|LESSON 13||*March 24 - 30|
|The Promise of His Return|
Read for This Week's Study: 2 Pet. 3:1–10, 13; John 14:2, 3; Dan. 2:44; Hebrews 9:28; 11; Rev. 6:9–11; Luke 12:42–48.
“ ‘And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work’ " (Revelation 22:12, NKJV).
Key Thought: When is Jesus coming back? Who knows? In one sense, it doesn’t matter. What matters, instead, is that He does.
|At the end of the 1990s, many
were wondering if the world would last until the turn of the
millennium. Then the year 2000 came and went. Some argued that the time
calculation was wrong and 2001 was the actual year of the beginning of
the new millennium. But, alas, we’re still here.
Either way, Seventh-day Adventists, unlike many other Christian traditions, believe that the second coming of Christ draws nearer. In news reports, even secular reporters sometimes reflect on how the world seems edging closer to some great crisis, whether political, ecological, economic, military, or any combination thereof. One doesn’t need to be a biblical apocalyptist in order to see a world that seems to teeter on the brink of one catastrophe or another.
None of this should surprise us; after all, just about every Bible prophecy depicting end times paints a rather bleak forecast for the world prior to the Second Coming. And surprise of surprises, that’s exactly the world we live in.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 31.
The Beginning and the End
The description of our pitiful human condition is honestly and correctly painted in Scripture. Bible writers did not always despair, however, because they knew the final outcome. The last chapters in the books of Isaiah and Revelation assure us that the destruction of sin is coming and that God’s kingdom will be restored. God revealed to His prophets the “last things” that will lead to the ending of our world’s dark history. These prophets gave full weight to the gravity of the situation, but they lived with hope because the remedy had been revealed to them.
As we looked at earlier, if you believe the world began by chance, you most likely will believe it will end that way, as well. This view that doesn’t really leave much hope for those in between such a beginning and such an end, does it?
In contrast, the Bible consistently refers to and describes a literal historical understanding of Genesis 1 and 2. Nothing was left to chance in the Creation of the world. Hence, it’s no wonder that the Word of God also insists on a literal end of this world, as well. Nothing will be left to chance here either.
Read 2 Peter 3:1–10. How does Peter link early events in human history with final ones? What message of hope can we take from this passage?
The primal creation and the final re-creation are vitally linked, each enhancing the significance of the other. When studying the doctrine of the last things (eschatology), we deal with God’s final, definitive acts toward His creation, which lead right into the restoration of His kingdom.
Jesus clearly links the beginning and the end of things with Himself. Three times in Revelation (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13) Jesus refers to Himself as the Alpha and the Omega (alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, omega the last). Whatever else He means by saying that, at a minimum it shows us Jesus’ power and omnipresence; it tells us that Jesus was there, at the beginning of all things, and He will be there at the end. We can trust in Him no matter where we are in between. It’s a way of telling us that, however chaotic things might seem, He is always there for us.
|Some Christians have moved away from belief in a literal, physical return of Jesus and a supernatural restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. Instead, they think we need to build the kingdom ourselves. Dwell on past attempts to do something similar. Why should we think future ones will fare any better?|
Promise and Expectation
Because “last things” center around the establishing of God’s kingdom, attention to “last things” has always been a paramount Seventh-day Adventist concern. So much so that we have drawn attention to the end times in our name: Seventh-day Adventist. The name itself points to our belief in the second advent of Jesus.
How does Peter express this hope? 2 Pet. 3:13. Why is this hope so central to all we believe? Without it, why do we have no real hope at all?
Our own human expectations and hopes are often disappointing. Many times they fail us because we cannot control future events. Our most ardent hopes often are not fulfilled. We cannot control the future, no matter how hard we might try. Human beings are faced with possibilities and probabilities. Every plan of ours is tentative. The unfolding of history is complicated, incalculable, and subject to too many varied factors to allow us confidence in what we may decide about it. And this uncertainty causes us anxiety.
But the biblical writers assure us that we need not despair; the Lord is in control, and we have the promise of His return and the promise of what He’ll do at that return.
Read the following verses. What hope, and assurance, is found in them? What different emphasis is found in each one of these promises, as well?
