Key Passages: Isaiah 11, 65-66; John 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4
He Will Come.
In our modern world, the Christian has to fight on two fronts. On the one hand, an increasing number of secularists simply don’t believe there is a God who will return and renew the earth. Bible texts will not convince them. On the other hand, many devout believers have a detailed scheme of how the end will take place. The most popular view in conservative circles is Dispensationalism which predicts a rapture, a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, the return of Jesus, and a 1000 years on earth in which people live and die, give birth to children and offer animal sacrifices. Adventists are caught between these two extremes. What are the crucial issues?
1. Do We Know He Will Return?
Only if one knows God and trusts in the Bible is it possible to believe that Christ will return to restore the earth. But it is not certain knowledge in an absolute sense. Rather, it is a firm hope. Paul puts it this way: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). Following his great affirmation of the second coming and resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13-18), Paul admonishes the believers to always be ready. Then adopting military imagery, he admonishes the saints to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” These are the same three that feature in the famous “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13: “Faith, hope, love, abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” But none of these three can be proven; they all involve a gap between the “evidence” and the ultimate “goal.” In short, the Christian has evidence from reliable witnesses, not proof. That’s why faith, hope, love are central to the Christian’s experience.
2. Do We Know the Events Before He Returns?
Only in very broad outline. Isaiah 65-66 and Zechariah 14 in the Old Testament should caution us about our certainty with reference to events. In the Old Testament, Isaiah’s vision of the new earth even includes death (Isaiah 65:20) — there would have been no premature death, but people would die when they old and ready to die. Only in the New Testament does a more perfect ideal break through. Revelation 21-22 is the Christian’s hope. It builds on the Old Testament vision of restoration, but the events are not the same. The common ground is that in both testaments, God’s people had a hope which others did not have. The words of 2 Peter 3:13 capture the sentiment well: “But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” The Canaanites in the days of Israel had only the natural rhythm of nature to guide them. Every year was the same. In Israel, God’s people looked for God to break into the cycle of nature and renew the earth. That was the ground of the New Testament hope. Similarly, in our age, the modern man who has only an evolutionary model as his guide simply lives as a prisoner within nature. Only the Christian lives in hope of a vegetarian kingdom where no one eats anyone else and where “No one will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:11).
3. Is His Return Good News or Bad?
Yes. The announcement of Jesus’ coming is both an invitation and a warning. Which is needed most in our modern world? Or will we need both the appeal to fear and the offer of love to touch all the hearts before the Lord comes?