It is one of the most vivid “religious” memories that I have from my youth. I was in high school, walking home after what I can only guess was a particularly trying day. The weather had been foul, but the rain had stopped. The clouds were a mix of ominous white and black thunderheads. As I crossed a street, stewing in some kind of teenage angst, I looked up and noticed that the sun was shining from behind the clouds, bathing some of the white in red light, which framed up dramatically in the black clouds, creating what I thought was a sobering apocalyptic image. And I thought to myself, “You know, the world could end right now, and I wouldn’t even care.” And then I trudged on home along the soggy streets.
I’ve told this story to others over the years, because once my mood improved, it amused me. But after my baptism in 2003, the story actually alarms me in a way. To think, my current mind says, there was a time when I thought that the Second Coming was something threatening, something to be feared. Of course, at the time, it was, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I want to make here is that, when it comes the blessed hope of Christians (Titus 2:13), there are actually mixed feelings in the church. My evidence is anecdotal, but I will contend that the teenager I was in 1989 was probably not the only person who readily identified himself as a Christian that looked upon the Second Coming with unease.
The literal belief in the Second Coming of Christ is fundamental to all Christians. (Yes, there are some who call themselves Christians who would contend with this broad statement. I respectfully disagree with this, since to deny the Second Coming invariably questions either Christ’s Divinity, or His first advent. Therefore, such beliefs place those believers out to the scope of this discussion). In our Christian walk, and central to the Christian life, is this belief that Jesus will again return to the Earth.
Try this exercise: imagine the clouds parting, and Jesus coming on clouds of glory to claim His Church. The faithful are caught up in the clouds, and this wicked world melts away. What is your immediate, honest response? Is it fear? Joy? Disbelief? How about a mix of these? The Bible speaks throughout the Old and New Testaments of the coming day of final judgment. Interestingly, the spectrum of responses we’ve just mentioned are also detailed. Let’s take a look at them.
This is the response that comes from what Paul called the “blessed hope” of the converted, loyal Christian. “The glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” The one who believes that Jesus is both Lord and Savior (1Pe 1:11), the one who walks in His Commandments, for whom His Commandments are not burdensome (1Jn 5:3). This should be the primary emotion evoked when we speak of the second advent. To know joy at this, I believe, would indicate at the least that we have accepted Jesus as savior, and this liberation can only produce happiness.
2Pe 3:3-4 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
What is interesting here is that these scoffers that Peter is warning us of were apparently raised in the church, or at least have heard the Gospel message. These scoffers hold up the promise of the return of Jesus with contempt, and use the fact that He has yet to return as proof that it won’t happen. This is clearly dangerous thinking, particularly from someone within the church. If you find that you are entertaining this, remember the encouraging words that Peter spoke immediately after his warning: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2Pe 3:9).
The Bible calls the coming of Christ as the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:31). (It is here that some who study eschatology will throw a flag, and will want to differentiate between the Day of the Lord, and the Day of Jesus Christ (Php 1:6). Personally, I find the distinction unconvincing. Jesus is Lord, and it is He who is our judge. I think this separation comes from some rather forced End Times beliefs. But for the purpose of this article, this disagreement can probably be set aside, as the greater point is still true regardless). On this day, says Peter, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2Pe 3:10). This is the image that so many who envision the coming of Christ have in their heads. And of course, it’s true. But for the Christian, there shouldn’t be fear. God has promised to save His People, eradicate sin, and bless us with immortality.
So why do we fear? One reason, I suspect, is because of the emphasis on the consequences of sin (Hell), over the reward for enduring in the faith (eternal life). “Fire and brimstone” is more readily associated with the Second Coming than “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev 21:4). Remember, this discussion is about the beliefs of Christians, who by definition should be saved.
But another reason is more concerning, and that is that we who call ourselves followers of Christ may not have fully surrendered ourselves, and are clinging to the world rather than to Christ. There are so many out there who have plans, goals, and desires that are of this world, and the return of Christ does not enter into these plans. On a certain level, we gladly profess our love for God, but then we sink back to the world and toil away in it, because we think this is making us happy.
So what does this all boil down to? I believe that we as Christians should periodically ask ourselves if there is anything that is hampering our desire for this world to wrap up and for eternity to truly begin. If something is intruding on this hope, then it’s possible that we’re letting the love of the world infringe on our love of God (“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1Jn 2:15). The Second Coming is God’s answer to all the misery that this planet has suffered under since Eden. If we fear it, then it is a matter of eternal life and eternal death that we identify why we fear it, and bring that to matter to God.