The Second Coming Of Christ
Lecture 1; Delivered At Toronto, Canada
1 Thessalonians 1
What I would desire to bring before you is, the coming of the Lord as the proper hope of the church, and to show you that it is constantly, increasingly brought before it as such by the Spirit of God. When once the foundation is laid of His first coming as that which brings personally peace and salvation (and even before it, so far as it is a means of awakening the conscience), the one thing the saints were taught to look for was the coming of the Lord. No doubt the first thing the soul needs to know is the ground of its salvation. When this is known, the Lord Himself becomes precious to the believer; and when the church was in a healthy state, we shall find that the hearts of the saints were altogether set upon Him, and looking for His coming. And now our hearts should understand (as I shall show you from Scripture was the case then) that the coming of Christ is not some strange speculation, or the advanced idea of a few, but was set before the church as elementary and foundation truth, and formed a part of all their habits and feelings, and mingled itself with every thought. It was and is the keystone of all that keeps up the heart in this solitary place (looking at it as journeying through the wilderness). Thus with a heart full of love for God, and the desire to see Christ, we can appreciate the apostle's prayer for us - "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting [Properly, "the patience of Christ," who is also waiting] for Christ." We have not long to wait; and it is worth being patient for.
We shall find, too, that the teaching of Scripture as to Christ's second coming casts wonderful light on the value of His first coming. For His second coming, as it concerns the saints, is to complete as regards their bodies (so bringing them into the full result of salvation) that work of life-giving power Christ has already wrought in their souls, founded on the complete title in righteousness which He has effected for them on the cross. He comes to receive them to Himself, that where He is there they may be also - to change their vile bodies and fashion them like His glorious body. For the saints the resurrection is a resurrection of life, not of judgment. It is a raising in glory, or changing into it by the Lord's power, those that are already quickened and justified. When people, Christian people too, are looking for judgment, and saying with Martha, "I know he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day," they forget the judgment of the quick - that then is the judgment of this world. They are to be all caught eating and drinking. "Sudden destruction cometh upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape." People do not like that. They put off God's judgment to a vague and indefinite period, when they hope all will be well. They think that then will be decided their final state, they trust, for blessing. There is surely a judgment; but all their thoughts about it are a mistake. The matter is decided now: "He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already."
If we receive the statements of Scripture, all is as simple as possible: that the first coming of Christ to do His Father's will was so complete in its efficacy that they who belong to that first coming, who have part in its efficacy by faith, are forgiven, cleansed, justified, by its virtue; and that when He comes the second time, He comes to bring them to glory. The moment I get hold of the truth that the coming is, for believers, to receive them to Himself, the moment I see that His coming the second time is to bring in the glory - to change us into His own likeness and to have us with Him, it affects everything, instead of being an unimportant thing.
I believe death is the most blessed thing that can happen to a Christian; but it is not the thing I am looking for. I am looking to see Him. He might come tomorrow, or tonight, or now. Do you not think it would spoil all your plans? Suppose you thought He might come, would it not make a difference in your thoughts? You know it would. Suppose a wife expects her husband to return from a journey, do you not think there would be an effort to have everything ready?
Another thing I have found to be specially blessed is, that it connects me with Christ so nearly that I do not think merely of going to heaven and being happy - a vague thought this. Of course, I shall be perfectly happy: surely we shall. The divine presence will shed sure and endless blessing around. But one is coming whom I know, who loves me, who has given Himself for me, whom I have learned to love: and I shall be with Him for ever. Christ becomes personally more in view, more the object of our thoughts. Nothing is so powerful as Scripture for everything. It deals with the soul in the power of divine light. It reveals Christ, bringing the heart's judgment into His presence. It convicts every thought of the heart, showing what it is in truth.
