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Let us turn in our Bibles to the letter to the Hebrews. I want to read there Hebrews
chapter 9. Ligon Duncan made reference to Donald Grey Barnhouse this morning, and those
of you who have the set of Barnhouse's expositions of Romans, in either 12 volumes, or four volumes,
or there may even be a one-volume edition. For all I know, I was given them when I was
in my early twenties, and I was always intrigued by the folly of the statement on the dust
jacket, which was that in these expositions, Dr. Barnhouse took the letter to the Romans
as the point of departure. Sadly, that is what often happens in pulpits, that the text
becomes the point of departure, and one sees this, I think more and more on television.
When I came first of all to work in the United States in 1983, I often thought about those
I saw, that a good number of them needed to see psychiatrists because they were mentally
sick and unbalanced people handling the Scriptures, and some of them so proved to be. It was an
astonishment to me that more people did not see that. But at least, what they were doing
in an unbalanced way was connected to the Scriptures. It was their point of departure,
and now what one often sees on television, although I do not often see it on television,
is people with huge Bibles on their laps, eagerly nodding their heads and taking notes
who have no sense whatsoever that what is being said has no connection whatsoever with
the book that is on their laps.
Dare I say that our ignorance of Scripture in the Western pseudo-Christian world has
made us one of the most, if not the most, religiously gullible societies in the face
of the earth. We just do not see it, and that is why to return to where at least I began,
that is why it is so important in days when people have itching ears and find teachers
to suit their own desires that we stick faithfully and manfully to the task. But as Paul says
to Timothy, "We keep the head," "Keep your head," he says, "in all things," and you remember
how he says to Timothy in words that very much have become a watchword of ministry for
me, "The thing to do is to keep your head in the Word, and whether you are in season
or out of season, with patience and careful instruction, teach the truth of God's Word."
You may know the story of the Welsh man who was brought up before the bishop of the Church
of Wales because he was preaching the Scriptures, and the bishop complained that he was always
preaching the Scriptures and he wanted him to stop, and the very wise and biblically
instructed Episcopalian minister said to the bishop, "Sir, I am not always preaching the
Scriptures. I only preach the Scriptures at two times." The bishop said, "Well, what are
those times?" He said, "In season and out of season."
Well, let us turn to Hebrews chapter 9, which is actually going to be my point of departure.
I am not going to linger with this passage, but it very much puts our thinking about the
last things and especially the return of Christ, on which I am going to focus all of our attention
this morning, into a wonderful biblical perspective:
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the
greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once
for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by
means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats
and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for
the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the
eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead
works to serve the living God."
And then the author goes on in verse 26 that if he had offered repeated sins "then he would
have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once
for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just
as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been
offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin
but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
Our Heavenly Father till we come to the end of our time together, we thank You for the
blessings You have poured out upon us through the fellowship of Your children and fellow
servants in the gospel, for the joy of worshipping and praising You together, for the interaction
of iron sharpening iron, as we have sought to sit under the ministry of Your Word, and
to encourage one another personally through that Word. We pray that by Your Holy Spirit,
Your Word will be a living Word to us today and that once again we may feel, as Your children,
that You are addressing us as sons and that You are displaying to us the riches of the
glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we pray together for His name's sake.
Like many of you, I am sure, in our church Sunday by Sunday, with probably many millions
of Christian believers, our congregation stands to confess the three appearings of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 9:26 "He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the
sacrifice of himself." Verse 24, "He now appears in the presence of God on our behalf." Verse
28, "He will appear a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him." And
so every single Sunday, every member of the congregation stands to answer the question,
"What is it that you believe?" And we believe in His first appearing, that He was born of
the Virgin Mary. We believe in His present appearing, that He has ascended to the right
hand of the Father, and He there appears before the presence of the Majesty on High for our
sakes, as our mediator. We believe that He will come again to judge the quick and the
dead, and by His appearing, not this time deal with sin, but bring about the consummation
of our salvation, by His return in majesty and in glory.
