Paul had no hesitation in speaking of the time when “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Nor was he alone in this, for the second coming of the Lord is the most frequent theme in the New Testament. I am told that it is mentioned on an average once every thirteen verses right through the New Testament, and I can quite believe it. The early Christians loved to dwell upon this subject.
I have used our common terminology and spoken of the second coming, but it is interesting to reflect that this is not a New Testament expression. While the first advent of our Lord was, of course, important to the first Christians, and while they occasionally used the expression “coming” to refer to it, yet so large did the second coming loom on their horizon that they referred to it simply as “the coming.”
They had a wealth of terminology with which to refer to this great event. Sometimes it was the “revelation” of the Lord, or His “appearing.” Or they might refer to “the day of the Lord,” “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the day of God,” “that day,” “the last day,” “the great day,” “the day of wrath and revelation,” “the day of redemption,” “the day of judgment.” The very variety of the terms they used is evidence of the place the idea had in their thinking.
But in modern times there has often been a very different attitude to the Coming. It has been “spiritualized”, explained away, neglected. The passing of centuries wherein men can say “since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation”, have blunted the idea, and so have some modern ideas about progress. It has seemed to many that the Kingdom of God will be brought in by the progressive enlightenment of mankind, and not by any cataclysmic coming of the Son of Man.
The liberal theology of the end of the last century and the beginning of this had a good deal to do with the neglect of the Coming. The fact that the New Testament is so full of allusions to it did not impress these theologians, holding the views of inspiration that they did. And the whole bent of their theology was against giving credence to such a supernatural intervention as the Coming is on the New Testament view.
Liberalism as a theology is dead, and so are the ideas that man is progressively getting better, and in the new climate of thought theologians are again giving attention to this great New Testament truth. A number of books has appeared on the subject recently, some of them very stimulating. It is to be hoped that the day is not far distant when the church as a whole will recapture the hope of the Coming as a vital and living hope.
For there can be no doubt that such a hope is desperately needed in the modern world, and if the Coming can mean as much to us as it did to the early church it can change our whole outlook on things.
Few things are more striking than the radiant joy that shines through the pages of the New Testament. This is obvious enough even in our translations, but in the Greek it is more striking still. Thus grace (charis) is derived from joy (chara), and it really means “that which causes joy,” while one of the words for forgiveness (charizomai) is from the same root also. So we could go on. Joy radiates throughout early Christianity.
And yet few people in history had less to be joyful about than these same people. Mostly from depressed classes like slaves, they had to suffer civil disabilities and persecution from both Jews and Gentiles. But nothing the world could do could take away the joy the world had never given.
There was more to it, of course, than the advent hope, but there can be no doubt that this played a big part in shaping their outlook. For the early Christians life was different because the Christ was coming. They were not bound to things, as we so often are. They had a better sense of proportion and a juster evaluation of the significance of the eternal.
Thus it was that they looked forward to the Coming with eager desire. They were “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God”. They loved “his appearing”. The Coming kept them watchful, and mindful of their Christian duty, but it did not make them nervous or afraid. Why should it? It was their Lord and their Saviour whose Coming they awaited.
I think it is true that men have always and only gone ahead with rapid strides when hope was held out before them. Certainly at the present time it is the case that the Communists make a great deal of the natural human desire for a better future and they inspire the hope that they can produce it. Similarly our humanists set their gaze on a future full of hope by the use of modern science and technology and education.
The more’s the pity that so many Christians have abandoned “the blessed hope.” Few things are more needful for the modern church than the rediscovery of the hope of His Coming, for nothing gives more emphatic expression than this to the great Christian truth that God is over all, and that in the end is— God.