One can not easily judge a book by its cover. A better way to find out about its value is to see how many copies have been printed and in how many languages it is translated. The world’s best seller, the Bible is currently available in 2212 languages! At the time of writing in April 2000 the complete Bible exists in 366 languages, the New Testament is translated into 928 languages and some portion of scripture are available in 918 languages. Considering that there are 6858 languages in the world, an unbelievable amount of work has taken place. For more details see www.wycliffe.org. To learn more about the author can also be quite revealing. Did you know that about forty different people wrote the Bible over a period of approximately 1500 years? A number of them did not even know each other. Amazingly, one common theme is developed in unique, harmonious unity. If one were to undertake such a huge project today the result would be very much the opposite: a big confusion of unrelated thoughts. The only reason that the Bible did not experience the same problem is found in God, who inspired all the different authors what to write. What a truly miraculous book! And it has a lot to say about your future. Why is it so important to know about where you are heading? It helps you to live more successfully here, now and then. As the old planning principle goes, ‘start with the end in mind.’ Once we know what we actually want to achieve it is much easier to start correctly and to make sensible decisions along the way. They who live goal orientated will be much more effective. The ‘chief end’ of man is mentioned right in the first verse of the Holy Bible:
‘In the beginning God…’ (Gen 1:1)
God is the beginning and the end, (Rev 1:8) He is life. (Joh 14:6) According to the Bible, man’s true purpose is completely God centred: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. (Isa 43:7, Psa 37:4) It is impossible to live meaningfully without a personal relationship to the Almighty, Pure and Holy God. Since we are all sinful beings who have fallen away from God, it follows logically that the initiative to reach this ambitious goal must come from God himself. His mighty act to enable the fulfilment of our purpose is not only mentioned in the first few pages of the Holy Bible (Gen 3:15) but also in it’s very last passage. (Rev 22:20) Furthermore, all the Gospels start with this end in mind. (Mat 1:23, Mar 1:3, Luk 1:17,31ff, Joh 1:9-18) It can be summarised: The coming of the Lord!
The Holy Bible describes the coming of the Lord in two stages, the ‘First Coming’ and ‘The Second Coming.’ A shared characteristic of both events is that it brings about great change. What? How? When? Thinking of these questions can be a painful process that is nevertheless most rewarding. Moses knew about the importance of his destiny. He prayed long ago:
‘So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ (Psalm 90:12)
He knew the life he was used to would come to an end one day and that made him spend his time and energy wisely, to the glory of God. Knowing God and of His coming gives meaning and direction to our lives. That is why He has revealed to us about himself and his plans in the Holy Bible through the prophets. The word is derived from the Greek ‘prophetes,’ ‘pro’ meaning ‘before’ or ‘for’ and ‘phemi’, ‘to speak.’ (‘Dictionary of Theology’, Baker Book House, USA, 1994) A prophet speaks before in the sense of proclaiming Truth in the name of God. Often the prophets in the Old Testament would not say something knew but underline what God had said before, although sometimes in different words. Many of the prophecies considered the immediate future. Sometimes, they had a second meaning that is out of context. On those occasions God showed this to the writers of the New Testament. In other instances prophecies would concern the distant future, the end times. The purpose of this paper is to examine these biblical teachings regarding the coming of the Lord. We shall see that the end is near, but it is really only a new beginning.
During all periods of Hebrew history as described in the Holy Bible, numerous verses mention prophetic promises of a coming Messiah. The word is a hellenized transliteration of the Aramaic ‘mesiha’. The underlying Hebrew word is derived from the verb ‘masah’, to anoint, smear with oil. (Ibid page 394) The term ‘Messiah’ has been used on different occasions. (Isa 45:1, Ex 29:36, 1 Ki 19:16, 1 Sam 26:11) They map out the work of the one to come, foreshadowing the ultimate Messiah. From Cyrus, the ruler of Persia whom God gave the title of Messiah we learn that:
-he is chosen by God (Isa 41:25)
-he will save God’s people (Isa 45:1-13)
-he will judge God’s enemies (Isa 47)
-he will rule the nations (Isa 45:1-3)
-in all his work God is the one who acts through him (Isa 45:1-7)
The ultimate Messiah to come is described as a godlike figure, God who became a man, who will rule the whole world in justice and righteousness for all eternity:
‘For to us a child has come, to us a son is given; and the government has been placed in his hands; and he has been named Wise Guide, Strong God, Father for ever, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his rule and of peace there will be no end, on the seat of David, and in his kingdom; to make it strong, supporting it with wise decision and righteousness, now and forever.’