We confess, as we learned very early on in the Acts of the Apostles, that the heavens
have received our Lord Jesus Christ until the consummation of all things, which rather
suggests to me that from the very beginning of the Christian church, from those early
apostolic messages, the return of Jesus Christ and the consummation of all things were seen
by the apostles as coterminous events. Where they fix their gaze therefore, essentially,
when they thought about what we call "the last things" was not upon the things that
were last but upon the appearing of the Savior who would come at the end of the ages.
It is, at least in my estimation, something of a tragedy that the Christian church has
so often lost sight of this that eschatology is, at the end of the day, Christology. So
often in our systematic theological textbooks, as in a sense may be understandable to us
logically, we have divorced eschatology from Christology and not understood that all eschatology
is but the consummation of Christology. Which is why the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy
chapter 4 that the crown of righteousness is given not to those who have worked out
their eschatology, but to all those who love the appearing of Christ. That is to say the
Christ of the third appearing.
I suppose if there were any burden that throbs through the New Testament message, it is this,
that when we think about the last things, we must never allow our minds to be diverted
from this principle that the last things, like the first things and the present things
for the Christian believer, are always first and foremost the things of Jesus Christ and
that the whole purpose of the teaching of the New Testament on the last things is to
fix our gaze and focus on the way in which our Lord Jesus Christ will accomplish the
work that He came to earth to do.
So the moment my eyes are diverted from the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the moment when
I have divorced eschatology from Christology and cut, as it were, the essential relationship
in the gospel between the kingdom of God and the ministry of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.
I say that for the very obvious reason that the teaching we are given in the New Testament
about the last things was never intended to make us arm chair theologians, but lovers
of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any investigation of eschatology in which I engage that does
not bring me to bow in further awe and reverent worship for my Lord Jesus Christ is, by definition,
an unbiblical eschatology. Since the first principle of satanic operation in the Christian
life is to divert you from Jesus, it should not at all surprise us how much more excited
and interested we can be sometimes, including in our preaching, about the last things than
we are about the exalted and coming Savior.
I say that because it is endemic in the Christian world, and it is not just the Christian world
out there, it is the Christian world in here. That it seems to be almost infinitely easier
for us to focus our gaze upon talking about this world, and about man, and about our experience,
and about systems of thought, than it is in exalting and magnifying the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the plagues of our time in preaching is the extent to which men of consummate ability
and unusual skills of communication do very little more than talk about man and his need,
and his sin, and his plans, and how his life can be changed, rather than exalting the person
and the ministry and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have come to call that the "Find Waldo" hermeneutic. You remember Waldo, the little
fellow with the striped jersey and the funny hat, in the books with no words, full of people,
and the only purpose of reading the book, I do not know whether it was meant for children
or for adults, the only purpose of reading the book was to try to find Waldo in this
picture. My conviction is that is the dominant hermeneutic in the evangelical church, and
therefore when you expound the gospel the real question of interest is, "Where are you
in this gospel?" The answer to that question is, "You are nowhere in this gospel." This
gospel was not written in order that you might find yourself in this gospel. This gospel
was written so to magnify and glorify our Lord Jesus Christ that you might be found
by Him through the gospel and found in Him by faith.
You see, it is altogether possible even to engage in a systematic expository ministry
but to use the wrong fundamental principle and actually be talking about man rather than
talking about Christ, and your best energies and your greatest imagination has all got
to do with man who needs salvation and little to do with Jesus Christ who brings salvation.
If that is true generally, it is certainly most particularly true in eschatological matters,
is it not? That you do not, so often leave with a sense of the sheer, undiluted, majestic
glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, bowing down before Him, lost in wonder, love, and praise,
but either admiring the brilliance of the plan that the preacher has set before you
or scratching your head and wondering how these locusts turned into tanks, although
this is supposed to be the literal interpretation of the book of Revelation.
