Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 15, 2004
The Return of Jesus Christ
This morning we are going to take a short break in our study of Philippians in order to expand on a theological subject that was brought up in our study of Philippians 3:20,21 last week. In that passage Paul calls on the Philippian believers to follow his example in living for God and “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In verse 20 he gives them one of the reasons for doing this. “For our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul was calling on them to live according to what they actually were in Christ. We discussed the meaning and ramifications of being a citizen of heaven last week, so I will not repeat it again here except to say that the Christian is even now a citizen of heaven though we are still on earth. All the benefits and responsibilities belong to us now, though we will not be able to experience all of them until we are in heaven. One of those benefits will be the transformation of our physical bodies into spiritual bodies that will be like Jesus Christ. The physical pains and limitations that are upon us now will be done away with as we are transformed from perishable to imperishable, and from mortal to immortal (1 Cor. 15).
Our topic today is based on Paul’s statement in verse 20 that we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to return from heaven. Last week I said that there are two aspects to Jesus’ return, but since Paul was only dealing with the positive aspects in Philippians 3:20,21, that was all we dealt with last week. This week I want to explain these two different aspects of Jesus’ return and also touch on the timing of some of the events associated with the different aspects of His return. I will not be giving a full explanation of all this. There have been stacks and stacks of books written on this subject, and there simply is not enough time in one sermon to cover it all. My goal is simply to give you an overview and encourage you to be actively looking for our blessed hope, the return of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first thing I want to establish is that there are two different aspects to Jesus’ return. There are positive consequences for those who believe. There are also negative consequences as the value of a believer’s works are judged and also as the unbeliever is judged for condemnation. Some Bible passages mention only one of these aspects while others mention both specifically, and still others give just a general overview without clearly distinguishing either.
Jesus gave a general statement in Mark 14:61 when the High Priest questioned Jesus whether He was the Christ. Jesus answered, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” He also gave a general statement in Matthew 16:27. He had just explained to his disciples the cost of following him and the consequences for those that do not. Jesus then said, “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”
Jesus also gave many parables in which both aspects are in clear view. In Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten virgins, we find reward for the five who were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom and punishment for those that were not. In the parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, the same message is given. Each servant was entrusted by the master with differing talents. Those that used those talents in serving their master while he was gone were rewarded when he got back. Those that did not were judged as “wicked, lazy slaves” and were cast out. Jesus followed these two parables with specific teaching in Matthew 25:31-46 that when He returned in His glory that He would judge and separate the righteous from the wicked. The wicked are sent away to eternal punishment while the righteous are received into eternal life.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul uses the promise of Jesus return as a source of comfort to suffering believers and as a warning to those who had persecuted them. “For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Here we find that Jesus’ return would bring relief to the believers, but judgement on the unbelievers.
James 5:1-11 also speaks of both the positive and negative consequences of Jesus’ return. In verse 1 he states, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.” He then goes on to explain those miseries and why they would be judged in such a manner. Then in verse 7 James turns his attention to the righteous and tells them, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and [is] merciful.”
The Positive Awaiting
There are also many passages that speak only specifically about the blessing Jesus’ return will be for His followers. We saw several of these last week.
In John 14:1-4 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also.” The blessing of being with Jesus forever.
Philippians 3:21 tells us that Jesus will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” The blessing of having a body like Jesus that is imperishable and immortal.
Colossians 3:4 tells the believer that “when Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” The blessing of being revealed with Jesus in glory.
Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 about them and how they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, [that is] Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The blessing of being delivered from the wrath to come.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 dealt with their fears concerning those who had already died. Paul told them that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The blessing that all who belong to Jesus will be taken to be with Him. No one is left behind.
Peter promises Elders that serve well as examples to their flock that “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). There is also the“crown of righteousness,” which “the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award” “to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The blessing of a reward from Jesus for service well done.
All of these wonderful blessings are promised to the believer as part of what will happen when Jesus’ returns for them.
The Negative Warning
Warnings to Believers
There are also warnings associated with Jesus’ return. Some warnings are given to the believer.
1 John 2:28 tell us to “abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” John adds in 3:3 that everyone that has this hope (of Jesus’ return and being changed to be like Him) purifies Himself. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:14 to “keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time.”
