The drama of the universe is approaching its grand finale.
The Lord Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is coming again! His advent
will mark the beginning of a series of momentous events: the resurrection of the
dead, the final judgment, the restoration of the universe, the banishment of the
wicked in hell, and the gathering together of the saints with their Saviour in
God, the author of history, knows the end from the beginning.
Unlike our plans, God’s purpose cannot fail and the final events will certainly
take place as planned. ‘Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass’ (Isa
46:11). God did not disclose every detail about the future; he has given us
enough information for our spiritual welfare. Prophecy was not given to satisfy
our curiosity but to encourage us to persevere in godliness and to give us hope,
knowing that our Father’s good plan for us will certainly come to pass. Prophecy
is also a stern warning to unbelievers that their doom and destruction is
hanging over their heads.
Death is a constant reminder that all is not well in this
world. As soon as he disobeyed his Maker, God told Adam: ‘In the sweat of your
face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were
taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19). Death is our
last enemy. Yet, though our body dies and decays, Scripture gives us hope that
reaches beyond the grave.
At death the spirit is separated from the body. The Bible
teaches us that ‘the body without the spirit is dead’ (James 2:26). It describes
death as follows: ‘the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit
will return to God who gave it’ (Ecc 12:7). The body returns to the dust from
which it was fashioned; the spirit goes to its Creator.
The apostle Paul reasons thus: ‘For to me, to live is Christ,
and to die is gain’ (Phil 1:21-23). He considered death as the threshold of
something better; he certainly did not think of it as the end of everything.
Why? Because he desired ‘to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.’
Paul’s body was buried when he was martyred, but his soul was transferred into
the immediate presence of Christ. That is gain; that is much better than
anything on earth! The same is true for all Christians: ‘So we are always
confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the
Lord …We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and
to be present with the Lord’ (2 Cor 5:6, 8).
Christians are ‘with the Lord’ immediately after death.
Scripture knows nothing about an intermediary place of cleansing after death,
known as purgatory. Admittedly, nobody can enter heaven in the glorious presence
of God tainted with sin and burdened with debt. Nevertheless Scripture teaches
that Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of his people and made full legal
satisfaction for them by his death on the cross. Since Christ ‘purged our sins’
(Heb 1:3), and his blood ‘cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7), there
is no scope for further purification after death.
Glorious as our expectation to be with the Lord after death,
our complete victory will only take place when the Lord Jesus Christ resurrects
our bodies. We were originally created spirit and body; our redemption would be
complete when our body is raised to a glorified and immortal existence. ‘The
body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in
dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor 15:42-44). When
He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
The Present Age
Forty days after his resurrection the Lord Jesus ascended
into heaven where he is now reigning over the universe and interceding for his
people. One day Christ the King will return to earth. Two angels stood by the
disciples and informed them: ‘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 1:11).
The Lord Jesus himself said that ‘they will see the Son of Man coming on the
clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Matt 24:30).
We who are now living in the ‘present age’ wait for the ‘age
to come’ inaugurated by the return of Christ (Eph 1:21; Luke 20:34-36). This
present time is also called ‘the last days’ because this is the last period of
the world’s history (Heb 1:2; 1 John 2:18; Acts 2:17; 1 Pet 1:20).
Between Christ’s first and second advent much that is
prophesied in Scripture is taking place. Jesus predicted the destruction of the
temple and the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:20, 24).
The Lord forewarned his disciples that they would be persecuted. Many Christians
suffered martyrdom for his name’s sake. Jesus also foretold that there would be
wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues (Matt 24). Christ will return once the
gospel is preached to all nations. ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached
in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’
The Lord also points out that many ‘false christs’ will arise
and deceive many people. We are also warned about signs and wonders for these
are fabricated by the arch-deceiver, Satan (2 Thess 2:8-14). We shouldn’t be
impressed by counterfeit miracles. It is very disturbing to realize that today
multitudes crave ecstatic experiences and miraculous healing, in preference to
the truth of the gospel, brotherly love and holiness of life.
There have always been fanatics who predicted the date of
Christ’s return even though Jesus said that no one knows of that day and hour.
Elsewhere the Bible says that the day of the Lord shall come like a thief in the
night (1 Thess 5:2). Now, of course, no thief will notify when he intends to
visit you! The Lord compares his coming to the time of Noah’s flood. In that
generation virtually nobody believed that a day of reckoning was drawing close,
so they continued in their usual occupations, pleasures and businesses. Then
suddenly judgment overtook them. They were not prepared for the catastrophe.
‘Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of
Man is coming’ (Matt 25:13).
Unlike the godless, we who believe in Jesus Christ will not
be surprised. Indeed we are ‘looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing
of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13). His promise motivates us
to live in his service, for we know with absolute certainty that he will come
and reward us, even though we do not know when that will happen.
The Lord’s Coming
On his first advent Jesus came in humility, as a poor baby in
an obscure Judean village. In his second advent Christ will come in glory and
great power with his holy angels. Every human being will see him, as Scripture
says: ‘Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they
who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even
so, Amen’ (Rev 1:7).
By his divine power the Lord Jesus will give life to the
dead, whether good or evil. ‘Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in
which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who
have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to
the resurrection of condemnation’ (John 5:28, 29). The Bible describes departed
Christians ‘asleep in death’ because they will be awakened to eternal life by
the Lord. He will then give us an incorruptible body that can die no longer.
Only then will we experience the fullness of salvation. ‘We ourselves groan
within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body’
The dead in Christ will be raised up in a glorified body,
while believers who happen to be alive on earth at his coming will be
instantaneously transformed (1 Cor 15:51). The great company of the redeemed
will be caught up (‘ruptured’) to meet the Lord in the air. From that day on we
will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess 4:14-17).
What will happen to this present universe? The apostle Peter
tells us: ‘the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the
heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with
fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.’
God will create a new heavens and a new earth out of this sin-cursed universe;
he will cleanse it from sin and its effects forever. ‘We, according to His
promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2
Pet 3: 9, 10, 13).
The Lord Jesus promises his bride, the church: ‘Surely I am
coming quickly.’ We heartily respond: ‘Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev