The Coming Again of Christ and the Christian Life
The truth of the return of the Lord Jesus is interwoven with the history of the Christian in its very beginning, and we shall seek to show how it is connected with the believer’s course all through his pathway upon earth. In order to simplify the consideration of the subject we shall limit ourselves almost entirely to the epistles to the Thessalonians.
With this in view let us remember that the subject of the Lord’s return is one which has a most prominent place in the New Testament. It has been pointed out that there are 27 writings in the New Testament. In 5 of these the Lord’s Supper is spoken of. In 7 of them Christian Baptism is referred to. In 23 the Lord’s coming again is presented from various standpoints. Its importance is thus manifest.
It is generally believed that the epistles to the Thessalonians were among the first of Paul’s writings. And they were written to some who had been converted during a short visit of the apostle to their city. They were young believers who had had but little ministry of the word.
Is it not remarkable therefore that the truth of the Saviour’s coming again occupies so large a place in these brief letters. We shall see that every chapter in both epistles mentions this truth.
In the first chapter of the first epistle we find the. . .
connected with the truth before us. The apostle shows that the Thessalonians were good converts.
They were right with the Lord. “Ye became followers of . . . the Lord” (v. 6).
They were right with their fellow Christians. “They were ensamples to all that believe” (v. 7).
They were right with the world. “From you sounded out the word of the Lord” (v. 8).
Thus we learn that
1. They were following in the steps of their rejected Lord.
2. They were models which other believers might copy.
3. They were bells, cast in God’s foundry of grace, sounding out the gospel by life and by lip to the world at large.
The tidings of their conversion had spread far and wide in the two large provinces, Macedonia and Achaia, and they were borne witness to in both these districts. The facts told concerning them, being,
1. They had “turned to God from idols.”
2. They served “the living and true God.”
3. They awaited the Son of God from heaven (vv. 9-10).
As to the past. They had turned to God.
As to the present. They served God.
As to the future. They waited for the Son of God.
It is evident that their earliest knowledge of the Lord Jesus, our Deliverer from the approaching wrath, was linked up with His personal coming again. He was their expectation. He was their “hope” (see 1 Timothy 1:1). The prospect of His return was brought before their mind when they received the gospel message.
“Turning,” “serving,” “waiting.” This should be true of every believer of the glad good news today. With the question of our sins and sinfulness all settled through the work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, we are free to serve the Lord with gladness, and thus fill our little day for His glory and the blessing of others. And the future is bright with the knowledge that He is coming again and that “quickly” as He says three times over in Revelation 22:7, 12, 20. Blessed change—their conversion! Blessed occupation—their service! Blessed expectation—Christ Himself!
The second chapter speaks of the. . .
at the coming again of the Saviour.
“What is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing?” asks the apostle. “Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (v. 19).
In some way or other the apostle will be seen in that day to be associated with these believers who were the fruit of his labours. They were brought into the light through his ministry, and his portion will be to have them recognized as his children in the faith when rewards are given. They will be his crown then his joy and rejoicing.
Shall we ask ourselves whether any such reward awaits us at the return of our Lord and Master? Are we seeking His glory in endeavouring to win souls for Himself? Have we had the joy of leading some into the knowledge of the Saviour? Has it been our privilege to carry the tidings of God’s so great salvation to one who was in darkness and distress? It is a luxury we all may covet. Let us lay out ourselves for the gaining of witnesses for our rejected Lord.
It is good to single out individuals of our acquaintance and to bring them before the Lord in prayer—definitely and persistently and then to bring the Lord and His glorious atoning work before them. We can do this in a loving way, speaking face to face—or by letter—or by posting leaflets, pamphlets, and books. But the first way is the best way. It may cost more to do it, but if kindness and longing for their welfare is evidenced by personal dealing it will be far more effective. Even if resented at the time the result may be expected later. Naaman at first went away in a rage. But he came back lowly and humbled and was blessed. (The little girl who waited on Naaman’s wife will have some reward for her simple service.)
If we use what we have of power and opportunity we shall be “received into everlasting habitations” by those who have benefited through our service. An old sacred song asks, “Will any one there at the beautiful gate be watching and waiting for me?” Will there be someone who will be glad to welcome us as we cross the threshold of the Father’s House? Let us endeavour at least to secure one who shall serve the Lord here and swell the chorus of praise to Him on high eternally.
The story is told of a young man who was converted on a bed of sickness and who was brought thus to enjoy peace with God. He mourned that he could not live for Him who died for him, saying, “Must I go and empty-handed?”
CHRISTIAN LOVE AND HOLINESS
are seen associated in the thought of our Lord’s coming in chapter 3 verse 13. “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
The Christian is called to walk in love as Christ has loved him. “To increase and abound in love.” The increase is within our hearts, the abounding, the manifestation, of that which has been wrought within. As he abides in Christ, as he keeps himself in the love of God, so will this increasing and abounding be brought to pass. Love is of God. It is a holy love. It is an abounding love. It is toward all. And God has revealed Himself in love toward us for our present and eternal blessing and so that, having now the divine nature, we should express that love ourselves.
“Love one toward another and toward all.” We ought to love one another. We have been loved and we are under obligation to love one another. He loves all “His own,” and all “His own” should love all “His own.” He makes no exceptions and we should make no exceptions either. Then overflowing in love our hearts go out in love and longing for the blessing of all men. They become world-wide like the love of God in John 3:16.