I want to say this to you who preach and teach with all my heart, because it is a scourge
of our time, that gospel ministers, including Reformed ministers, may be far better at exposing
the sinfulness of the human heart than we are at exalting the glory of our Lord Jesus
Christ. That is why, as we think about the last things, I want us to try and focus our
attention exclusively on what the New Testament has to say to us about the return of Jesus
Christ and in five ways. Number one, the promise of it; number two, the manner of it; number
three, the time of it; number four, the purpose of it; and number five, our response to it.
I will try and do these just as quickly as would be reverent.
First of all, "The Promise of our Lord's Return," remembering that every promise of God finds
its "yes" and "amen" in our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the important thing for us to notice,
since there is really not an author in the New Testament who does not, in one sense or
another, touch on the theme of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is so important
for us to grasp the context in which particularly our Lord Jesus Himself, and therefore, the
early Christian community that awaits the return of the Lord Jesus, it is so important
for us to catch a sense of the atmosphere in which the promise of His return is given.
For this reason, since we presume our Lord Jesus knew that none of those to whom He was
speaking would be alive at His return, since He presumably knew that none of those to whom
He was speaking would be alive at His return, what was the function of teaching them about
His return? Or to put it another way around, what actual, practical difference would it
make to your Christian life? What difference has it made to your Christian life today that
there is a promise of the return of Jesus Christ? Why is this such a big thing in the
New Testament? Well the simple reason is this, and actually becomes clear as I see in the
context, the atmosphere in which our Lord begins to unfold, with increasing clarity
to His disciples, not only that He is going to die on the cross, that He is going to rise
from the grave, but He is also going to return again. It is simply this, the promise of His
return is given to the disciples, not just because He is going to return. He did not
need to divulge that. There are many things the Lord Jesus Christ has not divulged to
us. There are many questions that the Lord Jesus Christ does not answer. So why does
He divulge that He will return again in majesty and glory?
Well the answer is this, He begins to teach His disciples this precisely in the context
of the increasing unveiling of the shame, the humiliation, and the rejection that He
is going to know in Jerusalem, and in Gethsemane, and in Golgotha. He wants them to understand
that this is not the final act in His work but that there will be, for their blessed
Lord Jesus Christ, a worldwide exaltation of Him in majesty and glory that will be correlative
to the humiliation, and shame, and rejection He has experienced by all men.
If we grasp that, then we are able to bring to, for example, the teaching of the epistles,
and to some of the intricate details and frankly difficult verses in the epistles about the
last things, the appropriate atmosphere of our Lord Jesus' own teaching, that every single
detail we are given in connection with His return is related in a very direct way to
the degree of His humiliation. Sometimes very clearly, the very spheres in which the Lord
Jesus Christ's exaltation will be seen in His return and glory and in the last things,
is intimately related to precisely the ways in which He was rejected, and demeaned and
humiliated in this world.
There is a sense therefore, in the New Testament Scriptures that Jesus must reign because Jesus
has been humiliated, and every eye that has cursed Him, every mouth that has rejected
Him must see Him in His glory, because God will not have His Son demeaned in this world
but has determined that since He is the Son of the passion of His love, He will be given
a name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, when
during His ministry essentially no knee naturally bowed and proclaimed Him Lord of all.
He comes, in that sense, to bring a consummation to the kingdom He established, to turn the
secret of the kingdom of God into an open proclamation of His royal majesty and glory,
and to demonstrate without a peradventure that the cross on which He died was, as Calvin
said, "But the triumphal chariot on which He would ride, as He would bring in His kingdom
and finally consummate it throughout the earth."
