Living in Imminent Expectation

Norbert Lieth

Can we count on the second coming of Jesus within our lifetime? What does the Bible say about it? Is it mere speculation, or a fundamental necessity? Which is worse: expecting the Rapture at any moment, or not expecting it at all?

John Fletcher once wrote in a letter to John Wesley regarding the right attitude toward expecting Jesus’ return, “I know many have been mistaken as to years; but because they were rash, shall we be stupid? Because they said ‘to-day,’ shall we say ‘never,’ and cry ‘peace, peace’ when we should look about us with eyes full of expectation?”

Gerard Kramer said, “We should perhaps ask ourselves how it happens that we aren’t a bit more excited about the return of Jesus Christ.”

William MacDonald stated, “It is not enough to hold the truth about His coming: the truth must hold us.”

And Calvin made the comment, “The believers’ most important concern should be focusing their thoughts fully on His return.”

Peter writes to the members of the Church of Jesus concerning how they should be distinguished by “holy conversation [conduct] and godliness,” “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet 3:12).

We’re not simply called to expect the Lord’s coming, but to hasten to meet him. John MacArthur wrote in a note in his Study Bible, “To hasten towards means to long for a certain thing to happen.”

Where can this longing be found? How far have we already drifted from this biblical call? The Church’s situation seems like a ship that is moving further and further away from the lighthouse and the destination, the safe harbor, and becoming lost in the waves of the world. Only a few are left standing in the crow’s nest [lookout point], shouting “Land ho!”

Dr. Robert Fischer wrote, “Thy kingdom come! Faith that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead has become an unpreached and unbelieved article of faith.”

Has the enemy succeeded in robbing the church of the hope of Jesus’ return? Has this topic moved from the center of our preaching to somewhere on the periphery? Are we still even asking about Jesus’ return? Do we more resemble the faithful or the unfaithful servant (Luke 12:41-46)? When was the last time you urgently prayed for Jesus to come again soon?

Paul writes the Thessalonians with praise: “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” (1 Thess 1:9-10).

Here again, a commentary by John MacArthur from his Study Bible: “to wait. This is a recurring theme in the Thessalonian letters…These passages indicate the imminency of the deliverance; it was something Paul felt could happen in their lifetime.”

The Bible teaches the imminent expectation of the Lord all too clearly. It doesn’t teach that the Rapture must still be preceded by certain signs and events. Therefore, we’re not waiting for the Tribulation or the Antichrist or the number 666. Why? Because we’re anticipating Jesus. There’s no list of events that would have to occur before Jesus Christ brings His Church home. The Lord Jesus never taught that, and His apostles never said that.

As soon as we preface the Lord Jesus’ return with something else, we automatically anticipate that thing beforehand and Jesus Christ only secondarily. But the Bible tells us what we should be expecting first in the following places:

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). “Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). “Maranatha” (1 Cor 16:22). “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess 1:10). “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28). “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21).

All of these Bible passages show that the Lord Jesus could return at any time. When Paul writes about the impending Rapture, he especially emphasizes the word “we”: “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. […] 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” (1 Thess 4:14-15, 17).

Why does the apostle write “we,” although he himself didn’t experience the Rapture? There are several possibilities:

– Paul was mistaken, so he wasn’t inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote that down. But that’s impossible, because he writes, “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord.”

– The Holy Spirit was wrong. This is equally impossible and needs no further explanation.

– God did indeed give this word to Paul, but later changed His mind. However, the Bible cannot contradict itself. There is continual revelation in the Word of God, but none that contradicts itself (“...the scripture cannot be broken”: John 10:35).

In my opinion, there is only one reason why the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, needed to write “we” over and over: imminent expectation should be maintained. The Rapture should be relevant for every generation in every time, because it could happen at any moment. The born-again of every generation should be able to say “we.” No one knows the time of the Rapture, because Jesus could come back at any moment.

Midnight Call - 03/2020

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