This is the first line of one of the hymns I really enjoy singing. But I never choose it because I don’t believe the imagery. It sets out a perfect scenario for a heroic wide-screen, 3D blockbuster movie. Whatever the second coming of Christ means, in my opinion, it will not happen like that.
As an eighteen-year-old with my friend Laurie I attended many prayer meetings. For a while we went to a prayer meeting in a neighboring town which was said to be a very powerful meeting. Along with about 12 others, we sat in a lounge room and for around an hour we prayed out loud ‘as the spirit led us’.
A feature of this meeting was the prayers of one old man, who was reputed to be the holiest man in our district. His earnest prayers were loud and long. His praying usually focused on the evil in the world. Swivel-hipped Elvis Presley was top of the pops and to him, Elvis was clear evidence of the degradation which would precede the coming of Jesus. His prayer finale always was pleading with God to send Jesus back soon, this year, this month, this week, tonight!
I was never at ease with this end-of-the-world theme. Laurie and I discussed the return of Jesus on many occasions. We believed it was near, but our hope was that Jesus would hold off for 10 or 20 years. We wanted to live a little! I had never even kissed a girl! The old guy had five children. Clearly, he had done it all.
The style of Christianity I was into was very combative. We memorized and studied to convert (that is lead people to our Christ) and to refute the arguments of others. The subject on which there was most disagreement was the second coming of Christ – what would precede it, what would follow it, the timescale of events and who would be in and who would be out?
Theological College effectively killed off my interest in these things. Early in my first year, our Theology Professor, Prof Watson, brought into the lecture hall a stack of about fifteen books from the college library. “Gentlemen”, he said. “All of these books, predict the end of the world and the return of Christ. They name events, people and dates, and all of them are wrong. Do not waste your time in this College by trying to research things you can never know”. Here he was referring to Matthew 24.36 where Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Prof Watson said to us, “Concentrate on serving Christ in this world and meeting him in the people around you, especially the poor and the needy”. Good advice indeed!
My saintly mother, whom I never knew – she died a few months after giving birth to me – had a consuming interest in the return of Jesus. She kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of world events which indicated that the return of Christ was near. Beside each clipping, she wrote a comment and/or a Bible verse. A couple of her ‘signs’ tickled my fancy.
A photo and article announced the introduction of one-piece bathing suits. Up to that point, females at the beach wore neck-to knee swimsuits. To her, this briefer swim-wear fashion was a clear sign of the growth of wickedness on the earth.
There were numerous clippings about the atheistic Russians. One small item was given particular prominence. The Russians had invented wine-flavored lipstick. She was against makeup of any kind and abhorred alcohol. Now the Russians had combined the two into one evil product which she was sure would entice young people into immoral behaviour. On this page she wrote, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!”
Conspiracy theories sell books and movies. Dan Brown mixed in religion, secret knowledge and dark deeds in his best-selling, ‘The Da Vinci Code’.
Young people love the idea of being initiated into ‘secret’ knowledge. Over the years I have met many young people with secret Bible knowledge. They know about the second coming of Jesus and spiritual warfare. Through this knowledge they can identify fake Christians and phony churches. For them the devil and his minions are to be found around every corner – behind every rock. I found them hard to talk to. It was best just to listen.
It is worth noting that the second coming of Jesus is not just referred to in the Christian Bible it is also a matter of central importance in the Moslem Koran. Other religions, while not mentioning Jesus, also tell of the coming of a God figure who will in effect bring history, as we know it, to an end.
Here is what I think about the subject.
My first clue to understanding it came from reading Acts 1.11. The wording varies according to the version you are reading but these are the words that unlocked the whole idea for me. The astonished disciples have just seen Jesus depart into the heavens. Two angels join them and say, “This same Jesus will return”. The angels go on to say he will come back in the same way he left – that is from the skies.
But, to me the main point is that it is ‘this same Jesus ‘. Not another Jesus – some fierce judgmental warrior king, but the one whose life and deeds are recorded in the gospels; the friend of sinners, the one who spoke gently with women and welcomed children. The one who told stories about goodness in people of other religions and other races.
I think about his second coming in terms of his first coming. At that time there were scholars who did nothing else but study the scriptures for clues to the coming of the Messiah. There were people who spent their whole lives in prayer for the Messiah’s coming. But none of them had a clue that the son of God had entered the world. It was to shepherds, sleeping rough, that God revealed himself and to wise men from another country, culture and religious tradition. The point here is that His coming was a complete surprise to everyone. It was nothing like the prophets and priests envisioned. The Son of God slipped into this world unnoticed. And to my mind that is the way the second coming will happen, and who knows, is happening now.