John 14:2, 3
Acts 3:20, 21
In all these texts, and so many others, we have been given the promise, not only of Christ’s return but that a radically different new world and existence await us when He does. Try to imagine what it will be like. We are so used to sin, sickness, death, fear, violence, hatred, poverty, crime, war and suffering, we can’t easily imagine a world without them. And yet, that’s exactly the world we’re hoping for, the world we have been promised.
Our Great Assurance
As Christians, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we live with the hope of Christ’s literal return to this earth. Some Christian groups have abandoned hope in this teaching or have pushed it off to the side or they have watered it down and so spiritualized it away that the Second Coming becomes essentially just a personal thing. They may say: The Second Coming is realized in our hearts when we learn to fulfill our role in our community or When we learn to love others as we should, then the second coming of Christ is actualized in our life. Though, of course, we should love others and be fruitful members of our community, none of these are the same as the second coming of Jesus.
From our perspective, especially with our understanding of the state of the dead, it’s hard to imagine what our faith would mean without the physical, literal return of Christ, at which time He will raise the dead in Him. It’s so central to what we believe (again, our name itself reflects just how central) that, without it, our whole system would crumble. And that’s because all that we believe in and hope for climaxes in the literal return of Christ “in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30); remove that and our teachings take us to a dead end.
Of all the assurances we have of the Second Coming, what is the greatest one of all? What one event, more than any other, guarantees His return, and why? Heb. 9:28, 1 Cor. 15:12–27.
Of course, the great hope of the Second Coming rests upon what Christ accomplished for us at the First Coming. After all, what good is the First Coming without the Second? In a sense, one could say that the First Coming, and all that Jesus accomplished for us there, is incomplete without the Second. At times the Bible uses the metaphor of ransom to refer to the Cross. Jesus Himself said that “ ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ ” (Matt. 20:28, NKJV). At the cross, Jesus, by His death, paid the ransom for our souls, a ransom that was full, complete, and once and for all. At the same time, what good is paying a ransom if you don’t come and get what was ransomed? The paying of the ransom isn’t the end of the story. Just as a human parent would come get the child he or she ransomed back, so, too, Jesus will come back to get what He paid such a great price for. Hence, Christ’s first coming gives us the greatest assurance possible for the second.
“Where Is the Promise of His Coming?”
From the earliest days of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventists believed that Christ’s coming was soon, “nearer than we first believed.” As it stands, we’re still here, much longer than many among us anticipated. How are we to understand this “delay”?
First of all, we’re not the only ones whose expectations about when the Lord would act have not been fulfilled as people have thought.
Eve, for instance, thought God’s promises for a Deliverer (Gen. 3:15) would be fulfilled in her first-born son. Read Genesis 4:1. An accurate translation of this text should have the word from in italics, because it is not in the original language but has been added by a translator. Eve’s statement can be more literally translated: “I have gotten a man—the Lord.” She was wrong; the child born was Cain, not the Redeemer. The Lord’s coming wasn’t until thousands of years later.
“The Saviour’s coming was foretold in Eden. When Adam and Eve first heard the promise, they looked for its speedy fulfillment. They joyfully welcomed their first born son, hoping that he might be the Deliverer. But the fulfillment of the promise tarried. Those who first received it died without the sight. From the days of Enoch the promise was repeated through patriarchs and prophets, keeping alive the hope of His appearing, and yet He came not.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 31.
Read Hebrews 11. What’s the main point of this chapter, and how does it fit into the whole question of “delay”? See especially vss. 13, 39, 40.
All through the Bible, we have examples of people waiting in earnest expectation. Look at how long Abraham waited for the promised son; look at how long Israel waited in Egypt for deliverance. Time and again in the Psalms, we read the question, “How long” Lord, until deliverance comes? And, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised about the “delay” in Christ’s return, not when Peter wrote, almost two thousand years ago, the following words: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:3, 4).
|Have you thought the Lord would have been back by now? Do you sometimes find yourself discouraged by the “delay,” or even doubting the Second Advent because we’re still here? Dwell on all the evidence you have for belief in Christ’s return, realizing, too, that, as a finite being, your understanding of time is radically different from that of God.|
“Behold, I Come Quickly”
That the Lord had not yet come is undoubtedly the basis for some of Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonians. What does Paul counsel the church at Thessalonica as they wait for the promised coming of Christ? 2 Thessalonians 2.
Certain events have to transpire in human history before Jesus will return, yet, the hope for the future is glorious.