(Isaiah 9:6-7, compare with 10:21 where the phrase ‘strong God’ is applied to God Almighty. See also Psa 45:6-7, Isa 52:10, compare with 53:1 where the phrase ‘his holy arm’ is used to describe a man, Dan 7:13-14: The one like a son of man who comes with the ‘clouds of heaven’ an expression characteristic of God in Ps 104:3, Nah 1:3, Isa 19:1)
A. PROPHECIES REGARDING JESUS FULFILLED
Messianic prophecy is divided into two parts. At his first coming the Messiah is described as suffering. At the Second Coming he will appear as King. Since his first coming we are able to identify the Messiah to be Jesus because he has fulfilled numerous prophecies. Here are some recognised by the early Rabbis as referring to the Messiah:
|Gen 3:15||Messiah will be the Offspring of a woman.||Gal 4:4|
|Gen 18:18||He will be the promised child to Abraham.||Acts 3:25|
|Gen 17:19||He is the child promised to Isaac.||Mat 1:2|
|Num 24:17||He was also promised to Jacob.||Luk 3:34|
|Gen 49:10||He will descend from the tribe of Judah.||Luk 3:33|
|Isa 9:7||He will be the heir to the throne of David.||Mat 1:1|
|Mic 5:2||He will be born in Bethlehem.||Mat 2:1|
|Dan 9:25||His time of birth is foretold.||Luk 2:1-2|
|Isa 7:14||The Messiah will be born of a virgin.||Mat 1:18|
|Jer 31:15||Babies slaughtered at the time of his birth.||Mat 2:16-18|
|Hos 11:1||He will have to escape into Egypt.||Mat 2:14-15|
|Isa 9:1-2||He will have a ministry in Galilee.||Mat 4:12-16|
|Deu 18:15||He will also be known as a Prophet.||Joh 6:14|
|Psa 110:4||Messiah will be a Priest, like Melchizedek.||Heb 6:20|
|Isa 53:3||He will be rejected.||Joh 1:11|
|Isa 1:2||The Spirit of the Lord will be upon him.||Luk 4:18|
|Zec 9:9||Welcomed triumphantly, riding on donkey.||Mat 21:1-11|
|Psa 41:9||A friend will betray him.||Mar 14:10|
|Zec 11:12||He was sold for thirty pieces of silver.||Mat 26:15|
|Zec 11:13||Money to be returned for a potter’s field.||Mat 27:6-7|
|Psa 109:7-8||Another will take Judas’s position.||Act 1:16-20|
|Psa 27:12||False witnesses will accuse the Messiah.||Mat 26:60f|
|Isa 53:7||He will be silent when accused.||Mat 26:62f|
|Isa 50:6||He will be struck and spit on.||Mar 14:65|
|Psa 69:4||He will be hated without cause.||Joh 15:23ff|
|Isa 53:4-5||The Messiah will suffer for others.||Mat 8:16-17|
|Isa 53:12||He will die among sinners.||Mat 27:38|
|Psa 22:16||His hands and feet will be pierced.||Joh 20:25ff|
|Psa 22:6-8||He will be mocked and insulted.||Mat 27:39f|
|Psa 69:21||He will be given gall and vinegar.||Joh 19:29|
|Psa 22:8||Prophetic words given to him in mockery.||Mat 27:43|
|Psa 109:4||The Messiah will pray for his enemies.||Luk 23:34|
|Zec 12:10||His side will be pierced.||Joh 19:34|
|Psa 22:18||Soldiers will cast lots for his cloths.||Mar 15:24|
|Psa 34:20||Not one of his bones will be broken.||Joh 19:33|
|Isa 53:9||He will be buried with the rich.||Mat 27:57f|
|Psa 16:21||He will rise from the dead.||Mat 28:9|
|Psa 68:18||The Messiah will ascend into heaven.||Luk 24:50f|
These passages are even more remarkable considering that between the prophecies and their fulfilment lay many hundreds of years! Isaiah was written around 700 BC, Jeremiah around 600 BC, Daniel around 530 BC, Zechariah around 500 BC, and the final collection of the book of Psalms took place around 300 BC (see NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Publishers, USA, 1985). In line with the fact that proper names are normally not given in prophecies these predictions do not mention Jesus by name either. John the Baptist and King Nebuchadnezzar, for example, are also foretold without mentioning their names. However, since he alone fulfilled the specific qualities, place of birth, time of death, descriptions of death, etc. mentioned therein, Jesus alone has to be the coming one, the Messiah. He personally confirmed his identity: The woman said to him, ‘I am certain that the Messiah, who is named Christ, is coming; when he comes he will make all things clear to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I, who am talking to you, am he.’ (John 4:24-25) Fulfilled prophecy has been used by God in the Bible to prove that he is the only God and that other religions are false: The Lord, the King of Israel, even the Lord of armies who has taken up his cause, says, ‘… If there is one like me, let him come forward and say it, let him make it clear and put it in order before me: who has made clear in the past the things to come? Let him make clear the future to me. Have no fear, be strong in heart; have I not made it clear to you in the past, and let you see it? And you are my witnesses… (Isa 43:6ff) ‘Let the things which are past come to your memory: for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me; Making clear from the first what is to come, and from past times the things which have not so far come about; saying, My purpose is fixed, and I will do all my pleasure.’ (Isaiah 46:9-10)
In contrast to all other religions or individuals the Bible alone contains many prophecies foretelling historical events that were fulfilled hundreds of years later with 100% accuracy. The Quran, for example, contains only one clear ‘prophecy’ concerning a Roman victory against the Persians in 624 AD. According to commentators it was given in 615 or 616 AD when the Persians were threatening to take Constantinople. For a loosing nation to recover and win is historically not uncommon. Therefore this prophecy could have been fulfilled by considerable chance anyway. Surah 48, al Fath, verse 27, mentions the words ‘if Allah wills,’ meaning that it is not certain, in the middle of a supposed vision foretelling the Muslim pilgrimage in Mekka. Nostradamus, Jean Dickson, and other false prophets made hundreds of totally incorrect predictions. Roberts, the editor of ‘The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus’, (Jericho NY: Nostradamus, Inc.1976) admitted in his introduction, that these prophetic writings are ‘unintelligible and garbled to the uninitiated. The strange, broken, and often incoherent nature of the quatrains, both in French and English, is the hallmark of prophetic media.’ Here is a detailed study into some biblical prophecies:
B. PROPHECIES OF HISTORICAL EVENTS FULFILLED
|Isa 13:17||701-681 BC||Babylon attacked by the Medes||539 BC|
|Isa 45:1||701-681 BC||Babylon’s gates will open for Cyrus||539 BC|
|Isa 13:19||701-681 BC||Kingdom overthrown permanently||539 BC|
|Isa 14:23||701-681 BC||Babylon reduced to swampland||539 BC|
|Isa 44:28||701-681 BC||Captive Jews freed by Cyrus||538 BC|
|Jer 32:36||626-586 BC||Jews survive rule and return||536 BC|
|Am 1:9||750 BC||Tyre’s fortress will fail||333 BC|
C. WHY DID THE JEWS REJECT JESUS?
Looking back at the overwhelming evidence above one has to find an answer to this question. Jesus did not use the title of Messiah very often because from his time onwards it had become greatly politicised in the minds of his listeners. They wanted to be freed from Roman occupation and therefore stressed the victorious aspects of prophecy. This is the first reason why comparatively few Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah until now, even though his first followers were all of a Jewish background.