There are three ways in which Christ is pointed to in Scripture: on the cross at His first coming; He is sitting on the right hand of God; and He is coming again. In the first, He has laid the foundation of that which I have in Him: the foundation was on the cross. And now that He is sitting on the right hand of God, He has sent us the Holy Ghost the Comforter while awaiting His return, giving to those in whom He dwells the full certainty of faith as to the efficacy of His work and their own redemption. God's love and their own adoption thus lead them to desire with ardent hope His coming again.
Having thus given a general idea of the place Christ's coming holds in Scripture, I will take a few passages in different parts of the word, without going fully into them now, to show that
- it is the great truth of Scripture hope, and that
- all the thoughts, feelings, hopes, interests of God's children are connected with it-that
- not only it is not a false idea, but that it is not rare or strange,
- but enters into the whole structure of Christian feeling.
Thus 1 Thessalonians 1: 9, 10,
"For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."
Here we find that the world was talking about this expectation of the Christians: so sure was their expectation and so strong the influence which it exercised on their conduct. They (the disciples) were looking for God's Son from heaven; it formed a part of that to which the heathen were converted - to the present waiting for God's Son from heaven - so that the world took notice of it. In chapter 2: 18, 19,
"For what is our hope, our joy, or crown of rejoicing?"
Most beautiful here to see the affection of Paul for the saints; but to what did his heart look as the time when these affections would be satisfied in their blessing? The coming of Christ. Again, as regards holiness, we see exactly the same thing in chapter 3: 12, 13,
"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."
The coming of Christ (and His coming with all the saints, so that it can confer but one thing) was so near to his spirit that he looks at their being found perfect then as the object his heart desired. And in chapter 4: 13-18,
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
We find that, instead of the Lord's coming being a strange doctrine, while he could not look for the Christian's dying without his going to heaven, yet the comfort he gives is not that, but their return with Jesus. Death did not deprive them of this; God would have them with Him.
First note, beloved friends, the full assurance expressed here for living and dead saints alike. How do people persist in saying it is impossible to tell on this side the grave? The apostle does tell for both. The first coming of Christ has so finished redemption and the putting away of sin, that His second is glory and being with Him, for the dead and living saints. But see how present the coming of the Lord was to their minds. If I were to comfort the friends of a departed saint by saying that God would bring him with Jesus when He came again, what would they think of me? That I was mad or wild. Yet such is the comfort Paul gives to the Thessalonians, and no other, though he plainly teaches elsewhere that the soul of the saint will go to be with Christ when he dies.
But these examples show how the coming of the Lord mixed itself with every thought and feeling of Christianity then. So in his wish for Christians in chapter 5: 23,
"The very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
But the world rejects this news, and the church becomes worldly - has lost her value for it. Not so the first disciples: their hearts were attached to their Master; and they desired to see Him to be like Him. They waited as a present condition of soul for God's Son from heaven.
I have gone through these passages, not merely to prove the doctrine, but to show the way in which it connected itself with the whole of the Christian's life.
We will turn back now to see the universal testimony of Scripture to the truth of this doctrine and the various aspects it takes; and first Matthew 24: 30, 31,
"And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
When the disciples ask Him the time when these things are to be, He tells them to watch; and in verse 44, "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." But the Lord goes farther in the following parables, which apply to Christians. The mark of the evil servant given there is that he says in his heart "my lord delayeth his coming," and thereupon begins to eat and drink with the drunken. They lost the expectation of Christ and sank down into hierarchical power and into the world, into comfort and pleasure. But the Bridegroom did tarry, and the church lost the present expectation of Christ and the blessed fruit of it on their souls.
Matthew 25: 1,
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the Bridegroom."
There is the essence of the church's calling. They went forth, but while the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept - saints as well as professors, no exception. They all lost the sense of what they had gone out to, and gave up watching. And what is it that aroused them from the sleepy state into which they had fallen? "And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him" (v. 6). They had to be called out again; they had got into the world, into some place to sleep more comfortably (just where the professing church is now), eating and drinking with the drunken, and the cry is, I trust, again going forth, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh." And what made the church depart from the sense of what they had been called out to was, saying (just what people, and Christian people too, are saying now) "The Lord delayeth his coming." They do not say He will not come, but He delays it; we are not to expect Him.