And not least, and this is particularly clear in the teaching of the apostle Paul, that
since He had come, and indeed through His companion Luke, that since he had come as
it were in essence to bear the judgment of God on Adam's sin and its consequences, to
undo the tragedy that Adam's sin had brought into the world, and to do what Adam was called
to do, it is of the very essence of our Lord Jesus Christ's finished, continuing, and consummate
work that the word that was spoken to Adam of which we thought yesterday morning, "You
are to have dominion," should be fulfilled in the person, in the work, in the final ministry
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you remember that almost the last thing our Lord Jesus is recorded as saying to His
Father in the Gospel of John, is this in the great prayer in chapter 17:24, "Father," He
says, "This is My last will and testament that those who have been with me, whom You
have given to Me in your love for Me, who in these next hours will see me in the most
terrible shame, and humiliation, becoming a worm and no man, coming under Your judgment
curse, as though I were rejected not only by man, but by God. My desire is, oh Heavenly
Father grant Me this, that they may see Me in the glory that you gave Me, in your love
for Me from before the foundation of the world."
I think the first person to do this at the Wimbledon tennis championships was the Australian
tennis player, Pat Cash. It broke every rule of Wimbledon English etiquette. When he had
won the championship, he clambered up over the seats in order to embrace that little
group of people who had seen him in the sweat, and the labor, and the failures, and the defeats.
Why? Because at a human level, at a human level, he wanted to share the moment of glory
with those who had seen him at his lowest point. Now you see, that is what our Lord
Jesus is praying. That is His heart towards us. That is why there is the promise of His
coming. That one day we will see this, one day we who, by and large, still see the Lord
Jesus Christ rejected and demeaned in the world, one day we will see Him with every
knee bowing before Him and every voice willingly or unwillingly saying in a cosmic chorus,
"Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." If we take our eye off that promise,
then our Christian lives are deflated and our understanding of the last things diverted
from their essence and center.
That is the reason why, the second thing I want us to notice, not only the promise of
His coming, but "The Manner of His Coming." You are familiar with the fact that by and
large, there are three terms used in the New Testament in relationship to our Lord's coming.
It is an apocalypse, it will be an unveiling, we do not now see Him, although we love Him
and rejoice with joy unspeakable, that is in some ways already full of glory, but one
day the heavens will part and our Lord Jesus Christ will be unveiled in majesty and triumph.
There will be an "epiphaneia," an epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will be manifested
to us. There will be a "parousia" of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will come, as in a royal
visit to His people, to be received by them. They will as it were, go out to meet Him,
as you remember the early Christians went out to meet the apostle Paul in the apostle
Paul's parousia in Rome, in Acts chapter 28.
When the New Testament stresses where our gaze will be, what our wonder will be on that
occasion, there are a variety of things to say about it of course, some of them very
mysterious. Perhaps the most important is this, He will come personally. It must surely
be one of the sweetest things in the opening words of the Acts of the Apostles that as
the apostles are staring into heaven, remember Spurgeon's statement about this. I should
leave all Spurgeon's statements to my friend Steve Lawson, but this is a Spurgeon statement
that I find particularly attractive as a Presbyterian. He was speaking about certain Christians in
the nineteenth century, and he sees the angels of heaven bringing them a message, "You men
of Plymouth," he says, "Why do you stand there, gazing into heaven? This same Jesus will come
again, in like manner to the manner in which you have seen Him go." These must surely be
almost the most precious words about the return of the Lord Jesus in all of the Bible. He
is not for changing, this same Jesus. Really? The same Jesus who showed such sympathy for
sinners, such wonderful power to restore life, the same Jesus who was so patient with His
disciples, the same Jesus who was so angry with religious Pharisees. Yes, this same Jesus
and no other.
He will not be different from the Jesus about whom we read in the Gospels. That is why when
we read about Jesus in the Gospels, we can really get to know Jesus because the Jesus
who shows His presence in the Gospels is the real Jesus, and it is the same Jesus that
will come again personally. He will come again visibly says the book of Revelation. Every
eye will see Him. But that is made even clearer, is it not, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 when we
are told that He will come with the holy angels. This boggles the imagination. This, in a sense,
underscores for us that the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwell,
which our Lord Jesus Christ will bring in by His appearing and His coming will have
dimensions and possibilities that are as yet unfathomable for us.
