One of the major doctrines of the Christian faith is the teaching that Jesus will return to the earth — in the same way he left (Acts 1:11). It is based upon Jesus’ own words in John 14:3, “I will come again…” and the topic dominated the last part of his ministry. His disciples not only believed him, but reinforced the promise throughout their ministries and writings. There were 318 references to Jesus’ return in the 216 chapters of the New Testament, and three times as many prophecies about his second coming as predicted his birth. If the latter came to pass as predicted, then faith rests on the veracity of Jesus’ words.
When people accept any teaching as true, that idea has profound effects upon their attitudes and behavior, whether they realize it or not. Doctrines have practical consequences. Poor ideas elicit poor results, and sound (healthy) principles have a nourishing effect upon the human soul, like nutritious food to the health of the body. While this teaching of Jesus’ return has been mishandled, abused, and mocked, it really has some practical benefits to those who place their faith in this word.
One of the initial effects of this teaching is that it gives a sense of accountability toward God for the way we live this gracious gift of life. Jesus often told parables about a king who gave gifts to his servants, with the understanding that someday he would return for their accounting of his grace. So this teaching promotes alert living on one’s moral and spiritual tiptoes.
Secondly, this teaching releases a person from the need to engage in the bitter struggle to seek revenge for the injustices of life, because Jesus will return and adjudicate final judgment in a righteous and fair manner. Not every wrong has been made right in this life.
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It also gives a larger perspective of history, and places our lives in a proper context. History is linear, having a beginning and an end, and yet each person has an important role to contribute in that great unfolding drama. We have a future because God has a plan. In that context, believers are called to be people of influence to contribute to the culture around them, not to be idle stargazers waiting for a rescue.
The teaching about the return of Jesus creates patience and encourages faithfulness in our practical duties, knowing that obedience will eventually be rewarded. Not all “heroes” have been recognized in this life. Some have gone to their graves, leaving an enormous spiritual heritage without appropriate recognition and thanks. This teaching also encourages a sense of pilgrimage, so that a person does not get high-centered on the glory or misfortunes of their earthly journey. It creates a hope that there is a future beyond - where there will be no more tears, pain, and disappointments.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable blessings of this teaching is that it brings comfort to our grief over the loss of a loved one who has died as a believer. The faith that there will a reunion with those we have loved — might be the only ray of hope during the time of deep despair. It gives us a reason to finish our stewardship of life in an honorable manner. We can leave the stage with grace because there is a destiny beyond.
Some might mock or dismiss the idea that Jesus is coming back to earth again, but those who have entered a vital faith relationship with him find the idea most practical and nourishing to their lives. And it sure surpasses the closed, hopeless world without him.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.