Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...

The Return

Return
The Urgent Question of Christ’s Return

As a new Christian in a Pentecostal church, I grew up with the regular question, “Can Jesus return at any moment?” It affected everything I did, including the terrifying prospect of what would happen if Jesus returned while I was at the cinema!

Happily, things have changed now, but the former question still remains. I may be wrong, but it seems that Christians long for revival more than Christ’s return. However, Christ’s return is a real cornerstone of Christian hope, yet it is accompanied by an array of prophecies and signs that can sometimes lead to raised eyebrows, confusion, or misinterpretation. Does the Bible really suggest that Jesus might return at literally any moment, or are there specific events that must unfold first?

Understanding the Signs

The Apostle Paul offers wisdom and guidance on this when he addresses the Thessalonian believers, who were unsettled by wild claims that the day of the Lord had already arrived. Paul quickly steps in to reassure them, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Paul’s encouragement is unequivocal: before Christ’s return, there will be a significant rebellion, and a figure known as the man of lawlessness will emerge. It’s not Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Mr Putin, or even Jeff Bezos.

If it’s not them, then who is it? It’s not the Pope. As of June 2024, these events have not yet transpired. Paul speaks of this man of lawlessness as a globally impactful and brief phenomenon: “[He] opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God… And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:4, 8). It’s not going to go well for him.

Right now, it looks like a figure in history on a far, far horizon, but to those who might think this man of lawlessness is a distant future concern, Paul offers a sobering reminder: “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Already at work—sobering! This joins up neatly with the Apostle John’s reference to the antichrist: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

The stark warning is evident: vigilance is essential, for the deceptive power of lawlessness is already among us, laying the groundwork for future events.

The Imminent Rebellion

The anticipated rebellion, or apostasy, is another significant marker yet to occur—and, like most traumatic events in our lives and history, it can happen suddenly, when we least expect it.

This massive event, while less distinctly defined than the emergence of the man of lawlessness, is expected to be notable enough for believers to recognise its absence as an indicator that the day of the Lord has not yet arrived. Paul speaks of a discernible departure from the true faith in 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” This defection, Paul notes, is already manifesting (1 Timothy 4:1–5).

Paul goes on to warn Timothy of difficult times ahead, marked by self-centredness and moral decline: “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money… Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1–2, 5). The signs of the end are ever-present, but what will differentiate the final days is the unprecedented intensity of these evils. Paul alludes to a present restraint on evil that will be lifted, allowing for greater malevolence before the end (2 Thessalonians 2:7). You may think the days we are living in are dark days, but things have been worse at times in history (consider WWI and WWII). Paul is, I think, speaking of far worse.

Wars and the Siege of Jerusalem

Reflecting on Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24, much of which concerns the end of the age, we see that it encompasses events both past and future. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is a pivotal moment within this broader narrative. Jesus prophesied, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15–16).

This catastrophic event is emblematic of the trials that have marked history and will continue to do so. Jesus uses it as a lens through which to view the ongoing tribulations leading up to his return: “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:6–8).

The destruction of Jerusalem was merely the start of these birth pains. Throughout the last two millennia, countless calamities and persecutions have echoed Jesus’ warnings, even in our day. These events, while distressing, are not precise indicators of the actual timing of Christ’s return. They are, however, reminders of its imminence. He’s coming…

The Significance of Birth Pains

In Matthew 24:32–34, Jesus offers those who would listen a parable: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” He is telling us to remain alert to the signs of the times, not to predict the exact minute of his return, but to stay prepared and vigilant—even if you are at the cinema!

These “birth pains” are not without purpose. They serve as constant, ‘in your face’ reminders of the approaching end, urging believers to live in readiness. The presence of false Christs, wars, natural disasters, and moral decline should awaken in us a renewed sense of urgency and faithfulness.

The Triumph of the Gospel Mission

Amidst these warnings, Jesus provides a hopeful promise: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). This audacious mission, though challenging, is destined for triumph. The spread of the gospel is a pivotal sign that precedes the end, but it is not a tool for date-setting.

Some suggest (in the strongest terms possible!) that the events of Matthew 24:4–35 were fulfilled by AD 70 and that the global proclamation of the gospel occurred within the first century. However, it is not very convincing—a broader interpretation suggests that these events extend beyond the first century, with the mission to the nations continuing for the long run until God deems it complete. It is not done until it is done! This all stands as evidence that God has very big plans for His beloved Church. After all, if we reflect and are part of God’s magnificent, breath-taking glory, then it makes sense. This is going to be an awesome bride!

Living in Great Expectation

So, does the New Testament teach that Jesus may return at any moment? For certain, it teaches readiness. While specific events like the rebellion and the appearance of the man of lawlessness are yet to occur, the call to great, relentless vigilance remains. These prophetic signs and the things we observe today with the threat of war in Europe, continuing conflict in Palestine, Ukraine, and elsewhere, the political unrest, the cost of living crisis, and many other circumstances of anxiety serve not as a checklist for predicting Christ’s return but as reminders to live each day in faithful, hopeful anticipation.

The urgency of the New Testament’s message lies in its call to me, you, and your church to stay awake, remain steadfast in faith, and engage actively in the mission of the gospel, telling people about our wonderful Jesus—a commission that, in some quarters, has been largely ignored and rejected.

Each moment carries the potential of Christ’s return, and thus, every moment is an opportunity to align our lives with his teachings, spread his message of hope, and prepare our hearts for his glorious return.

And what a return it will be—and the trumpet will be very loud!

The Return
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