“I Will Come Again”

NO ONE CAN read the New Testament with any degree of care without discovering that the brethren of the Early Church were men of hope as well as of faith. We know that the ancient prophets and other worthies were heroes of faith, and that they also had hope.

The Early Church seems to have excelled in hope as well as in faith. The brethren then were in an expectant attitude. They seemed to be on tiptoe, looking for and hastening unto a certain event. They referred to it in such various ways as ‘a lively hope’, ‘the blessed hope’, ‘this hope’, ‘one hope’, ‘our hope’, ‘the hope set before us’. This hope so captivated their attention as to almost divert them from ordinary work and duty.

What was that hope which at once possessed and cheered those early Christians? According to Paul in Titus 2:13, it was “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” They believed with all their hearts in Jesus Christ; in his wondrous life of miracles and grace, in his sacrificial death on Golgotha’s Hill, that he had triumphed over the grave, and had come forth to the resurrection of life. Some of them had seen him in his ascension on high. Moreover, they remembered his words when he said to them, “I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) They also remembered how the two men in white apparel had said, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”—Acts 1:11

These were precious promises to the Early Church. The authority for them was from the Lord himself. The meaning was apparent for, in a word, it meant that although the Lord had gone, he would come again. He would be absent for only “a little while,” until the preparation for “the times of restitution.” (John 16:16; Acts 3:21) When that blessed time should come he would appear again, and each member of the Early Church seemed to say, as Job prophetically said, “Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job. 19:27) It was around the hope of our Lord’s Second Advent that their communion with each other centered.

Some may say, however, “Why should the Early Church have been so concerned about their Lord’s return? They had communion with their Heavenly Father, with their Lord, and with his brethren. They also had the precious truths of God’s Word to think upon, so the question of when the Lord might return should not have mattered a great deal.” Such reasoning is unscriptural and is used by some to minimize the importance of the Lord’s return. Those who underestimate the importance of this doctrine and pass the subject off as being inconsequential in the Scriptures and to the Christian life, cannot have been careful enough in their study of the Word of God.

Indeed, how much, of the New Testament writings deal with our Lord’s return! Let us look to the Scriptures to see how the Early Church viewed their Lord’s return. I Thessalonians is commonly believed to be one of the earliest epistles written, and the first by the Apostle Paul, dating to about A.D. 50 or 52. In the first chapter, verses 9 and 10, the apostle testifies, “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven.”

The second chapter ends with a reference to the church’s prospect of “our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming [Greek parousia, ‘presence’]?”—vs. 19

At the close of chapter three, the prayer is offered that “he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming [Greek, parousia, ‘presence’] of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”—vs. 13

Chapter four finishes with the announcement made by direct inspiration, that “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” (vs. 16) The epistle then ends with a prayer by the apostle that they who received his epistle may be “preserved blameless unto the coming [Greek, parousia, presence] of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—I Thess. 5:23

In II Thessalonians there are forty-seven verses, and many of these, particularly in chapters one and two, pertain to our Lord’s return. The apostle declared, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” “taking vengeance on them that know not God.” He points out further that Christ “shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe … in that day.”—II Thess. 1:7-10

Paul also went to some length in the second chapter to offset the misapprehension on the part of some, who had concluded that the Lord had then already returned. He besought the brethren to steadfastness “by the coming [presence] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.” The apostle also reflected on the “brightness of his coming,” and the “consolation and good hope” it would bring.—II Thess. 2:1,8,16

I Corinthians is another of Paul’s earlier writings. It proves that the brethren at Corinth also had taken up the hope of their Lord’s return. Here the apostle writes, “Ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 1:7) He urged the brethren not to sit in judgment of one another, but to wait “until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.”—I Cor. 4:5

Even with respect to the Memorial Supper the apostle does not forget the Lord’s return, for he says: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (I Cor. 11:26) When Paul taught the brethren at Corinth what the order of the resurrection would be, he wrote, “Christ a First-fruit; afterwards, those who are Christ’s at his appearing.” (I Cor. 15:23, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) This must have brought much hope and joy to their hearts! Even when Paul had to utter the warning, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema” he straightway softens the admonition by adding, “Maranatha,” meaning ‘the Lord comes’.—I Cor. 16:22