I will pass over Mark, not that there are not plenty of passages there, but that what we find there is substantially the same as what we find in Matthew. I will go on therefore to Luke 12: 35-38,
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching; verily, I say unto you, that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants."
Remark here that the waiting for the coming of Christ is what characterises the Christian according to the mind of Christ. Men speak of death, but death is not "my lord."
We find the same truth pressed on men in Luke (chap. 17: 22-37), where this passage does not warn people as to sin, but as to the unholy thought that the world may go on indefinitely. As soon as Noah entered into the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all. As soon as the church is taken up, Satan having filled men's hearts with lies, judgment will come. And as in the days of Noah and of Lot, they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, planted and builded, even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
Remark here how impossible it is to apply this to the great white throne. When He sits on the great white throne, the heavens and the earth flee away; there is a total destruction of everything. Men will not then be eating, drinking, planting, building. Now look at chapter 21: 26-36. People apply this to the destruction of Jerusalem, but this is spoken of in verses 20, 21 of this chapter: "Then let them which are in Jerusalem flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto." But then, after that, Jerusalem is trodden down of the Gentiles till the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled (the time running on now till the last beast's wickedness is filled up). Then come the signs and the Son of man is revealed.
John 14: 1, 2, 3.
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
Such is the promise left us, the comfort Christ gave to His disciples when He was leaving them: He comes to receive them to Himself.
Acts 1: 10, 11.
"And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
This too, though it be Christ coming in the clouds, is not the great white throne: but it is striking here that they are losing Christ; and what is the angel's word to them? Why are ye looking up into heaven? He will come again in the same way. What the angels brought before them, to comfort them, when Jesus left them, was that He would come again; and that to which Scripture points people's hearts to comfort and strengthen them is, that He is coming again.
It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment. That is the allotted portion of the seed of the first Adam; but as that is man's portion, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation; Heb. 9: 27, 28.
And Christ is waiting only till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. We are not even all to die. We shall not all die; 1 Corinthians 15: 51. Romans 11: 25:
"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in."
When the church is formed, its last member being brought in; when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, Israel will be saved as a nation, and the Deliverer come out of Zion. Christ will appear for their deliverance. Again, turn to 1 Corinthians 1: 6, 7.
"Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift: waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
All the promises of the prophets will be fulfilled at that coming.
Turn back to Acts 3: 19, 20, 21.
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when [read "so that"] the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began"
-as had been before preached to them; but it is the same Jesus that had been spoken of to them. We cannot apply it to the Holy Ghost; for it was the Holy Ghost then come down who spoke by Peter and declared that He should come whom the heavens had then received. In Acts 17: 30, 31, the apostle is testifying that though God winked at the times of their ignorance, He now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world (i.e., this habitable earth) in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.
The distinctive resurrection of the saints will be at His coming. 1 Corinthians 15: 23. "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."
Ephesians and Galatians are the only two books in the New Testament in which you do not find the coming of the Lord. The Galatians had got off the foundation of faith-absolute justification by faith in Christ; and Paul was obliged to return to the first principles of justification. The epistle to the Ephesians takes the opposite extreme, and you see the church in Christ in heaven, so that it cannot speak of Christ coming to receive it. It is viewed as now united to Him there. But we shall find constant reference to it in the other epistles that it is a point kept before the mind for present practical effect.
Philippians 3: 19, 20, 21
"Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our conversation is in heaven, from when also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself."
Colossians 3: 1-4
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."
In the Thessalonians it is the main subject of both epistles. In the first epistle, except the warning in chapter 5, it is the blessedness of it to the saints; in the second epistle, the judicial character, though the glory of the saints is included in it (for when He executes judgment on the living, we shall appear with Him in glory).
