In a moment, a flash of time, we will be changed from death to life; believers in Jesus Christ will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:52). As most early Christians did, the church at Thessalonica greatly anticipated the return of the Lord and were warned by Paul “in regard to the coming of our Lord” not to be deceived or shaken by some false teaching about the timing of the rapture (2 Thess. 2:1-3). This was the fifth mention of the day of the Lord’s return in the two letters to the Thessalonians. It is an epic event every true Christian should be eagerly awaiting. (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18)
The Apostle John also recorded Jesus saying to the disciples “I will come again and receive you to Myself (John 14:3)” just a few moments before proclaiming He is the Way, Truth, and Life. Waiting has always been a challenge for impatient human beings. There are many details we won’t know until we’re in Heaven, and one of them is ‘when?’ It’s no surprise many through the years including the Jehovah’s Witnesses have failed at attempts to predict the end of the world or the return of Jesus Christ. God’s timing has always been somewhat of a mystery.
From Bible prophecy, the gospels, and history, we know who, what, where, why, and how. Christ the soon coming King will fulfill the promises of God including the completion of our salvation (relief), and will deal out judgment on those who denied Him (retribution). According to the Scriptures, He will descend on a massive flaming cloud along with angels and a loud trumpet blast, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem, and He make all things new when He returns to rule and reign for all eternity.
We just don’t know when, and this is where faith comes in.
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (Emphasis mine)
We have an idea of what is coming but we will still marvel at the glorified, risen Lord upon His return. It is nearly impossible for us to grasp the majesty and greatness of a God who has always existed and who lives in eternity while we are limited by time and space; a God that is not only aware of, but intervenes in the lives of those of us who live in time. When the exact right moment arrives, God moves. Just as it will happen when Christ returns, God set things up from the start.
According to His plan and timetable, when the perfect religious, cultural, and political conditions were in place, Jesus Christ left the Father’s presence in eternity and entered the atmosphere of our world. The proper setting for the Son of God to appear was “when the fullness of time had come,” about which Paul further explains, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)”
When everything was in alignment after a determined portion of history had already played out, Jesus arrived at the precise moment.
Jesus Christ’s return will be another event God will bring to pass at the “fullness of time.” That word ‘fullness’ was used at His first appearance as well when the Apostle John wrote about amazing grace saying, “of His fullness we have all received.” He said this immediately after John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus by crying out that even though He was born after John, Jesus had a higher ranking because “He existed before me (John 1:15-16).”
Peter warned that even though mockers would come in the last days, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” suddenly and unexpectedly. He also encouraged great patience because with the Lord, “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day,” and further explained why He is delaying the return of Christ (1 Peter 3:8-10):
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
We plan our day around the twenty-four hour clock, but God has already written the day as well as all of human history, past, present, and future. We are restricted by time; He is limitless. God’s ways are far above and beyond our ways. Before the birth of Jesus Christ, mankind was desperate; we were without help and without hope in this world. Because of the love the Father has for us, at the proper time, God sent His Son to rescue mankind.
Some might ask why Jesus was not born hundreds of years earlier or later. Why did God choose the moment He did to send the long awaited Messiah to invade our atmosphere? Why not right after Adam and Eve sinned, why the delay in sending help? First, it is hard enough to try to comprehend what God has already revealed; it is virtually impossible to speculate about what was not yet revealed or why it wasn’t.
Scripture portrays God as existing in ever-extending time, with eternity being the continuation of time. But Revelation seems to teach that time will cease to exist when the present age ends. Two biblical words most commonly used for time are chronos and kairos. Chronos is associated with duration of time, and kairos with a point in time, particularly “the decisive moment.” A distinction is also sometimes drawn between a cyclical view of time and a linear view of time and history.
The ordering of events chronologically was important to some biblical writers, especially those who documented major histories such as the Old Testament synchronization of the kings of Judah and Israel as well as the genealogy of Jesus Christ. As for the end time “apocalyptic” writers, they seemed to organize history in periods, in this way understanding all of history falls under God’s sovereign direction. Jesus held the apocalyptic doctrine of two ages, the present evil age to be succeeded by the age to come in which all wrongs will be righted and God will reign over all.[i]
The people of Israel were delivered into the Promised Land at the perfect time though it took forty years. We also do not fully know why there were four hundred silent years after the prophets had spoken about salvation through the coming Messiah. When “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14),” the infinite became finite, and the gospel was manifested after thousands of years of human history had unfolded.
The world had experienced enough of life to know they needed a Savior so the supernatural reduced Himself to the natural. Jesus humbled Himself, and “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Phil. 2:6)” and would pay the penalty for sin as a substitute for mankind. At the exact right time, Christ died to save the ungodly (Rom. 5:6).
C. S. Lewis simplified it this way: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.” We could not have been adopted into His family and grafted in to the Vine without God’s perfect sacrifice. Also remember the Lord sees the end from the beginning.
So as we look deeper into His-story, we realize that it doesn’t begin in Matthew or Luke. God had a masterful plan. The mystery of the incarnation begins in the Old Testament with prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ who would become human without ceasing to be God.
We need to go back to Genesis after the fall of mankind where God cursed the serpent, saying:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring (seed); He shall bruise (crush) your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15
The battle lines were drawn! Prophecy was spoken.
The Curse of Genesis 3:15 is key to understanding the Bible and the battle of good vs. evil! Satan would cause Christ to suffer while Jesus would destroy Satan with a fatal blow. Not only will hatred (enmity) exist between the serpent and Eve; hatred will also exist between his seed and her seed. Who exactly is the seed of the serpent, and who exactly is the seed of Eve?
Where else in Scripture can we see this idea of conflict between the descendants of Satan and the offspring of a woman? In Revelation chapter 12.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. … (5) And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. …(17) So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12:1-2, 5, 17
Here’s the key: the woman about to give birth is the nation of Israel, the collective offspring of Eve. The dragon or serpent is the ultimate offspring of Satan, symbolizing the Antichrist, or man of lawlessness. The Bible teaches that “the lawless one will be revealed,” who is also referred to as the “son of destruction,” and by the Lord’s appearing and by His power, He will bring the man of lawlessness to an end (2 Thess. 2:8).
The devil knew the promised Messiah would come—and that He would come from the Jewish people. So he tried to stop that from taking place. King Herod tried killing all male babies under two years old (Matt. 2:16) in the vicinity of Bethlehem after hearing from the wise men where the prophesied child was to be born. They knew about Scriptures such as Micah 5:2 which states:
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
God warned Joseph in a dream, “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt,” not just to escape Herod’s slaughter of babies, but to fulfill another prophecy. Because when Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph again in a dream instructing him (Matt. 2:13-16) to move the family to the land of Israel which fulfilled Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Matthew uses Hosea’s statement to show the coming of the Messiah is an extension of the Lord’s love to His people. Herod’s attempt to thwart the will and timing of God failed miserably. When Joseph settled the family in Nazareth, he unknowingly fulfilled yet another prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:23),” most likely mentioned by Matthew because the city was known for its despised or lowly reputation. You may recall when Philip announced they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the reaction of Nathaniel may help explain this prophecy: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (Jn. 1:46)” [Also note Isaiah 53:3]
Nonetheless, as we have seen in the lives of world religion leaders, man will often try to find a way to fulfill his own selfish desires and outsmart God. It would have been helpful had Herod and others taken a lesson from the wisdom given to Job when he exclaimed to God, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2).”
The long awaited Messiah, Jesus son of Joseph, would fulfill hundreds of prophecies (and more to come when He returns!) and thus prove God’s faithfulness. The message of reconciliation is that we were at one time separated from the Lord because of our sins, and the presence of God physically arrived in the person of Jesus as foretold by an angel of the Lord saying, “they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us (Matt. 1:23).” So no matter what time of year you are reading this, let me enthusiastically wish you a Merry Christmas!
Pastor John MacArthur said:
If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!
From a practical viewpoint, God created the world by the power of the Holy Spirit through the person of Jesus Christ, and then visited the natural world He created. He spoke through the prophets and His Son, “whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” I cannot grasp this, can you?
It is even more astounding God did not enter the world through a queen to be born in a palace or into a position of earthly authority. His arrival would also not be during peaceful times, but times of injustice, rebellion, the strong hand of government, and religious hypocrisy and pride. Through Isaiah and others, God spoke, predicting the birth of Christ about 700 years before it happened:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7
These verses describe the eternal peace of the millennial kingdom as well as the virgin’s child being the rightful Son of David and heir to his messianic throne. Also notice in the last sentence how the Lord is passionate and enthusiastic about His divine plan to usher in His kingdom and reign with justice and righteousness. “The zeal of the Lord” will accomplish His plan.