He will come wonderfully visibly, but not only personally and visibly, he will come
audibly. He will come, says the Scriptures, with the sound of a trumpet. Presumably the
reference here is to the Old Testament celebration of the year of jubilee that was brought in
by the sound of a trumpet. A trumpet announcement that the great day of liberation has come
when debts are cancelled, when land returns to its original owners, and that is the picture.
It is the Lord Jesus returning this land to its original owner by His coming and His appearing,
subduing everything to Himself. The trumpet sound, and yes also audibly the cry of command
in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which is not further exegeted there but presumably is the command
of the resurrection when He will come and say, as He once said, this same Jesus at the
tomb of Lazarus, "Lazarus come forth." You remember how some of the earlier Christians
used to underscore the absolute necessity of Him using Lazarus' name because, as they
said, the Savior has such power that if He had simply said "Come forth," all the dead
would have come forth. But on this occasion, simply the words "Come forth," and the dead
arising some to life and some to be thrown into outer darkness when He will consummate
the work of resurrection that He began in our regeneration.
You probably know this very peculiar statistic actually that although so many of us become
Reformed because we come to understand the absolute sovereignty of God in regeneration,
the term "regeneration" is used with astonishing infrequency in the New Testament and appears
actually in the Gospels only on one occasion, and it is referring not to personal regeneration
but to the regeneration of the entire cosmos at the return of Jesus Christ. Now that may
seem strange to us, but it is a tremendous clue to help us understand what our personal
regeneration is. It is not actually an individualistic regeneration that has no relationship to anything
else. It is the seed planted within our heart, as the Apostle John says does he not, in 1
John "the seed planted within our hearts" that is the seed of the final harvest of the
regeneration of all things. It is our present taste of that glorious renewal that is yet
to come. It is our entry into the new creation that is not yet consummated. So that in some
sense is the glory of the resurrection. You know, people sometimes ask questions about
what will we be like in the resurrection, and in a sense what we learn here about that
glorious resurrection that will take place when Jesus calls to all the earth, "Rise and
come forth" is that our resurrected persons will be but the inner regenerate man becoming
the outward resurrected man.
I do not know whether this is Scottish or not, but Scottish people sometimes say about
a photograph, "You were very like yourself in that photograph," but I think where the
New Testament is heading is that when we see one another in the resurrection, we will be
in such awe of what our Lord has done that we will have a tendency to say one another,
"I never really knew that who you were in Christ," when everything that is inner becomes
outer and everything that is hidden will be revealed. You know that notion that everything
that is hidden will be revealed and the things that have been whispered in secret will be
shouted from the housetops is often used like a rod to beat Christians but however solemnizing
that may be, it has kernel within it that on that day nothing will be hidden. Your wrestlings
with your sin, the wounds that you carry.
You know many of us here, perhaps the majority of us here, are pastors and we announce bereavements.
I announce bereavements almost every single Sunday in our church and every time I do it,
my heart sinks because I think every single time, I make a reference to this individual
who is bereaved it rubs on the wounds of all others, and some of them have been bereaved
for many years and time helps in God’s providence, but time never heals that wound. There is
no recompense in this world, and some of you know that. Some of you have those experiences
when after many, many years even decades of handling the inner pain of loss, a word or
perhaps a dream makes you realize how deep the sore is. One of the things that can make
it sore is that nobody knows, nobody feels, and sometimes nobody cares.
That is why we will be able to last forever, incidentally. Those of who have been married
many years, remember the day you were married you thought there has never been a man in
history, let me use the masculine illustration because I have been inside the feminine illustration.
You have thought it is not possible that man has ever loved woman the way I love this woman,
and now you have been married five years. Actually it just takes five days, and you
think, "I must have been off my head thinking that," and why is it, maybe this is just Scottish
but people always say to me, "What do you and your wife like to do?" and I will say,
"We do not like to do anything." Actually, this is a sign that we become a doing society
rather than a being society. I say, "We just like to be together." "But, what do you together?"
