“Any Day Now!"
Robert J. Morgan
March 24, 2002
This is Palm Sunday, a time when we celebrate the day our Lord entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives as a king riding on a donkey, in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. He was entering the city at the onset of Passion Week, at the end of which He would die to atone for the sins of the world. But even as we sing our great Palm Sunday hymns, I can’t help thinking of the next time our Lord enters Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. It will not be in meekness and submission, but in power, glory, and honor. He will not be riding on a donkey, but descending with the angels.
Today I’d like to bring a different kind of Palm Sunday message—not one that looks backward, but one that looks forward to that coming day when our Lord shall descend victoriously to the Mount of Olives and enter the city of Zion through the Golden Gate to establish His Kingdom.
When will that be? In terms of biblical prophecy, the order of events as I understand them will unfold like this. We are now awaiting the rapture of the church, which could occur at any moment. The trumpet of the Lord will sound, the dead in Christ will be resurrected, and the church of our Lord Jesus Christ—the saints of all the ages—will be caught up to heaven. In the aftermath of that breathtaking event, the remaining citizens of earth will regroup into a one-world government led by a powerful and charismatic leader who is referred to in the Bible as “the man of sin” or the “antichrist.”
There will follow seven years of tribulation as described in the books of Daniel and Revelation, and near the end of that period the armies of the world will march against the nation of Israel and surround the city of Jerusalem, determined to annihilate the Jewish race at long last. At that very moment, at the outset of the battle of Armageddon, the Lord Jesus Christ will appear in the heavens, surrounded by His holy angels. He will descend to the Mount of Olives and enter Jerusalem in triumph to establish His millennial reign on the earth.
How wonderful will be the unfolding of these events! Have you thought about them recently? Are you anticipating those days? Are you watching for Christ to come like a thief in the night? Are you ready?
According to John Wesley White, there are some 1,845 verses in the Bible that speak of the return of Jesus Christ to earth. Today I’d like to deal with a few of these verses as we find them in the book of 1 Thessalonians.
The two letters written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica—1 and 2 Thessalonians—contain a lot of valuable material about the Lord’s coming. In addition, as some of you have noticed or heard, the book of 1 Thessalonians is the only book in the Bible in which every chapter ends with a reference to the Second Coming of Christ.
The reason for that is bound up in the way the Thessalonian church was established in Acts 17. On his second missionary expedition, Paul entered the city of Thessalonica, a large port city in the north of Greece, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. There he found some open-minded prospects, he evangelized them, and a church was established. The great apostle was just starting to teach these new Christians when a riot broke out. Opposition forces descended on the young church shouting, “The men who have turned the world upside down have now come here, disturbing our city.” Paul had to run for his life. Now, the apostle must have been in the middle of telling these new Christians that the Lord was going to return to earth. But his departure was so abrupt that the people were left with insufficient information. /When/ is He coming again? /What/ will be the signs of His coming? /How/ should we prepare for that day? Paul’s incomplete teachings had left them intensely curious for more, and they were left with a certain amount of confusion.
So Paul quickly wrote back to them—some scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians was the first of his letters—and he addressed the return of Christ at length. We don’t have time for a thorough study of the eschatological material in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, but I’d like to show you how every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. These five endings tell us something about the effect the return of Christ should have on our hearts and minds.
*A Sign of Salvation*
At the end of chapter one, we see that the anticipation for the return of Christ is a sign of our salvation. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:8ff: The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who saves us from the coming wrath./
Here is a concise definition of a Christian. Paul was saying, “Everywhere we go people are talking about what happened when I was with you, how you became Christians.” And how does he define a Christian? A Christian is someone who has turned from idols to serve God and to await the return of Christ.
When we find ourselves awaiting, anticipating the return of Christ, it is a sign of salvation. That’s what people do who have truly been saved. They look at the sky blue-pink at sunrise and they think, “Maybe my Lord will come today.” They see the scarlet sunset in the west, and they say, “Maybe my Lord will come just now.”
