Second Coming of Jesus Christ Part II

And, likewise, the Second Coming has created problems throughout the centuries. Around 200 AD a Syrian bishop announced that Christ was about to begin His reign. So, the bishop led all of his people out into the desert to meet Christ at His return. They nearly died in the desert. John Wycliffe,t he great Bible translator, waited for Christ to return in his lifetime. In the 1800’s a group of believers sold everything, climbed up on houses, and waited for the Lord. Finally, they sheepishly came down (after many weeks).

Setting dates for the return of Christ has been especially embarrassing. The Adventist leaders in the last century calculated 1843. When that proved to be wrong, they tried 1844. The Jehovah Witnesses thought it would be 1914. Indeed, hardly a year goes by that some one, often in California “the land of fruit and nuts”, does not predict the Second Coming. Hal Lindsay, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, is sure that the end will occur in 1988.

What is truly amazing, though, is that the Bible is very clear on this point. Very plainly Jesus says, “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk. 13:32).

Someone might well ask, “Well, given Paul’s error and the embarrassment of wrong-guessing all through the centuries, and considering all the excesses, why not forget the whole thing.” And that is pretty much what we have done.

But it was not always so. The Confessions of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. are full of references to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.1 The great Presbyterian preacher Alexander MaClaren had no problem preaching on the Book of Revelation.2

But the question arises, is it fair for us to dismiss casually a theme which pulsates so insistently through the whole of the New Testament? And again, do we not find it slipping into our worship services even when we try to ignore it? We repeat the Apostles’ Creed, for example, and there read that Christ “sitteth as the right hand of God the Father almighty from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” We sing a hymn such as “How Great Thou Art” and there it is: “When Christ shall come with a shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” So, while we can ignore the concept of the Second Coming, we cannot escape it.

What then can be said? Will Christ come again as both the New Testament and the Creeds tell us?

No doubt on this point Christ will return. The New Testament looks forward quite realistically to an end-time, to a consummation of history, to a time when everything shall be wrapped up. The New Testament sees Christ coming at the end of history to gather his own and to vindicated them before everyone. The New Testament looks confidently forward to the time when the “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and He shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15).

“So who cares?” you may still ask. What difference does it make?

I asked myself this. While I was a pastor in a New Jersey Church occasionally I would escape to a Jersey diner and eat lunch. I loved to go around 2:30 when the crowds had left and the waitresses were standing around gossiping. I surreptitiously carried a notebook with me so that I could garnish some sermon illustrations from the ever loquacious waitresses. I learned more about human nature in one afternoon at Windsor Diner than all my courses at Princeton.

A Jersey diner is somewhere between an ostentatious trailer and your proverbial greasy spoon. The Jersey diner is truly a slice of Americana–where the “youse guys” and “Couffee” runs freely. Built in only a couple of days in my former hometown, Middlesex, NJ, these diners have been able to withstand the onslaught of MacDonalds and Burger Kings. Besides having the best cheese cake on the East Coast, the diner is the best place for a pastor to keep in touch with his world. When I was tired of all the pedantic gobbledy goop that the modern pastorate demanded, I escaped to Windsor Diner.

As I ate my underdone, greasy, overpriced cheeseburger, I eaves-dropped on two waitresses at the end of the counter. I love to eat lunch at the counter with the postman and the truckdriver. Who knows, maybe someone will mistake me for a workingman! “Can you believe it,” one fat little waitress mused, “The blankity blank guy let his daughter die in a fire.” The waitress was referring to a sensationalistic story about a father who chained his daughter to her room so that she would not “fall into immorality.” Too bad she burned to death in fire when he was away!

This little waitress ended with a statement that was uncharacteristic fare for a mid-afternoon lunch in Central New Jersey. “I just hope that I die soon so that I will not have to suffer much more.”

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