I say, "We do not do anything together. We just like being together." "But what do you
do?" I say, "I like looking at my wife. I like listening to my wife." "What do you talk
about?" "Anything, anything that discloses the almost infinite mystery that my wife is
to me is of interest to me," and after 38 years it has not lost its fascination. Thank
God, and I still do not begin to know her. I still have days when I think, "I have known
you all these years. We have known each other 44 years and 17 days, and I often think I
am still only beginning to get to know you."
Now what when it is all visible and readable, and you have millions of others even the own
church to which that might have just 70 others, there is an eternity of fascination in the
assembly to which you belong, and on that day you see. Now what is the purpose of this?
The purpose of this is not that we should spend eternity fascinated with one another,
although that is one of the layers. The purpose of this is so that we can investigate, analyze,
discuss, and marvel at what our Lord Jesus Christ has done. Because at the end of the
day, it will take all the ransomed church of God to put on display the undiluted glory
of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why it is important for us, as I try to
underline here that when Jesus comes personally, visibly, audibly to transform us, not only
will we delight in Him, but we will delight in Him precisely because we delight in one
another absolutely without sin.
My son sent me a photograph, or one of my three sons and a daughter, one of my boys
sent me a photograph the other week that he had taken in a graveyard in Edinburgh. He
is particularly interested in and studying a great 19th century Scottish theologian by
the name of Hugh Martin. He sent me this photograph of the grave of Hugh Martin, but there are
two other graves beside it. One is the grave of George Smeaton, and another is the grave
of William Cunningham. Now these three names may not mean very much to some of you, but
these are three of the greatest names of the Christian church in the Western world in the
middle and later part of 19th century Scotland. These are the B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge
and the James Henley Thornwell of the Scottish Church, and in one photograph their three
headstones stand together. That made me wonder if there was a space nearby. What will that
be on the day of resurrection? I cannot help thinking about my son who has spent now two
and half years, more than that, studying the theology of Hugh Martin being able to go to
Hugh Martin and say, "Is this is what you really meant to say?" and Hugh Martin saying,
"I think we had better talk to Jesus about that."
He will come. He will come visibly, He will come audibly. The third thing I want to say
just a word about because that is all I know about is the time of His coming. The time
of His coming, Matthew 24:36 and 42 is unknown, and you remember how in those verses our Lord
Jesus is responding essentially to a great question, "What is the time of your coming?"
and He says, "No one knows that day or hour," and "day or hour" is not a phrase that means
at what particular day of the week and what particular hour. That means the time, no one
knows the time of My coming because that knowledge belongs only to the Father. There is one statement,
did you know this, in the Gospels, that every single, the most liberal of scholars have
always assumed Jesus must have made and this is the statement, "I do not know when I am
returning." Now, why do even liberal scholars think that for the simple reason no Gospel
writer in his right mind, wanting to extol and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as very God
of very God would ever put that statement in the Gospel if he had invented it himself,
because it is a plain confession of ignorance on the part of Jesus. Nobody knows, not even
the Son knows.
Now two things, number one, He is clearly speaking there in terms of His humanity. His
humanity, Jesus as to His humanity does not know. The humanity of Jesus does not slide
over to the deity of Jesus and say, "Just slip me the answer here." He does not know.
What is He saying? He is saying, "That is a secret of deity. It is not known even to
My humanity because it is not an appropriate part of knowledge for humanity to know." Let
me just add another thing is that if my Christology does not have room for a Jesus who A, grew
in favor with God, and B, did not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man would
return, by definition my understanding of Jesus is not the New Testament’s understanding
of Jesus.
The New Testament can say both of these things with a frank and full and joyful acknowledgement
that our Lord Jesus Christ is himself very God of very God, but the Christian church
throughout the ages has always understood that the humanity and deity of the Lord Jesus
are not mixed together so that the humanity shares in any of the properties of deity.
