Posted by: stpowen | May 2, 2012

The Forgotten Doctrine- Loving the Return of Christ (4)

The Forgotten Doctrine- Loving the Return of Christ (4)

Job 19:25-27.  ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last upon the earth;  and that after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!’

In this series we have looked at the attitude of the 1st Century Christians towards the Return of Christ- that they were eagerly awaiting it as their ‘blessed hope’ (Titus 2:13).  We have also seen that an invisible return of our Lord, as promoted by the Hyper-preterists, would by no means have satisfied their anticipation- they were looking forward to a personal, physical return (Acts 1:11) and the transformation of their ‘lowly’ aging bodies into ‘glorious’ resurrection bodies (Phil 3:20-21).

In this article, I want to give some reasons why all Christians should, like their 1st Century predecessors, be eagerly anticipating and ‘loving’ (2 Tim 4:8) our Lord’s Return. 

Firstly, we should be looking forward eagerly to the resurrection of our bodies.  Whether we die before Christ comes, or whether we remain alive until then, our bodies will be changed (1 Cor 15:51).  We were made as body, soul and spirit- we were not made to exist forever as bodiless spirits.  ‘For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation from heaven’ (2 Cor 5:1-2).

It may be that the ‘house not made with hands’ is not our ‘resurrection body’ but heaven itself, but that is not what Paul is looking forward to.  When we die, our bodies are either destroyed by cremation or they decay in the grave, but our spirits go at once to be with the Lord (Eccl 12:7).  That is all very well and will no doubt be wonderful, but what Paul is longing for is being re-clothed with a heavenly body.  He continues, ‘for we who are in this tent [our mortal bodies] groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.’   The further clothing can only be our new resurrection bodies.  When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, He rose in a body that was certainly physical- ‘flesh and bones’ (Luke 24:39-43)- that ate and drank and could be touched, but it was a body that would not decay (Acts 2:31; Rev 1:18).  In this body He ascended into heaven, and in this body He will return (Acts 1:11).

  If therefore Christ is the ‘firstfruits from the dead’ (1 Cor 15:20), then  our bodies, when we rise on that great resurrection day, will no longer be subject to disease, decay and mortality (1 Cor 15:53).  So one reason why Paul is looking forward to his bodily resurrection, and why we should also, is that the old things- aging, sickness and death- will be no more.  Everything that the Adamic curse had made unsatisfactory about our bodies will be changed (1 Cor 15:51).  But there is something even more important than that.  When we are born again, our spirits are renewed, but there remains in us a relic of sin, and that relic resides, not in our inward man (Rom 7:22), but in our ‘mortal bodies’ or ‘members’ (Rom 6:12; 7:23).  When we leave that old body behind and assume our new resurrection bodies, we shall leave the last vestige of sin behind (1 Cor 15:42-43).

Therefore our destiny as Christians is not an ethereal existence as disembodied spirits, something like the cartoonists’ conception of heavenly life as floating around with a halo on a cloud, idly twanging a harp.  Our destiny is that heaven comes to us (Rev 21:2-4)!  It was the Gnostics who believed that material things are in themselves inferior and therefore denied that the Lord Jesus came to earth ‘in the flesh.’ (Rom 8:3; 1 John 4:2-3).

Secondly, we don’t come back to dwell on this same old decaying earth.  The Bible tells us that the whole creation will be made new (Rom 8:20-21; 2 Peter 3:13 etc.).  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the whole Universe became subject to decay (Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:20, 22-23).  The earth is now subject to disasters, sickness and death.  But Paul tells us that these things are actually ‘birth pangs.’  During a birth there is usually great pain along with cries and tears;  it might seem almost as if something’s dying, but instead something’s coming to birth.  Like a caterpillar struggling to slough off its old body and emerge into its true destiny as a beautiful butterfly, so this old earth is straining and groaning to ‘be delivered from the bondage of corruption [or ‘decay’] into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’  Therefore we too, ‘groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope.’   

Thirdly, we long for the Return of Christ because we want to see our Lord vindicated.  We long to see the mockers and the scoffers put to silence.  I don’t know about you, but I am sick of hearing people mocking and blaspheming my Saviour (2 Peter 3:3-4); of people patronizing my beliefs, imagining that the Universe could somehow make itself.  Doubtless Noah had his share of scoffers during the time that he was building the ark.  I expect people came from miles around to see the great edifice slowly taking shape and clustered round it like so many Japanese tourists around one of our ancient cathedrals, clicking their cameras; and quite a few of them would have shouted out to him, “Hey, Noah!  Seen any rain yet?  Ha! Ha!”  And others would have walked away shaking their heads:  “Isn’t it amazing what some people will do for their religion?  What a shame he didn’t do something useful with his life!”  ‘And the flood came and took them all away’ (Luke 17:28-30).  When Lot warned his sons-in-law about coming disaster, they thought he was joking (Gen 19:14).  “Fire from heaven?  What are you on, Lot?  Pull the other one!”  But, ‘The loftiness of men shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.’ ‘For when they say, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction comes upon them as labour pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape’ (Isaiah 2:17; 1 Thes 5:3).  God will be vindicated here on earth and execute judgement on His enemies (Psalm 110:5-7).                

Thirdly, what are you most looking forward to about the New Jerusalem?  Is it perhaps the golden streets (Rev 21:21)?  Or maybe you are most eagerly anticipating the endless days of heaven (Rev 22:5)?  Or is it the reunion with your loved ones that you have set your heart upon?  No, no!  There is a better reason; to be in the presence of your Lord and Saviour!  ‘….And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them…..and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads’ (Rev 7:15; 22:3-4). ‘And thus we shall be with the Lord forever’ (1 Thes 4:17).  That must surely be the great longing of all the Lord’s people.   And what do you think is the worst thing about hell?  Is it the fire that is not quenched?  Or maybe it is the worm that does not die?  Both these things sound quite terrible.  But surely worse than either of these would be to know nothing of the Lord Jesus save His implacable wrath throughout all the unending years?

Finally I want to warn my readers of the greatest danger of Hyper-preterism.  If one believes that Christ is never coming back, then what incentive- today– is there for holy living?  Peter writes, ‘Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things [the return of Christ, the new heavens and new earth] be diligent to be found by Him  in peace, without spot and blameless’ (2 Peter 3:14).  If there is nothing to look forward to- if the coming of Christ came two thousand years ago and changed nothing- then there is no reason to be diligent. ‘Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is’ (Mark 13:33).  But if we think we know when the time is, and it has already passed, why should we take heed?   Why?  Because, ‘The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth…..Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming’ (Matt 24:50-51; 25:15).

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