Why should the claim be made that "Jesus is coming"?
Where is the evidence? Isn't the world exactly the same today as it was yesterday? Last year? Last decade? Last century?
Let me quote from a translation of a letter written over 1900 years ago. The author was one Simon Peter, who referred to himself as a servant and a disciple of Jesus Christ:
"First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'" 2 Peter 3:3,4How true has this statement become! It is almost as if Peter knew that these conditions would arise. Peter knew that Jesus would return. Peter, the apostle perhaps closest in friendship to Jesus, would have been present when the disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven. Two men dressed in white (angels) looked upon the group and said to them:
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1:11
Firstly then, do we believe the Bible? For much of our evidence must be drawn from the Bible, and if it is unreliable then we are seriously impeded in our investigation. Obviously, we cannot prove in a paragraph or two that the Bible is what it actually claims to be: the inspired Word of God. But allow me to give an example that you should ponder in the days ahead.
Israel is a nation in the Middle East. Though some would not recognise the nation for political reasons, it is acknowledged that the nation exists. What is odd about that? Well, several thousand years ago there existed a nation by the same name, Israel. It was the nation of the Jews, and existed until about 608 BC, when the inhabitants were progressively taken captive to Babylon. After seventy years (a period accurately predicted by the prophet Jeremiah), the people returned from their captivity and again settled in the land. Again, in coincidence with Bible prophecy, they again were subsequently dispersed, this time world-wide, in AD 70.
Let us quote from a Bible prophet who lived about the year 700 BC – about 100 years before the first dispersion. Isaiah was his name:
"In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people " Isaiah. 11:11
After the second dispersion (in AD 70) there appeared to be an end of the Jews in the Middle East. There was no fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy — until 1948, when Israel was once again established as a nation.
Was it simply coincidence, or had Isaiah been provided with the correct information?
We could quote other prophecies that have been accurately fulfilled; those concerning Tyre and Babylon are well known and authenticated.
These instances of fulfilled prophecy demonstrate that the Bible is more than just another book. It clearly anticipated events that happened long after the times of its various writers.
The early Jews had an expectation of a coming Messiah, and this is clearly expressed in the writings of the Old Testament. Consider, for example, the words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
" 'The days are coming', declares the Lord,
'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.' "
There are of course many other similar verses relating to the expected Messiah throughout the Old Testament, and particularly through the Book of Psalms.
So it was not a new concept that Jesus brought to his followers when he said that he would return again in the future. The disciples realised that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he had to return at a later date in order to fulfil the prophecies relating to the Messiah. Take, for instance, their question as recorded in Acts 1:6:
" So when they came together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? ' "
Jesus did not deny that this was indeed to have a fulfilment. But he did provide a comment to their question.
"It is not for you to the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority. "
On several occasions Jesus had inferred that he would come back at a future date. Take, for instance, his words in John 14. We read:
" I am going there [the Father's house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back "
So we see that the "What do we mean" of the topic under consideration is actually co-incident with the coming of the Jewish Messiah (Gk: "Christ"), for the "Messiah" will be Jesus Christ.
What then of the question, Why?
We are not left with much doubt in this respect. The writer to the Hebrews states:
" So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting. " Hebrews. 9:28
To bring salvation to those who believe. Listen to the words of Jesus himself:
" For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. " Matt 16:27
Again, from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians:
" The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. " 1 Thessalonians 4:16
If we ask where will be the scene of the Coming of Jesus Christ, we can refer back to the question asked by the disciples in Acts 1:6,
" So when they came together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? ' "
They clearly expected Israel to be the centre of Jesus Christ's attention. One of the reasons for this is to be found in a quotation provided in the Old Testament by the prophet Zechariah. Now Zechariah was one who had the task of encouraging the exiles who returned to Israel after the Babylonian captivity. He wrote:
" Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley ... " Zechariah 14:3,4
Obviously referring to the coming of the Jewish Messiah, and remaining unfulfilled still in our present day, there lies a future fulfilment of this very specific prophecy. And it ties in so well with Acts 1:11 considered earlier, which covered the words of Jesus saying that, at some future day, people would see him arrive in the same way as they had seen him go. He was at that time standing on the Mount of Olives, as verse 12 of the first chapter of Acts indicates.
He will arrive at Jerusalem, since it was prophesied in ancient times that it was to be the city of the Great King. (Psalm 48:2; Matthew 5:35) His return is very much centred on the newly re-established nation of Israel. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples,
" You are those that have stood by me in my trials. And I confer upon you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. " Luke 22:28-30
So if Jesus is to return to Jerusalem as the Great King, and as the redeeming Messiah of the Jews, when will this take place? If we were to suggest that this is to be very soon, from where do we get the information?
First thoughts on the subject might appear to indicate that we do not know the actual time of His return. And if, to a certain extent this factor must be conceded, have we any grounds for suggesting that his return is imminent?
We shall let you be the judge of the matter.
So, firstly, what does the Bible itself say concerning the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus?
" Behold! I come like a thief! " Rev 16:15
Again, in speaking of a house being broken into, Jesus said,
" But understand this: If the owner of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Luke 12:39,40
There is a lesson here, for Jesus was saying that the householder should have known the approximate time of the break-in in order to protect his house. How would he have known? By being watchful.
This is why Jesus said to his disciples,
" Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and anxieties of life, and that day [ie. his return] will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. " Luke 21:34
Jesus intimated that there would be signs that would act as warnings concerning the time of his return. That time era is called by such terms as "the last days" or "the end of the age".
References to this particular period of time abound in the Bible, and some examples are listed below adjacent to the various groupings.
The signs can be categorised into a number of groupings:
Anguish and perplexity eg Luke 21:25
Indifference to God eg 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Luke 17:26-30
Like the days of Noah and Lot eg Luke 17:26-30
The establishment of the nation of Israel eg Isaiah 11:11
A cry of "Peace and Safety" eg 1 Thessalonians 5:3
The re-establishment of Israel is seen as one of paramount importance in establishing that we are living in the last days. The prophet Ezekiel, in a series of chapters (37–39) predicted exactly such a scenario as we see today, and in fact extended what we see today into what is yet still future. So he not only indicates what we see around us today (and our own eyes confirm), but tells us in detail of the establishment of a kingdom on earth in which the Lord Jesus Christ will play a leading role.
Jesus, in Matthew 24, tells a parable of the fig tree:
" Now learn this lesson from the fig tree; As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [the return of Jesus Christ] is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. " Matt 24:32-34
The fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel, as confirmed in its usage in the Old Testament. Israel, as a fig tree, has shown renewed life in its twigs, a new (and spectacular) growth in its leaves.
What about indifference to God? Is this not a condition existing in the world around us, an indifference that is growing at a significant rate today? Listen to how one New Testament writer expressed an impression of the last days:
" But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. " 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Isn't this an honest description of today? Of course, you say, but it could have also been applied to every generation since Adam! So how can we be sure that it is speaking of our day?
You will have noticed the term, "the last days". This is a common New Testament phrase that points to the specific time when Jesus will appear. The New Testament writers were each convinced that Jesus Christ was going to come back to the earth at some future time to establish the Kingdom of God. Even Jesus himself spoke of this future event, as we shall see shortly.
A common maxim says "History repeats itself". Few people would not have heard of Noah, though few probably have heard of a man of ancient times named Lot. Jesus referred to both in an important passage in the New Testament:
" 'Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. "
" 'It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. "
" 'It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.'" Luke 17:26-30
The characteristics of the world at the time of each of these men are mentioned in the book of Genesis: Noah in chapter 6 (verses 1, 2, 11) and Lot in chapter 13 (verses 10-13):
" When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born unto them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. "
One modern translator words the first sentence as, " Now a population explosion took place upon the earth .." [The Living Bible]
And concerning the times of Lot.
" Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. "
Genesis, chapter 18, goes into greater detail about the sins of Sodom, Lot's hometown, which attained a reputation that is still recognised today in the term "sodomy".
Now Jesus tells us that the day of His coming would be characterised by the combination of these two time periods; so let's combine them, and we find that we have a description of TODAY!
An Unexpected Coming.
The Last Days.
NOAH (Genesis 6)
LOT (Genesis 13)
How descriptive is it of our world? Is the world showing corruption? Before considering the world situation further, how our things in our own country?
Our news media constantly assail us with the "fact" of a rising crime rate in New Zealand. People are frequently talking of the violence taking place in this country. In recent years there have been several 'mass killings'. The news media continually impress on us that we are living in a violent society. What are the statistics for crime in New Zealand? The following is an analysis of the conviction figures for 1991:
Eighty percent of crime relates to dishonesty — theft, burglary, misapprop-riation, etc.
Eleven percent relates to drug involvement.
Nine percent relates to violence.
Of the violence grouping, 79% is categorised as minor assault, and serious assault is 18%. Murder accounts for less than 0.3% of violent crime.
The number of convictions for violent offences increased steadily during the early and middle part of the decade, but may now be stabilising. However, the number of convictions relating to serious violent offences has continued to increase. There was a considerable increase in the number of convictions for serious violent sexual offences (rape, unlawful sexual connection, and indecent assault) over the 10 year period. The most serious category of assault, injuring or wounding, shown a steadily increasing trend between 1982 and 1991. The number of convictions for aggravated robbery, murder, man-slaughter, and attempted murder all appeared to be higher (on average) in the second part of the decade than in the first five years.
