Jesus told His disciples about His return to earth (Matt.24). When the disciples asked what they could expect then, He told them that they should be concerned about being prepared, rather than knowing the exact date of His return in power. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. Angels proclaimed to the disciples that one day Jesus would return bodily and visibly the same way He went. History is moving towards this specific point, namely the return of Jesus to judge and rule over the earth. We should be ready for His sudden return, not standing around looking into the sky, but by working hard to first obey the Gospel and then to share it so that others will be able to share in the great blessings of God.
The return of Christ is a doctrine that evangelicals hold in common. It is prominently discussed in the scriptures. It is mentioned more than 300 times in the New Testament. Christ taught that His return would be a literal, physical event. He would return just the same way as the disciples had seen Him depart (Acts 1:15). The time of His return would, however, be unknown. People should therefore be prepared always for His coming (Matt.24:36,42;25:1-3). During His absence, His people should be faithful stewards (Matt. 24:45-51), faithfully serving Him to receive His commendation and rewards on His return (Matt.25:14-30). The word of God concludes with the words of John: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”(Rev.22:20). Because believers will see Him who is pure, they should purify themselves (1 Jn. 3:3). Peter emphasises: “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Pet.3:11).
Jesus declared these things beforehand that we might be free from all delusions, so that our hearts are kept firm and faithful to Him in the assurance of His knowledge. Wars and distresses, false teachers and false prophets are to continue and multiply, until the coming of the Son of Man. This view is consonant to the actual facts of history and experience, so far. Let us not be seduced from our loyalty to Him by any false teacher.
We become hurried and flustered because we have a limited time (a day) to do anything. God has no such unrest; He is able to instantly accomplish the things which men could hope to do in a thousand years. Men declare that the promise of His coming is false because more than 2000 years have elapsed after it was made. They forget that He is never too early or too late. He is always on time. The purposes of God are so vast and wonderful that their working out in human experience must take time. His power is such that when He wills, things can be done in the “twinkling of an eye.”
God has clear expectations from those who choose to follow Him. This does not mean that we are saved by piling up enough good works to satisfy God. It only means that any authentic and genuine commitment to Christ will be accompanied by demonstrable evidence of a transformed life. For the followers of Christ, anything that becomes more precious than our relationship with the Lord becomes destructive.
The Great Commandment – to love God, and love our neighbours–is the work of God’s people. With 2 billion Christians in the world, changing the world does not seem beyond our grasp. Bob Pierce said: “Don’t fail to do something, because you can’t do everything.” However, it takes transformed people to transform the world. The truth is that we have “drifted away from being fishers of men to being keepers of the aquarium.” We are preoccupied with our lives and daily issues of our churches. Our sin is more of omission than commission.
The local church is the hope of the world. If church leaders do not have an outward vision to become salt and light in our society to promote social and spiritual transformation, pursue justice, and proclaim the whole Gospel, then the Church will fail to realise its potential as the agent of transformation. Our salt has lost its saltiness and so, we are no longer able to impact the culture of our society. “A church that lives within its four walls is no church at all.” Aspiring to material comfort and success are not core Christian values. Obedience to the Great Commission has been consistently poisoned by our affluence. We have become blind. May God show us our blindness (Matt. 13:13-15). Jesus commanded us to “Go”, not “huddle”. If God has commanded us to fulfil a Commission, let us make it our utmost priority, as long as we live.
We should rise above the trivial religious games and truly be the salt and light of the world. “If you are a Christian, you have to practise what you preach.” We are now a church too comfortable, insulated from the pain of the rest of the world, devoid of compassion. The heart and soul of the church of Christ hang in the balance. In the first century, a small group of thoughtful, committed disciples changed the world and turned it upside down. We have reduced the Gospel to a transaction involving the ‘right’ beliefs, rather than living it with the power of the Holy Spirit. The world needs change agents, who have changed themselves. Moses had a stick, David had a slingshot, Paul had a pen, Graham Staines had love for the poor, and Billy Graham a gift for preaching. In common, they all had a willingness to let God use whatever they had, even when it did not seem very useful. What do you have?
