Article of Faith #15 – “Second Coming of Christ”

Article of Faith #15 – Second Coming of Christ
Date: Sunday, September 26, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell

Today we come to the fifteenth article of faith in the Church of the Nazarene.  We’ve been studying together this summer learning about the Nature of God, the nature of our sin, and God’s plan of redemption to provide eternal salvation for us.  So far, much of our study has been about the past.  We spoke of creation and the fall.  We discussed what happened at the cross and the empty tomb.  We brought those lessons into modern day as we spoke about how God comes to meet us through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.  During our last lesson, we spoke of His healing power, and anointed many for healing in their lives and the lives of their family and loved ones.

Today, we turn our attention from studying about the past and the present to studying about the future.  Instead of talking about what has already happened and was recorded in God’s Word, we look at what God has revealed to us about the future.  Instead of discussing our experiences of enjoying God’s presence now, we shift our focus today to looking forward to our final redemption at the end of the world.

With this shift from the past and present to the future, comes a recognition that we tread on much more fragile territory.  Instead of retelling the story of what has already happened and attempting to understand how it impacts us today, we are now faced with the task of attempting to understand what happens in the future.  We are also faced with the task of trying to interpret prophesies, for which we have received very little training.  Fundamentally, we must return to the understanding that Scripture should never be twisted to mean what it never meant to its original audience.  Our interpretations of scripture prophecy should not only make sense to us, but the same interpretation should also make sense to the original hearers.  If they did not understand the prophecy in their time, they would not have likely preserved and passed it down from generation to generation.

We call the study of end times eschatology.  Many other phrases and words have been developed to describe different camps of eschatological doctrine.  We speak of premillenialists, postmillennialists, and amillenialists.  Within the group of premillenialists, we find those who believe in a Secret Rapture, and those believers are often further described by pre-, mid-, and post-tribulationists.

Without taking time to define each of those terms and describe their positions, let me share with you the sorts of eschatalogical questions that divide one camp from another:  Will there be a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth (a millennial kingdom)?  Will this millennial reign be brought about by Christ ’s return?  Or will Christ reign through the Body of Christ (the church) at work throughout the world, bringing about the Kingdom of God in reality for one thousand years prior to the physical return of Christ ?  Did the events in Revelation partly occur in 70 AD with the fall of the Temple and of Jerusalem ?  Or have none of the events in the book of Revelation yet occurred?  When Jesus returns, will he be escorted to earth by the believers to set up His Kingdom, or will He ‘rapture’ them to Heaven while a tribulation is meted upon the wicked?  If there is a tribulation of the unsaved, will Jesus steal His bride away before, during, or after?  Is the Tribulation something endured by non-believers? Or is it a great Tribulation of the Saints?  Is it possible to know any dates? Or even to recognize the signs of the times?

These are all questions that are debated by laypeople, pastors, and theologians all over the world.  Scholars and theologians who have studied for years arrive at different conclusions.  Pastors attempt to interpret those conclusions and provide them to the laypeople, who are surrounded with all sorts of popular theology and literature on the topic…some of it good, some of it probably not so good.

I’m sure that by now some of you are sitting there in the pew waiting for me to tell you what it is that ‘we’ believe.  And, you’re hoping that I won’t use any more of those twenty-dollar words that by the time I’ve defined we will have forgotten why I used it in the first place.  You’re probably hoping that I’ll tell you that ‘we’ believe whatever it is that the authors of the Left Behind books believe so you can just go home and read those books.  After all, they don’t use twenty dollar words!

I’m sorry, but I’m afraid my message this morning will probably be a great disappointment to you.  You may, in fact, find that the Church of the Nazarene is a great disappointment to you.  But I hope not.  It’s not a great disappointment to me, and neither is this article of faith, which you can find in the inside flap of your bulletin.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede  them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord.     

As important as it is to notice what our article of faith does say, it is important to notice what it doesn’t mention at all.  First, notice that there is no specific mention of a Secret Rapture of the church, or of a great tribulation.  “But wait,” you say, “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” is the same as a secret rapture, right?  Not necessarily.  Just because there is a meeting in the air, we have not stated where Jesus and the saints go after the meeting.  The word for ‘meet’ used in First Thessalonians Four, is the same word that is used for meeting a visiting dignitary, or meeting the bridegroom at a wedding.  In each case, the guests go out to meet the visitor, for the purpose of escorting them into the building or the town.  If this were the case, it might not be that the saints are raptured away, but that the saints go to meet the Lord in the air, escorting Him to earth to set up a millennial kingdom. 

Our article of faith doesn’t take a position on this one way or another.  We don’t take an official position about what is meant by the Great Tribulation, or about the millennial kingdom.  There is much that is left unsaid in our article of faith.

While this may come as a disappointment to you, remember that scholars who are far more learned than you and I have studied the Scriptures about the end-times, and have come to far different conclusions about these matters.  Within our own denomination are scholars who don’t quite agree about matters of rapture, tribulation, or millennial kingdom.