Early Talmudic Rabbis too believed that for instance Isaiah 53, describing the suffering servant of the Lord was a prediction of the Messiah. ‘…By medieval times the pressure from those who applied this prophecy to Jesus was so great that Rashi, the greatest medieval Biblical scholar, reinterpreted the chapter and said it referred to the nation of Israel. This interpretation is maintained today by many Jewish scholars, though it only dates back to the Middle Ages.’ (‘Questions and Answers’ by Jews for Jesus, 1983, page 8). It has to be rejected in the light of the context, which repeatedly distinguishes the servant of the Lord from the nation of Israel. (Compare Isaiah 42:1-9 with verses 18-25, chapter 48 with 49:5-8, 50:1-3 with verses 4-9). The treatment of that passage presents the second reason for Jewish resentment against Jesus. It shows that Rabbinical theology is different from Biblical Theology. This sad fact can also be seen in the Thirteen Articles of Faith by Maimonides, being looked at as the foundation for modern formulations of Rabbinical theology. They refer to the Jewish confession of faith which begins with the words, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one…(Deut 6:4) The biblical passage uses the word ‘echad’ to proclaim the oneness of God, an expression that allows for plurality or diversity within unity. However, in describing the nature of God the word ‘yachid’ has been substituted for ‘echad’. The former describes an indivisible unity. Other verses where the latter is used to denote diversity within unity are Genesis 1:5, 2:24, Ezra 2:64, Ezekiel 37:17. The concept is also taken up in Genesis 16:7,13, 22:11-12, and Pslam 51:13 compared with Genesis 1:2 where the Angel of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord are portrayed as distinct from, yet somehow the same as God. God’s attribute of diversity within unity was expanded more in the time of the New Testament when the idolatry of Israel’s polytheistic neighbours was no more a problem for God’s chosen people.
The third reason for Jewish resistance towards accepting Jesus as the Messiah is sadly found in nominal Church history. Numerous leaders and their followers who only professed Jesus with their lips but not with their lives showed open hostility during the crusades or indifference during the second World War towards Jews. The Roman Catholic Pope, John Paul II, publicly asked for forgiveness for these deeply disturbing events in a Mass held in Rome in March 2000.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, to accept Jesus as the Messiah is difficult for Jews and indeed for anyone else, because with him one has to agree with the message he represents. It is radically different from common religious thought that proclaims, ‘yes, we do sin occasionally but we can make up for it by doing good deeds.’ Contrary to such beliefs, the Holy Bible teaches that we are sinful by nature. (Psalm 51:5, 58:3) God is Holy and perfect. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable before him. We need to repent of our sins and our own feeble attempts to put things right with him. Next we are asked to trust in Jesus as the one who took the punishment for our sins on our behalf. Instead of us he died on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and asks us to follow him and to do good out of thankfulness for what he has done already. (1 Corinthians 15:1-9) This humbling message does not go down well with us who want to be in control of our lives, because it tells us that we are utterly dependent on someone else; on God. However, those who do accept it are being set free from themselves and enabled to live life to the full. How will you decide?
It is with great confidence that we can now move to the study of His Second Coming. God is faithful and will fulfil the outstanding prophecies of the Messiah as coming King, through Jesus too.
Biblical prophecies may be open to different interpretations regarding their details but they nonetheless insist on three clear facts that no serious student can discount. A. As we have seen already, Jesus came to earth once to save people from their sins. B. He will come back a second time as judge. Sinners have reason to fear the sovereign God who will punish them and destroy the world. (Eze 18:20, Mat 24:35) C. Those who put their faith in Jesus will be forgiven and shall spend eternity with him. (Joh 3:16)
A. WHEN WILL THE MESSIAH RETURN?
God deals with sin either with wrath or with grace, depending on our response to Jesus. (Joh 3:36) In accordance with his character he always sends warnings before releasing his anger. To mention just a few instances, Noah was told of the coming flood (Gen 6:13). Jonah had to warn the people of Niniveh of the coming destruction, they repented and were spared (Jon 1:2, 3:4). A few years later, they fell back into a life of sin. God sent Nahum to warn them again, but this time they would not listen and were destroyed (Nahum 1). Jesus’ first coming, which would bring either grace or wrath, was foretold over 300 times in the Old Testament. It contains over 500 prophecies regarding the Second Coming. Dr S. B. Garden surveyed all 216 chapters of the New Testament and came up with an amazing discovery. The Second Coming of Jesus is mentioned 318 times. On average, one out of every 25 verses talks about this extraordinary event! By comparison, the new birth is mentioned specifically only 9 times, baptism 20 times, and repentance 70 times. In the beginning, the disciples of Jesus thought that his return would take place within their lifetime. Being disciples, the literal translation of the Greek word ‘mathetai’ is ‘the learning ones,’ they were corrected in that false assumption. Taken in its context the New Testament does not teach the Second Coming of Jesus shortly after his first coming. (Mat 10:23 compare with 10:18, 24:14.48, 25:5, 28:19, Joh 21:18f, compare 1 Thes 4:15 with Act 20:23-25, 1 Cor 6:14, The word translated ‘soon’ or ‘quickly’ in Rev 1:1, 3:11, 22:7.12.20 is ‘en tachéi.’ It expresses speed of movement, not time when something happens.) When the Messiah and John the Baptist, his forerunner were announced in the last book of the Old Testament, words like ‘suddenly’ and ‘quickly’ were used. (Mal 3:1.5, in the latter verse the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the word ‘tachys’ as well.) However the fulfilment took only place about 500 years later. Those verses and others that talk about ‘the time of the end is near’ have to be understood in two ways. Firstly, in God’s perspective He is outside of time, one day is like a thousand years. (2 Peter 3:8) His understanding of time is obviously different. Secondly, Biblical accounts describe how God often announces prophecies, without expressively mentioning conditions for their fulfilment. (Jon 3:4.10, Gen 15:5, Deu 6:3, 28:62, 1 Sam 2:30, Jer 18:9f, Num 14:30) It may well be that his promised Second Coming is dependent on his church obeying the command to tell the Good News to all nations first. (Mat 28:19-20, 24:14) The day of the Lord is one of several expressions used to describe the Second Coming of the Messiah. It will come as a surprise to unbelievers, totally unexpected. Practising Christians, however, will be aware of the season, without knowing the exact date and time:
‘But about the times and their order, my brothers, there is no need for me to say anything to you. For you yourselves have the knowledge that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, There is peace and no danger, then sudden destruction will come on them, as birth-pains on a woman with child; and they will not be able to get away from it. But you, my brothers, are not in the dark, for that day to overtake you like a thief: For you are all sons of light and of the day: we are not of the night or of the dark.’ (1 Thessalonians 1-4)
‘And let us be moving one another at all times to love and good works; Not giving up our meetings, as is the way of some, but keeping one another strong in faith; and all the more because you see the day coming near.’ (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Christians can see the day coming near by being attentive to accompanying indications. While we are not told to watch out for these signs rather to be faithful to the Lord, they are nevertheless important to recognise.
Jesus said: ‘But when these things come about, let your heads be lifted up, because your salvation is near.’ And he made a story for them: ‘See the fig-tree, and all the trees; When they put out their young leaves, you take note of it, and it is clear to you that summer is coming. In the same way, when you see these things taking place you may be certain that the kingdom of God is near.’ (Luke 21:28-31)
The signs Jesus mentioned regarding his Second Coming can be placed in three categories:
Society: Wickedness, selfishness. (Mat 24:12, 37, see Gen 6:5) Spirituality: False prophets, Gospel preaching in whole world. (Mat 24:14, 26-28) Nature: Sun, moon and stars affected. (Luk 21:10-11, 25-28)
Other Biblical passages give us to more categories to consider: Politics: Reunification of Europe (Dan 7:19-28, see also chapt. 2 and 8) Technology: Code without which one can neither buy or sell. (Rev 13:16-18) While the signs in society have been visible for a long time the following are only now being fulfilled:
-Preaching the Gospel to the whole world:
The official web page of the magazine ‘Missions Frontiers’ published by the US Centre for World Mission stated the following encouraging news in April 2000: ‘Evangelical Christians are the fastest growing major religious group in the world today and it is the only one growing rapidly by conversion.’
(Patrick Johnston) ‘God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth, (Gen. 12:3) first given to Abraham 4,000 years ago, is becoming a reality at a pace you would not believe. Although some may dispute some of the details, the overall trend is indisputable. Biblical faith is growing and spreading to the ends of the earth as never before in history.’ (‘Finishing the Task’ by Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch)
One third of earth’s 6 billion people call themselves Christians. One third are non-Christians living in already reached people groups. One third (as opposed to approximately one half in 1974!) are non-Christians living in unreached people groups. The AD 2000 and Beyond movement’s definition of ‘unreached’ is less than 2% of the group are evangelical, or less than 5% are active Christians. A people group is a numerically significant population that shares an identifying element, such as language, religion, race, etc.
