By Pastor Glenn Pease
Joanna Baillie, and English dramatic poet of the last century, told the touching tale of a maiden whose lover had gone off to the Holy Land. The report had come back that he had been slain. She refused to believe he would not return to her, and so every night she kindled a fire on the shore of the Mediterranean and watched for his return to take her to be his bride.
The story is a parable of the church and her lover, the Lord Jesus Christ. He too has gone away, but He promised to return, so the church waits in expectation for that day when the shout will be heard, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh," and she will be taken as a glorious bride to His mansion in the sky.
This theme of waiting for the return of one's lover is an ancient one. Homer in the Odyssey tells of the hero Ulysses who went off to the war of Troy, and spent ten adventurous years trying to get back home to his waiting wife. She was wealthy and the result was many men wanted to marry her. They insisted that her husband was dead, and that she was foolish to wait. She had to endure enormous pressure, but she remained faithful to her husband, and finally he did return to wreak vengeance upon those wicked men who sought to take advantage of his wife.
Again we see a parallel of what the church must endure as it waits for the return of Christ. The world says forget this Jesus you wait for, and come make love with us. He is gone, and you are foolish to wait for Him, and miss the love of the world. Peter warned the early Christians about the world's attack on the hope of the second coming. In II Pet. 3:3-4 he writes, "First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the father's fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation." By their scoffing they hoped to cause the Christians to give up their hope.
The Lord will return and wreak vengeance upon those who seek to entice His bride away. Those who try to lure the bride of Christ into the arms of the world need to hear the warning of the Word, for their will be hell to pay when the Bridegroom comes. II Thess. 1:6-10 says, "...God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might, when He come on that day to be gloried in His saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed."
The second coming will be both a day of great joy, and a day of great judgment. The Bible alternates between these two pictures depending upon whose point of view by which it is seen-the Bride or the world. Christians are warned over and over again to watch for the coming of their Lord, for carelessness in this area can lead them to get so involved with the world that that day will come upon them like a thief in the night, and they will be caught naked and ashamed at His coming.
In other words, if the Bridegroom comes and finds His bride flirting with the world and embracing another lover, it will be a day of judgment rather than joy even for those believers who are not found faithful. But Jesus says in Luke 21:37, "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching." In order to motivate us to watch, we want to focus on this great text where John emphasizes these two aspects of the second coming. First we see-
I. THE REALITY OF HIS RETURN.
Behold He is coming says John. The faithful bride never questions the promise of her bridegroom to return and receive her unto Himself that where He is she might be also.
He'll come again,
And prove our hope not vain.
We wait the moment, Oh, so fair;
To rise and meet Him in the air,
His heart, His home, His throne to share,
O wondrous love!
This has been the blessed hope of the church from the day of its birth. This is the goal of history. It is the final leg of the tripod of history: Creation, crucifixion, and coming again. The prophets predicted it; the Lord Himself promised it, and the Apostles fervently preached it. The New Testament refers to the second coming 318 times. Everybody who truly believes the Bible believes in the second coming, for to deny its reality is to deny the validity of Biblical revelation. Christians in every denomination, and people in every cult that studies the Bible, believe in the reality of Christ's return.
You would have a very difficult time finding anyone who rejects the second coming, except those who do not believe the Bible. The problem today is not unbelief, but too much belief. Modern Christians have developed so many different ways of looking at the second coming that it gets very confusing, not just to laymen, but even to the scholars. I have known pastors who became nervous wrecks over the doctrine of the second coming because there was so much truth in different systems in interpreting it. All the different views are held by outstanding leaders of the evangelical church. A whole new phenomenon is taking place. New books are coming out all the time with all of the views being presented by well known authors in the same book. This is a clear sign that Christians are finally becoming aware that it is likely that no one view has all the answers, but that there are values and insights in all of them that need to be considered by the whole body.
Charles Erdman in Remember Jesus Christ wrote, "...while there should be no doubt as to the reality of the personal glorious return of Christ, much diversity of views, regarding details and circumstances must be allowed." Those who go on dogmatically insisting that their view is the only true one only reveal their own intellectual dishonesty. I have studied all of the views and find Biblical values in each of them, and find that none of them is complete and without problems. There are so many passages in the Bible that deal with the Rapture, the Resurrection, and the Return from the point of view of the world, the church, and Israel, that nobody has ever been able to put them all together into a simple chart that explains them clearly.
