Honest question. Do you and I really believe that Jesus might return soon? Perhaps this very day? Before you finish reading these words?
Followers of Jesus have always anticipated Christ’s promised return. That blessed hope, that fervent anticipation, has sustained believers through persecution for two millennia. Today thousands of Christians are suffering severe persecution—even death—but continue to hold tightly to the promise of Christ’s return and the rewards to follow.
I often hear professing Christians bemoan the present condition of the world and, with a sigh, they add, “Thank God, Jesus is coming very soon.”
Those words seem to communicate both hope and faith that the present trials will soon end. But sometimes I wonder. Do we actually believe that He could come TODAY? Our actions, not our words, demonstrate whether or not we truly expect to hear the trumpet call any moment.
So how should we live if we truly expect Jesus to return any moment?
Good question. If fact, that’s what the apostle Peter asked. He said, “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…? (2 Peter 3:11).
I offer four priorities to consider.
Be prepared! Don’t be caught by surprise.
When His disciples asked Jesus when He would return and what signs would precede it, He responded,“Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36, 37, ESV). That suggests Jesus could return any moment.
Meanwhile, Jesus said life on earth would continue pretty much as it was before the great flood. People would continue to eat and drink, to marry and have families “until the day Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:38, emphasis mine).
Jesus then shared several down-to-earth stories to illustrate how people will be caught by surprise when He returns. People going about their daily routines like planting or harvesting or cooking a meal, will be shocked by His sudden appearance. His coming will be like a thief breaking into a home at night while everyone feels safe. His coming will catch people by surprise, just like careless or crooked servants are caught red-handed when their master unexpectedly returns early. He went on to paint a word picture of wedding guests falling into slumber while waiting for a tardy bridegroom to arrive—and being excluded from the ceremony. (You can read these stories in Matthew 24:35-25:30.)
What’s the bottom line of each illustration? Don’t be caught by surprise. “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
Be patient! Persevere!
Most of us humans (and me for sure) tend to lose patience over long waiting times. In our “instant gratification culture” we can have almost anything we want whenever we want it. If the local store doesn’t have something, try Amazon. You can have it delivered to your front door tomorrow morning. Just this afternoon While editing this blog I left to run an errand. When I drove up to the drive-in teller at our local bank, there was only one person in front of me so I assumed it wouldn’t take long. However, after what seemed to be ten minutes, it was finally my turn. Meanwhile I had been grousing about the poor service and arguing with myself as to whether I should just back up and return some other day.
It’s tough to wait when we are used to fast food and email rather than snail mail. The same can happen as we wait for Christ’s return.
If John in the First Century, expected Christ to return at any moment, where is He? Has His departure been delayed like a plane grounded in fog? The problem is that we may begin to feel like the mocking skeptics that Peter warned about:
“… I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will 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.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
“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”… (2 Peter 3:1–10, ESV).
James adds: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7–8, ESV, emphasis mine).
Did you catch that last statement? “Be patient. Establish your hearts…” Let us never allow the routine of life to dull our enthusiastic anticipation for Christ’s return.
Peter asks the big question: “…What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God … Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation… (2Peter 3:10–14, ESV).
John agreed as he wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3, ESV).
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:13–21, ESV, emphasis mine).
Provide for a secure retirement.
There is a commercial on TV that shows a former actor lovingly fingering a stack of gleaming gold coins. Looking into the camera, he tells us how important it is to buy gold and store it away “in these uncertain times.” Lowering his voice, he adds, “I even like the feel of gold.”
Yes, gold might feel nice. But Jesus warned against living as if material things are permanent—and as if money or treasures can be tucked safely away for my future here on earth. If I live that way, counting on my bank account or IRA or gold buried in the back yard, I’m really living as if I don’t expect Jesus to return. At least not in my lifetime. But if I truly, genuinely believe Christ could come today, it will be reflected in my bank account, my portfolio and my final testament and will. Hear Jesus’ words:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34, ESV, emphasis mine).
What I treasure, what I value most, reveals where my heart is focused. There’s no getting around it.
This world offers so many pleasant distractions and material things—especially to us living in America. As a result, it is deceptively easy to find ourselves living as if this is all there is. No future, no eternity—just today. We begin to invest our resources in things we enjoy now. We set aside a generous “nest egg” for our retirement. To any honest observer, we are living as if Jesus won’t be returning anytime soon.
Do you really believe that Jesus may return soon? Possibly by 2:00 p.m. today or tonight at 12:30?
Caution: before you answer affirmatively, ask yourself if your actions support your words.
- Am I prepared to meet Him with confidence, or will I be caught by surprise?
- Am I persevering during the long wait, or is the counsel of the skeptics influencing me? (Was I anticipating Christ’s return while I was fussing over the lack of service at the bank today?)
- Am I pursuing holiness? Recently a well-known author and apologist died. Rumors about sexual abuse—once denied—are now being authenticated by several witnesses. Did this man truly believe that He could be face to face with Jesus at any moment? I can’t say, but his actions seem to nullify it. Live each day, make every decision about things you choose to do or to see, based on the grid that Jesus might return.
- Provide for a secure future by investing in things that God values. Share your abundance with the poor, the widow, the orphan and the refugee. Making a difference in this world is evidence that I believe there is another world to come—an eternal home in the presence of God.