Each Christmas season, our eyes are fixed on the arrival of God the Son as our Messiah. Advent calls attention to this, often through a review of salvation history. During this season we celebrate Jesus’ first coming as an infant who grew to be a man. We remember his ministry, his life, his death, and his resurrection, but Advent also anticipates his return.
The English word advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is translated as parousia in the Greek. Parousia means “The Coming,” a term indicating the first coming, but also the return of Christ, the long anticipated promise. The parousia, the Second Coming, consists of a series of events, detailed throughout the New Testament.
We stretch and yearn toward the Day of Christ’s return, especially during this year of pandemic, family tragedy, violence, and the brokenness of still not having attained racial justice. This year felt downright apocalyptic, the pale horse whose rider is Death has visited us.
Globally, there have been in excess of 74,200,000 cases of COVID-19, and more than 1,700,000 loved ones have been lost all over the world. Additionally, it may not be until mid-summer or the fall of 2021 for the majority of us to have been vaccinated and herd immunity reached.
“When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:7-8 ESV).
This is not the first plague / pestilence, nor will it be the last. Since the Lord Jesus himself told us to watch and to wait for his return, each plague cycle since Christ ascended may have prompted the same question: Could this be the time of Christ’s return? Many have thought the same this year.
Only God knows when.
Peter’s final words to the church are significant. They were penned right before he was martyred in Rome. These last words prepare us for The Coming, so that we are ready when Christ returns. Peter spells out how believers are to grow in maturity as we act upon God’s promises. Growth requires effort on our part.
2 Peter 1:3-11 ESV
” 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, SO THAT THROUGH THEM you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
“5 FOR THIS VERY REASON, MAKE EVERY EFFORT [begin now] to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 FOR IF THESE QUALITIES ARE YOURS AND ARE [continually] INCREASING, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so [habitually] nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent [begin now] to confirm your calling and election, for if you [habitually] practice these qualities you will never fall.11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
With death often feeling quite near and The Coming appointed for a day we do not know, living a life of faith, seeking the Lord, and pressing toward maturity are essential. When we press toward obedience to Christ, this is evidence that we are truly believers. If these qualities are our regular practice, or we are growing, bit by bit, day by day, year by year, then we are on the right path.
Growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love are evidence of Christ in us. These are essential realities necessary for admittance to the Kingdom of Heaven, for they reveal that the Lord is in us. We are born again.Growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love are evidence of Christ in us. These qualities reveal that the Lord is in us. We are born again. Click To Tweet
You’ve probably recognized by now that these are the very character qualities that have been tried and tested this year. During this year of pandemic, violence, and inequality, we may have learned that our faith is wobbly, our self-control lacking, our steadfastness quaking, our godliness not what we had imagined, and our brotherly affection and love not what we had hoped as we quibbled with our housemates during lockdowns.During this year of pandemic, violence, and inequality, we may have learned that our faith is wobbly, our self-control lacking, our steadfastness quaking, our godliness not what we had imagined. Click To Tweet
If so, turn around and face Jesus again, repent, apologize to those you have offended, and begin again. Repeat this cycle as often as necessary. The Lord Jesus is a God of grace. Keep moving toward him, rather than away from his ways. This is evidence of Christ in you.Turn around and face Jesus again, repent, apologize to those you have offended, and begin again. Repeat as often as necessary. The Lord Jesus is a God of grace. Keep moving toward him. This is evidence of Christ in you. Click To Tweet
Facing a cross of his own, Peter addressed Christ’s return in 2 Peter 3. These words are more significant than any guess we could possibly make about the timetable of his return. Our God fulfills every one of his promises, as he will most certainly fulfill the promise of his Son’s return.
Only God knows when.
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies / elements will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10).
We can’t imagine all of this being gone, the elements and the heavenly bodies burning up and dissolving. Not only will the core of the earth be exposed, but the core of our actions for all to see. When? How?
One God knows when.
“God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Number 23:19 ESV).
God works out his will in his own time. He doesn’t work according to days, hours, minutes, and seconds. These are constructs he created into our solar system for us alone. Time on this planet is based on the earth’s revolutions around the sun, which give us the days in a year, and the rotations the earth makes on its axis, which give us the hours in our days. Erase these, and we have no method for telling time.
When our pastor addressed this passage recently, he pointed out that every framework of time imaginable has no correlation whatsoever to how God works. In fact, we should turn away from any timeline that any human being has devised as an eschatological timetable or timeline of Christ’s return, because it will surely be flawed in at least one point or another.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13 ESV).
Our capacity to understand The Coming, therefore, is governed by earthly realities. But all of these norms will be burned up and dissolved: earth and heavens, heavenly bodies and elements, days and years, all melted away. We can’t even begin to imagine what reality will be.
But these realities will remain:
- Whether we are growing toward loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
- Whether our lives demonstrate some measure of increasing holiness, purity, pursuit of Christ, and kindness.
- Whether we care for what God cares about: justice, mercy, the sick and imprisoned, the poor, immigrants/refugees, and the oppressed.
Who are we, and how have we lived? Do we live like people awaiting the return of Christ? Are we anticipating the new heavens and the new earth according to the Lord’s promise? Or are we so consumed with this current reality that we take no thought for others, for justice, or for mercy?Do we live like people awaiting the return of Christ? Are we anticipating the fulfillment of the Lord's promise? Or are we so consumed with this current reality that we take no thought for others, for justice, or for mercy? Click To Tweet
These passages are some of the most convicting in the New Testament.
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation“ (2 Peter 3: 14-15a ESV).
These simple instructions inform us of the kind of persons the Lord intends and urges us to be. Will we grow? Will we be awaiting him with eagerness, filled with an intense desire for him? Paul also spelled out similar simple guidelines and revealed why the Lord has the timetable that he has chosen.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time“ (1 Timothy 2:1-6 ESV).
He will come when all who are to be saved have been saved, and only God knows when that will be. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and Only Son. In the meantime, pray for our president, our president-elect, and all persons who are in high positions. Pray that we may live peaceful and quiet lives. Move toward Jesus and learn to love the world’s people as much as he did. Earnestly seek the Lord.
Are we prepared for The Coming? “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV).
Lord, thank you for this pandemic that is showing us all of our flaws, so that we might prepare ourselves through obedience, love, and kindness to be ready for your Coming. Make us ready, Lord. We cannot imagine what you’re doing and why, but we know that you are the sovereign Lord. Thank you for enduring the indignities of human life, taking on the cross to pay for our sins. Help us to love you more and to yearn for you in this life. Amen.Lord, thank you for enduring the indignities of human life, taking on the cross to pay for our sins. Help us to love you more and to yearn for you in this life. Make us ready for your Coming. Amen. Click To Tweet