So many things, both good and bad, are going to happen when Jesus returns that it is futile to try and get all of the events organized. Those who think they have done it only aggravate those who know the complexity of the second coming is beyond the charting of the human mind. Listen to the greatest Baptist preacher of all time, who read more widely possibly than any man who ever lived-Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
"As for the Lord's second coming, we know not when it
shall be. Shall the world grow darker and darker till
He comes? It may be so. There are passage of Scripture
and signs of the times which may be taken to indicate it.
On the other hand, shall the age grow brighter and brighter
until He appears to bring the perfect day? Through the
preaching of the Gospel shall there be periods in which
multitudes shall be converted, and whole nations saved?
I do not know: there are texts that seem to look that way,
and many a brave worker hopes as much. There are
brethren who can map out unfulfilled prophecy with great
distinctness; but I confess my inability to do so. They get
a shilling box of mathematical instruments. They stick
down one leg of the compasses and describe a circle here
and a circle there, and they draw two or three lines, and
there it is. Can you not see it plainly? I am sick of diagrams;
I have seen enough to make another volume of Euclid. My
impression is that very little is learned from the major part
of these interpretations."
We could quote hundreds of the greatest minds of Christiandom who stand with Spurgeon. They recognize there is probably an aspect of truth in almost everything that can be said about the second coming, and that is why they reject any narrow and limited man made scheme that pretends to lock Christ into a specific schedule. Some of the old prophetic preachers were very bold and dogmatic, but the wiser modern prophets have learned they cannot program God to do things their way, and so if you read their books today you will read a lot of maybe this could be, or possibly this could mean, or probably this indicates. There is a great caution today because too many godly men have made too many wild guesses in the past and have been wrong. Our blessed hope is not a hope of producing a perfect chart and schedule of the events of His coming. Our blessed hope is the reality of His coming.
Behold He is coming says John.
II. THE RESPONSE AT HIS RETURN.
This text emphasizes the main reason for the return of Christ, which is to judge the world. Every eye will see Him, and even those who pierced Him, and there will be a response of universal wailing. This picture of the coming of Christ as judge is the main theme of the Creeds of Christiandom all through history. The Apostles' Creed declares that Christ "Ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." The Nicene Creed affirms that Christ "Sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead." In the Athanasian Creed, the confession is similar: "Christ sitteth on the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead." Dr. James Denny out of lifetime of study of the Word said, "If we are to retain any relationship to the New Testament at all, we must assert the personal return of Christ as Judge of all."
The articles of religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and also the fourth of the 39 articles of the Church of England read this way: Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again His body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, where with he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day."
The Augsburg Confession of 1530 reads, "..in the consummation of the world, Christ shall appear to judge, and shall raise up all the dead, and shall give unto the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joy; but ungodly men and the devils shall He condemn with endless torment." The New Hampshire Baptist confession of 1833 says, "We believe that the end of the world is approaching, and that at the last day Christ will descend from heaven and raise the dead from the grave to final retribution; that a solemn separation will then take place."
John seems to focus on the judgment of the world only, but the creeds and testimony we have just read stress that the judgment includes the believers as well as the unbelievers. In other words, this day of the greatest joy possible for Christians will be a day of wailing for many, for they did not give heed to the Word, but let themselves be enticed by the world. The result of their not watching will be that they will, along with the world, be caught naked when Christ comes as a thief in the night, and they will be ashamed at His coming. There is no way to escape this conclusion as you read the warnings of the New Testament to Christians about being ready.
Paul wrote to Timothy in II Tim. 4:1-2 in the Living Bible, "And so I solemnly urge you urge you before God and before Christ Jesus-who will someday judge the living and the dead when He appears to set up His kingdom-to preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not. Correct and rebuke your people when they need it, encourage them to do right, and all the time feeding them patiently with God's Word." Paul is saying, the whole Christian ministry is to be performed in the light of Christ's coming as the Judge. To be ready for that day is the reason behind so much of what we do as a church.
