The Imminent Return of Jesus
By Dave Butts
I’m very grateful that I was raised in a Christian home by godly parents who raised me in the faith. One of the things for which I’m especially thankful is a father who believed in the Lord’s soon return and trained me to be watchful. I remember many times when Dad would call me into the living room to watch the television with him to see something that was occurring on the news. "David," he would say, "that event just might be a fulfillment of this prophecy." And then he would proceed to show me from Scripture a prophecy that spoke of events that must take place before Jesus’ return. What a wonderful way to grow up in the faith!
I’m convinced that one of the great needs of the Church today is just such a belief in the imminent return of the Lord. Apart from that we begin to focus far too much on the problems and obstacles in our faith and lose sight of the glorious goal of our life in Christ. It is too easy to forget the eternal aspect of the Christian faith and the victorious end of human history as seen in Scripture.
The early Church serves as a good model of those who had a balanced concept of the Lord’s return. They kept their eyes on the skies awaiting the anytime return of Jesus, while at the same time they did not ignore the needs of those around them. They were excited about heaven, but did not fail to carry out the work of the Kingdom of God on earth. The eagerly anticipated return of their Lord provided a powerful motivation for lives of holiness and effective service. It should for us as well.
The Apostles were told by Jesus, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (Jn. 14:3). At His ascension into heaven, the angels said to them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
From that point on, the Church has awaited the Lord’s return with eager anticipation. Far from a side issue, the Second Coming of Christ was a central theme in the teaching of the Apostles. In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he spoke of the events of that day as that which must occur "before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20).
Peter continued that emphasis in his letters. In his first letter he wrote, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray" (1 Pet. 4:7). Peter’s second letter again stresses our quality of life in anticipation of the Lord’s return, "…since you are looking forward to this [the Second Coming], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him" (2 Pet. 3:14). What I believe is vitally important for the Church today is to see the total lack of speculation concerning times and seasons in Peter’s writings. His focus is on a lifestyle impacted by the anticipation of Jesus’ return.
The Apostle Paul has the same emphasis in his writings. He gives instructions to Timothy regarding his preaching "…in view of His appearing and His kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:1). He wrote to the Thessalonian church which had overly concerned itself with speculation regarding timing of the Second Coming. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, he devotes a whole section to teaching on the Lord’s return with the practical admonition given to "be alert and self-controlled" (5:6) and to "encourage one another" (5:11) regarding His return.
Paul begins his second letter to the Thessalonians with the powerful word picture, "…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels" (2 Thess. 1:7). He continues on throughout the second chapter, teaching about the Second Coming and encouraging the believers to stand firm in their doctrine concerning Jesus’ return.
One passage that gives us great insight into the importance of belief in the imminent return of the Lord to the early Church is found in Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul writes of the grace of God that calls us to "…live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12-13). Again the focus is on the lifestyle of the waiting Christian.
The phrase "wait for the blessed hope" is very important. Too many Christians today seem to dread the Lord’s return. At the very least it is viewed as relatively unimportant in light of the critical issues we face today. We are to be a people so completely and utterly in love with Jesus that the desire of our lives is to see Him face to face. It is this kind of passion that would allow Paul to write of His appearing as our "blessed hope".
It is eager anticipation of His return that helps us live lives of holiness and purity. As the Bride of Christ looks forward to her reunion with the Bridegroom, she will greatly desire to be found dressed in white, without spot or blemish. It also can serve as a wonderful motivator for personal evangelism and acts of prayer and service that extend the Kingdom of God.
Peter helps us close out our thinking on this in the third chapter of his second letter. He points out that the delay in the Lord’s return is only because His love is so great that He is, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). Both God’s role and ours are stressed as he continues on:
"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:11-13). May we join our prayers with the saints of all ages who have prayed, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).