Some golden daybreak Jesus will come.
Some golden daybreak battles all done.
He’ll shout the victory; break through the blue
Some golden daybreak for me, for you.
Every generation of Christians has wanted the Lord to come back in their own days. A little book called the “Didache” is among the earliest documents in church history. There we read: “Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.”
St. Cyril wrote in the fourth century: /But let us wait and look for the Lord's coming upon the clouds from heaven. Then shall angelic trumpets sound./
Augustine felt that the Lord would return somewhere, he thought, around the year A.D. 1000.
In the 1300s, John Wycliffe, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” studied the “signs” of the times and concluded that the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ should be expected immediately
In the 16th century, John Calvin preached: /We must hunger after Christ until the dawning of that great day when our Lord will fully manifest the glory of His kingdom./
In the 18th century, John Wesley said: /The Spirit in the heart of the true believer says with earnest desire, “Come, Lord Jesus.”/
In the twentieth century, evangelist Billy Graham said: /Many times when I go to bed at night I think to myself that before I awaken Christ may come./
To be a Christian is to be someone who has turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven—Jesus—who saves us from the coming wrath.
*A Motive For Ministry*
Second, a love for the Second Coming is a motivation for ministry. First Thessalonians 2 ends with these words: /But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy./
In other words, Paul said, “I hated being torn away from you like I was. I didn’t want to leave. You are very valuable, very important to me, very loved by me. You are those I have won to Christ. You are those whom I’ll see at the throne of God as a result of my labors. You are my hope, my joy, my crown in which I will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes.”
There’s an old song that says, “Will there be any stars in my crown?” In other words, will there be anyone at the rapture whom I’ve won to Christ? Will there be someone—anyone—at the Throne of God because of my witness? Will there be souls in heaven because of my earthly life?
One of the most neglected aspects of the Second Coming of Christ involves its potential for motivating us in evangelism and in Christian service. What will it be like to stand before the Throne of God on that day He returns and look earnestly through the encircling throngs trying to find someone, anyone, who is there because of our witness? What will it be like to stand before the Throne and be surrounded by a host of men and women and boys and girls whom we had the joy of leading to faith in Christ?
Not long after I’d yielded my heart to the Lord as a college sophomore I was on fire for the Lord. Along with some of my buddies, I went to a nearby shopping complex on a soul-winning venture. I sat down beside one boy—he was perhaps eleven or twelve. I shared the Gospel with him, and he wanted to be a Christian, and so I led him in praying a prayer in which he asked Jesus Christ to be His Lord and Savior. Afterward he gave me his address, and the next day I went to his home to give him a Bible and some literature. But his father, a crude and angry man, met me at the door. He was furious that I had shared Christ with his son. When I tried to leave the Bible, the man struck at me and knocked me off the porch. I’ve never seen that boy since, but I’ve often wondered if I will not meet him some day on the golden streets. He is the first person I ever remember leading to Christ, and if his conversion was sincere and genuine, he will be my hope and my joy and my crown when the Lord comes again.
Similarly, whenever we give of our money to the Lord’s work, whenever we send forth missionaries, whenever we support our ministry here with the resulting conversions—those who come to the Lord through our ministry are going to be sources of great joy for us when our Lord comes again.
*A Reason For Righteousness*
But let’s move on to the ending of the next chapter. Look at the way 1 Thessalonians 3 ends: “Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.”
The Second Coming of Christ gives us a reason for righteousness. It should motivate us to live a holy life, even as we read in 1 John 3, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
I know many of us have prayed for our children. Many have prayed for our friends. Many of you have prayed for your husband or wife. But have you ever prayed anything like this? “Lord, may you, our God and Father, and may Jesus Christ your Son, strengthen this person’s heart right now that he or she will be able to live a righteous life. Strengthen my child to withstand temptation. Strengthen my wife to be victorious over sin, so that when the Lord Jesus comes with all His holy angels she will have no cause to be ashamed.”