1 Timothy 6: 14
"That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The apostle exhorts Timothy to go on diligently and faithfully looking for the appearing. When the word of God is speaking of joy to the saints, it is the coming. The moment he speaks of responsibility to the world or to the saints, it is always His appearing. What would have been the use of his saying to Timothy to keep the commandment until His appearing, if it were not practically a present expectation? and then, how mighty its power on the conscience (not the very highest motive, but one we need)! And if through grace the Lord has delayed His coming, not willing that any should perish, those who have acted on that expectation will have lost no fruit of their fidelity: it will find its recompense in that day.
2 Timothy 4: 8
"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
"Love!"-do you love, can you love, that which will put a stop to everything that is pleasant in the world? it asks the heart. How does this mark a spirit entirely in contrast with that of the world!
Hebrews 2: 5, 6
"For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?"
The world to come is the habitable earth. Christ is now at God's right hand till God puts all things under His feet. In chapter 9: 24, "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." There was a state of probation before man was turned out of paradise. Since then man has indeed been tried up to the death of Christ, whether law or prophets or the mission of God's Son could win him back, but in vain. What man finds out now is, that he is lost; but then, that when man's sin was complete, God's work began, and redemption is by the cross on which man crucified the Lord. Sin was complete then: but He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. That work is completed, and those who through grace believe and have part in it await the same Saviour to come again for their final deliverance.
James 5: 8
"Be ye also patient: stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
Here again we see how it is presented as a present motive for patience and to be looked for in daily life as sustaining the soul in patience, yet as that which was to change the whole state of the world.
In 1 Peter we have a remarkable testimony to the order of God's ways in this respect. First are the prophets, who learned, in studying their own prophecies, that what they testified was not to be fulfilled in their day. Next is the gospel, but this not the fulfilment: in it the things are reported with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The saints are called on to be sober and hope to the end for the grace to be brought to them at the appearing of Jesus Christ, "whom, having not seen, we love." The time of the saints' receiving the promise is the appearing of Christ; 1 Peter 1: 10-13.
In 2 Peter you may remark that he makes the slighting this promise, the calling it in question because the world was going on as it had, to be the sign of the scoffers of the last days.
In 1 John it is mentioned in chapter 2: 28 for the conscience as ground of warning, but in chapter 3: 1-3 we have it amply used for the heart and walk of the saints. Now are we sons of God.
"It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is: and everyone that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."
Our blessed and assured hope is to be like Christ Himself: this we shall be when He appears. The present effect of this special hope is that the saint purifies himself even as He is pure, seeks to be as like Him now as possible, takes his part with Himself at His appearing as his motive and standard of walk.
"And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints."
The epistle is striking in this; it shows the decline of the church - the false brethren coming in unawares, who in character designated the state of the professing church in the last days and the object of the judgment of the Lord when He would appear.
The whole book of Revelation refers to this; it is an account of the preparatory judgment of God on to chapter 19, when the Lord comes forth to execute judgment. He has accomplished the work of salvation, and is sitting at the right hand of God, and then comes to set all things right. This makes His coming (besides the righteous display of His own glory, of God's eternal Son as man the centre of all things) of such importance. It alone actually makes good the plans and counsels of God.
Glory is founded on His first coming. That, morally speaking, surpasses all glory. It is the absolute display of what God is, when evil is come in. But only at His second coming will the actual result be made manifest. He comes
- to receive the church to Himself, the witness of sovereign grace, and
- to order the world (subject to Him in the power of His kingdom) in blessing, and so display the government of God.
Till He comes neither can take place. We enjoy the full revelation of Him from whom all that blessing flows, and enjoy it here in a nature suited to it and flowing from it; but we wait for the results for ourselves and for this burdened world. We love His appearing. How is it with you? Are you linked with the world He subverts when He comes, or with Him who brings the fulness of blessing, though with judgment on what hindered it? Were He to come now, would it be your awaited joy and delight, or does it alarm and try your hearts? The Lord give you to answer before His face!