Does this mean that we should stop caring?  Does it mean we should ignore any discussion of end times and the return of Christ ?  I don’t think so.  I think that we should study scripture.  I see no harm in studying the different theories about how the world might come to an end.  But remember that for the most part, they are theories, and that we should probably not get so hung up on defending one particular theory that we stop focusing on how to live our lives today.

At the same time, we recognize that while there is vast disagreement among scholars and theologians, we can come to solid agreement on the things that are stated in our article of faith.  Namely that Christ will return, the dead will be raised, the risen and living saints will be caught up to meet Him in the air, and that we will always be with the Lord.  These are the solid points of faith in the Second Advent of Christ that are non-negotiable.  These are our core beliefs about Christ ’s return.  “Where do they come from?” you ask.  Let’s take some time simply to hear the words of Scripture which have helped us define these core beliefs.

In Acts chapter 1, we read of Christ ’s last meeting with His disciples.  He gives them the Great Commission, and in verse 9, we read that:

9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”     

This is the message of hope taught and believed by the disciples to all Christians.  I think to myself, when skies are cloudy and grey, look then to the east, for Christ will return in the same way He left.  Paul taught the message of the Second Coming to the believers in Thessalonica.  They were concerned about people who had died before the second coming, for they probably believed that Christ would return in their lifetime.  Paul offers to them assurance of Christ ’s return, and resurrection hope for all who died in Christ.  Hear these words from I Thessalonians 4.

13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.     

Encourage each other with these words.  Christ will come again.  Are the skies cloudy and gray?  Christ will come again.  Does the load seem too heavy to bear? Christ will come again.  Are you grieving?  Christ will come again.  Are you sick?  Christ will come again.  Are you in distress? Christ will come again.  Evil in the world getting you down?  Christ will come again.  When it seems like darkness and death are winning, when it seems like the forces of evil are too strong, when the clouds are covering the sky…look to the east, for Christ will come again.

You see, our article of faith on this matter is not wishy-washy at all.  Oh, you might wish that our church had taken a position on pre-, post-, or a-millennialism, or pre-, mid-, or post-tribulationalism.  You might wish that we had an official dogmatic position on the end-times so that when someone asked “what do Nazarenes believe about the rapture,” you can answer them.  But, perhaps, just perhaps, by not taking a decisive stand on divisive doctrinal issues that may not really matter all that much, we have done more to focus on the main thing.

After all, how and when will we know who is right about the millennial kingdom?  At the end of the world, after it all happens.  How will we know who is right about raptures and tribulations?  At the end of the world, after it all happens.  And, at the end of the world, after it all happens, I don’t think we will be sitting around in a room discussing whether or not we were right or wrong.  I don’t really think that those who were right will get some sort of a pin, keychain, or gold necklace.  No, I think we will be unified together with Our Lord.

Let’s focus on the important things.  Christ will come again.  What matters right now is this…when He returns, what about you?  Where will you be?  Will you be found ‘in Christ ’?  Will you be abiding in the Lord, and He in you?  That’s what matters, much more than the definition of twenty dollar words.

First Thessalonians talks about two groups of people who will be caught up to meet the Lord: 1) the dead in Christ , and 2) the saints who are alive and remain.

I ask you this question today: Are you in one of those two groups?  When Christ returns, for indeed He shall, will you be at that great meeting in the air?  Are you abiding in Him?  Is He abiding in you?  You may die before that meeting in the air.  I may die before that meeting in the air.  Will we die in Christ ? 

The theological, eschatological questions are not nearly so important as those practical questions right there.  We could have figured out the right answers to all of the questions about the end-times…but if we can’t answer the questions about being found ‘in Him,’ it won’t really matter.

Are you ‘in Him?’  Are your sins forgiven?  Are you living in right relationship with Him now?  Do you cast your faith on His salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross?  Has this faith invaded and infiltrated every corner of your life?  When the roll is called, up yonder, will you be there?

If you can’t answer yes to any of those questions, I ask you to seriously consider the message of salvation.  I ask you to spend time in prayer, even today, to confess your sins to God, and to ask Christ to be your Lord and Savior.  You don’t need a special prayer from me, you just need to spend time with God.  Allow His searchlight to examine every area of your life, receive forgiveness for all your sins, even the ones hidden in the dark corners, and be filled with the saving presence of Jesus the Christ . 

And, if you can answer these questions, I invite you to stand and sing our closing hymn today as a testimony to our faith in Christ  Jesus and His return to gather us unto Himself.

Are you ‘in Him?’  Are your sins forgiven?  Are you living in right relationship with Him now?  Do you cast your faith on His salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross?  Has this faith invaded and infiltrated every corner of your life?  When the roll is called, up yonder, will you be there?


Benediction:  I Thess 5:23May  God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your  whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus  Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.