So walking in holy love our hearts will be established in holiness, a holiness which will be well-pleasing to God and meet with His approbation “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
And let us remark here that “all His saints” are with Him when He comes. All “the dead in Christ” will have been raised, and all the living in Christ—all those that are Christ’s at His coming will together have been caught up to meet Him, as the next chapter will bring before us.
is in view especially in chapter 4.
Some of the number of these Christians had fallen asleep; they had died—possibly as martyrs. Their brethren seem to have feared that these would lose the joys of the kingdom and glory of Christ, though they had shared in the kingdom and patience of the Lord. To comfort them a special revelation was given. The dead in Christ far from being overlooked would have the first thought and care of the Lord Jesus at His coming.
We read that He is coming for His own—for all of them alike.
“The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.”
WHAT THEN? The dead in Christ shall rise first. The power of the Saviour will be put forth on their behalf at the very beginning.
“THEN we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (vv. 15-18)
The sorrowing ones were to be looking for the coming back of the Lord Jesus and for their lost and loved ones being with them, when all may be caught up to be for ever with the Lord. His coming was to be before them when their hearts were distressed by bereavement.
In chapter 5 we may see CHRISTIAN PRESERVATION connected with this some truth.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23).
The walk of the believers was to be in the light of the near return of their Lord and Master. If this truth grips us, our whole course will be affected. Every action and every word will be brought into consistency with our calling, as we remember that He is near and that He will soon be manifested in glory and we with Him. So the apostle longs after them that their “whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless.” That they may fully accord with the mind of the Lord now, being sanctified wholly by the God of peace Himself.
The coming of the Lord is seen thus to be an event which may take place speedily. It is that which will produce its effect upon our whole walk and ways and separate us in spirit and conduct from the age in which our lot is cast.
is before us in the first chapter of the second epistle. The coming again of the Lord Jesus is still in view. Not now His coming for His loved ones to receive them unto Himself that where He is there we may be also. This as we have seen is detailed in chapter 4. Here it is His manifestation in glory when He is revealed from heaven to put down all authority and power. He will appear then with His mighty angels, in flaming fire to punish those “who know not God and who obey not the gospel of “our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).
In the midst of the overwhelming judgment being poured out upon the ungodly the believer will be in complete calm of spirit. For him the judgment is past. He is already with and like Him who comes to judge. No fear fills him. He can but say Amen! as the righteous wrath of the Lamb is expressed. The Judge of all the earth will do right then as always.
The Christian’s perfect peace of conscience through the finished work of the Lord Jesus is clearly shown by this fact of his being in “rest” at such a season. It is seen in a similar way when the twenty-four elders are viewed as sitting on thrones while “lightnings and thunderings and voices” proceed forth from the throne of God (Rev. 4:4-5).
is called for in awaiting the Lord. The Thessalonians had received a false report or a forged letter, it would appear, professing to be from the apostle. This had stated that the day of the Lord was already present. He therefore exhorts them not to be troubled or distressed, as “that day” of His manifestation would not come until the apostasy had taken place and the man of sin had been revealed. The wicked one would be manifested in due time and be destroyed by the word of the Lord’s mouth. Meanwhile he beseeches them “by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by our “gathering together unto Him,” to be firm and unfaltering. As we have seen He will take to Himself all His own whether they are sleeping through Him or serving God for Him. Not one will be forgotten, all will be “gathered together unto Him.”
Outwardly the church has failed in its responsibility and has been broken into a thousand pieces. The sheep have been scattered but the great gathering day is at hand. Then all will surround Him at His shout and be with Him for ever, shining in His likeness and for His glory.
He is coming—surely—quickly coming. We have to hold fast “until He come,” and to stand firm and fearlessly. He will not fail His own and before the day of the Lord with its terrors and troubles sets in He will call them to be with Himself. Enoch was taken away before the flood came and Christ’s loved ones shall be kept out of the great tribulation which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3).
May it be ours to be like Enoch—to walk with God—to please God and to have the testimony that we please Him before we are caught away, translated to be “for ever with the Lord.”
is needed while we wait.
“The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for (or into the patience of) Christ” (3:5).
Christ waits in patience while the church is being gathered out. He waits until His Father’s direction: to rise up and come for His loved ones and then to come with them to take to Him His kingdom and reign in glory.
He waits in patience there at the right hand of God and we are called to wait in patience here. “The love of God and the patience of Christ,” go together. While we await Christ’s return the love of God will be the refuge of our hearts in times of storm and stress and strain. He would have us find our home in all its warmth and blessedness.
And all His gracious purposes will be carried out in due course. We are anxious for a speedy fulfilment. But our God is unhurried. He knows the end from the beginning. To an ant our steps must be slow indeed, their little feet move hundreds of times faster than ours. They are so small in comparison with ourselves.
How little are we in the presence of our God. We are creatures of such brief life and we are in danger of impatience. Thus “ye have need of patience” sounds in our ears. It is but a little while, “a little while and He who comes will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:36-37).
We hear His voice saying, “Surely I come quickly,” and our hearts respond “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
While we wait His return may we become increasingly conformed to His will and answer more and more to His gracious mind for us.
Thus we see how intimately the truth of our Lord’s return is bound up with our lives as believers. Our conversion, our reward, our love and holiness, our comfort, our preservation, our rest, our steadfastness, our patience, all are affected by “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13-14).