Friday, October 28, 2016

"I AM COMING QUICKLY"

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
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“Behold, I am coming quickly,” Jesus told John. “Blessed is he who heeds the prophecy of this book (Revelation 22:7 NAS).

John wrote these words some two thousand years ago, and Jesus has not yet come. This is not our idea of the word “quickly.” Nevertheless, there are very many of us who still take Jesus at his word and believe he is returning, just as he promised multiple times in the Bible. Are we foolish to do so?

There are people who ridicule these words of Jesus. Perhaps you have not heard anyone mock this statement outwardly, but certainly, the priorities of the lives of many people demonstrate that they do not believe what Jesus said. This should not be surprising to any of us. After all, we were told by the Apostle Peter that we might expect this to happen.

Peter said, “Know this first of all, that in the last days scoffers will come with their mocking, following after their own sinful desires. They will be saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? Ever since the ancestors died, everything continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Peter’s response to these doubts is that the people who think in this way, simply do not consider the entire scope of the history of the earth into their view of reality. Not only is this assessment of the history of the earth wrong, it is an assessment of pessimism and doom, as voiced in the book of Ecclesiastes: 

   All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full.
   To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.
   All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it.
   The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled
 with hearing. 

   That which has been is that which will be,
   And that which has been done is that which will be done
   So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:7-9 NAS) 

New Things Under the Sun

The true fact is however, everything has not continued as it was from the beginning.(to continue, press READ MORE below)  First of all Peter tells us, the heavens existed “long ago.” He does not give a specific age of the heavens (which we understand to be eternal), but his point in saying this is we do not have any idea of the entire scope of the creation. When someone says that everything continues on the earth just as it always has, that person is speaking from his own ignorance.

Secondly, this statement is ridiculous even looking at what we know of recorded history. Peter mentions “the earth was formed out of water and by water.” I cannot say that I understand this statement completely, nor do I think anyone does. This is a statement that enters into the evolution debate, which I do not mean to address here.

However, we do know that in the early days of creation, the first condition of the earth seems to have been simply a great expanse of water that existed in complete darkness. It was out of these conditions that first light, and then dry land began to appear.

Beyond this, Peter mentions that at one time, the world was destroyed by a great flood. By this, he most certainly is referring to the flood that occurred during the time of Noah. This is a fact not only of recorded history, but one for which there are numerous geological evidences.

Of course, there are also other abundant geological and paleontological indications of other great changes that have occurred since creation. We know that the earth has repeatedly passed through great changes, both in terms of climate changes and in terms of species of animals that have inhabited the earth. Thus, to say that everything has continued the same throughout history is to be simply ignorant of what we know 

What Does “Quickly” Mean?

Aside from this however, the primary point of these “scoffers,” whom Peter mentions will come in the last days, is that Jesus has not yet returned to this point of time, and they doubt if he ever will return. After all, did he not say that he would “quickly” return, or return “very soon?”

It is here that perspective is especially important. Quite frankly, it is a bit amazing to me that some people speak so glibly about this as if it in someway proves that Jesus is not coming back. We should know even from our own experience that we all have slightly different perspectives of what “soon” means, and different perspectives of time. Our family for many years lived and worked in Latin America, and I can tell you, the wonderful Latin people have a much different definition of time than many in our schedule driven North American culture have.

Also, those of us who have raised or are raising children probably have been asked by them at some time during the late autumn season, perhaps after the first snowfall, “How soon is it until Christmas?” Maybe you have answered without really thinking about it too much, “Christmas will be here very soon.”

Perhaps to you, Christmas will arrive soon. You turn around three times and you are putting up the Christmas decorations. Then you turn around one more time and you are rushing to buy that last gift or to get the meal ready. To you, Christmas arrives very soon.

But I assure you, it is not the same for your child. When you tell him or her that Christmas is coming soon, in their mind’s eye they can already see all of the wonderful lights and imagine themselves opening the presents on Christmas morning. To your child, you words “very soon” take on a slow and very deliberate count-down until Christmas day. Your perspective and your child’s perspective of the definition of “soon” are completely different. 

The Fullness of Time

So it is when Jesus tells us he is coming soon. When we consider what we can see as different perspectives of time among us as people, and stretch the time involved into eternity, we can see that these differences grow greatly. When we consider the words of Jesus when he says he is coming soon, we sometimes do not realize that he is speaking from a perspective that we do not understand.

Related to this concept and particularly interesting to me is a verse in Galatians, where the Apostle Paul is writing regarding the coming of Jesus in the first instance, that is, when he was born as a child some two thousand years ago. Paul writes: “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son” (4:4).

