? Or will Christ reign through the Body of Christ (the church) at work throughout the world, bringing about the Kingdom of God in reality for one thousand years prior to the physical return of Christ ? Did the events in Revelation partly occur in 70 AD with the fall of the Temple and of Jerusalem ? Or have none of the events in the book of Revelation yet occurred? When Jesus returns, will he be escorted to earth by the believers to set up His Kingdom, or will He ‘rapture’ them to Heaven while a tribulation is meted upon the wicked? If there is a tribulation of the unsaved, will Jesus steal His bride away before, during, or after? Is the Tribulation something endured by non-believers? Or is it a great Tribulation of the Saints? Is it possible to know any dates? Or even to recognize the signs of the times?
These are all questions that are debated by laypeople, pastors, and theologians all over the world. Scholars and theologians who have studied for years arrive at different conclusions. Pastors attempt to interpret those conclusions and provide them to the laypeople, who are surrounded with all sorts of popular theology and literature on the topic…some of it good, some of it probably not so good.
I’m sure that by now some of you are sitting there in the pew waiting for me to tell you what it is that ‘we’ believe. And, you’re hoping that I won’t use any more of those twenty-dollar words that by the time I’ve defined we will have forgotten why I used it in the first place. You’re probably hoping that I’ll tell you that ‘we’ believe whatever it is that the authors of the Left Behind books believe so you can just go home and read those books. After all, they don’t use twenty dollar words! :)
I’m sorry, but I’m afraid my message this morning will probably be a great disappointment to you. You may, in fact, find that the Church of the Nazarene is a great disappointment to you. But I hope not. It’s not a great disappointment to me, and neither is this article of faith, which you can find in the inside flap of your bulletin.