After Jesus ascended into heaven, two men dressed in white robes spoke to his disciples saying, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Therefore, not only does the ascension gives us comfort that Jesus is in heaven as our advocate, that he will send the Spirit, and that we will ultimately be with God in our own resurrected bodies (as discussed in Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 49 and the post last week), it also reminds us that Jesus Christ will return to earth in a way that is visible and real (see Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7). At our “Hot Topic Night” back in March on “Are We Living in the End Times?”, Dr. Ben Ribbens (Assistant Professor of Theology at Trinity Christian College) helpfully pointed out that the idea of the “return of Jesus” often is used in churches to provoke fear. I know I experienced this in the churches I went to growing up, being scared that I would miss out on the blessings of Christ’s return because I wasn’t properly ready (or was in the shower when it happened!), However, Dr. Ribbens highlighted that when the Apostle Paul discusses the return of Christ, he does so to comfort people, as he notes in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 the need to “encourage one another” with the words about the return of Jesus. So, how does the promise of Christ’s return, which is like his departure, encourage us?
One way it should comfort us is when we are grieving. As Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, when members of that church thought that those who had died before Christ’s return (and were thus “asleep”) would miss out, we should know that the dead will rise and meet Christ first – they will not miss out! Therefore, we do not need to grieve “as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). At the death of a loved one, we look to Christ’s return and the blessings that they will experience – and we will share with them.
It should also encourage us when we are suffering, as we know that the broken earth on which we live will be changed, as creation waits for Christ’s return (Romans 8:22-25), with our bodies being transformed to be like Christ’s (Philippians 3:20-21). If our suffering comes from those who oppose our faith, we can rest in Christ paying them back (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10), and we need not fear “payback” on our sins because Christ paid for them not in part but in whole!
Another way that the return of Christ should encourage us is to live in the light and not in the darkness. Paul talks about Christ’s return happening like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2) – note that one is only afraid of a thief breaking in at night; one does not fear a thief during the day. Therefore, when we are living “in the light,” we have no need to fear Christ’s return but rather can be comforted that Jesus moves from ruling in heaven to ruling on earth. We belong to the day and thus will experience salvation, whether we are alive or have died when he comes back (see 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).
We do not know when Christ will return –Paul tells us that “it is like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2) and that it will happen when people think that there is peace and security (1 Thessalonians 5:3; also see Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:36-44), so when it is not expected. We don’t know when it will happen, but we do know that it will happen just as the sure and the Ascension happens – and reminiscent of how the ascension happened – real, visible, and bodily.
As the great old hymn “It is Well” says – “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend. Even so, it is well with my soul!” Let the return of Christ give us great comfort each day as we wait.
Questions about the Bible and Theology? Contact Pastor Brian at .