This is interesting to me because this is time viewed from a perspective that we often do not see. Paul speaks not of the completion of a certain number of years, but rather “the fullness of time.” This is time that is not viewed as if awaiting a certain date for Jesus to be born. Rather, Paul speaks of time viewed from the perspective that when the conditions had matured, it is only then that the expected time had come for the birth of the Christ child.

As a very simplified example of this but one to which we can all relate is the following: Imagine, for instance, that you asked me if I would like a cup of coffee. “Certainly I would like a cup,” I may respond. And not being shy I might ask you for a full cup. “Please fill my cup right up to the top.”

Notice that I do not ask you to pour the coffee into my cup for precisely five seconds in order for you to know when to stop pouring. Rather, I ask you for a full cup. That is how you know when to stop pouring – when the cup becomes full.

In some ways, this is what Paul meant when he said Jesus was born in the “fullness of time.” God did not have celestial calendar with some future date marked in red so that he would know when the proper time arrived for Jesus to be born. More important to God was that all the conditions were right. He had many things to teach us as men and women about what it meant when we rebelled against his sovereignty, and the extent to which he would have to go to redeem us.

There were thousands of years between the time when Adam and Eve first fell into sin, condemning all of mankind to the penalty of this sin. From my perspective and from yours, it seems that it may have been better if Jesus had been born much earlier – thousands of years earlier, so that the process of God redeeming his people could begin in earnest. But that is our perspective. It is not God’s. The cup was not yet full. He had preparations to make. 

The Way that the Two Comings of Jesus are Similar

When Jesus tells John in the book of Revelation that he is coming “quickly” or coming “soon,” in some ways it is similar to when he came to earth the first time, and in some ways it is different.

It is similar in the sense that calendar dates and the number of years have less to do with it than the fact of the time being full. There no doubt is a day fixed for the return of Jesus, since Jesus, speaking generally about the events of the last days, said “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

That date however, known only by the Father, has not been fixed arbitrarily, but it is based on the completion of all things. In saying what he did, Jesus was trying to teach his listeners and now to teach us, the readers of his words, that we must be watchful so that we will be able to see when the time is nearing.

“Look at the branches on the fig tree,” Jesus said. “As soon as the twigs begin to become tender, you know that the tree is beginning to send its sap up the trunk and into the branches. In this way you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you begin to see these things which I told you begin to happen, you know that my return is near” (from Matthew 24:32-33).

In this way the second coming of Jesus is similar to the first. He will return when the “time is full;” when all the events that need to happen first have occurred and all is ready 

The Way in which the Two Comings of Jesus are Different

But the timing of the second coming of Jesus is also unlike that of the first in some ways. When Jesus told John in the book of Revelation, “I am coming quickly,” he meant it in the sense that there was nothing more that needed to be accomplished on earth before his return. Do you remember that the very last words that Jesus uttered before he succumbed to his death on the cross were, “It is finished.”? In saying this, he did not mean that the crucifixion was over, but that he had accomplished everything necessary to redeem his people. All had been done. Everything was prepared.

Jesus said those words some two thousand years ago. It was just a few years later that he also told John, “I am coming quickly.”

If all has been done and all is ready, why the delay? 

What Peter Said

I spoke earlier about what Peter had written to those who had doubted the words of Jesus concerning his return. “Where is the promise of his coming?” they asked. “Everything has continued as it has always done, even from the creation.”

After educating the people about the fact that they were not taking a realistic view of the history of the world, Peter tells the people why Jesus is delaying his coming, at least delaying in terms of our own understanding.

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness,” Peter tells them, “but he is patient toward you. He does not wish for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The reason for the delay of Christ’s return is not that some event needs to happen first in order to redeem the people that he has chosen. That was accomplished on the cross of Calvary. He is waiting instead for those who are destined for eternal life to come to repentance (Acts 13:48). The time involved for his return is inconsequential.

Peter wrote that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This is not a formula for mathematics in another dimension where we can write an equation saying “1,000 earth years = 1 heaven day.” In fact, Peter’s formulas make no mathematical sense, since he also is saying a thousand years in heaven is also like one day on earth. What Peter is really saying in this statement is that the actual length of time before Jesus comes is unimportant to God. He is simply being patient with us.

That is truly God’s heart. As Paul tells us, God is patient with us desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). In reality we know that this will not happen. Not all will be saved. We know that from our own experience and we know that from what we read in the book of Revelation about the last days. We as people have been given free wills, and very many will use that free will to rebel against the authority of God. 

Amen

However, for those of us who have chosen to follow God and to place our faith in his words, he tells us three times in these final verses of the Bible Jesus says that he is coming quickly. He will not delay
“Behold, I am coming quickly, blessed is he who heeds the prophecy of this book.”
“I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
“Yes, I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:7, 12-13, 20 NAS).

The final statement of John concerning this is how I also feel.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

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