For the first time in history, there are fewer non-Christians within the unreached peoples than there are within the reached groups. As missionaries succeed in establishing church movements in more unreached peoples, that is exactly what you would expect to happen. As these figures demonstrate, we are in the final era of missions. For the first time in history we can anticipate the completion of the missionary task, which is to establish an indigenous church planting movement within the language and social structure of every people on earth. (See www.missionfrontiers.org/newslinks/statewe.htm)
-Reunification of Europe:
The process started 1957.
-Code without which one can whether buy nor sell
This is now technically possible.
In the book of Revelation we read of another sign, which only in our generation has the possibility of being fulfilled:
-Two witnesses for the Lord will be killed and for three and a half days the whole world will gaze at their bodies. (Rev 11:7-10) Only since the launch of the first satellites in the seventies that enable TV broadcasts world wide, has this prophecy the potential of being fulfilled.
B. WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE SECOND COMING?
According to Old Testament prophecies, there will be a most terrible outpouring of God’s wrath on the unbelievers living on earth in that time:
‘…And there will be a time of trouble, such as there never was from the time there was a nation even till that same time: and at that time your people will be kept safe, everyone who is recorded in the book. And a number of those who are sleeping in the dust of the earth will come out of their sleep, some to eternal life and some to eternal shame.’ (Daniel 12:1-2)
Both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised to life again in an imperishable physical body, and are either granted everlasting life in heaven or everlasting contempt in hell. (1 Cor 15:35-49, Phi 3:21, Luke 24:36-43 John 5:24-30, Mat 25:31-46) Those who never heard about Jesus will be treated by God in absolute justice according to the truth about him, made plain to them since the creation of the world. (Romans 1:18-2:16). The destiny for us who are living in the time of the New Testament is dependent on our relationship to Jesus. The New Testament makes it clear that salvation is by faith through Christ alone:
‘That in the time to come he might make clear the full wealth of his grace in his mercy to us in Christ Jesus: Because by grace you have salvation through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is given by God: Not by works, so that no man may take glory to himself. For by his act we were given existence in Christ Jesus to do those good works which God before made ready for us so that we might do them.’ (Ephesians 2:7-10)
‘Being conscious that a man does not get righteousness by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, we had faith in Christ Jesus, so that we might get righteousness (right standing before God) by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law will no flesh get righteousness.’ (Galatians 2:16)
Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. It is believing with the intellect that the Bible is right about our sinful condition, about who Jesus is and about what he did on the cross for us. As the German reformer Martin Luther used to say ‘the faith that saves is never alone.’ True faith in Christ shows itself in four ways:
1. Out of thankfulness followers of Jesus do what he tells them: To love God and man. This is the essence and test of true obedience. They desire to follow the moral law set out in the Old Testament and summarized in what is known as ‘the 10 commandments.’ (Exo 20:1-17) Passages that speak about judgement according to works have to be read in the light of what true faith means. This is confirmed when their immediate context is considered. Passages such as John 5:28-29 have to be compared with verses 23-24, Mat 16:27 with verses 21-26, 25:31-46 with 23:37-39. Verse 34, for example, mentions ‘blessing,’ ‘inheritance,’ and ‘prepared.’ These are undeserved gifts, which are passively received. The Bible confirms this important truth in James 2:14-26: ‘What use is it, my brothers, for a man to say that he has faith, if he does nothing? Will such a faith give him salvation? If a brother or a sister is without clothing and in need of the day’s food, And one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warm and full of food; but you do not give them the things of which their bodies have need, what profit is there in this? Even so faith without works is dead. But a man may say, You have faith and I have works; let me see your faith without your works, and I will make my faith clear to you by my works. You have the belief that God is one, and you do well: the evil spirits have the same belief, shaking with fear. Do you not see, O foolish man, that faith without works is of no use? Was not the righteousness of Abraham our father judged by his works, when he made an offering of Isaac his son on the altar? You see that his faith was helping his works and was made complete by them; and the holy Writings were put into effect which said, And Abraham had faith in God and it was put to his account as righteousness; and he was named the friend of God. You see that a man’s righteousness is judged by his works and not by his faith only. And in the same way, was not the righteousness of Rahab, the loose woman, judged by her works, when she took into her house those who were sent and let them go out by another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead even so faith without works is dead.’
