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When our resurrected Lord enters the scene, the whole system rocks as he gathers his own from every part of heaven and earth.
When you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. Let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes."Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation. Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, He shortened the days.
"If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive even the elect; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
"In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven."
Mark 13:24-27 NKJV, condensed
The Great Homecoming
When I was a child, my father decided to give our property a name. He had a sign made and attached it to the mailbox down by the road. It read, "Maranatha Hills." Dad told us the word Maranatha meant, "Come, Lord Jesus", and he seemed to be ready and eagerly awaiting an unmistakable, dramatic, cloud-breaking event. Unfortunately he did not live to see his invitation fulfilled.
Multiply his experience by the millions of people in the past 2,000 years who have actively anticipated the return of Christ in power and glory. Even the original twelve disciples were convinced Jesus would return in their lifetimes. It has not happened. This presents a dilemma and some folks have runout of patience and hope.
Still, many of our congregations continue to affirm, "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again." At the table of our Lord we hear the words of Saint Paul from I Corinthians 11:26,"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
A literal reading of our text indicates that after a period of extreme suffering, the rhythms of nature will fail. Once more the humble "Son of Man" will make his advent into a dark world. But this time he will come riding the clouds like a victorious king. He will command his angels to gather up his scattered pilgrims. They will come from the north, south, east and west, even from the far most parts of heaven and earth.
Whether Jesus meant his words literally or symbolically, we confront an awesome mystery here that is both a present reality and a future consummation. When we speak of the second coming, it sounds like Jesus is absent and we are waiting for him to return. Yet Jesus also promised that he would be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Our resurrected Lord is always present, yet coming again some day; already here, yet we are to watch for his return. Jesus asked us to do two things at once: live in his daily presence and never tire of waiting for his return! Maybe the first step in waiting for Jesus to come through the clouds at a future date, is to spread the welcome mat today for the God who is the great "I AM".
At the end of the age when the reign of God brings creation to fulfillment, the forces of nature will shake, rattle and roll. The world as we know it will cease to exist. But with this vision also come words of hope and assurance for the faithful. It will be a time not to cower in fear, but to look up with joy and receive the promise of God's salvation and final victory over sin.
If we learn anything from this life it is the cycle of life and death. When the end is near, so is a new beginning. One day dies in the west; another day is dawning in the east. This year's seeds hold the promise of next year's crops. So it is when God shuts down one age, another age will open up. Our destination is not to go back to the garden of Eden. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John revealed that when Jesus comes in the clouds, he's coming for his bride!
When will these things be? How long, O Lord? Why the delay? Perhaps the apostle Peter explained it best, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (II Peter 3:9 NIV) God wants no one to be left behind. He's waiting patiently for each of us to turn from our sins and follow the footsteps of our Savior into the kingdom of heaven.
Is the doctrine of the second coming a warning of impending doom? Or a promise of everlasting life? It all depends on our response to God's faithful and abiding love. Will we ignore the message and wish it away, or eagerly lift up our hearts and say, "Even so, come Lord Jesus!"
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Did you ever know or meet anyone who was passionate about the second coming of Jesus? If so, describe something about that person.
How well do you deal with change? Share an example from your life when you experienced a big change. In what ways did your big change represent a new beginning?
How do you respond to the Biblical teaching about "Christ coming in the clouds"? Discuss why this subject interests you or doesn't interest you?
Christians make three affirmations: 'Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.' It has been said that the certainty of the affirmation diminishes with each statement. Is that true for you?Are able to continue believing Jesus will return some day even though it is a 2,000 year old promise?
Do you have peace of mind regarding the second coming of Jesus? Why or why not?What are your expectations for when Christ returns?
What similarities or differences do you see between the first advent of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem and the second advent of Jesus at the end of the world?
Jesus was facing the cross in just a day or two. Although his death was witnessed by many, the empty tomb was seen by only a handful of people and had to be taken by faith. How would the apocalyptic language of Christ's second coming strengthen the early believers who suffered so much for their new-found beliefs?
When God puts an end to sin and death, the goal is not to return to the garden of Eden, but to be transported to the table of our Lord at the joyous wedding feast described by the apostle John in his Revelation, where all believers will collectively be the bride of Jesus who is referred to as the Lamb. How does this image capture the heart of God and God's desire for all mankind?
What is the difference between waking up in the morning and thinking, "Well, today may be the day it all ends for me."; or thinking instead, "Today could be the day it all begins for me!"?