2-5 Loving the Appearing of Christ
The lack of spiritual dynamism, perhaps even stagnation, which we seem to face individually and collectively can be traced back to three basic causes- in my opinion, I have to add:
1. A lack of serious, personal daily Bible study
2. A lack of appreciation of the seriousness of sin
3. A lack of urgent, intense expectancy of our Lord's return.
I have commented elsewhere upon the first two problems (1). It is naturally difficult to live on the same level of intensity of expectation for Christ. It is also difficult to become more enthusiastic for the second coming as an act of the will. The fact is, if we truly love Christ, if we have a genuine relationship with Him, we will yearn to be with Him, we will long for our present nature to be ended and to enter into a true and fuller unity with the Father and Son. Heb. 9:28 speaks of the faithful as waiting for Christ to " appear without sin unto salvation" . This alludes to a humbled, repentant Israel on the Day of Atonement, having confessed their sins and afflicted their souls through fasting, waiting for their High Priest to appear and pronounce upon them the blessing of forgiveness. The Spirit is using this as a type of us expecting the second coming of our Lord; the motivation for our enthusiasm should be our earnest need of ultimate forgiveness and reconciliation with God. David likewise speaks of waiting and watching for the Lord in the context of asking for forgiveness (Ps. 130:5,6).
Loving The Appearing Of Christ
We must be crystal clear about one thing. Our attitude to the second coming decides whether we will be in the Kingdom. In this sense we are judging ourselves, right now; we are formulating the outcome of the judgment seat by our attitude now towards the second coming. The proof for this lies in a group of passages which suggest that everyone who truly loves the return of his Lord will be in the Kingdom. Of course, a true love of His coming is only possible if we hold correct doctrine, and if our faith and behaviour is mature enough to be able to look with quiet joy and confidence towards that day. Thus our Lord said that all those whom He finds watching will be welcomed into the marriage feast (Lk. 12:37). And 2 Tim. 4:8 is plain enough: " All them also that love his appearing" will be rewarded along with Paul. Paul's own confidence in salvation was because he knew the earnestness of his desire to be " present with the Lord" Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8), such was the closeness of his relationship with Him. Is this really our attitude too? Can we feel like Simeon, that we are quite happy to die after we have just seen our Lord with our own eyes (Lk. 2:29)? Is there really much love between us and our Lord? The faithful are described as " those that seek (God)...such as love Thy salvation" (Ps. 40:16). None truly seeks God (Rom. 3:11- the context concerns all of us, believers and unbelievers); and yet we are those who seek Him. We must be ambitious to do the impossible. Those who truly love righteousness and the Kingdom will be rewarded with it. Likewise Paul in 1 Cor. 8:2,3 describes the faithful man as one who accepts he knows nothing as he ought to know, but truly loves God. Heb. 9:28 is clear: " Unto them that look for (Christ) shall He appear the second time...unto salvation" . Those who truly look for Christ will be given salvation.
Of course these verses are abused by some who reason that anyone who has the emotion of love towards Christ will be rewarded by Him. We know that true love involves both having and keeping His commands. But for those of us in Christ, these verses are still a major challenge. If we truly " look for" Christ's second coming, if we " love His appearing" , this will lead us to acceptance with Him. So the point is surely clinched: our attitude towards the second coming is an indicator of whether we will be saved. Time and again in the Psalms, David expresses his good conscience in terms of asking God to come and judge him (e.g. Ps. 35:24). Was this not some reference to the future theophany which David knew some day would come?
The fact is, our attitude and response in the split second when we know ‘He’s back’ will effectively be our judgment. When the Lord speaks about knocking on the door of our hearts and our response (Rev. 3:20), He is picking up the language of the Song of Solomon 5:2-8, where the bridegroom (cp. Jesus) knocks at the door of the bride. But notice the sequence there:
While she sleeps at night, the bridegroom comes and knocks [unworthy virgins sleeping instead of being awake; the Lord Jesus comes]
She replies that she’s not dressed properly, makes excuses about her feet, she can’t come and open [the unworthy don’t respond immediately]
He tries to open the door from the outside, putting his hand through the latch-hole [by grace, after the pattern of Lot being encouraged to leave Sodom when he hesitated, the Lord will be patient even with sleepy virgins in His desire for their salvation]
Her heart is moved with desire for him [the rejected still call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’; they love Him emotionally; but they don't truly love the appearing of Christ]
She starts dressing herself up, and then is overtaken by desire and rushes to the door, her hands dripping all kinds of perfume and make up over the lock as she opens it [cp. the virgins going to buy oil, the unworthy trying to prepare themselves all too late, not trusting that their Lord loves them as they are at the moment of His coming]
But he’s gone , he withdraws himself [all too late, the door is shut, He never knew them]
Her soul fails [the shock of rejection]
She seeks him but doesn’t find him, calls but he doesn’t answer [Prov. 1:28; the rejected call, but aren’t answered; they seek the Lord early, but don’t find Him. Hos. 5:6 is likewise relevant: “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them”. ]
She feels tired of her relationship with him (“sick of love”).
She is persecuted by the world around her [“condemned with the world”]
The basic point is that if we don’t immediately respond to the Lord’s knock, we show ourselves to not love Him enough. We aren't truly loving the appearing of Christ. If we don’t open immediately, it’s as if we didn’t open at all. The Lord wants us as we are, bleary eyed and without our make up, but with a basic overriding love of Him , and faith in the depth of His love, which will lead us to immediately go out to meet Him.
As If We Know...
We do not know the exact calendar date of the appearing of Christ; and yet we should be watching for his coming with the same intensity as if we did know the day and hour. This seems to be the message behind Mt. 24:42,43, where Jesus reasons that if the manager of a wealthy house knew when the thief was coming, he would have watched carefully; 'And that', Jesus continued, 'Should be the intensity of expectancy you should have towards my return, even though you don't know the exact date'. Now this is quite something. If we knew the exact date of the Lord's return, we can imagine how we might behave the day before. It seems Christ is asking us to imagine that scenario; and then He asks us to live like this all the time. This is truly a high challenge. Our attitude to God's word, entertainment, hobbies, money, relationships; all these areas of life would probably be somewhat different to what they are now if we really took on board this idea: that we should live as if we expect the imminent return of Christ. This idea makes sense of two apparently contradictory strands in the Lord’s teaching: that we do not know the exact time of His return (Mt. 24:36,42,44; 25:13; Acts 1:7), and yet He tells us clearly it will come “soon” (Rev. 1:1,3 and many other passages). Perhaps the implication is that we should read coming ‘soon’ as meaning ‘as if you know He is coming soon’. For, we ourselves cannot know the exact time.
Throughout Christ's discourses concerning his return, " watch" is the key-word (Mt. 24:42; 25:13; Mk. 13:33-37; Lk. 12:37; 21:36). There are at least ten New Testament allusions to Christ's command for us to " watch" in the last days, and thus be found loving the appearing of Christ; this alone indicates how our lives should be characterized by this spirit of watching. I would go so far as to say that generally we seem almost unaware of this emphasis. " Watch...watch...watch" is the cry that comes out from our Lord himself. It seems almost unknown to us that we are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, with a great sense of urgency, to live in this spirit of watchfulness for His return. It is easy to think that the command to watch means that we should scan Bible prophecies and compare them with current world events, and thereby see the coming of Christ approaching. However, this is not the idea behind the word " watch" . We are told to watch precisely because we do not know the time of Christ's appearing; therefore Jesus cannot be telling us (in this command) to watch political developments as pointers towards the date of His return. " Watch" nearly always refers to watching our personal spirituality, and concerning ourselves with that of others’. The Hebrew word translated " watch" carries the idea of defending, holding on as a matter of life or death, enduring with stamina, being awake. Thus Habakkuk speaks of " watching" , i.e. being spiritually sensitive, to what God is going to tell him (Hab. 2:1).
Doing a study of New Testament allusions to Christ's command to " watch" yields conclusions which may seem unpleasantly negative to some. In Greek, the verb 'to watch' is related to the noun 'watch', referring to soldiers guarding something, or the period of guard duty. The idea behind 'watching' is definitely defensive rather than aggressive. In the same way as the gate keeper of a large house has to watch, to guard and protect, so should we in the last days (Mk. 13:34-37). Lk. 21:36 defines watching as praying always, concentrating our faith upon the fact that ultimately we will stand acceptably before the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment, and by His grace be saved from the great judgments which will surely come upon this world. The ideas of watching and praying often occur together (Lk. 21:36; Mk. 14:38; Mt. 26:41; Eph. 6:18; 1 Pet. 4:7). Prayer for our forgiveness, for acceptance by our Lord, must therefore characterize our watching in these last days. We must " watch" in the sense of being on our guard against the possibility of personal and communal apostacy from the faith (Acts 20:31); " watching" is standing fast in the doctrines of the one faith (1 Cor. 16:31), exhorting and encouraging others in the household of faith (1 Thess. 5:6,11), holding fast in ecclesias swamped by apathy and apostasy, strengthening what remains (Rev. 3:2,3; 2 Tim. 4:3-5), keeping the oil of the word burning in our lamps even though others have let it burn out (Mt. 25:13).
Loving the appearing of Christ
" Watching" is not only a guarding of one's own spirituality; the idea of guarding a house and the people and goods inside it suggests that our watching is of our brethren and sisters too. Elders " watch for your souls" (Heb. 13:17) in this sense. Christ's parable about the gate-keeper might at first suggest that the duty of watching is only with the elders; it is for them to watch and feed the flock, in the same way as it was the duty of the house manager to guard the house and feed the other servants (Mt. 24:43-51; Mk. 13:33-37). But that parable is intended for all of us; " Watch ye therefore (as intensely as that manager)...and what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch" (Mk. 13:37). In other words, we are all elders, the command to watch for each other extends to each of us. And yet how really concerned are most of us about each other’s salvation?
Watching and loving the appearing of Christ therefore involves a recognition of our own proneness to apostasy, both personally and communally. It involves defence of doctrine, watching for the salvation of our brethren as much as we watch for our own, really caring for their needs (Mt. 24:42-45), holding on, strengthening, giving ourselves to prayer until this becomes a way of life and thinking for us. Now some of us have heard all these things all too often. But the fact is, there can be no escaping the meaning of watching, and the repeated emphasis upon the need for it. There can be no escaping the Biblical fact that many will lose their faith in the last days without realizing it . There is the real possibility that when Christ returns, none will hold the faith (Lk. 17:8). Only eight people were truly watching when the flood came; and Peter cites this as an example for us at the time of Christ's return. No wonder there is such emphasis upon the need to watch.
If we are the generation which will see Christ's appearing, we will be the only people who never physically die. And we will be those who welcome the Lord Jesus to this earth, who stand ready to welcome Him. This is an honour higher than we probably appreciate. No wonder there is this pressing need in these last days to watch our doctrine, our way of life, to hold on to the great salvation which we have been given in prospect. And yet at no other time in the history of our community has there been such de-emphasis upon watching doctrine and way of life. Can we not see the perfect appropriacy of this command to watch in these last days?
It cannot be accidental that Matthew's Gospel twice records Christ's plea for us to watch (Mt. 24:42; 25:13); and then goes straight on to describe how in Gethsemane, Christ pleaded with the disciples to join Him in watching and praying, lest they fall to temptation (Mt. 26:38-41). He was evidently deeply, deeply disappointed that they could not share this with Him. Surely the reason for this further mention of watching is to suggest that in the pain of our latter day watching, we will be at one with our suffering Lord in Gethsemane, as He too watched- not " signs of the times" , but His own relationship with the Father, desperately seeking strength to carry the cross rather than quit the race (2).
" Of your own selves..."
There is a superficial contradiction between the following three passages:
" Watch therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Mt. 24:42)
" But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (1 Thess. 5:5). This is alluding to Christ's parable of Mt. 24:42-51, where He says that we should stay awake like the house manager who knows when the thief is coming, and therefore watches.
" If therefore thou wilt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (Rev. 3:3). The implication is that if we watch, Christ's coming will not be like a thief to us, and therefore we will know the hour of His coming.