2. Genuine faith in Jesus produces a desire to become more like him, to do what is right and just.
3. Saving faith creates the awareness that this new obedience can only come through faith in Christ. It does not come from focusing on the law, the desperate attempt to meet its demands.
4. Lastly, Biblical faith generates a constant abiding in and reliance on Jesus by faith. In this way only the Holy Spirit of God supplies the power for a changed life and lasting fruit. (Rom 8:13, Joh 15:5)
The Second Coming of Jesus will take place in two stages. Firstly he will come for those who believe in him as saviour from their sins:
‘But it is our desire, brothers, that you may be certain about those who are sleeping; so that you may have no need for sorrow, as others have who are without hope. For if we have faith that Jesus underwent death and came back again, even so those who are sleeping will come again with him by God’s power. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are still living at the coming of the Lord, will not go before those who are sleeping. Because the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a word of authority, with the voice of the chief angel, with the sound of a horn: and the dead in Christ will come to life first; Then we who are still living will be taken up together with them into the clouds to see the Lord in the air: and so will we be for ever with the Lord. So then, give comfort to one another with these words.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
The deeds of all Christians will also be judged and rewarded accordingly. As there will be various degrees of rewards for those going to heaven, there will also be various degrees of punishment for those going to hell. See Mat 11:24, Luk 12:48.
‘For there is no other base for the building but that which has been put down, which is Jesus Christ. But on the base a man may put gold, silver, stones of great price, wood, dry grass, cut stems; Every man’s work will be made clear in that day, because it will be tested by fire; and the fire itself will make clear the quality of every man’s work. If any man’s work comes through the test, he will have a reward. If the fire puts an end to any man’s work, it will be his loss: but he will get salvation himself, though as by fire.'(1 Corinthians 3:11-15, see also 1 Cor 5:5)
Heaven or hell, what will your future be like?
‘Looking for and truly desiring the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will come to an end through fire, and the substance of the earth will be changed by the great heat. But having faith in his word, we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, which will be the resting-place of righteousness.’ (2 Peter 3:12-13)
We do not know exactly what the new earth and the new heaven will be like but one thing is certain, it will be a place of unspeakable bliss where God will dwell among his people forever. (Rev 21:1-4) Hell will be the eternal dwelling place of those who rebelled against God, of those who rejected Jesus and his work on the cross. They will suffer unspeakable pain. Jesus speaks more about these ferocious facts of hell than anybody else in the Bible. (Mat 5:21-22, 27-30, 23:15,33, 10:28, 25:41,46, 7:23, 8:11-12, 22:13, 25:30, 13:30, 40-43, 49-50, 18:6-9, 24:51) What will your future be like? We can decide by either putting our faith in Jesus or by rejecting his nail pierced hands.
C. HOW CAN GOD ALLOW ATROCITIES TO HAPPEN?
In opposite to all other religions the Holy Bible clearly describes God as ‘good,’ ‘love’ and ‘without falsehood.’ (Psa 73:1, Rom 11:22, 1 Joh 4:8.16, Num 23:19) Having such attributes how can he allow such a horrendous suffering as described above? It is not in spite but because of his character that he has to deal with the bad, with hate and falsehood in such a severe way. It would not be loving to let evil and wickedness go unpunished for ever. Because of his love God presents a way through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross so that he can deal with our sins by grace. With those who do not accept this only way God has to deal in wrath according to his justice. (Psalm 145:17) The suffering God allows in the lives of people here on earth are really an act of his grace. Through them he wants to bring sinners to repentance. Some however, whose heart has been hardened through habitual evil deeds, will not even then turn from their wickedness. Others though will. As Billy Graham used to say, ‘the same sun that softens the butter will harden the clay.’ Scriptures confirm this truth:
‘…For when your punishments come on the earth, the people of the world will get the knowledge of righteousness. Even if you are kind to the evildoer, he will not go after righteousness; even in the land of the upright he will still go on in his wrongdoing, and will not see the glory of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 26:9-10)
Love demands freedom of choice. That is why God ultimately does not send people to hell. With unspeakable sadness he only respects their decision not to want to have a relationship with him. Hell is the only place where those who reject him can be forever.