The book of Revelation, the great book of “climaxes,” also gives evidence of a time lag. At the opening of the fifth seal, what do the voices under the altar cry out? Rev. 6:9–11. What’s implied there about the question of the “delay”?
Read Luke 12:42–48. How does that text help us understand the “delay”? More so, what important warning should we take from it for ourselves, who could easily start feeling the same way?
What about the texts that talk about Jesus’ coming back quickly, or soon? For example: “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:7).
In one sense, as far as our own personal experience is concerned, the Second Coming is as “soon” as our death. We die, and regardless of how long we sleep in the grave—two years, two hundred, two thousand—we close our eyes and the next thing we know, in an instant, in a twinkling of an eye, Jesus has returned. Thus, one could argue that from our own personal perspective alone, from what we personally experience ourselves, the Second Coming takes no longer than the span of an individual human life. Though the Second Coming itself is a literal universal event that impacts the whole earth, we experience it only as individuals.
|As the years roll by, do you find yourself getting at ease in the world, getting comfortable with things, and less focused on the reality of the Second Coming? If so, you’re probably not alone. How can we fight this natural, though potentially dangerous, tendency? Bring your answer to class on Sabbath.|
“Another year has almost passed into eternity. A few more days, and we shall enter a new year. My brethren and sisters, employ wisely the remaining hours of the old year. If you have in any wise neglected your duty, repent before God, and return to the path from which you have wandered. Remember how brief the period of life allotted you. You know not how soon your probation may close. Say not presumptuously, ‘To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.’ God may have different plans for you. Life is but a vapor, ‘that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth.’ You know not how soon your hand may lose its cunning, your step its firmness. There is peril in a moment’s delay. ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’”—Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, December 23, 1902.
| In class, discuss your answer to
Thursday’s final question. Discuss, too, the irony in the fact
that the longer we’re here, the easier it is to put off the
sense of Christ’s return, and yet the longer we’re here,
the closer we come to that return.
Though there’s much debate in science about human origins, many scientists argue that the long-term prospects for humanity, the earth, the universe even, are not good. They predict that the universe is going to burn out or collapse back on itself, leaving no life anywhere. As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe the long-term prospects for the universe are the opposite: they are wonderful. The point is, if science has the end of all things so wrong, why should we trust that its understanding of the beginning of all things is any more accurate? This is especially true when science’s common understanding of the beginning is centered on various forces, including evolution, that deny a Creator or any purposeful design or intention in the creation itself. How much more wrong could it be?
|We have many very good reasons for trusting in Christ’s return, no matter when it happens.|
|I N S I D E Story|
I grew up in a non-Christian family in Nigeria. One of my Christian friends often talked to me about Christ. One day he invited me to give my life to Jesus, but I wasn’t interested. Then I had a dream in which Jesus stood between heaven and earth, touching people who were on their way to heaven. But when I approached Him, Jesus didn’t touch me. Instead He said gently, “You’re not ready yet.” I turned away, rejected.
I told my friend about my dream, and he explained that God was speaking to me, inviting me to follow Him. Wow, I thought. God would speak to me? He must love me! My friends helped me give my life to Christ.
One day I met a man who lives near the church my friends attended. He invited me to study the Bible with him. I wasn’t sure I should, so I asked my friends what to do. “Go ahead and study with him,” they said. “Just be sure that what he teaches you is truth according to the Bible.”
As I studied the Bible with this man I realized that he knew his Bible well! And when he told me about the Sabbath, he showed me many Bible texts to prove that God never changed the Sabbath to Sunday. I was convinced that the Sabbath is Saturday. But I didn’t know what to do about it.
My new friend gave me some books to read to help me understand the Bible better. He invited me to attend the Adventist church with him, and I went, glad to find the truth about God. The devil became angry and tried to stop me from being baptized, but I refused to give in.
Before I found Christ I was nobody. But God has adopted me and has called me to serve Him and share my faith with those who haven’t met Jesus yet. He has opened the door for me to study at Babcock University, the Adventist university in Nigeria. I know that God will make a way for me to complete my studies and answer His call to service.
Please pray for me and my fellow Christians who have been called out of darkness and want to share God’s light with others. And thank you for your mission offerings and Thirteenth Sabbath Offerings that have helped establish this great school where thousands of young people are being trained to serve God.
Monsuru Akinwande is studying theology at Babcock University in Nigeria.
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