Albert N. Martin
I invite you to follow with me in your own Bibles as I read two portions of the Word of God. The first is found in Romans chapter 8. In laying out the privileges of those who are adopted into the family of God, by grace, on the basis of the work of Christ, the Apostle has just declared that all such adopted ones are given the spirit of adoption and are given the status of heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. Then he makes a qualifying statement at the end of verse 15, “If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him.”
Follow the reading, verses 18 through 25:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, that is, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopes for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Now, the second passage, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, is a chapter in which the Apostle has been demonstrating the validity of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Some at Corinth were denying it, and he brings it to a very Christ-centered focus and opens up some of the most wonderful teaching found anywhere in the Word of God, with respect to what God will do to these bodies in the grave at the Coming of the Lord Jesus.
I read in your hearing verses 50 through 58:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: [something that has been previously hidden, locked up in the purposes and the plan of God, but not fully revealed, that’s a gospel mystery] We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
“Pie in the sky by and by.” Have you ever heard those words? “Pie in the sky by and by.” Well, those of us who have heard them most likely have heard them spoken in a sneering, mocking, or derisive way by those who have little or no sympathy for the Christian faith, especially no sympathy for a faith that has as its primary orientation that the best is yet to come.
I began this series last Lord’s Day morning, and directed your attention to that wonderful passage in Acts chapter 1, verses 10 and 11, that records the experience of the eleven disciples as their Lord Jesus has spoken His last words to them, and with the light of the power of passage in Luke 24:50-51, as He raises his hands in priestly blessing upon them and is pronouncing blessing, He begins to levitate before their very eyes. While He is enveloped in a cloud and their eyes are looking steadfastly in the direction in which their Lord went, suddenly two men, angels, appear standing with the eleven, and these angels announce the certainty of the return of that Jesus whom they saw go up into heaven, enveloped in a cloud.
Also, not only announce the certainty of Christ’s return, but they declared the pattern or the form of His return. They announce the certainty with these words: “This same Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven..” and then the main verb is “shall come.” There’s the announcement of the certainty of His return: “This same Jesus shall come.”
Then they also declare the pattern or the form of His Coming. For the verb “shall come” is surrounded on both sides with these qualifying words that point to the similarity, “This same Jesus even as (houtos, οὕτως) you have seen Him go, He shall come.” And on the other side (hon tropon, ὃν τρόπον) ‘in like manner.’ Even so in like manner, that is, His Coming is not only certain, but it will be through the pattern of His going up into heaven. He shall come bodily; He shall come recognized for who He is; He shall come in clouds of glory and of power.
The certainty and the pattern of the return of Jesus became such a vital aspect of the thinking, the preaching, and the teaching of these apostles, that when we turn to the documents which they produced under the guidance of the Spirit, writing to congregations formed under their labors, and labors of those directly associated with the Apostles, that in those documents we find that the return of Jesus is a dominant element in the faith of these communities formed by apostolic preaching. The references of Christ’s return, in terms of giving instruction and consolation and exhortation and admonition are strewn across the landscape of the epistles of the New Testament.
So that I believe we can say—and this was my assertion—that when we turn to the New Testament we are forced to the conclusion that living in the expectation of the return of Christ was normal, New Testament, Christian experience. To prove that thesis, we then spent the rest of the morning message and last Lord’s Day evening looking at six texts of Scripture. In five of the six, three different synonyms are used, all of which point to the concept of eager expectation and longing. Then, the final passage, which speaks of loving the return or the appearing of the Lord Jesus.
So, we sought to see from the Scriptures that indeed expecting, longing for the return of Christ was normal, Christian experience.
If you were thinking at all—as we worked through those six texts and somewhere along the line I hope this question arose in your mind: why did they eagerly await and confidently expect and even love the appearing of the Lord Jesus? Why was this the climate of their Christian experience?
It’s that question that I want to answer from the Scriptures both this morning, and hopefully to conclude this evening. If not, it may spill over into one of the messages next Lord’s Day.
The question is this: why do true believers who are in a healthy, spiritual state eagerly await, earnestly desire, and love the return of Christ? Now, you see what I’ve done in that question? I’ve tried to incorporate the nuance of the three verbs, plus the use of love. We’re asking the question: why do true believers who are in a healthy, spiritual state eagerly await, earnestly desire and love the return of Christ?
Again, if you’re thinking, “Now, wait a minute, pastor, you’re adding some qualifying descriptive phrases. The question assumes that there are indeed true and false believers.” That’s right, because the Bible clearly teaches that. In a passage such as John 2, verses 23-25 we read that while Jesus is there at the feast many believed on Him when they saw the miracles that He did, but Jesus did not [the same verb] Jesus did not entrust Himself to them. He did not believe in them. “For He knew what was in man, and needed not that any should testify of what was in man.” There is such a thing as a false believer, one whose trust and faith is something less than the faith of God’s elect, the faith of whole-souled reliance upon Jesus and the salvation that is offered to us in Him. It’s a whole-souled reliance that attaches us to Christ in love and in obedience.
Bible References: Romans 8:15, 18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Acts 1:11; John 2:23-25