Christ’s Coming to the Individual

Editor’s Note:  This is somewhat personal for me as decisions are being made today about putting my sister on hospice.  My sister was in the last wave of people to get polio before the vaccine was released.  She spent some time in an iron lung as a result and had lifelong weakness affecting her upper extremities and torso due to the illness.  However, I never heard her ask, “Why me?” or complain about it.  But this is “why her.”  Because of her illness, my mother, who was a nurse, offered to help my father who was widowed and trying to care for two young girls on his own while shepherding a congregation.  My mother helped with my sister’s physical therapy and the result of that was the eventual marriage of my parents.  So neither I nor my brothers would be here if this didn’t happen to my sister.  Perhaps because of the polio (or maybe not, we never really talked about it), my sister remained single and because of that was very much involved in our families lives, despite the age difference.  She, more often than not, joined us at Christmas time for a couple of weeks as well as during the summer, often being a part of summer vacations.  She was also in a position to help my parents with my brother’s and my college tuition, or so I’ve been told.  There are many other examples of the ultimate benefit to others that my sister’s polio had, but suffice it to say, she can expect to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  That is “why her”, even if she did not ask the question.

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.      I Thess. 5:22

If a person could predict with certainty that the world will end, say, before [2040], a shock of surprise would go around the globe.  But the simple fact is that the majority of all people who are living on the earth right now are going to be dead by 2040 or even before.  Leaving out dates all together, one can say with absolute certainty that Christ is going to return during the life time of every one of us, because our individual deaths, which are so certain and comparatively close, are just as final and frightening as the end of the world.

We are so time-conditioned that somehow we have the feeling that if Jesus doesn’t return until a thousand years from now (just as millions of people have been dead that long since Jesus left this earth) a lot can happen between now and then. A lot can and will, if Jesus tarries, but nothing for the dead.  As far as a person’s individual fate is concerned not a single thing happens between his death and the final judgment.  For all practical purposes his death marks the end of the world.  Christ’s summons for him is the same as the last trump.  Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.”

When you and I talk about a certain individual as having been dead so many years we forget that at the moment a person leaves this earth time ceases altogether for him.  The interval between a person’s death and Christ’s coming, no matter how many years elapse here upon earth, is like the “timeless” interval between falling into a sound sleep one evening and waking many hours later on the morrow.

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He is Coming in Great Glory

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, everyone who pierced Him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.      Rev. 1:7

There are great differences between Christ’s first and second advents.  When He came to earth as a baby, people could ignore the whole thing if they wanted to, and many of them did just that.  It might be said that the whole world went about its business as usual, despite the fact that the hourglass of history was tuned upside down that day, B.C becoming A.D. forever.

But when Jesus returns everyone shall see Him.  Those who were physically blind will have their eyes opened, as will those who were spiritually blind, but too late to do anything about it.

When Christ came the first time He was a weak and dependent child, unable to walk or talk, but when He comes in glory He will be terrible in His appearance.  The very disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom in the days of His flesh reports that he fell down as though dead at the mere sight of Christ as He is today.

Likely this is the reason for the persistent popularity of pictures of Jesus as a child and in the manger.  The Bible gives us no clues whatsoever as to His appearance in the days of His humility, while it gives us a very detailed word-picture of His present appearance.  And yet we continue to represent His infancy with guesswork likenesses by the billions every Christmas because the idea of Christ as a helpless baby is so much more comfortable than the disturbing thought of Him as an avenging judge.

Christ came the first time, in His own words, not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  When He comes finally it will be to mete out justice rather than mercy.

He Came Into His Own

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not.  He came into His own and His own people received Him not.       John 1:11

History has a way of repeating itself.  Sacred history also has its repetitions, which is the reason why the Bible, through written two thousand years ago, is as modern as tomorrow morning’s newspaper.  Human nature is pretty much the same throughout the ages, and so we find ourselves making the same mistakes as Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter, even though the Bible honestly records their foibles and failures for the very purpose that we should be spared their sins.

The first coming of the Lord is a sorry illustration of what will transpire at the time of His second.  Sometimes we think people were eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ.  They should have been all ready to receive Him, for the prophecies robbed them of all excuse for being unprepared.  Similarly, we are going to be amazed, when our physical eyes see Jesus, how exactly His second coming was predicted and fulfilled.

But even the people who knew that He was born in the little village of Bethlehem did not bother to go the six miles to see Him.  They were too busy studying their Bibles!  All this shows that it is possible to be very religious, all caught up in church affairs and still not possess the real thing.  It is possible to be so busy in kingdom causes that we neglect our own souls — our “quiet time,” personal prayers, our soul-searching.  Then, like the foolish virgins, we will be left outside when the Prince returns.