[NZ Official Yearbook, 1993, p211]
However, to put these figures in perspective in world terms, one commentator, expressing his thoughts on crime in New Zealand writes, " Its (NZ) crime rate would be hailed as a miracle of law and order in most American cities or even in many English country towns where lager louts fight pitched battles every weekend. "
The same commentator continues:
" Crime is rising in New Zealand, but its reporting makes it seem worse than it is. Petty thefts that would, perhaps wrongly, go unremarked elsewhere are here made subjects of public attention and alarm. "
The homicide rate in New Zealand at 1.2 per 100 000 is lower than other Western nations. Australia has a figure of 1.9, almost 60% higher than the figure for New Zealand. As a result of the low crime rate in NZ we are not so aware of the prevalence of crime overseas. We are consequently less impressed with crime being an indicator of these "last days". Yet in Los Angeles, which has a population of 9 million people, murders are so common they are not reported in the newspapers. In Chicago (population 3.5 million) there were an average of five murders a day during 1988. In New York, a
comparable number of killings with more than 1850 murdered in 1988. If the New Zealand breakdown analysis of crime has any relation to those of overseas countries, then the extent of crime in other countries is mind-boggling!
Truly a sign of universal violence on an unprecedented scale!
On the world scene, there is not only the presence of crime to a greater extent than in New Zealand, but also the real concern with respect to the numerous possibilities of war. What about the threat of nuclear annihilation?
Concerning the days that are to precede the return of Jesus Christ, Jesus' comments were:
" Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world" Luke 21:26
Until very recently, tremendous concern has been related to the immense stockpile of nuclear weapons. In recent years pressure from this direction has been reduced, and people seem a little happier, with the topic arousing less concern. Undoubtedly this is due to the glasnost ("freedom of expression") and the East-West reductions in nuclear weaponry. But is this newly developed complacency well founded?
Let us look at the extent of the nuclear reduction.
We had an overkill of 16 times: this is being reduced by four percent. An over-kill of 15.4 times: comforting, isn't it!
An ex-president of the Soviet Union has frequently come out against the use of nuclear weapons.
" It is beyond our understanding how one can heap praise on nuclear arms. For political and moral reasons, we cannot accept that notion. " Mikhail Gorbachev
But even if nuclear weapons were completely eliminated, would the world be a safer place?
" A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us. Conventional weapons have not stopped two world wars in Europe in this century " Margaret Thatcher The situation in Europe is not glassy. Writes The Times feature writer Conor Cruise O' Brien:
" The greatest threat to peace in the Europe now taking shape, will lie in relationship with the new Russia — without its empire, but with its nuclear weapons — and the new united Germany. I am not predicting apocalypse; merely referring to apocalyptic possibilities. The world has been living with such possibilities since 1945. But in Europe of the last decade of the twentieth century, those possibilities are beginning to assume new and even more disturbing shapes. "
What about "Peace and Safety"? The apostle Paul, writing in his first letter to the Thessalonians, says,
" Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come upon them suddenly ... and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness that this day should surprise you like a thief. " 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Around the world, people are using non-violent weapons - strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, fasts, civil disobedience, and the like - to fight for democracy and human rights.
Yemen - civil war that is disrupting that country, and killing many of its inhabitants.
Rwanda - where millions have died through war and starvation.
South Africa - blacks use strikes, boycotts etc to combat apartheid.
USSR - millions have demonstrated for greater autonomy ...Georgia, Armenia, Lithuania ....
Bosnia - Different religious groups fighting one another.
Israeli-occupied Territory - The Palestinians are using strikes, boycotts etc as powerful weapons in an effort to stall peace talks.
The list changes almost daily, as various countries become embroiled in civil wars, etc. Additionally, there are all the peace demonstrations throughout Europe and the world in general.
These factors we have examined are all valid signs that parallel the world condition at the time of the return of Jesus Christ. Any one condition occurring could be insignificant. Two or three occurrings could be co-incidental. All of them occurring together, as they are today, is either an extremely remote co-incidence, or a direct indicator that we are now
living in "the last Days".
Your eternal salvation could depend on your position when Jesus Christ returns. Your salvation depends on being on-side with Jesus when he returns.
Paul wrote to his friend Titus,
" For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for that blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. " Titus 2:11-13
If his return is soon, then it is so important that you transform your life, if necessary, so that you may be accepted on that great day.
Yes, Jesus is coming! As the apostle James wrote,
" You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. " James 5v8