Paul speaks about a coming judging of a Christian’s works in several places. In 2 Corinthians 5:9,10 he states that our ambition is to please the Lord “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Paul had explained more of the details of this back in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 stating, “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The Christian will not be judged himself, for there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), but his works will be judged to determine their value. If you are living for God and serving Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, then the things you do will have eternal value. Anything you do for yourself in the power of your own strength does not. This goes back to what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-24. Are you laying up for yourself treasures on earth which will pass away or treasures in heaven which will last for eternity?
Now it is important to point out here that all these passages I have mentioned so far are stated without reference to any sign or event that must take place before they occur. This is one reason for the belief in the imminent return of Christ which we will talk about in a few minutes.
Warnings of World Tribulation
There are also Scriptures which give warning of a time of great tribulation which will occur on the earth prior to Jesus’ return. This return is not imminent for there is a list of events that must occur prior Jesus’ second coming.
Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all record the same occasion in which Jesus speaks to his disciples who were admiring the Temple as they came out of Jerusalem. He told them that “not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Mt. 24:2). As they reached the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple they asked Jesus, “tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” It is very important to note here that these questions concern the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and the establishment of the millennial kingdom in which Messiah would reign. The disciples were expecting this to occur very soon. They did not foresee the church age in which we are now living. Jesus’ answer is directed to the future of believing Israel, not the church.
In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 Jesus describes His return as “the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:30). Prior to this event there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of His followers, false prophets, apostasy, apathy, the Abomination of Desolation, a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall,” the Sun and Moon will be darkened and stars will fall. This is not a time anyone would want to be here.
The book of Revelation covers this same time period and gives even more details about it. Warning is given early in the book in the synopsis statement in Revelation 1:7 which says, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.” Jesus’ second coming will not be an event that will escape the notice of men, and they will then mourn over Him. Jesus is right there, so this is not mourning such as at funeral because you miss the person. This is mourning over the consequences that come with His return including the judgment that comes because of their rebellion against Him. The rest of Revelation gives further details of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth (chapters 6-18), Jesus’ return as conquering king (ch. 19), the millennium and final judgment (ch. 20), and the creation of the new heaven and new earth of eternity (ch. 21,22).
Warnings to Unbelievers
There are also many passages which warn unbelievers of God’s coming wrath and judgment. Some are simple, direct statements such as when John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to him for baptism, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). He then went on to tell them that if their repentance was real, they needed to bring forth the fruit in keeping with repentance. There were also the woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees which included the fact that they were currently under the sentence of hell (Matt. 23).
There are many today that scoff at the idea of Jesus returning to judge. They, like those Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 3:4 say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” The basic argument is that there is no hard evidence of God intervening in the affairs of men, therefore He will not do so in the future. They reject the history recorded in the Bible as fables, but the hard evidence is all around us. The geologic record cries out that God did intervene in the affairs of men and sent a world wide flood. The vast majority of all sedimentary rocks were deposited in that flood and in the immediate years afterward. It filled the world with a plethora of fossils. Evolution is a bankrupt idea which cannot even begin to explain how so many fossils were formed. God’s patience should lead them to repentance and salvation (Rom. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:15), but too many just use it as a reason to scoff. But Jesus will return with judgment upon those who have rejected His gospel, but with salvation to those that believe.
This brief review shows that there are two different aspects to Jesus’ return. One aspect deals with Christians and presents Jesus’ return as a blessing for them, though they are also warned to live in righteousness to they will not be ashamed at His coming. The other aspect deals with the coming judgment of unbelievers and God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. But there is a conflict between these two aspects that needs to be reconciled. Some passages present Jesus’ return as something that could happen at any moment. Other passages describe many specific events that will take place before the Son of Man will return on the clouds with great power and glory. How are these two different aspects reconciled?
The Nature of Jesus’ Return
Jesus’ promised return is actually a series of events which begins with a partial return in order to catch up, or rapture, Christians, which is then followed by a series of events and then ends with a full return with His saints as conquering king and the establishment of His millennial reign. The confusion arises because the scriptures varying in their presentation ranging from only one or a few specific events (such as rapture in 1 Thess. 4:16,17) to everything as a whole (2 Peter 3). This is actually very similar to the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus’ first and second comings that caused confusion for even Jesus’ disciples. Some prophecies focused on things that would occur in the period between Jesus’ incarnation and His resurrection while others focused on events related to the establishment of His millennial reign, and still others combined aspects of both together. The placement of many of the particulars of these prophecies could not be determined until after Jesus’ resurrection, but it was extremely difficult, if not impossible to discern that until then. The same is true as we strive to figure out the exact sequence of events to take place in the future. It is very difficult, if not impossible to do so now, but it will all make sense once Jesus has established His Millennial kingdom.
So what do we know now about the future? There is not enough time left this morning to go into great detail, but I can give you a brief overview.
Rapture. We know that Jesus’ return to rapture the Church is imminent. By rapture I am referring to the event Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 in which all those in Christ, both dead and alive, are “caught up together” “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The term “rapture” is from a Latin term used for “caught up.”
By “imminent” I mean that this event will occur suddenly, unexpectedly and cannot be calculated. It could occur at any time. Nothing must happen first.
Without going into all the technical details, we believe Jesus’ return is imminent because:
1) Many verses, such as those cited earlier concerning Jesus’ return being a blessing to believers, present His return without any qualification of anything else having to occur first.
2) Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:35-40 to His disciples was that they were to be in readiness uses terminology of nearness. Jesus uses the analogy of being like a servant who is ready to “immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks,” and that they were to “be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Jesus uses similar language is used in other verses.
3) Jesus’ promise in John 14:3 is in the present tense instead of future. Darby’s translation is more accurate here saying, “and if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be.” This gives a sense that He is already on His way.
4) In 1 Thess. 5:2 Paul says the “day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” This speaks of a sudden and unpredictable return of Christ. The immediate context in chapter 4 is the rapture.
5) In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Paul includes himself (we) as one of those that might be alive who would be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Paul indicates the same thing in 1 Cor. 10:11 for he includes himself as one “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Paul had the same hope for his co-workers. In 1 Timothy 6:13,14 he told Timothy to continue to live righteously without reproach “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
6) Paul states in Philippians 4:5 that “the Lord is near” (at hand).
7) James 5:1-11 tells believers to be patient, but also presents the “the coming of the Lord is at hand,” and Jesus as the “Judge standing right at the door.”
8) Hebrews 10:37 tells us that “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.”
9) One of the analogies recorded by John in Revelation 3:3 is that Jesus would “come like a thief” and they would not know what hour He would come upon them. Again, a sudden and unpredictable return.
10) A final indicator of imminence I will mention today due to our time limitations is that the coming of Jesus will deliver the Christian from the wrath to come. In 1 Thess. 1:10 Paul uses the first person plural “us” showing that he thought he might still be alive and therefore included in those so delivered. Paul also uses a present participle here giving the sense that this is wrath that is already on its way and could arrive at anytime.
I must point out that the rapture is not an escape from persecution, for “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). It is a deliverance from the “wrath of God” which comes upon the unbelieving world during the 70th week of Daniel, also commonly referred to as the Tribulation period.
Tribulation. Subsequent to the rapture of the church will be the final 70th week of Daniel 9:27. This is a period of 7 years that completes the 490 year period decreed concerning the nation of Israel, and it begins with a firm covenant Israel makes with the anti-Christ. The events recorded in Revelation and those predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all occur during this time period as do all the “woes” of the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of Revelation 6-18. Its purpose is to pour out the “wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16,17). At the end of this period Jesus Christ returns with His army of saints (Rev. 19:14; Jude 1:14; Zech. 14:5) and establishes His kingdom of a thousand years.
Millennium. Revelation 20 specifically references six different times a period of one thousand years in which Satan would be bound and Christ would reign with His saints. Those who either deny or redefine the millennium destroy not only the plain reading of Revelation 20, but also all the Old Testament prophecies that are still to be fulfilled concerning the restoration of Israel and the reign of Messiah from Jerusalem over the earth. Passages such as Zechariah 14:16-21; Isaiah 2:1-4; ch. 11, 12 & 65; Jeremiah 31:31-40; etc. The Millennium ends with the release of Satan followed by his deception of the nations and leading a final rebellion against God which God then destroys (Rev. 20:7-10; Ezek. 38,39). This is followed by the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 in which all whose names are not in the book of life are judged according to their deeds and they are then cast into the lake of fire where Satan and his followers had already been cast. This is the final judgment which results in eternal condemnation and punishment.
Eternity. The Great White Throne judgment is followed by the events that establish eternity recorded in Revelation 21 & 22. This includes God’s creation of a new heaven, a new earth and a new Jerusalem which is inhabited only by the righteous, God’s bond-servants whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life. It is a beautiful place in which a river of water flows from the throne of God. On either side of that river is the tree of life bearing its fruit. There shall no longer be any curse or night, for God is there and His glory illumines it.
In conclusion I want to remind you of what I said at the beginning.
Time does not permit in this format a detailed study of all the events related to Jesus’ return. I have only tried to give you an overview of them and encourage you to be actively looking for our blessed hope, the return of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. There are stacks of books written on the end times, the nuances of meaning of all the Scripture passages and the sequencing of all the events that will occur. It is a complex subject that can be very difficult to understand, much less master, and there are pieces to this puzzle that God has not given to us. While such study is good and proper, for we should strive to understand what God has revealed, tragically, there are those that become proud and insist that everyone else agrees with them. They then fight about things that are unclear in Scripture and of minor importance even to the point of withholding fellowship from those that disagree. That is simply wrong. Perhaps that is why 2 Peter 3 is my favorite passage concerning Jesus’ return.
Peter begins the chapter correcting those who scoff at the promise of the Lord’s return by pointing out God’s previous judgement upon man at the time of Noah’s flood. Then, in verse 9, he points out the Lord’s longsuffering of mankind saying, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. Jesus has not returned yet because it is mercy on unbelievers in giving them yet more time to repent.
Then, in verse 10 Peter summarizes all the end time events by the term “day of the Lord” and jumps from its first event to nearly the last in one swift glance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. The Lord’s return will come suddenly, unexpectedly and unpredictably like a thief and the events that start with that return eventually resulting in the destruction of all that we currently know.
Peter then challenges us in verse 11 & 12, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! In short, why
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times Jesus’ return is mentioned. Talk with your parents about how the promise of Jesus’ return effects your life now.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What are the two aspects to Jesus’ return? What do the parables and conclusion in Matthew 25 teach us? What are some of the things promised to believers upon Jesus’ return? What are some of the warnings given to believers concerning Jesus’ return? Discuss the warnings given in Matthew 24 and Revelation about the coming world tribulation. Are there other warnings of this same time period? What warnings are given to unbelievers about Jesus’ return? Why are there so many different views and opinions about Jesus’ return and the events that surround it? What is the rapture? Why do we believe it is imminent? Why do others believe other things must happen first? What are the weaknesses of those views? What is the “Tribulation?” Why is Daniel 9:24-27 so important in understanding it? What is its purpose? What will occur during that period? What is the Millennium? What happens then? How does it end? What must be believed and done in order to deny a literal millennial reign by Jesus Christ? What happens in eternity? Why is 2 Peter 3 a good summary of eschatology? How are you living now in holiness & godliness? conduct? spend your life trying to gain the things of this world when you know it will all be burned up in the end? Or to paraphrase Jesus in Matthew 6, don’t let your treasure be here on earth where it will be destroyed, lay up your treasure in heaven.
Peter brings out the promise of heaven in verse 13, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” He concludes in verse 14,15 with a call to holiness because of that hope. “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation.”
That is my conclusion and call to you. Don’t waste your precious life pursuing the things of this world. Keep your eyes on heaven where your citizenship lies and from which our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will return. He will bring blessings upon His followers in changing us and rewarding us for our faithful service to Him and delivering us from His wrath which will then be poured out on an unbelieving world.
Sermon Notes – August 15, 2004
The Return of Jesus – Selected Scriptures
The Positive Awaiting
The Negative Warning
Warnings to Believers
Warnings of World Tribulation
Warnings to Unbelievers
The Nature of Jesus’ Return
The Rapture & Imminence
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