The Trumpet Shall Sound

And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another.      Matthew 24:31

It must surely make God laugh to hear men solemnly discussing whether miracles are possible, when we human beings are laughing right now at what our forebears flatly declared was absolutely impossible.  Who would have thought it possible for a missionary in Africa to talk with eco;e in Canada by means of a box no bigger than a suitcase?  Right now man-made moons are circling the world; men can see them and hear their signals.

All this makes ludicrous the remarks that were being made only a generation ago that the sound of the trumpet amouncing Christ’s return could not be heard all over the world, nor could His coming be witnessed by the Orient if He descended into the Western Hemisphere.  Sounds already are being heard simultaneously around the earth, and television girdles the globe.

Skeptics have mocked the idea that if every one who ever lived were gathered together for judgement there would not be standing room on earth.  But one fourth of all the people who ever lived are on earth right now, with lots of room to spare.  One non-Christian historian coldly computed that we could all be accommodated in a box no bigger than one mile wide, long, and high.

All this, of course, is answering fools according to their folly (Proverbs 26:5).  Such people err, because they know not the Scriptures.  The Bible often talks in human figures when it speaks of the last trumpet and the like.  If God were to talk to “intellectuals” the way they think He should, they would not be able to understand it any more than a child can grasp Einstein.

The Delay in Christ’s Return

The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.      II Peter 3:9

Every Christian has wondered at one time or another why Christ has waited two thousand long years to return to earth.  Sometimes we ask the question in sort of a complaining or critical way.  On the other hand, it is possible and even highly desirable that we should ask the question properly so that we may enter more intelligently into God’s program and purpose for our lives.  Jesus is “postponing” His return for a reason, and it is important that we, His children, should know what that reason is.

Usually we are being completely selfish when we wonder why Christ does not return sooner.  In fact, we are so blinded to everything except our own welfare that it doesn’t even occur to us that if Christ had returned before this we would not even have been born!  We ought to be as glad as we can be that Christ has delayed His return until now.  What is more, if Jesus had returned in the youthful years of some readers [of this blog], they would not have the joy of seeing their children and grandchildren in the Celestial City.  And don’t you think our grandchildren, in turn would love that same privilege?  But when our narrow family circle is all ready for Christ’s coming we take something of the attitude, “Don’t wait any longer, Lord.  We’re all ready, so you can come right now.”

Jesus tarries for one reason, and that is that “He is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  There are many right within our own family circles who are not ready to meet their Redeemer.  Don’t you care about them?  We should be praying that Jesus will continue to tarry until they have made their peace with Him.

Christ’s Coming in Preaching

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.       Revelation 3:20

There is a proverb which says that opportunity knocks but once.  Jesus, too, never knocks at the door of our heart in the same way more than once. Each time that we hear the invitation to repent and do not do so it becomes much easier to ignore Him the next time until finally we do not hear the knocking at all.

There are many people who have the idea that a person can become a Christian  any time before his death that he wants to.  They quote with approval the proverb, “While there’s life there’s hope.”  But fact is that this just isn’t so.  It is true, of course, that God can and does save sinners at any time of life, so that we can speak of death bed repentances (which are few and far between).  But God is a God of law and order.  Theoretically God might raise a man today from the dead, so that a man might conceivably be converted even after he died!  But God ordinarily does not work that way.

By the same token He does not ordinarily save in later life a person who has continually rejected Christ each time He knocked in the preaching of the gospel.  Such a person, like Pharaoh of long ago, so hardens his heart that finally he cannot change even if he wants to.  More accurately said, he cannot even want to.  He has fixed his desire and inclinations as inflexibly as mud becomes hard as rock in the sun.

Two thieves were executed on Calvary one awful day.  One of them was saved at the brink of death so that no one need ever despair.  One of them was forever lost so that no one should ever presume.

The Man of Sin

That day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship.           II Thessalonians 2:3

The Thessalonians Christians were quite sure that the return of Christ was just around the corner.  But Paul sobered them by saying that one certain “sign” had to be fulfilled before this:  the appearance of the man of sin.  There has been a “man of sin” in every generation.  Hitler was such a fiend.  Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh were Old Testament forerunners.  Communist leaders like Stalin can well qualify today for the title of “man of sin.” But the frightening fact is that, just as sin works to a climax through the ages until it culminates in such a cataclysm as the Flood, or the Bolshevik rebellion, there will finally arise a man of sin who will eclipse all his predecessors.  Were it not for the keeping grace of God, the Lord would not find any faith on the earth at the time of His return.

The secret of the persistence of the faithful in such a terrible day is that, just as evil increases, so the church of Christ goes “from strength to strength.”  The church may lose ground numerically but she always grows in the things of God.

Our children endure temptations we did not encounter, and their children will be given grace to sustain trials the martyrs did not know.

Finally, the Bible tells us that only the intervention of Christ Himself will destroy this arch-enemy of God.  His destruction will be painfully simple for the Omnipotent.  “With the breath of His mouth” Christ will blow into oblivion this Beelzebub in human form.