Devotional Message Presented SUNDAY Morning, July 5, 2015
I’m standing on a high-rise balcony overlooking Sydney, Australia’s famous harbor. To my left is Sydney’s billowing white Opera House. In front of me is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with its high half moon arch. Below me are thousands and thousands of people. It’s almost midnight on New Year’s Eve, and Sydney is putting on a show to remember.
This is so loud! There’s more than seven metric tons of explosives out there. Fifty-two boats hold 11,000 containers of fireworks; 25,000 shooting comets and 100,000 individual fireworks are heading into the sky. Talk about power: I can feel it.
It’s a great show. But I think for a minute. If this is impressive, imagine the Second Coming! Like these fireworks, the soon return of Jesus will be real, it will be loud, and it will be the most spectacular event in earth’s history. Every single person on earth will see it.
Some people will be very surprised. Why? Because there is widespread confusion over how, or if, Jesus will return. These different views aren’t just out there in society. Increasingly they are creeping into the church.
Jews are waiting earnestly for the first coming of the Messiah. One of the great Jewish philosophers stated: “I firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah; and although He may tarry, I daily hope for His coming.”1
Many Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims also believe in the coming of a supernatural being.
Buddhist tradition teaches that soon the oceans will recede, and Maitreya will descend to bring his spiritual truth, wisdom, and blessings. Some Hindu sects teach Vishnu will incarnate himself as Kalki. He’ll appear in the clouds with a sword in his hand and riding on a white horse. He’ll defeat evil and introduce a golden age of peace.
The Quran alludes to the return of Jesus. The “prophet” Jesus will descend somewhere in the Middle East, maybe to the great mosque in Damascus, maybe Mecca, or maybe even the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. But there’s one aspect all Muslims are united on: Jesus will appear on Planet Earth.
So what about the Christian faith? Most Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus. But ideas about how He will return differ markedly.
If you walk into the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Catholic view of the Second Coming is right before your eyes. Michelangelo’s fresco The Last Judgment has at its center a powerful, muscular Jesus. Mary is by His side. He’s surrounded by the saints. Mind you, the Second Coming doesn’t look like a happy event for everyone. A group of angels blow trumpets to raise the dead. Gabriel holds the thin book of the saved. The enormous book of the lost is held by another angel.
Those coming up from their graves on the right side of Jesus are taken by angels toward heaven. Some are being pulled up by their Rosary beads; it’s not going to be a comfortable trip! People to the left of Jesus are on their way to everlasting hell. We can see angels pushing them down while the demons are scratching away, pulling them toward the fire. Borrowing from pagan mythology, Michelangelo depicts the doomed ferried across in a boat with a demonic figure beating reluctant sinners into hell.
When we look at this amazing fresco, we see an event primarily about judgment. It is awesome. It is powerful. But it is far from joyous.
Protestants have a bewildering array of beliefs about the Second Coming, but the view in the ascendancy is the secret rapture, a two-staged Second Coming. The first stage is the rapture, during which the righteous are whisked away to heaven. After the rapture there will be seven years of tribulation. Then Jesus arrives in all His splendor and sets up His kingdom on Planet Earth.
The Second Coming is the greatest event in the history of humanity.
It makes for excellent book sales and a few profitable movies. But does any of this square with the Bible? Not one bit. In the Bible the Second Coming certainly isn’t secret. This is how the Bible describes it: “Look, He is coming with clouds” and “every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7).2
So we know Jesus will come personally, visibly, and globally, literally: “every eye will see Him.” What else does the Bible say? “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”(Matt. 24:30, 31).
Jesus will return with power and great glory. Much better than fireworks on New Year’s Eve! It will be like lightning zapping across the sky from east to west. The angels will gather all God’s people: one people in one place at one time.
Maybe the most famous text on the Second Coming states: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
At the Second Coming Jesus will raise the righteous from the dead. Then all of us will meet Jesus in the sky. The Second Coming is the greatest event in human history.
That’s why the message of the Second Coming is the central focus of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It’s what I live for. It’s what makes my heart beat.
Tragically, there’s a flip side to the Second Coming.
I imagine the lips of Jesus quivering when He said, “the tribes of the earth will mourn”when they see Him (Matt. 24:30).
One of the most famous paintings of all time is The Scream, by Edvard Munch. I went to Norway to see this haunting masterpiece. Munch wrote on the frame of The Scream, “My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”Munch wasn’t talking about the Second Coming, but I think he captured a hint of the gut-wrenching reality the lost will experience.
Ellen White, in The Great Controversy, says the wails and screams of the wicked are so horrendous they’re heard above the sound of the elements. This at a time when the earth is, according to Scripture, in a state of almost unimaginable convulsions.
When I read these words, they haunt me. Why are we so indifferent when the stakes are so astonishingly high? The beauty of eternal life, of complete love and peace with our Father in heaven, or the anguish of missing out on everything for nothing. As Seventh-day Adventists we have to do whatever possible to save every soul for the kingdom so they’ll never go through this experience.
One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was alive at the Second Coming. I’d seen Jesus’ return and was on my way to heaven. So that was a good start.
On the way to heaven we were zipping past the planets, and it came time for the Sabbath. Jesus stopped us, and we sat down at a massive table to have a special Sabbath lunch.
This was not just a Sabbath potluck lunch; this was the greatest feast imaginable. Everything looked tantalizing and delicious.
As I sat down I began to look at the people surrounding me. I spoke to the person seated next to me and asked what his name was. He said, “I’m Martin Luther.” Really?
“I’ve been where you lived. Where you preached. Where you nailed up the 95 theses,” I replied excitedly. “Tell me more of your story!”
So Martin Luther began telling me story after story. I just soaked it all in.
I then turned to the p
erson on the other side of me and asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m John Huss,” he replied.
“Wow! I saw where you were burned at the stake. You’re a hero of mine. Tell me how you had the courage to die for Jesus. What went through your mind as they were lighting the fires beneath you?” Once again he thrilled me with his stories.
I then looked at the person on the opposite side of the table. I asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m John the Baptist.”
“No! Really? Jesus said you were the greatest man that ever lived. You gave everything for Jesus!”
Then I looked at the man directly opposite me. He didn’t look very impressive, so I asked him casually, “Who are you?”
To my amazement, he replied, “I’m the apostle Paul.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Tell me about some of your missionary trips. What was it like to be shipwrecked? beaten? pelted with stones?”
I was so enthralled with these men and their stories—and then Paul looked straight at me. He asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Neale,” I replied, knowing full well this would mean nothing to any of them.
Then Paul looked me in the eyes and asked, “Tell me, Neale—what have you done for Jesus?”
I got such a shock that I woke up in a cold sweat. Why? Because I realized how selfish my life was. My time, my resources, my focus, were all on myself, not on Christ. It was obvious; I wasn’t ready for Jesus to come! It wasn’t a matter of what I had done or hadn’t done. That was just the symptom.
The issue was this: for me, Jesus is a segment of my life; for people like Luther, Huss, John the Baptist, and Paul, Jesus was their life. For me, Jesus would return as an acquaintance; for those men, He would return as a friend.
That dream helped me wake up to my woeful spiritual condition. I surrendered my entire life to God and chose to live for Jesus with every fiber of my being. That night I accepted Jesus as my Lord, Savior, and best friend. Today my driving passion is to ensure Christ’s sacrifice was not for naught. I want every single person on this planet in heaven. I don’t want a single person to miss out. Because I know that each and every one is of inestimable value.
I now long for the second coming of Jesus. I long for the day when we look up and say, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us” (Isa. 25:9, KJV).