If society deteriorates and its standards decline, there is no sense in blaming the society. That is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves and human selfishness remains unchecked. The question to ask is: Where is the church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing the society? It is sheer hypocrisy on our part to raise our eyebrows, shrug our shoulders, or wring our hands. The Lord told us to be salt and light. If darkness and rottenness abound, it is largely our fault and we must accept the blame, recognise the problem and rectify the situation. Like the good tree in Matthew 7, Christ’s true disciples will bear good fruit.
Paul has described a local church in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “We give thanks to you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ………you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe……turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven….”(1 Thess. 1: 2-10). What an example to emulate!
We should be carriers of the Gospel – the good news that is meant to change the world. It is not enough to believe. Worship and personal morality are not enough. When we commit ourselves to follow Christ, we are also committed to live our lives in a way that the watching world would get a glimpse of God’s character – His love, justice and mercy– through our words, actions and behaviour. “We are Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:2). He called us to proclaim the good news and to change the world to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ.
The common notion is that committing one’s life to Christ begins and ends by reciting a brief prayer that activates one’s spiritual life insurance. The part about being salt and light to redeem the rebellious planet are considered as optional. We now live in the confines of a comfortable church with our chosen theology. God wants the whole counsel of His word to be preached and demonstrated to the people around us. That is why Jesus shed His blood for us. Read the book of Acts, learn of the demonstrators of His Spirit and the opposition they encountered. We must do the same. Never settle for the mediocrity of a religious life.
Efforts to determine the date for the return of Christ are foolish. Paul warns us that no one knows the date of Christ’s return, except the Father, and that believers will be taken by surprise at the coming of the Lord. He will return suddenly and unexpectedly. Since no one knows when Jesus will come back to earth, we should be ready always. We should live each day ready to meet Him. Do not be caught unprepared. Are you ready?
Doubts in the first century
The question about the timing of the return of Christ has puzzled the believers, right from the first century. Having believed the Gospel message and accepted new life in Christ, it appears that many in Thessalonica believed that they would be protected from death till Christ returned. But when believers began to die under persecution, some of them started questioning their faith. Some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to wait for Christ, since the Lord could come at any moment. The doctrine about Christ’s return promoted idleness in the church. Paul addressed their questions in his first letter to them (1 Thess. 4:16,17), giving them their great hope of glory. Paul explains that he and his companions worked hard rather than becoming a burden to the believers. The rule they followed was: if a man will not work, he shall not eat. We should make the most of our talent and time, doing all we can to provide for ourselves and our dependants. Work when you should be working, and rest while you should be resting. Paul exhorts the idlers to get back to work. If we are ready, we need not be concerned about when He will return. We should be firm in our convictions: keep working and wait for Christ. We should be persistent, making the most of our time and talent. Our endurance will be rewarded. The imminent return of Christ should not make us idle. Instead, we should be even more busy, living purely, working for His kingdom, living our lives well. While patiently waiting for His return, we should earnestly work for Him.
Apostle Peter gives a blunt warning about false teachers. He cautioned that they will become prevalent in the last days (2 Pet. 2:1,2), they will do anything for money (2:3), they will spurn the things of God, and they will be judged and punished by God (2:3-10, 20-22). He has also given the reasons for the delay for Christ’s return (3:1-13). If we are ready, we do not have to be concerned about the events around us, or the timing of Christ’s return. God is in control of all world events. If our faith is strong, we do not need be afraid of what lies ahead. Our task is only to be prepared for His return and to spread the Gospel message so that more people will be prepared. Are you rejoicing in this glorious hope and living expectantly for His return?
The second epistle of Peter could have been written for us, in the 21st century. Our world is full of false prophets and teachers. We should learn to reject all those who preach anything inconsistent with the word of God. Peter warned his readers to avoid the mistakes of the wicked teachers by growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. False teaching from within the church is far more dangerous than persecution from without (Acts 20:28-32). False teaching weakens the church and ruins its testimony. The weapon to fight false teaching is the word of God.
The world scoffs at the idea of the return of Christ (Jude 18) and cannot recognise that all of history is moving in that direction. “All things continue as they were” is the argument we often hear from the world’s thinkers. They think that “God is not going to break into history and interrupt progress.” Peter cites Old Testament examples to prove that this is not the case (2 Pet.3). He begins with the created world, then the flood. He indicates that the world is now reserved for fire, prepared for judgement. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise. God will not be tardy when time comes. He will act and fulfil His word. He is delaying His judgement because He wants more sinners to come to Christ and be saved from the coming wrath. He is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but every one to come to repentance. Remember that He is not on our time-table (Psa.90:4). Jesus is waiting so that more sinners will repent and turn to Him. We must live with the reality that time is short and that we have important work to do. Be ready to meet Christ any time today, yet planning your course of service, as if He may not return for many years.
