Part 2 of Series: The Second Coming, by Rosie Moore
Jesus told us what we need to know about his return. His pictures help us see that it will be sudden and visible; spectacular, triumphant and inescapable. Jesus said that it will be like lightning, like a thief in the night, like the Flood in the days of Noah. These apocalyptic images are not literal, but they give us a hint of what the Second Coming will be like.
“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt 24:27).
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37-39).
It’s sometimes useful to look at history to gain perspective of our own times.
The Second Coming (1919)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…
(The Second Coming, by W.B Yeats- 1865-1939)
These are lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming” which he wrote in 1919, soon after the end of the First World War. This was known as “The Great War” because it was the biggest war yet, and “The War to End All Wars” because it was so horrific that everyone hoped it would be the last war ever. It resulted in about 20 million deaths.
The poem was also written shortly after the Easter Rising in Ireland, a rebellion that was brutally suppressed, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 which overthrew the long rule of the Czars and ushered in a period of lingering chaos in Russia. No wonder Yeats expressed his sense that the world he knew was spiralling into chaos and coming to an end.
Sadly, the year that Yeats died marked the beginning of World War 2, which wiped out a further 75 million people in another “blood-dimmed tide”. Josef Stalin’s communist regime killed a further 10.5 million Russians in the Gulag, the Great Purge and the Ukrainian Famine.
Mao Zedang outdid both Hitler and Stalin with his “Great Leap Forward” economic policy, which ironically led to the deaths of 45 million Chinese people, mostly through starvation. When we look at human history, it does seem true that “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” All of this took place in just the 20th century.
But here we are in 2022, still seeing things falling apart. In every sphere of individual, family, political, moral and social life, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”
Things fall apart.
As we look forwards to the technology revolution, we may fear that the “gyre” is widening, as humanity spins further and further away from its source—the Creator God himself. Like Yeats, we may be thinking, “Surely the centre cannot hold and the Second Coming is at hand!”
But Yeats did not write The Second Coming from a biblical worldview. Although his words resonate with us and express the birth pains of a fallen world, his poem describes historical cycles and an apocalypse very different from the Christian vision of the end of the world.
The Bible does not give us a date or time for the Second Coming of Christ, but it does tell us that at an unknown but certain moment in the future, Jesus Christ will appear in full majesty to judge the world, overthrow evil and establish God’s kingdom promised in the Old and New Testament. This Kingdom will never end and will be the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:12-13).
The Bible also teaches that the historical Coming of Jesus between 1BC and AD33 was a preview of the glorious Parousia (appearing or arrival) of the Messiah. The Second Coming is the ultimate climax of history. Thus, human history is linear, not cyclical.
And so, however much things seem to be falling apart now, God has given us four certain promises for the future:
- Jesus will return in glory.
- Death will be finally conquered.
- The entire cosmos will be restored to its rightful condition.
- Christ will overthrow evil and establish perfect justice.
When will this happen?
In Matthew 24, Christ gives us a vision of the future through multifocal lenses.
Although He concentrates on events that would soon take place in the disciples’ own lifetimes, like the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD, Christ also gives a panorama of the whole era known as the ‘last days’—the era between Christ’s ascension and his return. Then He zooms in on His triumphant return, known in the Old Testament as the great “Day of the Lord”.
Christ was answering his disciples’ questions: “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3)
Like us, the first century disciples wanted signs and certainty, but when we seek certainty, we often become susceptible to being deceived. That is why Jesus starts his prophesies about the future with this warning,
Watch out that no one deceives you!
“Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt 24:4-8)
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt 24:23-25).
Like the disciples, we too must hear Jesus’s warning not to be gullible, fearful or speculative about the future. Speculation can be a deceptive diversion from the work that we’ve given to do as Christ’s stewards on earth (Matt 24:45-47).
Frightening world events should not alarm or control us, because Jesus told us “ahead of time” to expect them (Matt 24:25). What’s more, Christ says that they are the beginning of birth pains, not necessarily the final contractions before the restored creation is birthed.
And did you notice that Jesus specifically didn’t give us a timeline of events leading up to his Second coming? Instead, he spoke in apocalyptic language and focused on the need for Christians to live now in the light of the future reality. He specifically told us,
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matt 24:36).
Christ’s point throughout chapter 24 is that we must be ready at all times for His return, resisting our cravings for signs and dates that not even He or the angels are privy to.
Many of the events that Jesus foretold in Matthew 24 were indeed fulfilled in AD 68-70, when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. More than a million Jews were murdered or died of starvation, and women and children were taken as slaves. It was a devastating judgment on Jerusalem. Emperor Titus put an idol on the site of the burned temple just as Jesus had foretold (Matt 24:15-22).
Moreover, as Jesus prophesied, his followers were persecuted in their lifetimes (Matt 24:9-10). They were killed because they worshipped Jesus and not Caesar, refusing to place the Lord alongside the gods of Rome.
Because many layers of Christ’s prophecies have already been fulfilled, and are being fulfilled in our own lifetimes, we can trust what He said about the future too. Jesus answered his disciples’ questions by giving them some signs to look out for:
Less love, more wickedness.
Leading up to Christ’s return, we can be sure that wickedness will increase and the love of most will grow cold (Matt 24:12).
With false teaching and loose morals comes a particularly destructive disease—the loss of true love for God and others. Therefore, people will increasingly love only themselves and hate what is good.
Consequently, people will become more abusive, boastful, prideful, ungrateful, slanderous, treacherous, hedonistic, conceited, brutal and lacking in self restraint. Paul confirms this increase in wickedness and self-obsession in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:1-4). Our narcissistic culture is no surprise to the Lord.
More deceit and lies.
False prophets and false saviours will persist, deceiving even believers, “if that were possible” (Matt 24:24). Only a solid foundation in God’s Word will prepare us to discern the distortions of false messages that abound throughout the last days. There will be an intolerance for sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3).
There will be an increase in knowledge, yet people will be “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Our culture is a testimony to this craving for information, but disdain for the truth.
More turmoil and persecution.
Christ says that wars, famines, persecution and natural disasters will continue to rock our world until He returns. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:6-7). “You will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matt 24:9).
“Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt 24:6).
The triumph of the gospel.
But even while evil persists and increases, we can be absolutely sure that “the gospel of the kingdom will continue to be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35).
This wonderful promise is also a wonderful mission of mercy, which is still ours today. We are gospel witnesses to the nations until Christ returns in glory! From God’s perspective, there is nothing hopeless or out of control about our world. That is why Christ says to his followers, “See to it that you are not alarmed” (Matt 24:6).
While the Lord is gathering a people for himself, His kingdom will keep growing, like a stubborn plant persistently pushing its way through the hard and thorny earth.
This is the gospel work that all Christ followers are to be busy with, as God’s “faithful and wise servants” (Matt 24:45). We are to “stay awake” because we do not know when our Lord will come” (Matt 24:42).
Jesus paints a beautiful picture of an attentive servant– a joyful believer, alert to opportunities to love and serve people. It’s this kind of service that marks the future kingdom.
As in the days of Noah.
Peter reflects Christ’s picture of people living their normal lives, scoffing at the idea that Christ will ever return in judgment, just as they scoffed at Noah building the Ark when there wasn’t a drop of rain. They insist that, “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
But as in the days of Noah, there will be no room for bargaining and last-minute pleas when Christ returns. His appearing will be the decisive end of the world as we know it.
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matt 24:30-31)
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matt 24:40-41).
If Christ’s return is as unexpected and inescapable as the worldwide Flood, we have an infinitely greater Ark to take refuge in than the ship that Noah built. Our Ark is the Lord Jesus himself (1 Peter 3:20-21; Heb 11:7; Gen 7:17).
Lord, we don’t know exactly when you will return, but we trust that you will come back. We don’t know exactly how you will appear and gather your people from the four winds of the earth, but we trust that you will send your angels to accomplish what is humanly impossible. We trust that the gospel will continue to flourish in people’s lives and fill the earth until you return. Help us not to be alarmed by the rise in evil, but rather to focus on being gospel witnesses and living like the day is already here. Give us strength to be faithful and wise servants of your righteous kingdom, taking care of whatever you have put in front of us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Listen to this beautiful hymn, “I cannot tell”. It was one of our wedding hymns!
“But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture….