Summary: We don't know when Jesus will come again, or whether we will die before that and go to meet our Savior. We do know that we should be wide awake and ready 24/7 for that encounter. And to that end, we are called to encourage one another rather than to incite fear and panic.
Do you believe that Jesus will one day come back from where he has gone? Do you believe that there is actually going to be a point of time in our history, or better: in our future, when God will intervene in the flow of history in a way that will have a cosmic impact? Let’s have a show of hands: Who believes in the second coming of Jesus?
Let me ask you another question: Do you believe that Jesus could actually return during your lifetime—anywhere between today and some dozens of years from now? Who of you believes, that we could actually witness the second coming of Jesus while we are still alive?
One more question, and then you can sit back and relax. If you believe that Jesus is coming back and that that could be any time soon, how does that affect your feelings and emotions, your stress levels, your choices, and your behavior: the way you use your time, your money, and your resources? Think of that for a while: Does the thought of Jesus coming back soon have any impact on your life as you live it today? And I mean: real impact!
Well, I don’t know what your answer is to that last question. What I do know is this. Christians react very differently to the idea of Jesus’ second coming.
There have always been people with a strong sense of urgency about this. Many revival movements throughout the history of the church have brought this urgency to the surface. Their message has been pretty much the same as that of John the Baptist and Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
That urgency has led them to change the way they live. It has led some to leave everything behind and go on a mission to the ends of the world to proclaim the gospel as long as it was still possible. When Dr. Bill Bright back in the 1950s founded the global evangelistic organization Campus Crusade for Christ, his motto was this: To reach the whole world with the gospel of Jesus within our lifetime. His vision was that within one generation everybody living on this globe should have a chance to hear the Gospel and respond to it. And that vision inspired so many young students and professionals that, within forty years, Campus Crusade for Christ was the largest Christian organization in the world. And it operated in more countries than the United Nations. It was that sense of urgency that made students and professionals alike give up their careers in order to win people for Christ before his return.
But I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the more than two billion Christians in the world do not believe or expect that Jesus would come again any time soon—during their lifetime. I guess that a large portion of them is not quite sure whether Jesus will ever come again. They like to think of the prophecies concerning the end times and the return of Jesus as figurative. They don’t take them literally.
Some even suggest that Jesus came back in his Spirit on the feast of Pentecost—you know, the birthday of the Church when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul calls the Church the “body of Christ”. So in a sense, it is not so far-fetched to think that Jesus’ return has already happened, and that Jesus lives among us and in us through the Holy Spirit. And so, what they expect is that, when their life is over, their body will be buried or burnt, and their soul will go to heaven to be with God. That is where the final judgment will take place—if there is any judgment at all for those who are in Christ.
When the Bible speaks about the end times and about Jesus coming again, there is always that tremendous sense of urgency. Jesus says that he will come “like a thief in the night […] at an hour when we do not expect him”. Paul echoes that view in almost exactly the same wording: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” So the question arises, “How can we be prepared for that moment?”
I wonder if you ever had a burglar raiding your house. I remember when I was a teenager, that we had an uninvited visitor once. I was home alone and doing my homework in my room in the attic. I heard some noise downstairs and thought perhaps my mother had come home. So, I quickly ran down the stairs and went to the kitchen, where the noise came from. I was just in time to see somebody disappear over the wall. A broken glass pane was all the damage there was. Nothing had been taken. But it was a deeply disturbing experience, which made me feel unsafe at home for a long time. It felt that there was really nothing we could do to avoid it from happening again. Except, perhaps, that the burglar knew there wasn’t much to be taken from our home.