He should come back.

Last week I was part of a team leading one of the Crusaders study camps. A bunch of 70 or so HSC students came down to Fitzroy Falls to do loads of study, and we present the gospel to them. It was a tough week, a tough crowd, and a draining experience – we just have to trust that the seed has been planted, and God will work.

In one discussion an agnostic (read: pretty sceptical) dude mused; “It would be easy to believe if Jesus just came back and showed himself to us.”
I responded with the suggestion that once Jesus returns, it will be a little too late to change our minds.

Needless to say, those who did not want to make a decision yet were not comfortable with this idea. It is definitely biblical to eagerly await the return of Christ (think on the last few lines of Revelation, in particular). But these guys just wanted to hedge their bets.

Since then I’ve been thinking more about it. Here are a few collected thoughts.
  • Jesus will return. But when he does it won’t be just to do a world tour so that people can believe him. Our saviour will return in glory and power; to consummate the kingdom he has inaugurated. 
    • There are references to this all through the epistles, and Revelation is full of crazy apocalyptic imagery regarding the end times. Chapter 19 is a good one to read here.
  • People didn’t believe Jesus at the time, when there was clear evidence. We laugh at the apostles for their slowness to recognise Jesus. But would we really be different? Would you trust an appearance, in these days of technology and many means of deception?
  • When Jesus returns, every knee will bow (Philippians 2). That is, everything will be set in order. But does that mean that everyone will worship God and thus be ok? No. Revelation 20 is clear that all the living and all the dead – every human being to ever walk the planet – will be judged, and many will be condemned, not justified. 
    • Jesus suggests that this will be the minority, when he talks about the narrow gate (Matthew 7).
  • While every knee will bow and recognise Jesus’ Lordship, we have to hold that in tension with the response of those who are alive and still living without Jesus when he returns. Have a read over Revelation 6. The people, rather than seeing the glorious Lord of the universe and humbling themselves willingly, try to flee from him. There is a clamour to get to the hills, to escape from seeing Jesus’ face. Those in Christ, however, are consistently joyful and empowered at the coming of their King.
    • When Jesus returns, people will not repent. They will, if anything, be even more intentional in rejecting God and fleeing from his presence.
  • The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 also tells us that there is enough  to believe now. To put it off, and to claim that we just need more time, more evidence, more explicit revelation and so on, is to think as the rich man does. He thinks that more revelation will mean that people turn. The response is jarring – hard hearts are determined to not believe. 
  • Thomas, in John 20, basically asks for a similar thing. He is the sceptic who refuses anything but absolute proof (not just visual, but physical). On the same ticket, he basically says “I will believe in a risen Jesus when he shows himself to me.” God has answered this objection once. We can trust the proof that Thomas got. Don’t wait for the return.
  • Luke 13 has Jesus talking about a disaster where a tower fell, killing 18 people. His response is essentially to say that nobody knows what the future holds, so we should repent now, before it is too late. If we could put the decision off until we die (or Jesus returns) then this doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
    • This logic applies to the entirety of the Christian mission. If all people will recognise God and be saved, then why tell them now? Paul is clear in Romans 10 that we need to be telling people the gospel, that they may be saved.
The reason I decided to write this was due to my reading of Psalm 83 this evening (and Obadiah yesterday). Read the whole psalm, but the final 2 verses says this; 
 “Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
 let them perish in disgrace,
 that they may know that you alone,
 whose name is the LORD,
 are the Most High over all the earth.”

In context, this passage is all about justice – something we like. That said, there is no getting around the fact that there is some serious wrath going on. But I think we have to take this into our understanding of God’s ultimate wrath when Christ returns. It brings together these 2 ideas; that everyone will recognise (and even glorify- think the pottery image in Romans, and the end of Psalm 40) the triune God. But this does not necessitate salvation for all; some will recognise him only as he commands them in wrath.

Behind the idea that it would be better for Jesus to appear now and convince us all is a major misunderstanding of soteriology and eschatology. 
I’d entreat you to take this seriously; there will come a time when it will be too late.
It’s not just about the confronting picture of Christ’s return. Look at the final chapters of Revelation (the city, and John’s anticipation of Christ’s return), as well as any of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom, Paul’s desire to be with Christ, and the glory glimpsed in passages such as Colossians 1.
There is simply no better offer than that of life with God, forever, in his perfected creation. Please join us.
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