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Grace Notes

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THE RETURN OF CHRIST
by Philip Owen

   

            Let’s consider what just one verse suggests to us about the return of Christ. Although it probably is not in the front of the mind as a “proof text” for the doctrine of the rapture, Philippians 3:20 offers helpful insights into that doctrine: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

            The rapture is about a specific person. In some sense, the entire world is looking for a savior, someone who can deliver on the promise of peace and security. And as circumstances worsen, the search will become more earnest, even desperate. But unbelievers don’t know who the person is that they are seeking—a skillful politician, a charismatic religious leader, a successful businessman, a strong general? They want someone who will straighten out the mess this world is in and stop its careening toward destruction. But who that person is remains undefined in their minds. They simply hope a person with the right credentials comes along and that he is recognizable.

            Then there are the believers who conflate the return of Christ for His church with His second coming to deliver Israel and set up the millennial kingdom, or those who think the church will go through at least some portion of the seven-year tribulation that the Bible predicts will befall the earth. Many of those individuals are not looking for a person, but for an event or a series of events that looks like those described in the Book of the Revelation. Admittedly, some in this camp are looking for an individual, but that individual is the Beast, or the Antichrist, because they believe he must come before Christ returns.

            How simple, clear, and wonderful, then, is Paul’s testimony: “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not an event, not some gifted human being, but God Himself in the Person of Christ. It is both the holy duty and the blessed privilege of the believer to look for the appearing of Christ.

            The rapture is imminent. Two thousand years ago, Paul anticipated the return of Christ at any moment. He was not deceived, confused, or delusional. He was practicing what he preached and what he had been taught by Christ. The Scriptures provide no sign to herald the return of Christ for the church. No benchmark event or situation precedes His coming. Paul could legitimately expect the Lord to return at any moment during his lifetime for that reason, and saints today may and should do so as well, given the added incentive that we are 2,000 years closer to His return than was Paul. Believers are to expect the Lord to return today—not because of circumstances in the world but because Scripture teaches us to look for a Savior, Jesus Christ. Writing to the church in Thessalonica about the return of Christ, Paul said that “we who are alive and remain will be caught up together . . . to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thess. 4:17a). The use of the pronoun “we” indicates that Paul lived in the expectant hope that the Lord would return during his lifetime. 

          The implication of the personal, imminent return of Christ is that we should imitate Paul in that expectation. Paul recorded the God-breathed truth about the return of Christ and gave personal testimony to his belief in and response to that truth in order that we might live in the light of the blessed expectation that the Lord could return today. And what does living in that daily expectancy look like? Do we sell all our possessions, buy a telescope, climb to the top of the nearest mountain, and constantly scan the skies? Paul’s brother apostle, John, explains that everyone who has a genuine hope in the appearing of Christ “purifies himself, just as He [i.e., Christ] is pure” (I John 3:3b). In other words, we need not guess how genuine our belief is regarding the return of Christ. If the return of Christ is truly our hope, our lives will be transformed; we will purify ourselves; we will actively engage in becoming more and more like our Savior. Paul waited “eagerly,” meaning that he enthusiastically prepared himself to meet the Lord. Does your life attest that you believe in the imminent return of Christ?  

      

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