In the epistle to the Philippian brethren, the time of the Second Advent is repeatedly referred to as “the day of Christ,” and for this day they were taught to wait patiently. The apostle has this prayer to offer: “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent [examine the differences, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott]; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”—Phil. 1:9,10

The Apostle Paul also revealed his own attitude of heart toward the Lord’s return. He testified, “I am indeed, hard pressed by the two things [life or death];—(I have an earnest desire for the returning, and being with Christ, since it is very much to be preferred).” (Phil. 1:23, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) From this testimony, we realize that the apostle was facing death on one hand, and a life of suffering for Christ on the other. Of the two, he could not choose which would be preferable, but he did have ‘an earnest desire’ for the third option, and that was ‘for the returning, and being with Christ’.

Again Paul exhorted the Philippian brethren to hold forth “the Word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Phil. 2:16) If we were to leave out the words, ‘in the day of Christ’, the apostle’s exhortation would lose its force and meaning. Leaving in those words, we see how wisely he used the Second Advent to make clear that his labor on their behalf would have been in vain if they failed to hold forth the Word of life.

Paul was not alone in cherishing the hope of our Lord’s return, for he writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Phil 3:20,21, New International Version) By stating the matter in the plural as he does, he reveals that the brethren at Philippi also shared his glorious hope.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the apostle gave his beloved ‘son’ various charges and did not hesitate to weave in the assurance of the Lord’s return to enhance his message. He wrote, “O man of God, flee these things [the desire for earthly advantages]; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called. … I give thee charge in the sight of God. … that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—I Tim. 6:11-14

Expressing his contempt for the great enemy, death, Paul says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. … Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (II Tim. 4:6-8) The apostle’s indifference to death can only be attributed to the fact that he was looking forward to the Lord’s return, when he would receive the fruition of his hopes.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is no exception to the apostle’s writings in this respect. Here we find that the Lord’s return is of vital concern not only to the church, but also to the world. He writes, “Unto them [that is, the world] that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin [without a sin offering] unto salvation.”—Heb. 9:28

The Hebrew brethren were urged not to forsake “the assembling” of themselves together, “as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. … For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”—Heb. 10:25,35,37

Nor was Paul the only New Testament writer who laid such great emphasis on our Lord’s return. Noting the writings of some of the other apostles, we find them also making use of the Second Advent truth to give spiritual vitality to their messages. James wrote, “Wait patiently, therefore, Brethren, till the coming of the Lord. Behold! the husbandman expects the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it, till he receive the early and latter harvest. Be you also patient; establish your hearts, Because the coming of the Lord has approached.”—James 5:7,8, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott

The Apostle Peter makes much and effective use of the doctrine of the Second Advent. To saints that were suffering he writes: “Ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith … might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”—I Pet. 1:6,7

Also, he wrote: “Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—I Pet. 1:13

“When his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”—I Pet. 4:13

“When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”—I Pet. 5:4

“There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming [Greek, parousia, ‘presence’]? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the Creation. … But, beloved, … the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; … but the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.”—II Pet. 3:3-10

“What manner of persons ought ye to be, … looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God?”—II Pet. 3:11,12

“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”—II Pet. 3:14

The Apostle John cherished the same glad hope, and by it sought to stimulate the church. His words were: “Little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (I John 2:28) “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is; and every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”—I John 3:2,3

Even when we turn to the Book of Revelation we find the Second Advent prominently presented before the brethren. According to John’s own words, the whole book is a “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The burden of its message deals with the Second Advent of our Lord. In it we have the facts, circumstances, and judgments connected with our Lord’s unveiling, or Apocalypse.

