Our text is the words of Paul in Titus 2:11-13:
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ"
The second coming of Christ is the hope of the church. It is not death. It is not immortality. It is not the conscious felicity of the intermediate state, but the resurrection from the dead and glorification with Christ, that shall take place in the history of the church when Christ comes "the second time without sin unto salvation."
This hope God has set before us again and again in one way and another in the New Testament. More than three hundred times is it mentioned there, oftener than any other doctrine of grace, with the exception of our redemption through the blood of Christ. This, therefore, shows us the importance it holds in the mind of God, and the importance it should hold in the minds of His saints.
And yet, strange to relate, there are many professing Christians who seek to explain away these references to the second coming of Christ. They associate them with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with the progress of the Gospel in the earth, with the conversion of the sinner, and with the death of the believer. All these things, they say, are really the second coming of Christ. And to wander still farther away from the truth, I have heard Socialists say that the success of their principles in the world will be the second coming of Christ. Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy affirms that Christian Science is the second coming of Christ.
I. What the Second Coming Means.
But, my friends, when I speak of that event, I refer to His personal (in the sense of visible) reappearing on this earth. I mean what He himself means in Matthew 24, when He says to His disciples: "Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And what the angels mean when, in Acts 1, addressing the disciples on Mount Olivet after the ascension of our Lord, they say: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? 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." "This same Jesus" not His spirit, not His influence, not His truth, not His church, but Himself. Did they see Him as He went up? Then shall they see Him as He comes down? Did He go up in a body? Then shall He come down in a body. Did He go up in the clouds? Then shall He come down in the clouds. "This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."
I mean what Peter means when, as recorded in Acts 3, addressing the multitude in Jerusalem and referring to the Saviour as now being received into the heavens, he declares that He is retained there only until the times of restitution of all things spoken by the prophets since the world began. Hidden now is He, concealed from the view of His people, but the time is coming when He shall be hidden or concealed no more but manifested in glory, and they with Him.
A literal advent.
I mean what Paul means when, in writing to the Thessalonians, he says: "The Lord himself "—mark the intensive pronoun!—" shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." What John means when, in Revelation 1:7, he declares: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him." Can anything be plainer? Can the English tongue express itself in clearer terms than these?
But I would call your attention to another feature of the proof. There are certain words employed in the New Testament to express the second coming of Christ like "presence," "revelation" "appearing," the meaning of which is always the corporeal or bodily presence of the object, or person referred to.
And why not? Did not Jesus come the first time personally and visibly? And which is the more likely, that He should come as an infant cradled in a manger, or riding upon the clouds of heaven in power and great glory? Do we not think the first advent less likely than the second? Do we not feel that if it were literal the other most certainly should be?
II. When Will Jesus Come?
But pass with me from the question as to what is meant by the second coming of Christ to another,—When will He come?
Were I asked to answer that question from the chronological point of view, I must say that I do not know. No man knows. Even the Son of man Himself said He did not know. It was hidden in the will of His Father.
There have been those who have attempted foolishly and sinfully, I believe, to set dates and fix times and seasons for His coming, and have brought disrepute upon this precious doctrine. They have awakened a kind of repugnance to it so that good men are afraid to teach it in the class-room or preach it in the pulpit lest they be associated with the fads and fanaticisms that have grown up around it. Behold, the adroitness of Satan! Thus has he got an advantage over us, and robbed us of our birthright for a mess of pottage. Shall we refuse to emphasize a truth which the Holy Spirit has so often emphasized, because Satan has sought to dishonor it? Nay, all the more should we bear witness to it, and give it its proper place in the Gospel scheme; and this, that the church may be in earnest expectancy for the return of her living Head.
But while I cannot answer the question of the time chronologically, I can answer it from the historical point of view. Let me explain my meaning. You know the Bible teaches that this earth is yet to see a time of peace and righteousness such as it has never seen. A period that will cover a thousand years, from which it takes the name of the "millennium," which means a thousand.
But the Bible further teaches that Jesus is coming before that time, and that it is His coming which shall introduce and make the millennium a possibility.
There is, indeed, a difference of opinion upon this matter. There are good Christians who believe the second coming is post-millennial, that it will follow rather than precede that period. And because of this I would speak with modesty and without contention on the subject, but, nevertheless, I must witness to the truth as I see it, and as God has revealed it to my heart and understanding.
The pre-millennial coming of Christ was the teaching of the apostolic church, and the primitive church as well; and only when the latter began to decline in faith and practice did she lose sight of "that blessed hope" and the power of it. It was only then she began to think of it as an event afar off rather than near at hand, after the millennium, and not before it.
WITNESSES TO THIS TRUTH.
Let me say further, that in our day almost all the Bible teachers of eminence who stand for evangelical truth, and almost all the successful evangelists who are winning souls to Christ, believe in and bear testimony to the pre-millennial coming of Christ. A few of them, living and dead, are C. H. Spurgeon, George Muller, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, Pastor Stockmayer, Andrew Murray, F. B. Meyer, G. Campbell Morgan, D. L. Moody, A. J. Gordon, R. A. Torrey, Charles Cuthbert Hall, A. C. Gaebelein, W. J. Erdman, J. Wilbur Chapman, W. G. Moorehead, C. I. Scofield, A. T. Pierson and many more. Not one do I know who does not believe in and bear testimony to it.
