(Today’s post is the second in a series about anticipating Christ’s return.)
The Importance of Last Words
If you have stood at the bedside of a loved one facing imminent death, you never forget their last words.
The most common last words often affirm love for a spouse or a family member. Here are a few quotes from the lips of famous people facing imminent death:
When Michael Landon’s son knew that his father’s death was imminent, he is reported to have said, “It’s okay, Dad. It’s time.” Michael responded, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”
Leonardo Da Vinci: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.”
Comedian W.C. Fields, when asked why he was reading a Bible on his deathbed replied: “I’m looking for loopholes.”
Frank Sinatra, famous for those lyrics, “I did it my way,” is reported to have said, “I’m losing.” (Ponder the stark contrast between the bravado of the song with Sinatra’s last regret.)
D. L. Moody: “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”
Jesus, just moments before he ascended to heaven, responding to his disciples’ question about his second coming, said: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7)
Those words—Jesus’ last words—should affect every moment of our lives if we truly love him and anticipate his second advent to earth. Jesus virtually ignored their request for details about his future return, but he reminded them of his promise to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ last words consisted of two promises: The disciples would “receive power” and they would “be his witnesses.” Both promises were guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who would not only be with them but dwell in them.
Those words were barely out of Jesus’ mouth when he was “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The disciples stood there, mouths gaping, when two angelic messengers appeared and said, “… why do you stand here looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
That’s all they needed to know about Christ’s return at the moment. Anticipation of Jesus’ return became—and still ought to be—motivation to follow Jesus obediently. It was the assurance of Christ’s resurrection and the anticipation of his future return that enabled Paul to endure persecution and to courageously face martyrdom.
The question facing me today is whether anticipation of Christ’s return motivates me to follow him and influences my decisions and my priorities?
It’s easy to verbally affirm that I believe Christ will return physically and visibly just like he departed that day while his disciples trembled with awe-inspired amazement. However, it’s not my words but my actions that confirm whether I truly anticipate Christ’s return. Am I like Noah who anticipated the promised flood and faithfully constructed the great life boat to save him and his family? Or am part of the distracted multitude caught up in the routines of life until it was too late and the door was closed? (See Jesus’ warning in Mathew 24:36-42)
Jesus also told a story about three employees entrusted by their master to manage his investments while he was on a long journey. Each employee heard the master’s promise to return and to reward them if they were faithful. Two invested wisely. One ignored the maser’s instructions. All three expected the master’s homecoming. Two with anticipation. The other with dread.
Which employee do I reflect in my daily life? You don’t know for certain, and I can even deceive myself. The Lord knows.
It is not for me to know the times and seasons surrounding that climactic historical moment when the resurrected and ruling Jesus appears again. It is for me to obey His command to make disciples. It is for me to submit to the Holy Spirit who gives boldness and wisdom.
Approaching the big 80—4 decades—I realize that I have few years left. I pray almost daily that I will finish strongly. So whether Christ returns first or I die, I want live with anticipation of that encounter with Christ when He will evaluate my life.
So, do I truly believe Christ may return any moment?
When I reflect on Jesus’ last words, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…”, I hear this inner voice: “What about V and G across the street? What about A and L next door? Do they know Jesus? Do they know He is coming back to judge everybody? Do they know that I know Jesus? Have I been His witness here on SW 24th Street?”
When I can affirm those questions, I will then be living as if I truly believe Christ may return today.