Posted by: stpowen | January 20, 2012

The Forgotten Doctrine- Loving the Return of Christ (1)

The Forgotten Doctrine-  Loving The Return of Christ (1).

Psalm 98:7-9. ‘Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth.  With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the people with equity.’

It seems to me that the greatest difference between First Century Christians and those living today concerns their respective attitudes to the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  To the earliest followers of our Lord, His return was, as I shall show presently, of the very first importance.  It was their hope in their deep poverty and worldly hopelessness; it was their consolation under persecution and their great joy whenever they met together.  In contrast, most 21st Century believers are scarcely concerned with it (1).  It is as if they have taken out their insurance policy against judgement and condemnation by becoming Christians, and now they are determined to enjoy life here on earth as much as possible.

In recent days I have become aware of a teaching on the Return of Christ that is mercifully rare in Britain, but which seems to be becoming more popular in the U.S.A.  This is Hyper-preterism (2), and it teaches that all prophecy, without exception, was fulfilled in AD 70 when Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed by the Roman armies under Titus.  The Lord Jesus, it is claimed, returned invisibly at that time, and is therefore not coming again, ever.  Believers therefore should not expect any return of Christ, but will go as disembodied spirits to be with the Lord when they die.

This teaching is, of course, totally divorced from the teaching of the Bible and also from all the Confessions of faith from the earliest times until today.  The Apostles Creed, dated at around 150AD says of our Lord :  ‘He ascended into heaven,  and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;  from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.’  I don’t propose to become obsessed with Hyper-preterism in this article, but I shall point out its inconsistencies as we proceed.

The simplest and clearest  statement in the Bible concerning our Lord’s return is found in Acts 1:11. 

‘Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,
who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven”’
(Acts 1:9-11).

 The most important thing to note here is that our Lord will return the same manner as He left.  Therefore we can make some observations concerning His coming.

 1. People saw Him go.  ‘While they watched, He was taken up.’  People will see Him return.

2. Clouds obscured His rising into heaven.  Clouds will part to reveal Him (Mark 14:62; Rev 1:7).

3. He left physically, in a body that was ‘Flesh and bones,’  that could be touched and which ate food (Luke 24:39-43).  He will return physically, in that same body.

4. It is ‘This same Jesus’ who will return.  Not another Jesus, a metaphorical Jesus or an invisible Jesus, but the very One who left.

 This ascension, witnessed by the eleven Apostles must have formed the teaching that was given to new Christians, as we can see in the following verses.

 ‘And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come’
(1 Thes 1:6-10).

 The Thessalonian Christians, who had received Paul’s preaching as the  very word of God (1Thes 2:13) in the midst of violence and persecution (Acts 17:5-10) so great that Paul had to be spirited out of the city by night, had nonetheless held firm in their profession of Christ and had become a byword throughout Greece for their faithfulness.  Now they were serving God and eagerly awaiting the Return of Christ.

 ‘I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus,
 that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you,so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’
(1 Cor 1:4-8).

 The Corinthian Christians had experienced the grace of God in their lives.  The church was blessed by the gifts of many of them.  Those gifts led them to await eagerly the return of Christ and Paul assures them that the Lord Jesus will keep His sheep safely until He shall come, so that on that great day, they should be found spotless and innocent through the merits of Christ.

 ‘If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!’ (1Cor 16:22).

 Paul longs for the Lord Jesus to come and administer justice to those who do not love Him.

 ‘For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself’
(Phil 3:20-21).

 The Philippians were Roman citizens from an earthly point of view, but their real home was heaven, and they were eagerly look forward to the return of their Lord and Saviour who would change their mortal decaying bodies to glorious resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15:42-44) after the manner of the Lord Jesus Christ, the firstfruits from the dead (1Cor 15:20-23).   

 ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’
(Titus 2:11-13).

