Many people today are not confident as to what they believe about the return of Jesus.
We can’t know everything about the future.
But if God tells us certain things about the future, then those are areas where we can be sure.
And Jesus was not silent about his own return.
This morning, we start a short series of 3 sermons looking at the future. Today, we think about the return of Jesus.
Our sermons here normally focus on one Bible passage. When we look at a theme, we need to go to several passages. So there’s an outline on the service sheet. Some of the passages we’ll turn to together. Others I’ll mention without turning them up. Others won’t even get a mention, but you can look at them later.
Jesus will come again
Let’s start at the beginning. Jesus will come again.
He taught this consistently. The night before he died, his disciples were upset that he would be leaving them. So he says in 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.
When the apostle Paul wrote in his letters, he wrote with the authority of Jesus. But sometimes, he flags up that he’s saying something Jesus himself said. One of those places is 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. In verse 15, he explains that what he now says is because of a word from the Lord Jesus himself. And then comes verse 16: The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Paul says: Jesus said that he himself would descend from heaven. He didn’t just say that, one day, his ideas would have a bit of comeback. Jesus himself will return to this earth. In person.
When that happens, it will be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. We mustn’t guess and speculate what it will be like. But I want to show us 4 things the Bible does say about how this will happen.
He will return… bodily
Firstly, he will return bodily. It will be a bodily return.
Maybe this is obvious to you. It’s not obvious to everyone.
Jesus was raised with a real human body. He didn’t come alive again as a spirit or a ghost.
It’s time to turn to a Bible passage. Luke chapter 24. I’m going to read from verse 38.
He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
They’re shocked and stunned to see him back. They think they’ve seen a ghost. So to prove he’s not a ghost, he’s a real person with a real body, he eats a piece of fish.
Later Jesus ascended to heaven. That’s recorded in Luke’s second volume Acts. His disciples watch him physically rise up into the sky. They stand there jaws open. Then an angel asks them what they’re doing. Acts chapter 1, verse 11: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven. This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. One day, Jesus will reverse the journey he’s just taken. And he’ll do so in the same way. It won’t be some other Jesus who comes back.
So Jesus has a body. Today. Jesus taught that he would come back. Which must mean he’ll come bodily.
He will return… in glory
Second, he will return in glory. It will be a glorious return.
When Jesus came the first time, lots of people did not recognise him. At the first Christmas, he looked like any other baby. In his adult life, many didn’t see him as anyone special.
I wonder if you know the Where’s Wally cartoons. You get a drawing of a crowded scene, people everywhere. One of those people is Wally in his red and white striped jumper. You have to find him.
Picture one of the crowded religious festivals Jesus went to. Surging crowds. One of those there is the eternal Son of God. Only it’s even harder. He wasn’t wearing a distinctive red and white sweater.
When Jesus comes back, things will be very different indeed. In Matthew 25:31, Jesus said: “when the Son of Man comes in his glory.” Or there’s the glorious description of the ascended Jesus in Revelation chapter 1. Verse 14: The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength..
When Jesus comes back, nobody will miss it. If you look away at just the wrong moment, you don’t miss out. Nobody will be in any doubt who this is. Here is God the Son, fully human, gloriously divine, radiant, shining, glorious. And every knee will bow. A sight like that will leave you no option.
He will return in glory.
He will return… unexpectedly
Then third, he will return unexpectedly. It will be an unexpected return.
Let’s turn to this one. Matthew chapter 24. I’ll read from verse 36.
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Jesus is quite clear. Nobody knows the date of his return. Not even he did.
Christmas day is wonderfully predictable. December 25th every year. It always creeps up on you, but theoretically there’s time to buy food and presents, and then travel to where you will spend Christmas. You can get ready.
Jesus says his return will be like Noah’s flood. People will get up and go about their morning routine. Have breakfast and go to work. And then, interrupting someone’s wedding day, Jesus will come back. The last thing anybody expected.
He will return unexpectedly.
