From the earliest days of the Christian Church, there has been a passionate longing to see the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself planted the seeds of this desire deeply into the hearts of His disciples, and ever since, the cry of Christians around the world has been “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”
The Bible is full of teaching about the Second Coming of Christ. It has been estimated that there are over 1500 references in the Old Testament and more than 300 references in the New Testament. These occur in no less than 17 Old Testament books and 7 out of every 10 chapters in the New Testament!
Jesus Himself spoke of His second coming frequently. Through direct teaching, to parables and prophetic words, he exhorted and challenged His followers to always remain both hopeful and vigilant.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” – Matthew 24:36, 44
When Jesus taught about his second coming, whether it was directly, or through illustrations and parables, it was always aimed at a specific response. He was calling for a high level of anticipation and vigilance. He wanted His followers to remain ever alert and allow the prospect of His return to purify and transform their lives.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36
It was so important that Jesus even connected our expectancy of His return as vital part of remembering Him in the observance of Communion or the Lord’s Supper, something that is often forgotten today:
“But I say unto you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26:29
From the earliest days, this “breaking of bread,” or sharing Communion or the Lord’s Supper, was vitally linked to the Lord’s return. It was not only about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but included this deep longing for the Lord to return and establish His kingdom on the earth. To reduce this to a religious observance, or tack it on to the end of a service, is a far cry from its intended purpose.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” – I Corinthians 11:26
Anticipating the return of Jesus is as vital to the Christian life as worship, or prayer, or reading God’s Word. Not only does it keep our faith vibrant and our hearts alert or focused, but it also has a remarkable purifying influence in our lives. Perhaps this is why Jesus stressed it so often to His disciples. His apostles later echoed His sentiments many times, making the same passionate call to the Church:
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – I Peter 1:13
“…Instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the great God and Savior, Christ Jesus…” – Titus 2:12-13
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God …”
– II Peter 2:11-12
“Now little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” – I John 2:28
The word “maranatha” became sort of a watchword that would fan theses flames of anticipation in the early church. “Maranatha” is actually an Aramaic word which was transliterated into the KoinēGreek of the New Testament. It occurs just once in the New Testament (I Corinthians 16:22) and again in the Didache of the early Apostolic Fathers. Yet the Bible and early Christian writings frequently refer to this highly anticipated event. Because of certain linguistic difficulties, maranatha can be either translated as a credal statement “Our Lord has come,” or as a prayer of anticipation “Oh Lord, come.” These both became ingrained in the hearts of the early Christians, and were reflected in their lifestyles and their writings.
When he ascended back to heaven, Jesus left His followers with the monumental task of taking His message of truth to the entire world. This “great commission” was not merely to pass on information, or even to start a new religion; but to become salt and light to the world. They were called to live out and then reproduce in others a transformation of life that would result in faithful obedience to His teachings. Among these early believers, the hope of Jesus’ return captivated their hearts and propelled them to share the gospel everywhere. Their dynamic testimony impacted the whole Roman Empire and eventually the entire known world.
What was the catalyst of these amazing results? Without a doubt, the memories of Jesus life and teachings were fresh in their minds and burned in their hearts. The reality of His death on the cross, and the power of His resurrection were central to their faith and message. But without the expectation of His second coming, something vital would have been missing.
This same passionate response is something that is often lacking in many parts of the Christian church today. Over time, or with the wrong focus, the Christian faith has often been reduced to a sterilized religion, full of tradition and hypocrisy. To be sure, belief in the second coming of Christ is theoretically or theologically upheld by many churches. Yet what appears to be lacking today is the level of intensity, or fiery passion of these early believers. In its place there is only verbal or doctrinal affirmation, not a teaching which really impacts our daily lives. As such, it has become one of the most neglected teachings in our churches today.
Most Christians also acknowledge (at least verbally) that we are living in what the Bible calls “the last days” before the return of Christ. Yet in the same way, this belief rarely impacts our lives the way it should. To render a mere verbal acknowledgement of the second coming, without allowing it to transform our daily lives, will only result in a lukewarm faith and spiritual self-delusion. The passion and heart cry of the church in these times, now more than ever, should be deeply affected by these realities surrounding us every day. And, if, we truly believe what the Bible says about the Lord refining and preparing the Bride of Christ prior to His return, we should earnestly seek His face and welcome the process!
For those who are concerned about following the Lord wholeheartedly, I leave you with this quote from my latest book, and the challenge of returning to the Scriptures for yourself. With an open, teachable heart, it is not difficult to find the truth there!
“The kingdom of God is not only in heaven, nor is it confined to the future. It is a present-tense reality which exists like rays of light penetrating the darkness. As God’s presence and truth are revealed, the kingdom is extended, one step at a time. Even though it is predicted that the end times will be filled with deception and darkness, the kingdom of God will still be revealed to anyone who opens their heart to the truth.
One day soon, the Lord Jesus Christ will return and establish His kingdom in its fullness upon the earth. As believers, we should be the first to recognize the times and prepare ourselves now. Learning to live in God’s kingdom now is a matter of daily choice and our faith.” – Dave Batcheller, Global Impact: Preparing the People of God for the Last Days
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20