The return of Jesus can be a controversial topic. There are many reasons for this.
Given the range of views Christians hold on the subject, it can create division in the church. Eschatology — or the study of ‘last things’ — can get us bogged down in complexities and confuse those who are new to the faith. It can also distract from the church’s ministry of the Gospel, or our love for our neighbours in the here-and-now.
For some reason, though, God is still very eager to tell His people to focus on the return of Christ. The apostle Paul encourages us to be “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7), and “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). He even says that there is a crown of righteousness laid up for “all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Yes, we must be careful not to become preoccupied with Jesus’ return at the expense of other God-given endeavours. But a well-formed view of the last days is of great benefit to the body of Christ and is part of a healthy spiritual life. Consider some of the reasons Christians should focus on the return of Jesus:
1. Over one quarter of the Bible is prophetic, in the sense that it was forward-looking at the time it was written. Around half of these prophecies have been fulfilled, and the other half still await their fulfilment. It would seem odd for God to have given so much space to this subject if he considered it a peripheral matter.
2. Jesus spent quite a bit of time speaking about the last days. Three gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — record two-chapter-long, detailed sermons Jesus gave about the specifics of the end times. Many of His parables also look ahead to events surrounding the day of judgment.
3. The apostles apparently considered eschatology important too. A number of the epistles devote large sections to prophetic end times events. First and Second Thessalonians give significant space to this, as does the book of Revelation. In the three weeks that Paul planted the Thessalonian church, he seems to have gone into great detail teaching them what will happen in the last days. He must have considered this important if he included it in a three-week ‘crash course’ for new believers.
4. The New Testament also devotes significant space to warnings about false teachers, false prophets, false christs, and the great falling away that will take place as the end draws near. This can all sound quite pessimistic — but it is also realistic. Knowing about end times events will strengthen us so that we aren’t swept up in apostate teaching or led away from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”. (Jude 1:6)
5. Christians are called to live holy, sanctified lives. There are many things we can do to help us in this endeavour — and one of them is undoubtedly to turn our hearts and minds towards the return of Jesus. There are many places this is taught in the Scriptures, but consider 2 Peter 3:11, where Peter has just explained the great judgments to come: “Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” Earlier in the same chapter, Peter explained the flip side to this: “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” An ignorance about Jesus’ return causes us to follow our lusts, but a focus on it helps us live holy lives.
Having our hearts fixed on the second coming of Christ is of vital importance. Many more reasons could be added to the list above: knowing Christ will soon return gives us hope in difficult times; it lifts our eyes to the things of eternity. Most significant of all, perhaps, in our secular culture: it reminds us that the material world around us is only a shadow of reality. The world beyond our five senses — and the life of the world to come — is far more permanent that even the best experiences we can have in this life.
So don’t be afraid to study and meditate on the return of Christ. If it’s important to God, it should be to us too!