“Behold, he cometh,” is the promise of the Book. (Rev. 1:7) The “words of this prophecy” could not be understood if the Lord’s return were doubted or lost sight of. (Rev. 1:3) In the midst of its mysteries, the Master’s voice is heard crying, “Hold fast till I come.” (Rev. 2:25) The longing desire of the apostle himself for our Lord’s return is expressed when he says, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”—Rev. 22:20

Apart from the writings of the apostles, we can still see very good reasons for the Early Church believing in our Lord’s return. Why? Because our Lord himself said that he would come again. Since both the Master and his servants all testified alike, the conclusion was obvious—the Lord would surely return. The Master himself taught—“If I go … I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” (John 14:3) “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”—John 14:18

Our Lord spoke of himself as the “Son of man,” who should “come in the glory of his Father,” and as the “nobleman” who “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” Also, as the “Master” for whose coming the servants were to watch; as the “Bridegroom” whose appearing all the wise virgins would hail; and as the “Lord” who would come and reckon with the stewards of his house. In these and many other ways the gracious Lord assured his loved ones that he would return.

We often have heard it said that at death men go to their reward—but not so, said those in the Early Church, for the Lord had named another time: “At the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” (I Cor. 15:52) Jesus taught that “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” (John 5:28,29) Peter made it clear that only when the “chief Shepherd shall appear, [shall] ye … receive a crown of glory.” (I Pet. 5:4) Paul did not expect to receive his reward until “the Lord, the righteous Judge” would give it to him “at that day.”—II Tim. 4:8

The Early Church did not vainly hope that the world would become better and better. They knew from the Scriptures that “evil men and seducers [Diaglott, ‘impostors’] shall wax worse and worse.” “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” (II Tim. 3:1) So wretched a condition was the world to be in that the question was asked by our Lord, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”—Luke 18:8

Some might question the value of tracing the Early Church’s viewpoint of our Lord’s return. What difference would it have made in their character development if they had not been eager for our Lord’s return? Bringing the matter down to the present time, the question naturally arises, Would it make any difference in our character development if we did not believe in the Lord’s presence, or were indifferent to it?

The thought is sometimes advanced that those who possess mature Christian characters would be enjoying such a close walk with the Lord that whether he was now present, or would not be present for another thousand years, would make very little difference. This argument may, on the surface, sound plausible, but when analyzed, will be found to contradict the Scriptures violently. With one accord, the Scriptures point to the Lord’s Second Advent as being an event with which every true Christian would be vitally concerned.

How did the Early Church’s interest in the Lord’s return affect their character development? How does our belief in the Lord’s presence affect our character? The Master answered this matter for us. He said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” And where is our treasure? “Ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from [Prof. Strong says ‘ek’ translated ‘from’, can also be translated ‘on account of’ or ‘for’] the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching.”—Luke 12:34,36,37

To those back there in time who loved the Lord, whose treasure was in heaven, their hearts were in heaven also, and they greatly rejoiced in the promise of our Lord’s return. They knew that when he returned they would enter into their heavenly reward, and be forever with their Lord.

Can the bride class now, therefore, be indifferent to the cry, “Behold the bridegroom”? Surely not! Anyone who is indifferent to the Lord’s presence cannot fully appreciate its meaning. If the Early Church was so captivated by the promises of the Lord’s return, is it not reasonable that we, who are now living at the time of his presence should be thrilled with the wonderful news, and be zealous in telling it to others? If, as we know, there is so much in the New Testament referring to our Lord’s return, should not we, who are living in the day of his presence, herald forth the wonderful news?

If the Apostle Peter was ‘looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’, how strange it would be for us, who are living in that day, to be indifferent to it! If John doses the Book of Revelation with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” shall we contradict him by displaying an attitude of little concern? No, dear brethren, by no means!

Isaiah foretells the work of the feet members of the body of Christ, saying, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him [Christ] that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; … for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”—Isa. 52:7,8

The Early Church earnestly looked for our Lord’s return! But we, brethren, are living in the day when he has returned! We have heard his “knock,” and have opened unto him, and are supping with him. How blessed is our portion indeed! Rev. 3:20

Dawn Bible Students Association
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