The Aramaic expression ‘Maranatha’, meaning ‘come, O Lord’ was used by the early church to express the intense desire for the second coming of Jesus to take place soon. It is in response to the last recorded words of Jesus at the end of the New Testament when he said, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ (Rev 22:20) The creation is eagerly expecting his return. (Rom 8:19) The Holy Spirit yearns for him. (Rev 22:17)
Sadly, today’s church in the west is yawning instead of yearning at the prospect of his Second Coming. There are four reason for this indifference:
A brief look into church history reveals the strategy of Satan against God’s people. Once Jesus defeated him at the cross he started to persecute the Lord’s followers. However, the blood of the martyrs became the seed for a church that multiplied greatly in numbers. In the fourth century the enemy of God changed his strategy. Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the one religion of the Roman State. Suddenly everyone automatically became a ‘Christian’. Pagan priests professed Jesus but continued their superstitious practices and thereby corrupted the church from within. The mix became so horrendous that the Roman Catholic Church started to sell salvation and through the crusades tried to force people into ‘Christianity.’ A remnant survived and brought about the reformation in the 16th century. Later the influence of liberalism again undermined historic Christian beliefs such as, forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Jesus alone and the teaching of the Second Coming.
As a result of heresy many Christians follow the teaching of all other religions that one has to earn salvation by doing good deeds. Others, among whom are many evangelicals, start to think that once they are saved by faith in Christ, they then have to do good things (e.g. praying, reading the Bible, going to Church, telling others the Good News, helping others, etc) in order to keep being accepted by God and to grow in their faith. However, those good deeds are not the cause of becoming more like Jesus (theologians call this process ‘sanctification,’ ‘to live right’) only the means. To mix up the two can lead to a denial of The Second Coming for fear that one has not done enough good yet. The following verse sets the record right:
“…how firm your faith in Christ is. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord (by faith), continue to live in Him, (by faith) rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Col 2:5-7 see also Gal 3:1-5, Rom 8:13, 1Tim 1:5)
Many do not get exited about the return of Jesus because they have not been taught about it. They do not know that when Christians die they go immediately into the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8) and at his coming they will live on a renewed earth.
Christians who have other desires in their hearts besides Jesus say: ‘I want him to come back but first I want to get married, to have children, to get a good job…’ Some use this excuse by intending to honour God in those situations. While it is great to do good for someone we love it is no substitute for being with them. Only a concern for loved ones that are not saved or if we ourselves are not saved yet justifies the ‘but’ when it comes to the Second Coming.
The New Testament gives such a great emphasis on the return of Jesus for four reasons:
A. MOTIVATOR FOR EVANGELISM
They who realise that Jesus is coming soon will get a sense of urgency to share the Gospel. In doing so there is a sense in which they can hasten his coming. (2 Pet 3:9, Mat 24:14)
B. BUILDS HOPE
To live with the glorious hope of heaven enables us get easier through the sufferings encountered in this world. (2 Cor 4:14-18)
C. GIVES BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
Our live on earth is only a prelude to eternity. If we ever get comfortable in this world we are not in the centre of God’s will anymore. We are to be aliens in this world, like being away from home in a far away land. (Col 3:2, Heb 11, 1 Pet 2:11) Christians are called to be in the world but not of it in the sense that we must not participate in evil and selfishness. C. S. Lewis said, ‘We are to live like commandos operating behind the enemy lines preparing the way for Jesus, our commander in chief.’
D. SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Most of the New Testament references with regard to the Second Coming of Jesus are in the immediate context of living a live that pleases God:
‘See then that the time has come for you to be awake from sleep: for now is your salvation nearer than when you first had faith. The night is far gone, and the day is near: so let us put off the works of the dark, arming ourselves with light, With right behaviour as in the day; not in pleasure-making and drinking, not in bad company and unclean behaviour, not in fighting and envy.’ (Romans 13:11-13)
The Bible is truly unique. Numerous prophecies predicted the first coming of Jesus. Likewise his second coming is as certain as there is daylight after a long dark night. Are you ready to face him? Our true character is revealed in the darkness, when nobody watches us. Dear reader, do you believe in Jesus and follow him? If yes, have you committed your live to holiness? If not, Jesus wants you to make him Lord, to give him control over all areas of your live. Is he Lord of your work, of your family, your food, the videos and films you watch, your dreams? He is worth it! He loves you!