Our subject this morning is the second coming of Jesus.
Jesus taught very clearly and many times that one day he would come back to this world. Here are a few quotations. John 14, verse 3: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself. He could not be clearer: I will come again. Or Matthew 24, verse 44: “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
This is a strange idea to many people today. Indeed, if you’re visiting us this morning, you may well wonder what you’ve come to. “What strange ideas are these?”
To many people, Sunday follows Saturday, and Monday follows Sunday. The idea that one day that rhythm will be interrupted by Jesus himself coming back to this earth is, well, not something you ever even think about. It’s off the radar.
And many people who have heard of the idea dismiss it very quickly. We’re not helped by cranks here. Years ago I worked at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, and you’d get a man walking up and down with a sandwich board proclaiming that “the end of the world was nigh”. Even the fact he used the word “nigh” made him look out of touch. Who in their right mind says anything is nigh? But more to the point, people conclude, he was just plain wrong. That same man was there 10 years earlier. If the end of the world was nigh back then, why’s he still here? Why are we still here?
One website devoted to debunking religious myths says this about the second coming of Jesus: “The single biggest question surrounding the Second Coming is: what's the freaking hold-up?”
It’s not just those outside the church who struggle to believe in the second coming of Jesus. Christians do too. It’s not something we talk about very often, probably for fear of being labelled a crank like the guy on Oxford Street. If you look at the priorities of most of us Christians, we certainly don’t look like people who believe Jesus will return one day and interrupt everything permanently.
Some Christians do speak about Jesus’ second coming, but only to mock it or dismiss it. Which really doesn’t help the rest of us, if some Christians think Jesus isn’t ever coming back.
We’re like the character in the movie. Someone takes a big risk because of a relationship, someone they hope will be their loved one, will meet them at Euston at 2pm. And as 2pm becomes 5 past becomes 3 o’clock, the awful truth dawns that they’re not coming.
Christians are those who have staked everything on the fact that Jesus is coming back for us. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” But then nobody talks about it, and the unbelieving world starts to taunt us: “He’s not coming, is he?” And then a few Christians join in the chorus, until we start to give up for ourselves. It’s not going to happen. He’s not coming back. I’ve been conned.
All of this is nothing new.
Throughout this autumn we’ve been working our way through a short letter tucked away at the back of the New Testament. Written by Simon Peter, once a fisherman, then one of Jesus’ first disciples, and now an old man. He knows he’ll die soon, and he wants to make sure the true Christian faith stays intact after he’s not around to correct any confusions.
And one confusion that was spreading was precisely this: Jesus was not going to return.
It was an incredibly convenient confusion. If Jesus is never coming back, nobody will ever hold you to account, and you can live how you want.
But it also means that everyone can live how they want. Those who carry out great evil, cause great pain, will go unchecked.
So let’s get our thinking straight. Let’s make sure we’re clear about the second coming of Jesus. As Peter puts it in verse 1, let’s be stimulated to wholesome thinking.
Peter makes two points in our passage. Each hinges on the same main verb. There are two paragraphs, 3 to 7, 8 to 9, and in each Peter uses a verb meaning to hide something where you can’t see it.
It’s translated here as “forget”. Verse 5: “They deliberately forget”. Verse 8: “But do not forget this one thing”.
It’s the phrase in English, “out of sight, out of mind”. The false teachers here are deliberately putting the return of Jesus where they can’t see it. Whereas Peter wants us to keep it where we can see it. To stick post-in notes, things on the fridge, reminders everywhere, so we don’t forget.
Let’s look at each of these paragraphs in turn.
They forget God created and judges
Firstly verses 3 to 7, they forget God created and judges. They forget God created and judges.
Let me read verses 3 and 4. Here’s what the false teachers, the mockers, the scoffers, are saying:
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’”
They point out that life just goes on. Monday follows Sunday. In fact, it has done, every week of their lives. In fact, they’ve been on “who do you think you are”, and they’ve traced their family tree back 10 generations, and they can say with absolute confidence that Monday has followed Sunday throughout every one of their lifetimes. In fact, you can trace the story of the human race back to Abraham, nearly 2000 years before Christ, and ever since then, Monday has followed Sunday.
So they can be pretty sure that in the lifetime of everyone here, Monday will follow Sunday. Nothing’s going to change. Jesus won’t come back and interrupt everything. To quote the Beatles: “La, la la la, life goes on!”
But Peter says they’ve forgotten God created and judges.
Verses 5, 6 and 7: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
Deliberately forget. They’re putting this where they can’t see it, because it doesn’t fit the narrative. It’s inconvenient.
They’ve forgotten that the world exists by God’s word. Nothing exists by chance. God made everything. Science might tell you the how, but the thing the false teachers forget is the who.
Which means life doesn’t “just go on”. God makes it go on. I love science. At school, I did science A Levels. The world is a remarkably consistent place. So, if I drop this pen, it will accelerate to the ground the at the same rate, every time. But it’s not actually the world that is consistent. It’s God. The pen falls to the ground because that’s what God says should happen.
But God is perfectly entitled to say something different should happen whenever he wants. It’s just that, normally, he chooses to be remarkably consistent.
But he could choose to say something different if he wanted to. Which he has. Peter doesn’t just take us back to creation. He takes us back to the time of Noah, to the great flood. At creation, God said there would be dry land between the oceans. At creation, God said that there would be sky between the sea below and the clouds above. And then at the flood, God said that those waters would come together again. Because God wanted to judge the people alive at that time.
The world doesn’t just exist. Life doesn’t just go on. God says the world should exist. God says the life should go on. Which means God may say that it’s time to judge instead. God has done exactly that.
And these sceptics deliberately shove all of that where they can’t see it. It’s an inconvenient truth.