How would you feel if the trumpet suddenly sounded and the Lord came just as you were getting drunk, just as you were entering that pornographic web site, just as you were erupting in profanity?
2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Why should we live a righteous and holy life? So that when He comes again, we will be found blameless and holy.
*A Source Of Solace*
Fourth, the Second Coming of Christ is a source of solace. The ending of 1 Thessalonians 4 is a classic treatment of the death of Christians vis-à-vis the return of Christ.
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
One of the most interesting sermons I’ve ever read was preached by the 4th century bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom. He was the “golden-mouthed” preacher of Antioch whose eloquence is legendary. The sermon was on excessive grief at funerals. He said that Christians ought to grieve at funerals, but they should not grieve excessively, and he quotes this verse in 1 Thessalonians 4: “We should not be ignorant of God’s promises and we should not be excessive in our grief.”
He put it like this. What if your friend lived in a tottering and dilapidated house? A dangerous, unhealthy house. Suppose someone offered to build them a new and beautiful home, but it required their moving out of the old one for a short time while it was torn down and the new one built. That should not occasion grief, but joy. In the same way, the human body becomes, sooner or later, tottery, sickly, and dilapidated. God moves us out for a short time while He prepares a place for us and thus we await our resurrection bodies.
The Bible says that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.
In 1886, a Swedish minister named Reverend Carl Boberg, wrote a hymn beginning with the words
“O Store Gud” (“O Mighty God!”), and in 1907 the text was translated into German. In 1912, a Russian clergyman, I. S. Prokhanov, made a Russian translation of this German version. In 1925 a clergyman in Chicago translated the text into English for the first time, but his translation, beginning “O Mighty God, when I behold the wonder,” did not achieve wide popularity.
In 1923, Reverend and Mrs. Stuart K. Hine, English missionaries, were preaching in Russia when they heard this hymn. So impressed were they that it remained in their memories. They decided to write a new English version, based partly on the Russian words they had heard and partly on the breathtaking scenery they had witnessed in their travels.
Thus were the first three verses born to our great hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” But years later in the days immediately following World War II, Rev. Hine noticed the plight of Eastern European refugees who had fled to Britain from Eastern Europe during the Nazi invasion. One question was constantly on their lips: “When can we go home?” They were homesick, and they wanted to return to their homes. Inspired by these refugees, he wrote a fourth verse to the hymn he had translated years before:
When Christ shall come/
With shout of acclamation/
And take me home/
What joy shall fill my heart./
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,/
And there proclaim,/
My God, how great Thou art!
*A Cause For Confidence*
The return of Christ is a sign of salvation, a motive for ministry, a reason for righteousness, a source of solace, and finally—at the end of chapter five—it is a cause of confidence: /May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it./
God is building us up. He is developing and maturing us. He is sanctifying us body, mind, and soul. He will present us blameless before the throne at His coming. The One who calls us is faithful, and He will do it. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face. Now we are babes, but then we shall be complete. Our brightest days are ahead of us, and eye has not seen nor has ear heard neither has it entered into the heart of man the things the Lord has for us. The half has never been told. We can thus live with confidence, with hope, with joy, and with anticipation. Jesus said, “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed that for several months our Praise Team has been wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels. Angie Deel is one of our Praise Team members, and her husband Byron—a deacon here—has been in Bosnia with American troops during these dangerous days. Those yellow ribbons are a sign of our eagerness for his safe return, which is now scheduled for next month. Can you imagine how difficult this separation has been Angie, Teri, and Casey? They have cried themselves to sleep on some nights, longing for his return. They have thought about him day and night. Everything in the Deel household is affected by this separation, and everything is dependant on this reunion.
Should there not be a similar anticipation for the return of Christ? Should we not all be wearing yellow ribbons on the lapels of our hearts? Should we not go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking about His impending return?
Are you ready for Him? If He were to come today, would you be caught up in the clouds or left behind? May we be so full of readiness and anticipation that the prayer on our lips is continually, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”