Jesus has all power, and as King of Kings He could chose to just end history and judge the world and the church, but He does not chose to do it that way. He chooses to come back into history to vindicate those who have been faithful, and to make sure that total justice is accomplished. Jesus will not end history with any loose ends, but all will be wrapped up with neatness and order.
John stresses that every eye will see Jesus when He comes. Phillip Mauro, the great layman Bible commentator, whose many books on the last things are some of the best, says, "It is a part of God's plan for the future that every child of Adam's race shall have at least one look at Him who gave Himself a ransom for all." Mauro is taking John literally here that every eye will see Him. It is hard to avoid taking this statement literally, when he goes on to say, even those who pierced Him will be among those whose eyes will see Him. Those who pierced Jesus have long been disintegrated into dust. Their last sight of Jesus was His dead body being taken from the cross. John says that even those eyes, long blinded by death, will also behold His return in power and glory.
John was the only disciple at the cross. He saw the cruelty there as none other did. He alone tells us of the piercing of Jesus. It is likely that John in telling us that those who pierced Him will see Him along with the whole world, is emphasizing the universal justice that Jesus will bring as the Judge. Christians had to suffer so much injustice in John's day, and like Jesus they were unjustly condemned to torture and death. John comforts them by assuring them that every injustice will be brought before the Judge; even those who pounded the nails in His hands, and who pierced His side, will stand before Jesus as King of Kings.
This text of Rev. 1:7 gets us into the whole area of the resurrection of dead, and that of both believers and unbelievers. It is the unbelievers who are more in John's mind here, for he stresses the presence of those who pierced Jesus and the universal wailing. For every eye to see Jesus means that even the dead of all time will see His coming. When Jesus comes again there has to be a resurrection of all who have ever lived, or we could not take this text literally.
A seventh day Adventist view is that those who pierced Jesus are raised in a special resurrection to see Jesus coming, but they will die again and be raised later. This is not impossible, but it seems rather a strange thing for God to do, and it is extreme speculation. We are on safer ground to look to John to guide us and grasp more clearly what he is revealing. If we go to John's Gospel to a passage where he is dealing again with the coming of Christ in judgment, we get a confirmation of the fact that John means for us to take him literally when he says, every eye will see the Lord when He returns. This means that all who have ever lived and died on this planet will in on that climatic event of history. It is beyond our comprehension to grasp the magnitude of this event, but John leaves us in no doubt that this is the case in John 5:28-29: "Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."
Every person who has ever been will be beholding the Man of Glory when He comes in the clouds. As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall be made alive says the Apostle Paul. Does he really mean all? Yes! Even the most godless will see the second coming for the all who die in Adam is all inclusive, and so the all who will be made alive in Christ is also all inclusive. Hitler and Stalin will be there, and their eyes will behold Him and every knee will bow to His Lordship. All those who pierced Him will be there, and not just the Roman soldiers who sphere went through His side, but Nero who pierced the body of Christ time and time again as he martyred the early Christians. Thousands upon thousands of tyrants will there to witness the triumph of Him whom they mocked, and whose people they martyred.
No one will fully know what hell is like until this day when they see that the one they rejected is in reality the Lord of Life. No wonder John says there will be world wide wailing. It does not take much imagination to picture the reason why wailing will cover the face of the earth. Can you imagine the depth of the shock and sorrow that will grip those who had a chance for eternal life in Christ but instead trampled under foot the blood of the Savior and rejected this Jesus who now appears before them as the Ruler of the universe. The second coming will be literal hell on earth for those who do not love His appearing because they do not love Him.
Those who are not saved will be raised to life to see the Lord of Glory, but they will then be judged and cast into the lake of fire, which is called the second death. The second coming means the second death to those who are not ready, and that is why it is a time of wailing. Perfect justice will be done by the Judge of all the world. On the cross Jesus paid the penalty for the sin of all men. When He comes again He will reward those who accepted His sacrifice with the gift of eternal salvation. His condemnation will fall upon those who rejected it, and they will have to pay their own penalty. In the light of these truths we should be ever aware of this revelation that the King is Coming.