But "to the law and to the testimony." What saith the Scripture concerning it? Take, for example, the use of the word "watch." You remember how Jesus taught us to watch for His return. What is the significance of that word, if it does not involve an expectancy of His coming?
WATCHING FOR FATHER.
I have a friend who was passing a summer vacation with his family in the country. One day he said to his little children, to their regret and his: "I must go into the city today, but I will return again and I want you to keep watching for me." As a result, the children came to their mother several times a day to wash their faces and comb their hair, that they might go to the station to meet their father, expecting him on every train. Never had they shown such friendship for soap and water before, nor given their mother such pains to keep them clean.
But suppose it had been different! Suppose the father had said: "I am going away and may not return for a long while." Do you think the children would have been looking for him, or continually preparing for him? Would they have kept themselves as clean as in this case?
Is it not something like this Jesus had in mind when He used the word "watch"? Would He not keep His church in daily expectancy of His return? And because of the expectancy would He not stimulate us to holy living that we may not be ashamed before Him when He comes?
Then take the parabolic teaching of Christ. To refer to but one of His parables,—that of the nobleman, in the 19th of Luke, who went into a far country to receive his kingdom, and to return. When he departed there were two classes of persons whom he left behind him—his "servants" and his "citizens," and when he returned he found the same two classes awaiting him. His servants were glad to welcome him, but the citizens would not have him to reign over them.
The nobleman is Jesus; the servants, His disciples; the citizens, the people of the world who do not believe in and are unwilling to submit themselves to Him. When Jesus went away He left these two classes of persons behind Him, His disciples and the unbelieving world. And when He comes back, according to the parable, He will find them still here, thus indicating clearly that it is not a millennial condition He will find when He returns, but the very opposite.
THE APOSTASY IN THE CHURCH.
And, take the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, referring to the "falling away" or the apostasy. He tells us that it had already begun in his own day, and would continue from century to century, increasing in strength, until at last it would be developed and headed up in the "man of sin," the "son of perdition," whom the Lord would "slay with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the brightness of His coming." We thus see there is no opportunity between the apostolic age and the time of Christ's return for a millennium, since the whole period is filled up with the development of this apostasy.
Recall what was said in a previous lecture that this apostasy is not limited to Roman Catholicism by any means, but is in Protestantism as well. Roman Catholicism, underneath all its error, believes in the inspiration of the Bible, but many in Protestantism do not. It believes in the Deity of Christ, and in the efficacy of His blood, but many in Protestantism do not. The apostasy is in the one as well as in the other, and each is doing its share to bring about the development of the "man of sin."
And so one might proceed through the other parts of the New Testament, bringing witness after witness to bear upon the truth that we have not to wait a thousand years from now, or until the close of the millennium before Jesus comes, but that He may come at any time, certainly in any generation.
III. The Effect of the Second Coming.
The third and last question is, What will be the effect or the consequences of Christ's second coming in the history of the earth and the human race?
In answering this, let me premise that the great event is not limited to a single point of time, but in a sense, covers a long period of time. The second coming, in other words, might be spoken of as a drama with several acts, or as an act with several scenes.
The first scene will be the translation of the church to meet Christ in the air, according to the words of Paul already quoted in part: "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ"—not all the dead, but those who have fallen asleep in Christ—"shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Some think too strange, too mysterious to be possible, the translation of the church into the air! But God has shown us what it means. In the antediluvian age "Enoch walked with God and was not; for God took him"; or, as the New Testament says: "He was translated, having never seen death." In the Mosaic age we have a demonstration in Elijah. Walking with Elisha across the Jordan, dry shod, when they reached the other shore the chariot of fire came down, and took him in a whirlwind into heaven, having never seen death. What God can do with one He can do with a million when the time comes.
ALL MEN WILL NOT DIE.
It is written in the Scriptures: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27); and I have heard it rendered as though it read: "It is appointed unto all men once to die." But this is not true. There is one generation of men that, living on this earth, shall never see death. That generation is the one just referred to, who, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and waiting for His coming, shall be caught up to meet Him in the air when He comes.
People wonder about the air, and the church dwelling in the air! But Scripture enlightens us on this subject also. It speaks of "the prince of the power of the air," It speaks of evil principalities that inhabit the air now over whom Satan rules, and from which vantage-ground he controls this world as the god of it. But we see in Revelation that a day is coming when Satan and his hosts shall be cast out from the air, and it shall be made ready for Christ and His glorified church to live and reign in throughout the millennial age. We have only to read the Bible, and compare scripture with scripture to understand what the secrets of the Lord are, and to get the comfort from them that He would minister to us.
But what about the second scene in this act? While the church is with Christ in the air, and He is inquiring into the faithfulness of His disciples, and they are having their places assigned in the coming kingdom, events are transpiring here such as were referred to a week ago. The nations of the Roman Empire are coming together in that federation under the "man of sin." Events are transpiring in Jerusalem also, and hastening that crisis of iniquity which will bring the Lord Jesus Christ personally to the earth.