Paul has been telling Titus to teach the Cretans how to behave as Christians.  He runs through old and young, male and female, slave and free (vs 1-10).  Their faith must show forth in a new life, for the grace of God (ie. Christ) has appeared to all these groups of people, but it hasn’t appeared so that we can carry on living just as we did before; we have new life- but why?  Because we have new hope (v 13).  We now Have a hope- that this life isn’t all that there is and we have to push and shove to get our own way- we have something so much better to look forward to.

 ‘And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation’
(Heb 9:27-28).

 Christ came the first time to bring reconciliation between sinful men and a righteous God.  When He comes the second time, it will be to bring salvation, but not to all men.  He will bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for Him.  Is that you?

 ‘Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing’ (2 Tim 4:8).

Paul knows that he is reaching the end of his earthly life.  He is not distressed, knowing that when he dies, his spirit will go to be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23).  But he is looking to something beyond that; to the return of Christ, when the dead shall be raised in their resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15:51-54) and all men shall be judged (Matt 25:31ff; Rev 20:11ff) according to their deeds, whether they trusted in Christ or not and whether their deeds vouched for their profession (Acts 26:20).  Clearly, one of those deeds is to love the thought of the appearing of Christ in glory.

 ‘Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13).

 Peter tells his readers to be steady and sensible and to rest their hopes not on this transient world (1 John 2:17), but on the world to come which will be revealed when the Lord Jesus returns.

 ‘Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy’ (1 Peter 4:12-13).

 Peter reminds us that suffering and disappointment are part of life here on earth (John 16:33).  Our suffering, to whatever extent it may come to us, is a proof that we are one with our suffering Saviour.  Therefore, we rejoice in tribulations (Rom 5:3), knowing that they are of short duration (2 Cor 4:17)and that they shall all be forgotten when our Lord returns.

 Now let me ask you:  is it likely that what all these Christians- in Thessalonika, in Philippi, in Corinth, in Crete- were so eagerly anticipating, was in fact the destruction of Jerusalem?  If the believers in Philippi were expecting that that event would,  ‘Transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body,’ then they would have been grievously disappointed.  They would not even have heard about the event for several weeks or months, and when they did hear of it, their lives changed not one iota, and their bodies continued to age and decay.  No, no!  These First Century Christians were awaiting the visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, and when they came to the end of their lives, they were not one whit disappointed that He had not yet come;  ‘For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first’ (1 Thes 4:15-16).

Let me ask you, the reader:  are you eagerly awaiting, longing for and loving the return of the Lord Jesus Christ as these 1st Century Christians were?  If not, why not?  Is it perhaps because your life in this world has become so comfortable and agreeable that you are really not concerned whether our Lord returns or not?  Are you therefore quite amenable to any suggestion that actually He is not coming back at all, or at least, at any time soon?  Would you in fact be quite disappointed if the Lord returned tonight and put an end to all your worldly enjoyments and plans?   If so, then I suggest that this is a rather serious matter.  Is not our Lord’s return our “Blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)?  Remember that according to the verses above, the Lord will be bringing salvation ‘To those who eagerly wait for Him,’ and the ‘Crown of righteousness’ that the Lord will bestow comes to ‘All who have loved His appearing,’ and by implication to no one else.

 Is it not time to ‘Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory’
(Col 3:1-4).

In a future article, we shall look at objections to this doctrine and try to spell it out in a little more detail.

Notes.

1.  I must confess that there are some honourable exceptions to this stricture.  Dispensational Premillennialists are often far more active in proclaiming their understanding of the end-times than those who, like myself, take an Amillennialist position.  Here in Britain, the Prophetic witness movement hold regular meetings throughout the country on the subject.  I disagree with their teachings, but I applaud their zeal.

2.  Hyper-preterists call themselves ‘Full Preterists.’  Preterism itself comes from the Latin word Praeter which means ‘beyond’ or possibly ‘past.’  Preterists believe that much Biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled, chiefly in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  Obviously some prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 (eg. Dan 9:26-7; Matt 24:1-2), and I do not fall out with Preterists, so long as they believe in a future return of Christ.  Hyper-preterists, however, deny this and claim that our Lord returned invisibly in AD 70 and is not coming again.

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