God scripted the greatest story ever told, planning it all out well in advance, alluded to by the prophets for over hundreds of years. To encourage the people of Israel to remember past history including their miraculous deliverance out of Egypt, the Lord spoke to them through Isaiah:
“[R]emember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ Isaiah 46:9-11 (ESV)
The end? What was the Lord referring to? What is all His purpose? Do you ever wonder what the people of Isaiah’s time thought of these prophetic words? Remember the angel, Gabriel’s prophecy to Mary in Luke 1:31-33,
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The throne? Surely Mary knew about the throne of David. This message was astonishing enough, but what was the angel talking about when he mentioned a kingdom that would not end? So after nine months, Mary delivered Jesus – and Jesus would one day deliver her. When it was time to present Jesus to the Lord the family went to Jerusalem and, in another stunning declaration regarding the Child, look at Simeon’s prophecy in the gospel of Luke:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:25-35
With the prophets speaking through the years about the coming Messiah, and with anticipation and expectation so high, there were still apparently few people who recognized God’s appearing. Few seemed to realize the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ at the time.
Moreover, the greatest men and women of God through history, many of them mentioned in Hebrews 11, the great ‘hall of faith,’ would not see the promised salvation in their lifetimes and yet they still believed.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect… Hebrews 11:39
The faith of Old Testament saints looked forward to the promised salvation, the Deliverer, whereas the faith of those after Christ look back to the fulfillment of the promise! God’s plan and timing has prevailed in the past and will ultimately triumph. Along with these saints of old, we are saved by Jesus’ atoning work on the cross and fortunate to be in such company!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter (the beginning and the end) of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
Jesus stepped down and set aside His crown of gold to temporarily wear a crown of thorns that we one day may wear the crown of life. These verses remind us to leave our cares and excess baggage from the past behind and overcome every obstacle that may be hindering us from really knowing God and experiencing His forgiveness.
The Genesis prophecy mentioned earlier stated Jesus would be injured in the battle. At the cross, Satan bruised the heel of Jesus, but soon Jesus will crush Satan, ultimately dealing a death blow to him. The clock is ticking on the enemy and on the Day of His return, the countdown begins. Paul wrote to the Romans that “the God of peace would soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20).” The NKJ version uses the word “shortly.” The enemy will not relent because he knows his days are numbered. Judgment is coming and Satan will be vanquished forever.
One thing that sets us up for disappointment and discouragement is our own expectations. What do we expect from the Lord and when do we expect it? Even after we pray, we can often be quite impatient and demanding of God. Due in part to our Americanized, fast-paced culture, we want instant answers, but God doesn’t operate that way. Depending on the circumstances involved, waiting is often difficult and sometimes even painful.
Many of us in the West are conditioned to move fast and work fast and use every possible minute in an attempt to be productive, but this is not at all how Jesus lived. I’ve seen this kind of ‘striving’ activity produce anxiety, mistakes, and even health problems. God’s economy is different from ours in every way. His purposes are just and He doesn’t need to explain His actions to mankind. Be reminded that there is a season for everything, and a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).”
If you have ever been disappointed with God, His answer to your prayers or His timing, then welcome to the overcrowded club! Maybe we can all learn something from these experiences. Slow down and trust in Jesus; love God and love your neighbor, submit to God’s sovereignty. Obey His commandments and walk by faith (not by sight) a day at a time.
While we were still sinners, Christ redeemed us at just the right time, forgave our sins, and will return to deliver us eternally. He’s got us covered past, present, and future!
Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, 2 Corinthians 1:10 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul and other early Christians believed the new age had dawned with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our attitude will be determined by how well we keep in perspective things that have already happened and what is still expected to occur.
Appearing to the Apostle John during his exile on the Isle of Patmos, Jesus declared:
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Revelation 22:12-13
The masterplan of God is gradually unfolding, and we are His messengers. Examine your faith immediately if you have never done so. Just because we can’t understand God does not mean we can’t trust Him. As the song goes, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!”
We must encourage and challenge one another: how are you using the precious time God has allotted you? Are you spending it on earthly comforts, leisure, entertainment, and pleasures – or are you investing in the kingdom of God and striving to maintain an eternal perspective?
God sent His Son so that whoever believes in Him could have eternal life. A Son was given. If you have never received God’s perfect Gift, why wait? You can have the assurance of salvation now and you can understand the truth in its fullness. We see this brief portion of human history in which we live, but He sees the end from the beginning. Press on in Christ, my friend, victory is guaranteed.
This race set before us is not a quick sprint, but one for which we need training & endurance. Ours is like a marathon relay in which those who have gone before us ran with endurance, handed us the baton, and either we will see Christ return in our day or you and I will spiritually hand off the baton to believers who come after us. Teach us to number our days (Ps. 90:12), Lord God! May Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven! Guard our hearts and minds, steady our feet, strengthen our arms for battle, and help us fight the good fight of faith – until that Day.
[i] Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI (1987), Page 1005