A thief comes suddenly, when he is least expected (Matt.24:43, Lk.12:39, 1 Thess.5:2, Rev.3:3, 16-18). When the world says peace and safety, judgement will fall (1 Thess.5:3). God’s people should not be caught unprepared when Christ comes. But the world will be surprised by His coming and the judgement that follows. We should not become lazy and complacent because of the delay. Instead, we should live in eager expectation of His coming. What would you like to be doing when Christ returns?
It is disappointing that the light of Christ has not adequately transformed the Indian church, even after twenty centuries of its presence in this country. The political system of our denominations kills initiative and individual energy, makes men denominational tools, observing the Do’s and Don’ts of religion, causing them to become worldly minded and useless. About the political manipulations during elections in our churches, the less said the better.
Our churches are full of gossip, simply because they are full of lost people. Many are lost in the church. As Christians, we should be busy building other people up– not pulling them down. People are being misled by pastors and teachers within the various denominations. They are being taught half-truths and outright lies. They are like frogs in tepid water, which is being heated; they are not aware of the threat to their lives. Be sensitive to the Spirit.
The sinful world will always challenge our faith. If we find some way daily to draw closer to God, we will be prepared to stand for truth under all circumstances. Recognising that the earth is going to be burned up, we should put our confidence in what is lasting and eternal. We should not be bound to earth and its treasures. Finding a cure for the corruption in our hearts is our greatest need. Our complacent attitude can have disastrous consequences. We are not what we are meant to be. Are you striving to develop Christ-like character?
We are justly proud of the fact that Christianity in India is as old as Christianity anywhere else in the world. We claim our ancestry to the fact that Apostle Thomas began his missionary efforts in India when he landed in Kerala during AD 52. But the Christian population in the country has only risen to 2.5% of the total population, during these 20 centuries. Moreover, this figure has remained stagnant during the past several decades despite the serious efforts by several churches and evangelistic organisations, in the face of opposition. This situation needs serious consideration and urgent remedial steps, in view of the imminent return of the Lord.
Consider what we did with those who accepted the Christian faith. Even after hundreds of years of their existence in the churches, the Dalit Christians remain on the periphery of our community. There are instances of discrimination in seating during worship services, and in serving communion. The Dalits are made to sit at the rear end and they are served communion only after the high caste converts have received the communion. Voting systems are skilfully manoeuvred by the wealthy and clever high caste Christians. Marriage relationships between high caste and Dalit Christians are rare. Dalits are buried in a separate section of the graveyard. This sinful neglect of the lower castes continues long after they embraced Christianity, rejecting the caste system of their past. It is a shame for all Christians that caste governs the life of these Christians as much as it does the life of their earlier religion.
Essentially, God has not been able to accomplish His plan yet, through His people fully. The unprecedented flood havoc and landslides in Kerala during August 2018, in which thousands of people were marooned without food, water and electricity for several days, caused devastation like never before; it was another fervent call for us to forsake our evil ways and turn to God. Sadly, even during this catastrophic trial by water, some Christians in a relief camp reportedly asked for preferential treatment over the Dalits! How can the bridegroom come when His bride continues in such disarray?
Believers must be on guard, as we wait. Instead of looking for peace and hope in the world during the coming days, we should be looking for the new heaven and the new earth that God creates and over which Christ will reign (Rev.21:1). This blessed assurance helps us to keep ourselves clean and faithful in the work assigned to us. The delay in His coming means salvation for more believing Jews and Gentiles. It is those who do not understand this truth of God’s programme that twist the Scriptures and mix up, ending up in confusion. He can keep us from stumbling by growing and building ourselves up in the Lord (Jude 24-25). Peter warns us to have balanced lives: learn and live the word. Dear friend, recognise the gravity of the situation and rise to the occasion to observe the requirements of the Great Commandment and to implement the Great Commission.“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”