Friday, August 1, 2014

The Gospel According to Joseph: Jesus is Coming Soon!

In this Sunday's sermon, one of the things that we will see is Israel's hope in the promises of God that looked forward beyond the promised land to "a better city, that is, a heavenly one" (He. 11:16). Now, he didn't know as much about it as we do, but he knew enough to place his hope not in this world but in a "city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (He. 11:10). We know now that this city is the new heavens and new earth (cf. Re. 21) into which Jesus will take us when He returns.

When thinking about Jesus' return and the solid hope we have in it because of the truth of the gospel, sometimes we wonder why He has not yet returned. Didn't He say He was coming "soon"? Well, yes He did in Re. 22:
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Re. 22:6ff)
In the above Scripture passage I've italicized Jesus' words just so there's no mistaking who is speaking to whom. This is, of course, a theologically packed passage, but I want to use it for this devotional since His return to take us home is our ultimate hope and because three times in it Jesus says, "I am coming soon." Do you think He means it? If you repeat something to someone three times in a single conversation, don’t you really mean it? But, it doesn't seem "soon," does it? When you pray for Christ's return, do you sometimes feel like a child in the back seat of your parents' car on a long road trip asking "How long?" and always hearing "Soon"? Almost two thousand years doesn't seem "soon" to me. Of course, I'm not the only one who's thought that for even the early Church wondered why Jesus had not yet returned. Many of them thought Jesus would return before they died, and even Paul appears to have believed this early on in his ministry (cf. 1 Th. 4:15). After several decades passed they started to wonder, "What happened to 'soon'?" If they asked it then, how much more may we ask the question two thousand years later?

As you might imagine, there have been many over the centuries who have attempted to answer this question in a variety of ways. Indeed, this is a very complex question on which Christians have come to no sort of consensus. That means I don't believe I have the final answer to this important question, but I would like to give you two things to consider that I think will help put the question in a less ominous context. First, consider Peter's answer to this question. Peter acknowledges that his readers were asking this question and answers it but not in the detail for which we (or they) might have hoped:
1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…. (2 Pt. 3:1-4, 8-10)
Peter knows there will be "scoffers" who will basically say, "Where's your God now? It's been two thousand years and He said He would come 'soon.'" His answer is not a systematic defense of how "soon" can be reckoned with a long delay of Jesus' second coming. He simply says, "Look, God doesn't perceive or calculate the passage of time the way you and I do, so stop acting like He does and forcing our view of 'soon' on Him. And, what you call 'slowness' I call 'patience' for the Lord is waiting so more can repent and believe." Then, Peter tells us that the day will come like a thief, which is the proverbial way of saying that we have no idea when it will come. He wisely doesn't try to answer a question no one can answer completely but appeals to God's timelessness and mercy for an explanation of His delay. There are more God wants to become Christians and He is waiting until they do (cf. Mt. 24:14).

The second thing I think we need to consider is the nature of biblical prophecy. There is in prophecy a characteristic perspective that foreshortens time and presents the future from a theological perspective as a whole with the chronological gaps unaddressed. So, for example, the prophets of the Old Testament could move from the destruction of Judah to the coming of the Messiah in a single step even though there would be almost six hundred years in between. The same is true of Revelation. In it, the future is presented theologically and is seen in terms of its entirety, not in its chronological detail. Prophecy is a theological interpretation of history, however long it endures. Think about that for a moment. Theologically speaking, what is the next important event after Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? It's the second coming of Christ. Everything in between is incidental compared to those important, redemptive events. John's prophecy in Revelation, then, can make a chronological jump of unknown duration because theologically Christ's second coming is near, and it is looked at as part of the redemptive whole of Christ's work. So, Christ is coming soon, but we need to look at "soon" from God's perspective on time, in the context of His awesome mercy, and theologically not chronologically.

Today let He. 11:8-16, 39-40 (which will be discussed in Sunday's posted sermon), and the above passages remind you that Christ is coming soon. What He means by "soon" may be different than what you and I think of as "soon," but we know it's the next important redemptive event and it could happen at any time. Remember that God is delaying Jesus' return because He is rich in mercy towards the unbelieving world, not because He’s trying to drive Christians crazy. Ask Him to give you a love for the lost like He has because as our love and compassion for the lost grows, we will understand His delay and see it as a chance to spread the gospel more. Ask Him to give you a deep anticipation of His immanent return so that your love for Him will increase, your love for this world will decrease, and your concern for the lost will grow. Ask Him to help you be a testimony to the hope that you have in the gospel to the lost around you and younger generations. And, pray like John, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Perhaps today could be the day.

By His Grace,

No comments: