Waiting for Christ's Return

Dr. Brian Allison

If Jesus had returned this past week, would you have been ready? Were you anticipating His second coming with excitement? If Jesus had come at a particular moment this past week, would He have found you in a compromising situation? Would you have been thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed? Being prepared for the return of Christ is intricately associated with Christian conversion. Conversion is a radical change in lifestyle – changing from a life of selfishness, immorality, and indecency to one of righteousness, holiness, and love. If you have been born again of the Spirit, if you have repented of your sins, if you have experienced that radical change in lifestyle, then one of the basic and primary fruits of that conversion will be serving God. Thus, 1 Thessalonians 1:9 reads, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols [conversion] to serve [the fruit] a living and true God."

Christ shall return from heaven

But serving God is only one fruit of true conversion, according to this passage of Scripture. As we move on to verse 10 we see a second fruit – "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." True conversion results in a desire for, and an anticipation of, the return of the Lord. After the resurrection of our Lord, He ascended on high; and now He is enthroned at the right hand of God. And throughout all of history, and even at present, He is gathering and building His Church. He is executing the saving plan of God as the enthroned Christ. When the divine purposes, concerning the salvation of the elect, have been completed, then Christ the King will come again. At an appointed time, He will return to earth. In Peter's second sermon, as recorded in the Books of Acts, we read the statement, "Whom [referring to Christ] heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time" (3:21). And so Christ is in heaven as the enthroned King of Glory, for a period of time; and thus believers now "wait for His Son from heaven."

It is a fundamental article of faith that Christ will come again. Recall John 14:2, 3; Jesus says, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you; I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." Now, with conversion, one is awakened to God. There is a clear understanding of Who He is. As Paul says, there is the realization that He is the living and true God. But not only is there an awakening concerning Who God is, there is an awakening concerning Who Jesus Christ is. One is enlightened concerning His person and His work. One understands that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the risen Lord of glory; and that one day He is coming again. And in that knowledge and understanding, there should be the anticipation that Jesus is coming again. If you are a converted individual, if you have been born again of the Spirit, the Spirit has implanted in your heart the desire for His coming. Christians are to expect Christ's return. We are to recognize that we are not of this world, that we participate in a different reality; and that one day Christ is going to come and take us to be with Himself, that we might ever be with Him.

Waiting means serving

So, we are to wait for the return of the Son of God – "and to wait for His Son from heaven." This term 'wait', as I have already indicated, connotes the idea of 'anticipation and preparation for'. The sense is not a passive waiting, but rather an active one. For instance, when you are waiting for family to arrive from overseas, you meticulously prepare for their coming. You make sure the home is clean, that their bedroom is neat – you are actively waiting for them. Whereas, if an election were called, and election enumeration were undertaken, you would expect, but would not prepare for, the enumerator to come knocking. In realizing that he or she had finally arrived, you would not say, "Your room is ready, we have stocked the refrigerator. We have been waiting for you" – you would be passively waiting.

In waiting for our Lord from heaven, we must actively wait. Matthew 24 captures the essence of this kind of waiting. Jesus says, "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave [who will be preparing for his master's coming] whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards [live according to the world]; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth" (vv. 42-51). So, according to this passage, this kind of 'waiting' involves service or ministry.

Do you notice a similarity between the two fruits of conversion, according to our text? The similar note is that of serving. Again, we reads, "You turned to God from idols to serve [in the here and now] a living and true God, and to wait for [i.e., to continue to serve in anticipation of] His Son from heaven" (vv. 9,10). Now, the question that confronts us is this: Why such an emphasis on serving, as a necessary, and even primary, fruit of conversion? Well, simply put, service clearly reveals whose servant and subject you are; it reveals who is your master. As a Christian, you must clearly reveal that you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that your allegiance is to Him. We have a similar idea in Romans 6:17,18, "But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

With Christian conversion, one must acknowledge and accept that Christ is Lord and Master, and that He commands faithful service while He is absent. Are you serving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master? You should have the mentality which says each day, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening" (1 Sam. 3:9b). Having become a Christian, having been born into the kingdom of God, you were made a servant of the living Christ, a subject of King Jesus. Are you serving Him? Are you serving Him in anticipation of His second coming? What will it be like in that day when He breaks through the clouds in His glory and we stand before Him. Will you be ready? Many will bemoan the fact that they weren't prepared, that they did not live in the light of His return. Then it will be too late. There will be no second chances then.

The return of Christ should be the reference point of our daily living. I suspect that many have grown comfortable in this world. Examine your own heart. Have you grown comfortable in this world? We have benefited from our technology. We have been blessed with various sophisticated conveniences and amenities. Have you grown comfortable, my Christian friend? That comfortableness often numbs one's sensibilities to the imminent coming of the Lord. Many say 'with their heads', "Lord, we want You to come," followed by a whisper 'in their hearts', "But not yet." We pray, "Even so, come Lord Jesus;" but often such words are said half-heartedly and mechanically. Can you say, "Even so, come Lord Jesus" with the deepest sincerity and desire? What does your heart say, my friend?

The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi captures the essence of actively waiting for the Lord's return. It reads:

LORD, make me an instrument of Your Peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow Love;

Where there is injury, Pardon;

Where there is doubt, Faith;

Where there is despair, Hope;

Where there is darkness, Light and

Where there is sadness, Joy.

OH DIVINE MASTER, grant that I may not so much

Seek to be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

This past week, a tragic airplane crash occurred just north of Mirabel Airport, Quebec. Eleven people perished instantly. A friend of one of the victims said, "I cannot believe my friend is gone. I still expect him to show up." He waited without any hope. But, my brothers and sisters, we wait with hope. There is no tragic ending to the Christian story. The Lord shall come again; and we shall receive Him, and He shall receive us. Hope shall turn to inexpressible joy.

Christ will return as Judge and Deliverer

Notice how Paul describes the Son of God Who is to return; and we should keep these facts in mind as we anticipate His coming. Paul's language here is not superfluous or 'fill in'. It is calculated. First, the apostle Paul makes reference to the fact that the returning Son of God is the resurrected Saviour – "And to wait for His Son...whom He raised from the dead." This language suggests the foundation of our salvation, which points to, and guarantees, Christ's return by which there will be the consummation of salvation. Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. He was the great Sin-bearer. He offered one sacrifice for sin; and He was buried, having extinguished the wrath of God. But He was not deserving of death; and so God raised Him from the dead. He ascended on high, and He now reigns in glory. He will return as the Saviour-King and will usher in the new heavens and the new earth.

Now, with His death and resurrection, Christ delivered us from sin and death; but with His return, He will deliver us from the wrath of God – "Whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." Christ will return not only as the Saviour-King , but also as the righteous Judge. The wrath of God presently rests on every sinner; and over the course of a sinner's lifetime, because of his sins and transgressions, he is banking more and more wrath. When Christ returns, that 'accrued' and 'compounded' wrath will be 'withdrawn' and unleashed upon the head of every sinner.

For many, the topic of the wrath of God is an unpleasant one. Sad to say, there are professing evangelicals who deny the doctrine of the coming wrath of God, which is to deny the doctrine of hell. God's coming wrath shall be clearly manifested in the unquenchable fires of hell. My friend, if there is a heaven, there must be a hell; and if there is no hell, then there is no heaven. If there is such a person as Jesus Christ, Who delivers us from sin and death, then there must be a hell, or the very notion of salvation becomes meaningless. So, God's wrath is concretely expressed in the flames of eternal damnation. God's hatred and anger against sin will be unremitting. Romans 2:3ff. reads, "And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgement upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation."

Again, many people are quite disturbed when one raises, and teaches, the topic of hell. There have been times when, having made reference to eternal hell in preaching, I would find literature which denies the existence of hell in my mail box the following week. Let me make myself perfectly clear, there is a literal hell; and people who die, not knowing Christ in a saving way, will be consigned to that awful place; and they will suffer for all eternity. In that wretched place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those poor damned souls will never come out of that horrible place of eternal sorrow; and they will vehemently and endlessly curse the day that they were born. There will be no relief in that place; there will be excruciating, indescribable torment; there will be unbearable profound grief, for all eternity. After billions and billions and billions of years in that God-forsaken, demon-infested hole, eternity will have scarcely begun.

But hallelujah! Jesus delivers believers from the wrath to come. If you do not believe that there is a wrath this side of judgement, you will most certainly believe it that side. There will be a general judgement, as we read in Matthew 25:31-33,46, "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left...And [the sinners] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Also, John 5:21,28f. reads, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes...Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgement."

The wicked will be punished when Jesus returns as the Judge; and the wicked shall bear the full wrath of God-eternal destruction and damnation. But if Jesus is your Saviour now, my friend, He will be your Deliverer then. "Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Rm. 5:9). All of us will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. All of us will give an account of the deeds which we have done in the body, whether good or evil. And for the believer, he or she will not stand there alone. Beside the believer, and in front of him or her, will stand the great Advocate; One Who represents him or her before the Father. When the Books are opened and when the entries are read, along with the Book of Life, the accuser of the brethren will point his accusatory bony finger at the children of God one last time, reminding God of their sins and transgressions. And our Lord will extend His hands and announce, "Behold My hands and behold My feet." The pierced hands and feet will completely silence the devil; and He Who sits on the throne will pronounce, "Pardoned! Pardoned for time and for eternity. Believer enter into the joy of Your Lord."

My non-Christian friend, do not delay. The final day is coming, and it is coming fast. Jesus will come at a time when you least expect Him. Are you waiting? If you are serving the Lord in anticipation of His coming, that day will not overtake you by surprise, but you will live as before Him and shall receive your eternal reward with His return. "Even so, come Lord Jesus." Is this really your heart's cry and desire? May God give us all grace to know it is so.