What do you think about the Second Coming? Chances are, you hardly think about it at all. For a variety of reasons, the Second Coming may not seem quite real to us modern Christians, yet as Jesus and the apostles make clear in the New Testament, this doctrine is near the very center of our faith. As I argue in this sermon, the Second Coming should motivate us to live with hope and with urgency. Among other things, it means we have only a limited time to get our lives right with God and introduce others to the life-changing, soul-saving love of God in Jesus Christ.
Sermon Text: Mark 13:24-37
If you want to listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.
The following is my original sermon manuscript.
I shared my testimony with our youth at our January retreat, and I told them about my very real fear as a 13-year-old that the world was going to come to an end in a nuclear holocaust. Nuclear war was all over the news back then—but also in movies, TV shows, and pop songs. But the event that had the biggest impact on me—the impressionable kid that I was—was a 1983 made-for-TV movie called The Day After, which imagined life in America literally the day after nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
I remember this Newsweek cover. It asks, “How will [this movie] affect children?” Based on my experience it will mess with their heads! On the cover, there’s a still picture from the movie. If you look closely it shows a jogger on the road, just going about his daily routine, when all of a sudden—a brilliant flash of light and then… the end of the world.
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ kind of feels like that, too, doesn’t it?
It probably makes many of us uncomfortable, to say the least—maybe even fearful. Yet, when Paul and Peter and John talk about it in the New Testament, they say, repeatedly, that it’s something we Christians should look forward to with great hope! Because while it means the end of the world as we know it, it also means, for those of us in Christ, life in God’s new world; it means the fulfillment of our deepest desires as we experience God’s love in all its fullness; it means the end of death, and sin, and and suffering. It also means that justice will be fully and finally done.
If you’re like me, you see things in the world, or hear about things, that just anger you because you think, “That’s so wrong; that’s so evil.” I’ve certainly felt that way recently about the terrible persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS. The Second Coming is the point at which God is going to make it right!
So… Do we look forward to the Second Coming? Or do we ignore it? Are are we afraid of it? Or, perhaps we’re embarrassed to admit that we don’t really believe in it at all? That’s O.K.! I won’t ask for a show of hands.
But I do believe in a literal Second Coming at the end of history as we know it. But I appreciate the difficulty we face in believing in it—and perhaps the single biggest challenge is the fact that it hasn’t happened yet. Honestly, today’s scripture includes one of the most difficult verses in the whole Bible, verse 30: Speaking to his closest disciples, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
This generation will not pass away… And yet, it’s clear that that generation did pass away, and the Second Coming didn’t happen. Was Jesus wrong?
Now, some seriously good Christians think so—my hero C.S. Lewis among them. Lewis said that Jesus was simply wrong in verse 30, but that’s O.K. because Jesus goes on to say, in verse 32, that even the Son of God, at least when he took human form, didn’t know the day or the hour—only the Father knows.
But here’s the problem: If Jesus was wrong, he was spectacularly wrong: He doesn’t just say, “It might happen in your lifetime,” or “It will probably happen,” or “It seems likely to happen.” He introduces his words by saying, “Very truly I say to you.” In other words, “You can take what I’m about to say to the bank, because it’s going to happen.” It defies logic and sense that Jesus would say that and then turn right around and say, “But I really don’t know for sure.” I mean, can we trust that Jesus is telling us the truth or not?
I trust Jesus, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he means what he says, and perhaps we’re misinterpreting what he’s saying.
If you go back to the beginning of the chapter you see that Jesus begins this conversation with Peter, James, John, and Andrew as they are standing on the Mount of Olives—with a terrific view of Jerusalem and the Temple. The context of Jesus’ words is that the disciples are remarking on how beautiful and impressive the Temple is. This is literally the view they would have seen. See the gold-domed building. That’s where the Temple was before it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. And the disciples were admiring it.
That’s when Jesus says, impressive as it is, the Temple is going to be completely destroyed. And his disciples say, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Notice their question is not, “When will the Second Coming take place,” but rather, when will these things—the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple—take place, and how will we know it’s about to happen? And so, in the verses preceding today’s text, verses 5 through 23, Jesus literally gives them signs to look for regarding the destruction of the Temple.
Notice the disciples ask about these things twice in verse 4. And notice Jesus makes reference to “these things” three times, not only in verse 30, but also in verses 23 and 29. All of the references to “these things” refer not to the Second Coming but to the destruction of the Temple, which took place in A.D. 70, which was between 37 and 40 years after Jesus spoke these words—so that generation didn’t pass away before the events took place.
And we know from history that the early Christians heeded Jesus’ warning about the destruction of the Temple and the siege of Jerusalem. They did leave the city before all this destruction took place.
The confusion comes from verses 24 to 27. Because there Jesus switches gears and talks about the Second Coming. Why does he bring it up there? In part because he wants to say that the Old Testament’s prophecies about the “Day of the Lord”—which is Judgment Day, the day of his Second Coming—won’t take place until after the Temple is destroyed.
He also wants to compare the Temple’s destruction with his Second Coming. As with the events surrounding the Temple’s destruction, in the future there’s going to be tribulation and persecution and signs related to the Second Coming.
Along with many scholars, I believe Jesus is talking about a double fulfillment of prophecy— one part of the prophecy, about the destruction of the Temple, he can “very truly” say will be fulfilled within a generation, and another part—about the “day and the hour of his coming”—he can say, “No one knows when it will happen except the Father.” The bottom line is, Jesus is talking about two different, yet similar, events.
Still, you may wonder, doesn’t it seem like a long time has passed? Shouldn’t it have happened by now—if it was going to happen?
