The end and the beginning
Zechariah 14: What a Day that will be!
The prophet started out encouraging the returned exiles as they tackled the rebuilding of the Temple. He finishes his writing by looking to the future and reporting on the end of history. When things appear hopeless the Almighty will come to the rescue in what will be the final battle. The Lord will set foot on the historic Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem. Years after this prophecy Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives at the Garden of Gethsemane, and later, following his resurrection he ascends to heaven from the Mount of Olives. As he disappears into the sky angels deliver God’s message that Jesus will return in “like manner.” Like pieces of a puzzle revealed as the centuries pass, things fall into place. Zechariah says that when the Lord comes he’ll defeat the final enemy and when he sets foot on the Mount of Olives that it will split in half. His coming will bring all things to an end. At the same time it will begin all things anew. Then, as the disciples stand on that very same spot, angels tell them Jesus is coming back even as he has just left them. Oh yeah, Zechariah has it right: “what a Day that will be!”
Take Away: God’s people look forward to the glorious return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Looking back and looking forward
Isaiah 64: Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.
Isaiah longs for God to move and bring salvation to his people. He envisions the sky splitting apart as the Lord comes in dramatic, powerful fashion bringing hope to their hopelessness and healing to their brokenness. Hundreds of years later when that coming takes place its earthshaking indeed. The Gospels tell us of that powerful event, especially at the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord. However, this passage causes me to look forward as much as it causes me to look back to the first Easter. Even as Isaiah anticipates the coming salvation of the Lord, I anticipate his Second Coming. What an event it will be as Jesus splits the eastern sky and causes the mountains to tremble. “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see.”
Take Away: Never doubt it – Jesus is coming back.
Looking to the distant mountains
Isaiah 40: Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
An illustration of how the prophets view the future is of looking from the plains up to a towering mountain range. As I look to the mountains I see one mountain in the “front range,” but at the greater distance is yet another taller and even more majestic peak. Coloradoans call the really big ones, “fourteeners,” that is, they’re over 14,000 feet in height. From my vantage point I can’t tell how far it is between the two mountains. It’s only as I actually travel through the mountains that I realize there’s a deep valley between the first and the second mountain range. As the prophets are given a vision of God’s intentions they sometimes see an act of God that’s close at hand and at the same time see a similar but even greater event more distant than they can imagine. Here in Isaiah 40 the focus of Isaiah’s prophecies is on comfort and hope. These words will become a life line for his people in a few years. All the terrible things he’s warned them of will come to pass, and in distant lands the next generation will turn to these words to find comfort in their sorrow. When I read this passage at the level of the “front range” I see that God’s broken people have hope of restoration. The Lord’s going to return to their lives as a powerful king might return to his kingdom. Isaiah’s command to them is to start preparing for this sure event by making a smooth and straight road into their lives. However, beyond that “front range” is a gigantic “fourteener,” the coming of the King of Kings to this world. Hundreds of years later this prophecy will become John the Baptist’s text and it’ll be fulfilled in a much greater way by King Jesus. As a Christian I can identify with the dual nature of this passage. That “front range” view is when I receive Jesus as King in my own heart. The “fourteener” view is when Jesus comes to this world the second time as King and Judge of all.
Take Away: Sometimes the words of the prophets of the Lord cause us to look both to the past and to the future.
As the curtain falls
Revelation 22: “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
The final scene is that of a river flowing with the Water of Life and a tree called “the Tree of Life.” There’s the Throne of God surrounded by his worshipers. Righteousness reigns…holiness everywhere. John is told to publish his vision, making it available to all who will read. Then, Jesus, the star of this whole story speaks, in effect, putting his signature on the entire vision. Now, we hear a word that’s both an invitation to all and a mission for the Church. There’s the invitation to “come and drink…freely of the Water of Life.” There’s also a commission for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to join the Spirit in echoing the invitation to the entire human race, offering this Water of Life to all who will come. What we receive we offer to others. Now, as the curtain is falling, Jesus speaks again, assuring us of his return. From the audience John answers for all of us: “Yes, Come, Master Jesus!”
Take Away: Jesus is coming back. This is our hope. Proclaiming this truth is our mission.
Why it’s taking so long for Jesus to come back
2Peter 3: So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming?
The Apostle tells his readers that as the time for the return of Christ gets closer that people will be more outspoken in their doubt that it will happen. One of their reasons for doubting is that it’s been so long since the promise was made. Common sense, they think, dictates abandoning belief. People will think, “Nothing like that has ever happened since the beginning of time, now so long after the promise, things have continued as they have always been. It’s time to move on and forget about the promise.” Peter gives a three point response to that kind of thinking. First, there’s precedence for God stepping in and changing everything. After all, for eons the universe existed without this planet. Then, God stepped in, bringing about the creation of this very world. Later on, in Noah’s day, God changed everything again by bringing to pass a great flood. Here are two prime examples of God intervening in Creation to do a new thing. Second, time matters a lot more to us than it does to the Eternal One. A thousand years is a lot of time for humanity, but it’s a blink of the eye for the Ancient of Days. Third, God has reason to wait. That reason is that he wants to give more generations opportunity to be redeemed. The Lord wants to save people; all the people he can save. Therefore, he’s patient, taking all the time necessary to get as many in as he can. The Day of Judgment is definitely coming. Jesus will return and that will set the whole End of Time in motion. Meanwhile, we wait with the understanding that God knows exactly what he’s doing and at just the right time Jesus will come back. My job is to get ready, to stay ready, and to help all who will to prepare for that certain upheaval of history.
Take Away: No doubt about it, Jesus is coming back.
The Antichrist and the last days
2Thessalonians 2: Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter.
The congregation at Thessalonica is, in the words of Elvis, “All shook up,” over some gossip that Paul says Jesus has already returned and they’ve missed it. Paul reminds them of what he told them about this topic while he was with them. The events surrounding the Second Coming will be too big to miss. Two huge, worldwide events will dominate all else: a great Apostasy and the rise of a very bad person who’ll pretend to be God Almighty. The spirit of this personification of evil is already evident in the world, so they already have an idea of what it will be like but when the real deal comes no one will be left wondering whether or not “this is it.” The Apostle hurries to reassure them that everything’s going to be okay. Just when it seems all is lost Jesus will appear and without any difficulty at all, will handle this bad guy. Paul tells his readers he’s not all that concerned about this stuff. After all, he has bigger fish to fry. Just what is that? Why, it’s putting his time and energy into thanking God for what he’s doing and is going to do in their lives. So, what am I to do with “end days” concerns? I’m to be aware that some bad things are coming to the world. I’m to remember that Jesus is coming back and he’ll handle it all with ease. Especially, I’m to keep my eyes on the Lord and use my energies in living for him and in him and not let myself get worked up over stuff I barely understand in the first place.
Take Away: I trust the Lord, not my knowledge about how everything will happen at the end of time.
No one will wonder whether or not it’s the Second Coming
2Thessalonians 1: He will be exalted by his followers and celebrated by all who believe.
The second letter to the church at Thessalonica picks up right where the first left off. Paul’s friends there have some questions about the Second Coming of Jesus and the events associated with it. In fact, his first letter may have been misunderstood resulting in the writing of this second, shorter, more to the point letter. One thing Paul wants to make perfectly clear: Jesus is coming back and when he does there’ll be no doubt that “this is it.” Twenty years earlier Jesus warned his followers that people would panic, causing some of them to rush here and there, trying to be at the right place for his return. Now, Paul deals with this same topic. Jesus will appear “in a blaze of fire” accompanied by “strong angels.” On that “very same day” he’ll be exalted and celebrated by those who believe in him. In other words, Christians won’t have to go searching for Jesus and none will be left in the dark concerning his return. As I read these words I’m reminded that those who teach a “secret rapture” don’t necessarily have it right. I’m friendly to the view, but I don’t think it’s the only way to talk about the return of Jesus. Either way, the most important thing isn’t getting the details all worked out. Rather, it’s being ready. As Paul puts it, “pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be.” Passing a theology quiz isn’t required for entry into heaven.
Take Away: While it’s nice to think one has a handle on some of the more difficult portions of Scripture, it’s even better to live in a right relationship the Lord.
The bottom line
1Thessalonians 5: If he said it, he’ll do it.
When Paul first preached the gospel at Thessalonica he made it quite clear to them that not only is Jesus coming back, but that they can be ready for that sure event. Both of these things are absolutely true, facts that can be taken to the bank. He also told them in no uncertain terms that the date of the Lord’s return is quite uncertain. No secret codes reveal the date. We’re sure he’s coming but we’re in the dark as to when. What’s left? In the words of Jesus, we must “be ready.” Paul reminds them of that as he closes this short letter. As I live my life in the Lord, trusting in him and cooperating with him, he makes me “holy and whole” and keeps me “fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” The bottom line in any discussion concerning the Second Coming is that, while we don’t know when it will happen, we can be (and must be) ready for it. So I pay attention to the things that matter: prayer, cooperation with God, showing compassion, staying away from “anything tainted with evil.” I don’t know “when” but I’m reminded in this passage that I do know “how” to get ready and stay ready for Jesus to come back.
Take Away: The most important thing in life is being ready for the sure return of Jesus Christ.
Life and death and life
1Thessalonians 4: God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
We’re about 20 years past the ascension of Jesus and his promise to return. The church at Thessalonica has been in existence for less than 10. When Paul first came to them with the gospel message there was a sense of urgency about it. Each day might be “the day.” If friends and loved ones were to be saved it had to happen soon, before the glorious return of Jesus. Now, years have passed and, while their belief in the Second Coming remains strong, a new concern has surfaced. There’s been a death in the church. One of their own has become sick and died. Now that the funeral is over there’s a quiet but serious debate about their fate. The decision is made to contact the man who first told them about Jesus and who taught them about the Second Coming. Paul’s answer is concise and certain. The dead in Christ will be just fine. In fact, they’ll rise to meet Jesus first, before the living believers get their turn. Even as Jesus rose from the grave so will they. Jesus has defeated death and it has no hold on his people. For believers, the final word isn’t the ritual said at the graveside. Today, I stake my eternity on this passage and others like it. This promise flavors my view of life and death and life after death. Sooner or later every person must have that “quiet and serious” conversation, at least with themselves, concerning what they really believe about this, “life and death” topic.
Take Away: Christians are a people of hope and that hope is no more evident than in our attitude toward death.
I’ve been changed
1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.
The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.
Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.