While the Roman earth is federating under its powerful but wicked leader, Israel is going back to her land again and reestablishing the Jewish state in Palestine. She is rebuilding her temple, and beginning to worship the God of her fathers once more. But as yet she is not converted to Jesus, nor has she received Him as her Messiah. She is ready, however, in her sin and blindness to accept the false Messiah, who is to make a covenant with her in Jerusalem for seven years. In the midst of the seven years that covenant is broken and he no longer permits her to worship the true God, but sets up his own image to be worshiped "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel.
Then it is that the second scene in this great act takes place, and Christ and His church, thus far in the air, come to this earth in glory. Then it is that "His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives," as the prophet Zechariah says, and His saints with Him. Then it is that He shall come "in flaming fire with His holy angels, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel." Then it is He delivers the faithful remnant of Israel from the persecution of the man of sin, whom He destroys with the nations, over which he reigns.
We need not suppose by any means, that all the people on the earth will be slain. A remnant of faithful Israelites will be preserved, and a remnant of faithful Gentiles as well, kept faithful in the tribulation through which they will have passed, and these two remnants will form the nucleus of the nations of the millennial earth.
The Bible teaches that the great missionaries in the coming age will be the tribes of Israel. They will go through all the nations proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and bringing them into subjection to the Messiah as their king.
Ah! there are more things in heaven and in earth than we have dreamt of in our philosophy! Would that we came to the Bible to find out these things concerning "the Jew, the Gentile and the church of God" (1 Corinthians 10:32). If we knew what God was doing—and we might know, if we studied His Word with the illumination of the Holy Spirit—we would come into harmony with Him in the doing of it, and His work would not be the burden to some of us that it is, but a delight as we saw His purposes revealed in the history of men.
IV. The Practical Value of the Hope.
Sometimes I am asked: "What is the practical value of the teaching of the second coming of Christ?"
In reply, let me say, that there is not a single virtue or grace revealed in the New Testament as incumbent upon Christian believers that is not in some way associated with that hope.
Is it a question of our salvation? Paul writes to the young Christians at Thessalonica, "Ye turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven " (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10). To those heathen people one of the first doctrines he preached was the second coming of Christ, and he evidently used it to bring them to Christ.
Is it a question of sanctification? The apostle John says, in 1 John 3:2 and 3: "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but 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." It is the second coming of Christ, in other words, that furnishes the motive and stimulus to a holy life.
Is it a question of service? Listen to Jesus, as addressing His disciples, He says: "What shall it profit a man though he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, and then shall he bring his reward with him." It were well worth while to serve Christ, to suffer for Him and wait for Him when we consider the meaning of that word "reward."
Is it a question of solace? Hearken to Paul again: "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, ... and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air... Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
HOW GOD COMFORTS US.
You have been called to stand by the open grave, you have looked upon the loved face for the last time, you have joined with the mourners in the funeral train, but how often have you heard this comfort ministered to the hearts torn and bleeding? Yet these are the words God puts upon our lips for just such times as these. Nor is the solace adapted merely to the bereavement caused by death, but to the trials and testings that come to us in other ways. Take the words of James to the working men of his day, those who had their hire kept back by greedy and covetous employers, and whose cries had reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth; "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord,"—no mobs, no strikes, no boycotts; "stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Only Jesus can make our wrongs right.
BRINGING BACK THE KING.
You remember the story of David, king of Israel, when his ungrateful son, Absalom, whom he loved best, rebelled against him and drove him from his throne. The rebellion was soon quashed and Absalom himself slain, but David was an exile beyond the Jordan still. And one day the men of Judah, David's tribe, came together and began to talk about it. Their consciences were smiting them, and they said one to another, "Why say ye never a word about bringing back the king?" And when they began to think and talk about it they began to act, and they crossed the Jordan and brought him back.
I ask you,
Why say ye not a word of bringing back the King?
Why speak ye not of Jesus and His reign?
Why tell ye of His glory and of His praises sing,
But not a word about His coming back again?
How many in our churches today are testifying to the second coming of Christ? What are we doing to hasten His return? When we become conscience-smitten upon this matter and begin to talk about it, we will begin to act, and to live and witness for Him in such a way that the day shall be hastened. God give us the grace to do it, and the love and the power!
ANDREW BONAR'S FAREWELL.
That dear old Scottish saint to whom I just referred, Andrew Bonar, visited this country once, sad for us he could not have visited it oftener, but on that occasion, as he was about returning home, New York friends gave him a farewell meeting. One of them, in closing an address, applied the words of Paul to Timothy to him, saying: "There is a crown of righteousness laid up for him which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give him in that day." But Mr. Bonar, coming forward and holding up his hand for silence, concluded the quotation, adding: "And not to me only, but also to all them that love his appearing."
Ah! there is no respect of persons with God! Do you love His appearing? Are you longing for His coming? Are you ready should He come today?
From Satan and the Saint... by James M. Gray. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, ©1909.