If it makes you feel any better, Peter dealt with these same questions in his day. He writes in 2 Peter 3 that “scoffers will come in the last days” with their “sinful desires” and 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.” Peter then compares these scoffers to people living in Noah’s day, who also didn’t believe the flood was going to happen. The Second Coming and final judgment are coming as surely as the flood came in Noah’s day. Peter continues:
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. 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. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
If, from our Lord’s perspective, one day is as a thousand years, it hasn’t been a lot of time, has it? In fact, given that Christ spoke these words in the year A.D. 30, it hasn’t even been two days, from the Lord’s perspective. We’re only in the second day.
Back in 1988, a NASA engineer and Bible student named Edgar Whisenant wrote a book called 88 Reasons [the Second Coming] Will Be in 1988. It sold 4.5 million copies! Obviously, he was wrong. So, I kid you not, he revised it, and published an updated version in 1989, saying, “I was wrong about last year, but it’s definitely going to happen this year.” And then when it didn’t happen in 1989, he revised it again in 1993, saying, “yes, I was wrong about 1988 and 1989, but it’s definitely happening in 1993. And then he revised it again in 1994, saying, “O.K., sure, I was wrong about 1988, 1989, and 1993, but it’s definitely happening this year!” I’m not making this up!
See, another important reason that the Second Coming often seems unreal to us is because there are always Christians out there making predictions about when it’s going to happen, and every prediction since Jesus spoke these words has been wrong! Let me go on record saying that the next prediction will probably be wrong, too! Why? Because Jesus warns us in today’s scripture that “no one knows the day or hour… you do not know when the time will come… you do not know when the master of the house will return.” Elsewhere he says he’ll come at an hour when we least expect him. Paul and Peter both say that the day of the Lord’s return like a thief in the night!
Biblically speaking, either Christ will return when we don’t expect him or he won’t return at all! Why does any Christian who takes the Bible seriously think that they can predict when the Second Coming will take place? In todays’s scripture, Jesus says you can’t predict it! But you can be ready when it does happen!
As Peter makes clear, there’s a very good reason why there’s been this long delay of the Second Coming—and it’s the very reason why we’re here this morning. Peter says that the reason the Second Coming is taking so long is that the Lord is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The Lord is giving us time, first, to get our lives right with God—to be saved—and to faithfully following him all our days.
So… Is your life right? If Jesus returned today, would you be ready to meet him? Or would you be embarrassed to meet him?
In the years following my father’s death in 1995, whenever I had some big event in my life—graduation, the birth of my children, ordination—my dad’s sister, my Aunt Mary, would frequently say to me, “Oh, honey, I know that Alton is looking down on you from heaven right now and is feeling such great pride!” You’ve heard this kind of thing from well-meaning people before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself.
That thought never comforted me the way my Aunt Mary wanted it to. Because, I thought, if Dad can see me when I’m at my best, then what’s stopping him from seeing me at my worst? You know what I mean? Can I deploy some kind of lead-lined umbrella to prevent my dad from seeing me sometimes!
And the fact is, there are times in our lives—maybe whole seasons in our lives—when we’re not being faithful, when we’re living in disobedience, when we’re not doing what we know our Lord wants us to do. Our Lord is delaying his return in part so that we can repent! He’s giving us this time to repent!
Which means he’s also giving the rest of the world the opportunity to repent and get their lives right. We have an important role to play in making that to happen, don’t we? That’s our mission.
I’m not saying that we should be afraid of the Second Coming, but if we’re afraid of it, the best reason is that we’re afraid for the lives of our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers and fellow students who haven’t yet decided to accept Christ as savior and Lord! We should have a holy fear that time is running out for them, that time is running out for us to help lead them to Christ!
A preacher once told a story about Satan calling his most trusted fellow demons together. He said he wanted to send one of them to earth to lead as many people to hell as possible. He asked for a volunteer. One demon stepped forward and said, “I’ll go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell these people to lead them astray?” He said, “I’ll tell them that there’s no heaven.” Satan said, “They won’t believe you, because there’s a little bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end, everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. So that won’t work. Who else?”
Another demon, more evil, more sinister, came forward and said, “I’ll go, and I’ll tell them there’s no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “They won’t believe you, because in every human heart there’s a thing called a conscience, an inner voice that testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated and punished. So that won’t work, either. Any other ideas?”
Just then, the last demon came forward—the most evil, the most sinister of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you tell them to destroy their souls?” And he said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.”
And Satan said, “Go!”
I know we were all troubled by the fire that destroyed a few businesses across Main Street last Wednesday night. These historic old buildings are just gone… Two of our own members, Kristie Babcock and Ryan Kirk, have been directly affected by that. Ryan and I were literally standing outside the chapel, looking across the railroad tracks at the barbecue place at about 10:30 on Wednesday night, after band practice. We had no clue about what would soon take place, and how drastically the lives of so many were going to change in an instant.
Even if our lives weren’t affected by that particular fire, Lord knows there’s plenty of other kinds of “fire” that will affect us. The fire of a troubling medical diagnosis, the fire of a loved one dying, the fire of job loss, the fire of financial worries, the fire of family problems, the fire of relationship problems, the fire of tragic accidents… the fire of violent crime, or terrorist attacks, or war.
The Second Coming of Christ means, first of all, that the future rests securely in God’s hands. If our Heavenly Father has already planned that Day of Christ’s return, as Jesus says, then that means he’s planned all the days leading up to that great day. And that no matter what kind of “fire” strikes our lives, God is in control, he’s got our backs, he’s bringing good out of bad, he’s redeeming the worst of circumstances, he’s taking care of us.
Will we trust him?