So we should watch and be loving the appearing of Christ because we don't know when He will come; but if we watch, He will not come like an unexpected thief, because we will know the hour of His coming. Giving all these passages a latter day application (whilst not denying they had a primary meaning in the first century too), this would suggest that those who do watch will have a sure sense of when Christ is coming. I can hear many of you chanting: " But we can't know the day or hour!" . To which I would respond: We must watch as if we know for sure that the hour of Christ's coming is upon us. If we do this, then when Christ comes, we will be prepared for Him, as if we had been told the actual hour. The fact the NT writers spoke as if Christ's return was imminent in their time was not because they were just over optimistic; for they were inspired. Surely they were inspired to write as if the Lord's return was imminent in their time because this is how God expected His people to perceive the Lord's coming: as absolutely imminent.
" Knowing the time..."
But I would go further than this by suggesting that perhaps the very last generation will know the time of Christ's return. " Likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Lk. 21:31). As surely as trees bud and then Summer comes, so when we see the signs of Lk. 21:24-26 in Israel, we will know that the Lord is really at hand. It is only to the unworthy that the Lord comes unexpectedly. The majority of generations, including the disciples to whom Christ primarily spoke those words concerning not knowing the hour, have of course not known the day or hour. But there seems absolutely no point in the Lord giving us any signs if in fact the last generation cannot foresee with some certainty the time of His coming. Surely Yahweh has revealed all His plans to His servants the prophets? As a woman knows within herself the approximate time of childbirth although not the day or hour, so we should know that the day of new birth is approaching- so Paul's reasoning goes in 1 Thess. 5. He warns that for those who do not watch, the day of Christ's coming will be a day of " sudden destruction...as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3). Surely the picture here is of a woman whose time of delivery comes unexpectedly upon her, with complications that result in her dying in childbirth. As a woman who knows the time of delivery is very near will behave in an appropriately careful way, so will the faithful of the last generation who likewise know that the Lord's coming is nigh. The same mixture of seriousness and joyful anticipation will be seen in us too, who are watching and loving the appearing of Christ.
Consider Lk. 21:28: " When these things begin to come to pass, then look up (Gk. 'unbend'- as if the depression of the faithful is partly lifted by discerning the nearness of Christ's return), and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" . These are words which can only apply to the last generation; and they self-evidently imply that therefore that last generation does know for sure that Christ is about to come. Just two verses later, the Lord spoke of how in the Spring " Ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh" (Lk. 21:30,31). There is an instinctive sense within us concerning the change of the seasons; and this will be the same in the minds of the faithful as they sense the Lord's return approaching. There will be no need for magazine articles expounding " signs of the times" ; we will not need any man to say unto us " The time draweth near" because we will know of our own selves that the coming of Christ is near (Lk. 21:7,8 should be read in the context of v.30,31). The relationship between Solomon and his bride in the Song of Solomon is typical of that between Christ and His church; and significantly, therefore, she senses his approach, she hears his voice telling her that he is coming, even before she sees him (Song 2:8).
Saving the best till last, consider Lk. 17:24-26. This passage speaks of " the days of the Son of man" - and refers them to three things:
1. The days of Christ's ministry
2. The time leading up to His return
3. The day of judgment, of His actual second coming.
Putting these together, we come to the following conclusion: those living in the very last days will effectively be living with the actual presence of Christ, it will be as if Christ has physically returned, although He has not done so. This may well be in order to provide encouragement to the persecuted saints in their latter day holocaust; but it surely suggests that they will know that Christ is about to return, that they are living in the days of the Son of man. Those days leading up to Christ's return will not, therefore, just seem like any other portion of human history- to the faithful. The signs will be so clear to them that it will be as if Christ has returned.
There is a connection between the breaking of bread and the second coming. We are to do it " until He come" . Christ said He would not take the wine until He takes it again with us at the marriage supper. Thus " That dark betrayal night...with His blessed advent we unite" . Christ's desire for us to break bread regularly to remember Him is therefore associated with His desire for us to remember the reality of His second coming.
(1) See Are We Too Academic? .
(2) The idea that the faithful remnant in the latter day ecclesia will acutely fellowship the sufferings of Christ is developed in The Last Days - as is the idea that there must be major apostasy within the latter day ecclesia.