The day of judgment brings an end to all the world’s evil and trouble.
December is upon us. We’ve journeyed through a whirlwind of a year filled with tumult, uncertainty, and stress, and now we, as Christians, return to the familiar pattern of preparing for Christmas. It’s Advent, a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord.
But Advent has a double theme. Not only do we take this time to prepare for Jesus’ nativity, but we also remember that Jesus has promised to return. This time, he won’t come resting in a hay-lined feeding trough or riding a lowly donkey as he did in his first advent. Instead he will come bursting from the clouds with great power and glory.
The signs of his coming
The Bible tells us that Christ’s return is near (James 5:8,9), but his disciples long ago also thought his return was near. In Matthew 24, the disciples asked Jesus to identify the signs of his coming. Jesus outlined signs in nature (famines and earthquakes) and signs in society (nations warring against one another and the love of most growing cold). He also described signs within the Christian church, including intense persecution of Christians, the appearance of false prophets and messiahs, and a great number of believers falling away. Finally, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).
As we examine the signs that Jesus listed, which of them have yet to be fulfilled? None of them! In many ways, every one, in fact, has been fulfilled many times over throughout the New Testament era. Jesus could return at any moment! Indeed, Christ’s return is imminent.
Jesus will come to judge
The Bible doesn’t satisfy every curiosity Christians may have about the day of Jesus’ return, but it does tell exactly what Jesus’ purpose in coming will be: When Jesus returns, he will judge all humanity—both the living and the dead (Matthew 25:31-46).
Sadly, many Christians harbor false ideas about Jesus’ return. Many passages in Scripture speak of these future events. Some passages are crystal clear, while others are, shall we say, a bit murky. We, as Lutherans, are careful first to examine the clear verses of Scripture and then, in their light, to examine the murkier passages.
Jesus’ imminent return is a source of great comfort for troubled Christians.
Some misguided Christians look to the murkier passages first and then go back and reinterpret the clearer passages. As a result, they read sections of Scripture like Matthew 24:40,41 and Revelation 20 and come away with convoluted ideas about a sudden “rapture” taking Christians from the earth and Jesus returning to establish a thousand-year kingdom on earth before judgment day.
This false teaching is called millennialism, and within that teaching are subgroups of pre-millennialists, post-millennialists, and dispensationalists. Sadly, a great many conservative Christians fall into these camps, and a careful observer will find these false teachings in many Christian songs, literature, and media.
But such ideas fly in the face of clear passages like John 18:36 when Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Thankfully, the Bible gives us a clear and simple picture of the day of Jesus’ return. Just as the angels told the disciples at his ascension, Jesus will return suddenly, coming on the clouds with unimaginable power and glory (Acts 1:11; Matthew 24:30,31; Jude 14,15). His coming will be announced by the thundering voice of the archangel, the deafening sound of trumpets, and the sudden failure of the sun to give forth its light (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:29). As all eyes are fixed on the returning King, the graves of believers and unbelievers alike will open, giving up their dead (John 5:28,29). After all this has taken place, Jesus will judge the world.
All of these will take place on the same day—a day of joy and redemption for the saints of God and a day of fear and terror for Christ’s enemies.
His return comforts us
So, if we can’t know when Jesus’ return will be, why bother studying these things? Because Jesus’ imminent return is a source of great comfort for troubled Christians.
It’s no secret that 2020 has been a year like few others. We’ve seen civil unrest and rebellion against the governing authorities. Society descends further and further into depravity. People insist that one must be wicked in order to be right, one must be crass in order to be proper, one must be hateful in order to be loving. Christians are often portrayed as hateful and bigoted. It seems that Isaiah’s words, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20), apply to present times more than ever before. Our world is seemingly turning upside down.
As we look at the world around us, we think, Surely we’re living in the end times. And the truth is, we are! But when we watch the world seemingly falling to pieces around us, we don’t sulk or despair. As we and Christians around the world witness this increase of wickedness, we joyfully pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. We know our Savior has promised that he is returning soon. We rejoice that the race is nearly over!
Knowing that Christ’s return will soon be upon us changes more than just our attitudes. As we look at the people around us jockeying to acquire even more property, pleasure, and power, we remember that this world and all that is in it will swiftly pass away. We fix our eyes on the prize of everlasting life that awaits us, purchased for us with the blood of our Savior, and we cling to him as he holds us fast.
Jesus’ return also gives us urgency in our mission as the church to proclaim the gospel to people marching down the path to destruction. Countless souls near and far are in unspeakable danger, and Christ has entrusted us with the saving message of the gospel. What a privilege to carry such sweet news of peace to those who desperately need to hear it—especially in these uncertain and troubling days!
When we consider that Christ’s return is imminent, remember this: Such a day holds no fear for believers. It is a day that will leave us breathless with joy, as we see the fulfillment of these promises of the return of our King! As Jesus encourages us so eloquently, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Author: Matthew Kimmel
Volume 107, Number 12
Issue: December 2020