Such a Jesus would be incapable of qualifying to be the Savior of real men and women, because
He would have ceased to have been a real man like us, sin apart. The humanity and the deity
of Jesus, as the church has throughout the ages confessed, are united in the divine person
of the Son of God, and that is the explanation for this staggering confession that not even
the Son knows when the Son of Man will return again in majesty and glory. If that is true,
that is where you and I rest very simply, do not even ask the question or say, "I need
to know exactly when He is coming," because He did not need to know exactly when He was
coming. Any fascination with that question is by definition a diversion from the true
Lord Jesus Christ.
That said, we do know certain things about the time of his coming. First, that it is
unknown and second, that it will be unexpected. He will come when men think not. He will come
as in various parts of the Scriptures we are taught, as a thief in the night. Now, why
does the New Testament tell us we do not know the day or hour of his coming, and that day
and hour will be unexpected? For a very simple reason, but one of the most basic lessons
we need to learn in the Christian life is always to expect the unexpected. That is actually
true of the whole Christian life. That is actually one of the most basic principles
of pastoral ministry, is it not? If you do not expect the unexpected, you will sink in
the ministry because the ministry is absolutely full of the unexpected. And so those parables
of Jesus, when He speaks about His return, emphasize to us that we must therefore always
be ready for His return.
So it is unknown, it is unexpected, and the third thing I want to point out is that certainly
from my perspective and your perspective, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is a delayed
return. Remember how the New Testament Christians themselves had to face this because people
were saying to Him, "You know, you are saying He is going to return and look, everything
has remained the same. Nothing has changed," just as people do today. You remember how
Peter explains why the return of the Lord is delayed. You think of the things that happened
in the 20th century, the world, the shame of the world, the rejection of God in this
world, why did the Lord Jesus Christ not return 20 years ago? I will tell you how you will
need to learn to think about that. The way Peter does. Some of you would be in hell this
morning if Jesus had returned 20 years ago. Some of you would be in hell because you were
alive then, but you were dead in your trespasses and sins, you were without hope and without
help, and your salvation has required the apparent delay in the return of the Lord Jesus
Now that brings us to the question that is raised in Matthew 24, is it not, by the disciples.
What are the signs going to be of Your coming? And it looks to me in Matthew 24 that the
disciples are asking one question, and they do not realize they are actually asking two
questions. "Tell us when will these things be?" the destruction of the Jerusalem temple
about what Jesus has spoken in Matthew 24:2, "When will these things be and what will be
the sign of Your coming and the close of the age?" They cannot but think that these two
things are one and the same thing, but Jesus explains in Matthew 24 that these two things
are different things. That the destruction of the temple that actually took place in
AD 70 was, as it were, simply the external manifestation of the desecration, the de-consecration
of the temple that took place on the afternoon of his atoning sacrifice when God deconsecrated
the temple by ripping in two, from top to bottom, the curtain into the holy place. The
persistent rejection of Him led to the externalizing of that, and Jesus weaves together a whole
series of principles there that are adumbrated in the days of the destruction of the Jerusalem
but are pervasive in a sense of the whole era until He returns, and I suppose when you
put all the biblical teaching together we find that wars and rumors of war, the experience
of tribulation, the revelation of the man of sin, the gospel going to the world, the
conversion of the Jews, all filter into the whole question of what are the signs of His
But you know, there is a sense in which every single one of these signs might already be
fulfilled, or there may be a sense in which the final fulfillment of each of these signs
awaits its consummation. Do you know one of the great things about being a Reformed Christian
is it sets you free to say, "I do not what the answer to that question is. I think if
I did know the answer to the question, I probably would be God Himself." As Geerhardus Vos says,
"Characteristic of these words about these so called signs of the return of the Lord
Jesus Christ is that their meaning by definition will only be fully clear when they have been
fully consummated, and this much we know that since He has not yet come, they are not fully
That brings me to point number four, "The Purpose of His Coming." He comes, does He
not, to judge the world, to raise the dead, and consummate our salvation and to judge
the world, to condemn the wicked. Said Thomas Boston, the great Scottish minister in the
18th century, "To be damned by Him who came to save sinners is to be doubly damned when
He comes to vindicate His people to give to his disciples the crown of righteousness,
to transform these bodies of lowliness into His likeness in a body of glory that we may
be like Him because we see Him face to face, to renew the cosmos that groans along with
groaning Christians waiting for the day when the sons of God will come into their own.
