Title: Looking at Preaching Afresh
Part 8: Preaching 0n the Second Coming
When it comes to preaching on the Second Coming of Christ, we must be particularly careful. Now the reason I say this is because throughout the New Testament there are clear indications that the teachers (the apostles) of the early church
But here is the difficulty: we live two thousand years later and he still has not come
i.e. those expectations of the early church were wrong!
Within that difficulty is a further one: those who would be sceptical about the inerrancy of Scripture (its rightness throughout) say, “Well it is clear that the teaching of the early church was wrong in respect of the Second Coming; he did not come ‘soon'!” Thus it raises a question as to the inspiration of that part of Scripture.
These are questions that must be faced. My answer is that we simply need to be careful that we
A Wrong Motivation
I make the last point because unwise preachers seek to stir the church to obedience by the fear that Jesus might come back and find them less than ready, because after all, didn't Jesus' parable of the virgins teach just this, and didn't the apostles do just this?
The response to this has to have what I would call both negative and positive answers:
A. Negative Answers
i) Church Misunderstanding
As already noted, although that was the teaching in the first century church nearly two thousand years later, it has lost its force. The apostle Peter had to teach about this in 2 Pet 3:3-9, warning
Therefore be neither sceptical nor pin your hopes on tomorrow but remain faithful.
We today also tend to forget that the church in the first century so often faced persecution and a ‘limited duration' teaching appeared a valid approach – because he WAS coming sometime!
Interestingly this teaching did not come from Jesus' mouth when he spoke words of correction and encouragement to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Rev 2 & 3. He simply called for obedient overcoming - see below. (But yes there do seem to be these indications later in Revelation – see later below).
ii) Psychological Error
Although the early church taught it because they expected it, it ignores a fundamental (psychological) teaching that, “ Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12) i.e. if you keep on placing your hope in something that doesn't happen, eventually you get jaded and don't believe it. It needs a proper context.
iii) Legalistic Approach
This form of teaching uses ‘should' or ‘ought' which are driving words that lead to failure which leads to guilt which leads to a breakdown in relationship with Jesus.
It comes in the form of “Because Jesus might come tomorrow we ought to be living godly lives.” ‘Ought' never empowers or inspires or releases faith for living and, as we've noted above, the ‘stick' loses its power with every further passing year without his return.
‘Ought' doesn't build relationship but emphasises the ‘hard man' mentality of Mt 25:24 which kills faith.
iv) Academic Games
Another danger is that this form of teaching can be purely academic and appeals to the academics among us and leaves the rest of the congregation cold. We have noted in earlier papers in this particular series, that unless our teaching brings about genuine change in our people, it is rather pointless and merely something to give the preacher a nice feeling of academic achievement rather than bring change to the church.
Those who are comfortable with the status quo and who do not focus on the ‘teaching-to-change' issues like this approach because it is intellectually challenging (in the understanding sense) even if it does little to change lives.
As much as the preacher may wish to stir the congregation by this form of teaching, as I have watched it and heard it a number of times over the past forty years, I am convinced that although it is possible to stir a congregation emotionally by this form of preaching, it is more ‘emotional hype' than heart conviction and that very soon dissipates.
We might parallel this by the gospel preaching that says, “Repent today for you don't know, tomorrow might be the last day of your life!” The fact that our survival instinct kicks in and believes we will still be here next week, suggests this is not, humanly speaking, a good approach (though this is not to say we should never use it – the Holy Spirit does convict on this score sometimes).
I am not sure that I know of anyone who is genuinely motivated long-term by this teaching (though this is not a reason not to teach it). The valid motivation forms are what we turn to next.
B) Positive Answers
vi) Valid Teaching – but in its place
It is important to include this teaching at some time in a preaching rota but not to let it overshadow the two primary motivating forces that should appear in our teaching (see below).
The fact is that it IS an important piece of Scriptural teaching – there is coming a Day of the Lord when he will return in judgment and yes, we should be ready.
Yet it's importance should not be raised above the level of the following two things.
All Christian believers are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ and discipleship begins with obedience or submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Our primary reason for living godly lives is that we have been saved from sin and the old self-centred, godless life, and have been called into sonship as part of the body of Christ that is to express him on the earth.