Which means they also miss verse 7: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
God sets the timetable again by his word. This time, it won’t be judgement by water. It will be fire. It will be a total and permanent destruction of everything that is wrong and evil in this world. We’ll look at that a bit more next time, when we get to verse 12.
Life doesn’t just go on. God has decided a day when Monday won’t just follow Sunday. When he’s going to do something totally different, never done before. When he will personally catch up with everyone and everything that is not right in this world, and destroy it. When Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
Everything that exists holds together because God says so. He’s moved in judgement in the past. Within your lifetime you’ve only ever known a regular rhythm of life. Don’t let that make you complacent. Don’t let that lull you to sleep.
That’s where the scoffers go wrong in Peter’s day. They forget God created and judges.
Don’t forget God is eternal and patient
Now let’s turn to the second paragraph, verses 8 and 9. Never mind what the scoffers forget, deliberately put out of sight. What about the rest of us? Peter says: Don’t forget God is eternal and patient. Don’t forget God is eternal and patient.
The first thing not to forget is that God is eternal. Verse 8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
God simply doesn’t work on our timescale.
We simply live one day at a time. For children, at this time of year, Christmas comes towards us so slowly. For parents, Christmas hurtles towards us alarmingly quickly. But it’s one day at a time.
Peter’s quoting Psalm 90, in which it says that our years are 70, or 80 if we have the strength. We have one life time, 6 score years and 10, and we live it one day at a time.
God isn’t like that. He can see the whole of history stretched out on a canvas. A thousand years are just like a day to him. He can take it all in in a glance. And he can zoom right in and see intently into the tiniest details. A day for us can be like a thousand years for God, not blink and it’s gone, but slow it down and take it in.
Which means that it’s no big thing for Jesus not to have come back after 2000 years. What’s 2000 years? It’s a long time for us, but it doesn’t bother God in the least.
Many of us have been frustrated with how long it’s taking us to get our new church hall built. At one point, I made the remark to someone that we hoped building would start soon. To which they replied whether the word “soon” was being measured in geological time. It felt to them that it was moving at a glacial pace.
We mustn’t measure God by our timescales.
Peter is saying: Don’t forget God is eternal and patient.
God is eternal. But also God is patient.
Verse 9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
It is a great kindness that Jesus has delayed his return.
When he does, that day will be wonderfully good news for some people, and terrifyingly bad news for others.
That is the day our destinies are sealed. Everyone who’s ever done anything wrong, will perish, to use Peter’s language here. Jesus will judge us for what we’ve done, and the rest of eternity will be spent paying for everything we’ve ever thought, or said, or done.
That’s a terrifying thought, but this is why Jesus came the first time. He died on the cross to rescue us. He rose from the dead to bring us new life. Which means that anyone can turn to him and find full forgiveness for everything they’ve ever done wrong. Anyone can turn to him and be put back into God’s family. And what’s more, this is all totally free.
And for them, when Jesus returns, it’s not a moment of punishment. It’s the beginning of the most wonderful life imaginable. It’s the moment we get new bodies that never wear out, or get ill, or old. It’s the moment the world is re-made to be perfect, with nothing to spoil it. The offer stands – anyone can turn to Jesus and have forgiveness and new life now, and all of that in the future.
But there’s a time limit on this offer. We have to do this in this life. The moment we die, or the moment Jesus returns, the offer is closed. There’s no more chance for anyone to take it up.
So Jesus’ delay gives people time to become Christians. Every day he delays, there are people who turn to him for forgiveness and new life, who will enter life itself when Jesus comes back. If he had come back one day earlier, those folk would have perished instead. But Jesus was kind. Jesus delayed one day more, and now they’re home.
If you’re a Christian, think back. Maybe you can remember the day you became a Christian. The day you turned to Christ to be rescued from death to life. 18th February, 1990, let’s say. If Jesus had returned on the 17th February 1990, you’d spend eternity in hell. But because he didn’t return until some time after the 18th, you’ll spend eternity in heaven.
Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t he kind? Isn’t he patient?
It’s part of being British to live with delays on the railways. I’m sure you’ve stood on the platform at Otford, waiting for the train to Blackfriars. The sign says it’s delayed 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. And then the inevitable. The sign changes. Cancelled.
The scoffers of Peter’s day were treating the return of Jesus like this. Why’s he not come back, they taunt. And they think the sign is about to change to say “cancelled”.
Whereas in fact Peter says: Don’t forget God is eternal and patient. God is eternal. The delay is not as long as it seems, not when you work on God’s timescale. And God is patient. To extend the analogy, God is intentionally giving more people time to get on board the train, people who would have missed the train if it had departed earlier.
The idea that Jesus will return to this earth, in power and great glory, to judge the living and the dead, doesn’t get a lot of good press these days. Some people are ignorant that this is even a thing. Others are outright sceptical, pointing to things like the long delay as evidence it will never happen. Most Christians know it’s tucked away as part of what we are supposed to believe, but it makes little to know impact on the way live life from one day to the next.
Peter says this is all about not putting important truths where you can’t see them.
He looks at the scoffers. Their mistake is to forget, quite deliberately, quite conveniently, that God created everything, and he does judge. The world is his. It is not a closed system that has a life and a rhythm of its own.
Then he turns to us, Christian men and women. And he urges us not to forget God’s timescale. He’s eternal. Not to forget God’s patience – it’s an act of kindness that Jesus has not yet returned.
And then he would urge us to live today in the light of eternity. Above all, that means making sure we are on the train. Jesus has not yet returned, so if you’re yet to start following him, it’s not too late.
But we mustn’t mistake “delayed” for “cancelled”. And we mustn’t mistake “later” for “never”