And He comes at the end of the day to bring to a consummation what He did because Adam
failed to do it."
Perhaps we can draw near to a close by just turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and thinking
about how the Apostle Paul sees eschatology as the consummation of protology, as he sees
the work of Jesus Christ as the work of the second man and the last Adam who not only
undoes what Adam had so badly done, and pays the penalty for Adam's sin in doing it, but
does the very thing that Adam was created to do, as the image of God to exercise dominion
over all the earth being given as it were a little start as a father would give the
son who was in his image. He is given a little garden, and He is told to exercise such dominion
that the whole world will at the end under His dominion become a most glorious garden.
That He will be able to go back to His Father and say, "Father, I have done it. It is finished,
receive it as my love gift to You because You have been such a faithful Father."
Now look at this verse 22, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made
alive. But each in his own order." First of all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secondly,
the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus Christ, and then thirdly, verse 25, the putting
of all His enemies under his feet because He must reign, and then stage four when verse
24, "after destroying every rule and every authority and power," He the second man, the
last Adam delivers the dominion over to the Father and then verse 28, "When all things
are subjected to him," that is the Father, "then," now think of this statement in relationship
to our Lord's statement that He does not know the day or the hour of his coming.
He is speaking there as the second man and the last Adam, and here as the second man
and the last Adam, having consummated the work that Adam failed to do and exercised
his final dominion with everything under His feet, when all things are subjected to Him,
and Genesis 1:26-28 has come to this glorious consummation, "then the Son himself will also
be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all
in all." You see, this is not the subordination of the deity of the Son to the deity of the
This is the consummation of the ministry of the Son in our humanity, taking the place
of Adam and exercising dominion over all things where Adam had failed, going back to his Father
as Adam originally was intended to go back to him, just like a little child who had satisfactorily
completed everything his Father intended him to do and saying with joy rather than in agony,
"It is finished, Father. Into your hands I commit my work that I have done for You,"
and then says Paul, in His capacity in our humanity as our representative as our Savior,
He will bow the knee before His Father and say, "You gave this to them, they lost it,
but Father here am I and the children you have given Me," and the gates of the new order
will be flung open, and He will say to all who belong to Jesus Christ, "Come, come, come
to the marriage supper of the Lamb, to the blessed exaltation of My Son." What is our
Number one, let us make use of the delay. Let us make use of the delay. Number two,
it is not yet and therefore learn that meanwhile we grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for the
redemption of our bodies, our adoption as sons. Number three, live in a godly fashion.
That is the use characteristically that the New Testament makes of this doctrine, is it
not? What manner of men should we be in the light of this?
Live a godly life. Number four, live joyfully. You see, so long as my eyes or diverted in
eschatology to the puzzles, I will live in puzzlement. But when my eyes are focused on
the blessed appearance of My Lord Jesus Christ, I will live in expectation and in joy for
this reason. This is what Colossians 3:1-4 teaches us. He will not appear unless those
who belong to Him can appear with Him in glory. Who would want to be anything else but Christ's
if He loves us like that? Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Heavenly Father fill us, we pray, as a people with expectation of your coming glory and
as we find written into Your Word teaching that challenges our understanding, that stretches
not only our minds but our imagination, grant that we may never lose sight of Jesus Christ
Himself clothed in his gospel, finishing the work that His Father gave him to do, and like
the Son of Man sharing His kingdom with the saints of the Most High. Enable us, we pray,
to live in that joyful expectation. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
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Sinclair Ferguson: The Last Things

2793 Folder Collection
Jack published on November 4, 2015
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