“who are these people so passionate for Jesus that they actually look forward to His appearing?”
it doesn’t take too much spiritual revelation to recognize that we are living in the last days. we look around us, and we see the signs of the times. we are beginning to anticipate the return of Jesus! it won’t be long before He comes to take us to be with Him forever. oh, how we ought to long for that day!
however: matthew 24:14 and mark 13:10 both tell us that “this gospel of the kingdom must be preached to every nation (ethne – ethnic group), and then the end will come.” these verses, along with 2 peter 3:12: “you should look forward to that day (Christ’s return) and hurry it along,” are the impetus of the mission fanatic. these versus are part of the driving force behind getting the gospel to every tongue, tribe, and nation. for you see, when they have all heard, then – and only then, Jesus will return to take up His bride. The longing of our heart – to be with Jesus – can only be fulfilled when people have been redeemed from every tongue, tribe and nation.
but, what about what we’ve been taught all our lives: Jesus could come back tonight. He could come back any minute, and you must be ready. as a child, this doctrine put the fear of the Lord in me. i grew up watching movies, “thief in the night,” and “distant thunder,” and listening to the song, “i wish we’d all been ready.” many were the times i came home from school to an empty house and wondered if i had been “left behind.” the belief in the imminent return of Jesus was foundational. what do we do with this seeming contradiction?
think about the last romantic relationship you were in. maybe you remember those high school infatuations or the way things used to be when you were courting your spouse. i remember having to spend some time separated from the love of my life. after he left, every time the phone rang, i dashed for it. then, i would remember that he wouldn’t be calling for some time – he was probably still on the airplane. then, the phone would ring, and i would run for it again, longing just to hear his voice.
my beloved drove a brown – no, excuse me – a root beer colored ford escort station wagon. (he made sure that everyone noticed the gold flecks in the paint. it wasn’t just brown.) every time i saw one, my heart leapt. then i would remember, it couldn’t be him – he was thousands of miles away – only to have my heart leap again, the next time i saw a brown station wagon.
when the time of his return was getting closer, i began to totally lose my senses. i’d hear a car outside and think, “maybe he came back early to surprise me.” i’d see him everywhere i went. i thought i saw him in the store. i recognized that hair, that jacket. my heart beat faster and faster, until i realized (usually when i saw the face) that i was mistaken.
i dreamed about him coming back early. i was in a frenzy of anticipation. i took great pains to prepare myself. i thought of ways to spend our first evening together. i picked out what i would wear. i planned the atmosphere and the special foods – his favorites, and i dreamed about the conversation. oh, how i longed just to be with him again.
these human relationships that we experience are but a picture, an example to us of our precious relationship with Jesus. this is the way it should be. we are His bride. we are getting ready for His return. it is only right that we should be longing for His return, so much so that maybe we’re a little crazy with anticipation.
every generation has “foolishly” thought they were the last. every major theologian has seen his time as the last days. martin luther said, “it is my firm belief that the angels are getting ready, putting on their armor and girding their swords about them, for the last days is already breaking; and “as things are beginning to go, the last day is at the door, and I believe that the world will not endure a hundred years.” And jonathan edwards, reflecting on the great awakening, wrote, “The Sprit of God has been of late so wonderfully striving with such multitudes . . . that God was about to do something more glorious and would, before He finishes, bring things to a greater ripeness . . .” and this: “God in His providence now seems to be acting over and again the same part which He did a little time before Christ came.”
edwards fully expected Christ’s immediate return. and we are not exempt from this seemingly arrogant assumption. we look around us at the wickedness of this age and at the wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and we think, “surely Jesus will return soon.” one church leader was asked, “do you really think we are living in the last days?” he responded with a smile, “it’s never been later.” truly no generation has been closer to the end than this one. and despite our clear commissioning to take the gospel to every tongue, tribe and nation and the strong implication that He will delay His return until it is complete, i think this anticipation of Jesus’ return is right.
“luther and edwards had this heart. they were so anxious to see Jesus face to face that they acted like young, impatient lovers. they jumped every time the phone of history rang. their adrenaline pumped when someone knocked on the door. when they saw a familiar figure, they thought they saw Jesus.” oh to be like them. recognition of these signs of the times and lateness of the hour should cause our heart to leap. we desire to be with our Beloved, the love of our life.
this takes me back to our commission. Jesus has given us a task to accomplish, before He will return for us. we are to take the gospel to every ethne. every people must have an opportunity to choose Jesus. there really is no contradiction. rather, the understanding that we can do something to hurry His return should make us all the more fanatic. it should compel us to join Him in the task, making sure that people from every tongue, tribe and nation have joined in the wedding feast!