Our call is to remain faithful at all times: “ when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Lk 18:8) I would suggest that the emphasis of that question is more on faith than on Jesus' second coming. Faith is the vital element of our lives. If this teaching about the Second Coming fails to speak about faith dynamics, it fails in a major way.
viii) Spirit-led lives
The other side of that same coin is that Jesus expresses himself in and through us by the presence and power of his own Holy Spirit. I would suggest there is a much greater need to emphasise the Spirit-empowered and Spirit-led life in the modern church. The emphasis needs to be on relating to Him and allowing His presence within us to teach, guide, inspire and empower for service. This is possibly one of the greatest needs in today's church in order that we may become the church that is truly the body of Christ which changes the world. It is a call that leads to lives released in power and gifts of the Spirit to serve Jesus as part of his body today.
Any teaching that detracts or distracts from this is doing a disservice to the body of Christ.
Understanding the Possibilities of 'Soon'
I would suggest there are three understandings of the phrase “I am coming soon” or similar phrases used in this context:
1. Referring to the Second Coming
Without any doubt this has to be THE main meaning of the use of such language; it points us towards thinking about Him coming back in the skies.
The angels obviously referred to it in Acts 1:11, Paul was clearly referring to it in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 and Jesus in Matt 24 and of course there are numerous other verses.
2. Coming to Sort You Out
There is also (although relatively rare by comparison) use of this to suggest that Jesus will come to people or a church to deal with them.
e.g. to the church in Ephesus in Rev 2:5 “ If you do not repent, I will come to you,” which continues, “and remove your lamp stand from its place .” This ‘coming' is not in literal human form but more the hand of God coming to bring change.
The same is found with the church at Pergamum in Rev 2:16 : “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
In Rev 2:25 we find, “Only hold on to what you have until I come,” which some may wish to use as his Second Coming, but the context suggest after he has come and, in respect of Jezebel, “cast her on a bed of suffering” etc. (Rev 2:22,23) i.e. hold on until I have come and sorted out the enemy.
In Rev 3:3 Jesus spoke to the church at Sardis and said, “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” This is sort of end-time language but in the context of the other churches is far more likely to mean in the immediate future to do a sorting out! The same may be suggested of “I am coming soon,” of Rev 3:11 for the same reason, even though the language of the next verse has echoes of the end of Revelation and the ‘very end'. That simply says we may have glimmers of the very end within our lives today, but that is all they are – glimmers of the end.
Perhaps this sort of language and usage reaches its climax to the last church in a verse so familiar and so often used in evangelism: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)
This ‘coming' is, using it in the evangelism context, the coming of Jesus into our lives at conversion, the coming of his presence in the form of His Holy Spirit. Yes, it is Jesus coming to sort us out and give us new lives.
This, we could suggest, is exactly what happens when God brings ‘revival'.
3. A Coming at death?
The examples of the above paragraph suggest that as well as THE Second Coming usage of the phrase it is used by God to suggest any time when Jesus comes to us (by his Spirit?) to bring changes to us while we live out our lives here on earth.
However, we might suggest there is a further outworking of that same application of Jesus coming to ‘sort us out' and similarly to the Revelation churches, it is to bring discipline or judgment.
Thus Paul warned the church at Corinth before ‘communion', “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” ( 1 Cor 11:28-32)
Jesus thus ‘comes' to take us to himself in heaven through death. The dying of people in the congregation was seen as Jesus coming to discipline them as a church, i.e. sorting the church out by the use of death of some of them.
This is also seen in Jesus' earlier words: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” ( Jn 14:3 ) This is clearly (by the context) a reassuring word, not about the end time but about them going to be with him in heaven.
Understanding Prophetic Dynamics and Language
I have observed over the years that in the case of prophecies brought in the church, even by highly respected and credited prophets, that the one thing we so often get wrong is timing – at least how we interpret what they are saying.
When a specific time is given – e.g. “in two weeks”, or “in two years” – that is different and we can rely on that period.
However “Revival is about to come SOON,” is the prophet being allowed by the Spirit to step up into that future experience which seems to him or her to be imminent. There are places in Old Testament prophecies where timing is not as it appears at first sight, for this reason I suggest.
Warnings are given against setting times and even when signs are spoken about – earthquakes, famines, political upheavals, false messiahs – there is an unnerving uncertainty for they have all appeared already but may yet appear in far greater measure.
Jesus and Paul, and Peter by implication, all warn against being specific. This simply heightens the uncertainty and even more adds to the question marks of motivating by Second Coming teaching.
The language of Rev 22 raises questions: v.7 “Behold, I am coming soon!” v.12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” v.20 “ Yes, I am coming soon."
Some suggest that ‘soon' be replaced by ‘quickly' meaning that when it happens it will happen quickly as other teaching areas in the New testament also suggest. Uncertainty hangs over this teaching as far as timing is concerned.
We have suggested (we believe with good cause) that