He will return… as judge
And fourth, he will return as judge. As judge.
If you’ve still got Matthew 24 open, turn over to chapter 25. Here’s what happens when he returns unexpectedly. Verse 31: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world..
Verse 41: Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels..
He will return as judge.
Now, we need to be clear that this is good news. It means we live in a world where every injustice will one day be set straight.
And he will judge the living and the dead. That’s what the old creeds say, and it’s what Jesus said in John chapter 5. He says that all those are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out to face judgement.
Those who are alive at the time will be judged by Jesus. Those who have died will hear his voice and come alive again so that they can be judged.
He will return as judge.
So Jesus will come back. He will come back bodily, in glory, unexpectedly, as our judge.
We might be tempted to doubt this will really happen. Acts 17 records the apostle Paul preaching in Athens. He tells them that God has put the date in his diary. Judgement Day will take place on such and such a date. He’s appointed the man who will be the judge. And the proof of all this is that he’s already raised Jesus from the dead.
The idea of a judgement, a reckoning, at the end of our lives fills most of us with horror. We can all think of things we wouldn’t want Jesus to look at.
Jesus came before – to die for his people.
So here’s where we have to remember that Jesus’ return will not be his first visit to this earth. We’re talking about his coming again.
On the sheet, I’ve put references from John chapter 5 and Hebrews chapter 9. Both those passages explicitly mention the fact that Jesus came the first time to save us, and will come again as our judge. And both those passages make clear that his first coming allows us to be ready for him when we meet him as judge.
Let’s look together at the Hebrews one. Chapter 9, verses 26 to 28. Starting half way through verse 26: 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.
His first coming was to bear sin. He took away our sin by sacrificing himself. He did this once for all time. Anyone who trusts him can have their sins forgiven.
At the end of our lives, the next thing we encounter is judgement day. The big question then is whether Jesus has already dealt with, and taken away our sin. Or will we to turn up for judgement day unforgiven, and pay for our sin ourselves?
Jesus comes twice. His first coming took away the sin of all who trust him, so that we can be ready to meet him as judge when he comes again.
Implications for Us
Let’s think about the implications for us before we close.
Each and every one of us will meet Jesus as our judge. Some of us will die first, and he’ll raise us to life for the occasion. Others of us may still be alive when it happens. But every man, woman and child will meet him one day.
We cannot know when this will happen. Jesus warned that it would happen when we least expect it.
Someone I know recently had a baby by planned Caesarean. They said that for all the drawbacks, one benefit is that it’s in the diary. You know the day your baby will come.
Nobody has that luxury with judgement day. We cannot schedule it on a day that suits us. None of us knows the day we will die. None of us knows the day Jesus will return. So we cannot know when we will meet Jesus as judge.
But that does not mean we cannot prepare for the event. We can. Jesus came the first time, to do all that is necessary for us to be fully prepared to meet him as our judge. He died on the cross to rescue us. If we’ll turn to him, say yes to his rescue, we can be sure today what the verdict will be. Not guilty.
Some people think there’s no need to get ready for Jesus to come back. Wing it on the day. But that’s foolish in the extreme. This is not a maths GCSE. This is an exam you cannot hope to fluke. Turning to Jesus now is the only way to be ready.
Some people think there’s no great urgency to be ready. Leave it to the last minute. But that’s no use. We don’t know when the last minute will be. It’s a matter of great urgency. Dare I say, it’s more urgent then preparing for Christmas. Christmas is in 17 days’ time. We have no idea how long we’ve got until we meet Jesus as our judge. It could happen before Christmas.
As well as something we must be ready for, Jesus’ return is something we should look forward to. Remember Hebrews 9 said that he comes back to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. This is the day when all wrongs will be put right. This is when God’s wonderful future begins – something we’ll think about in two weeks’ time.
And provided we’re ready, the second-to-last sentence of the Bible should be a prayer that is on our lips and in our hearts. Revelation chapter 22, verse 20: Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.