II. THE AUTHORIZATION OF OUR HOPE.
The insufficiency and failure of the various
hopes of the world reviewed above, serve only to furnish a background upon
which, by way of contrast, may shine forth more prominently and gloriously the
certainty and sufficiency of our hope. Every hope of man which
originates in his own mind and heart is doomed to end in disappointment. If
men refuse the light which is furnished by Divine revelation then they must
expect to remain in darkness, and, as our Lord said, "If therefore the light
that is in thee be darkness how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:23).
The value of a hope lies in the authorization of it, what then are the grounds
for our hope?
What warrant have we for expecting the Return of
the Redeemer? After all that has been said in the previous pages and in view
of the various Scriptures therein cited, a lengthy reply to this question is
not necessary. In brief, it may be said, the inspired and infallible Word of
Him who cannot lie is our warrant and authorization for looking for that
Blessed Hope. But, briefly, to particularize.
We have already quoted from John 14 in other
connections but we now refer to it again. On the eve of His crucifixion our
Saviour turned to His disciples and said, "I go to prepare a place for you, and
if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you
unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2,3). Here is an
assertion about which there is no ambiguity whatever. Here is a promise that
is positive and unequivocal. Here is a word of comfort from the lips of Truth
incarnate. The Lord who has gone away from this earth to prepare a place for
His people is coming back again for them, coming back in person, coming to
receive them to Himself that they may be with Him for evermore.
These words are recorded in the first chapter
of the Acts which presents a scene of unusual interest and importance. Our
Lord's sojourn upon earth was now to terminate. The time of His departure was
at hand. The great purpose of the Divine incarnation had been accomplished.
The cross and the empty sepulcher lay behind, and now the Saviour of sinners
was to be exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Together with a
few of His disciples He went as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He
blessed them, and while in the act of blessing them He was "parted from them,
and went up into heaven" (Luke 24:50,51). And a cloud received Him out of
their sight, and then we are told, "While they looked steadfastly toward heaven
as He went up, two men stood by them in white apparel: which also said, Ye men
of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which
is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have
seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:10, 11). Here again is a statement that
is clear and simple. Here again is a promise that is plain and positive. The
Lord Jesus has gone up into heaven, but He is not to remain there for ever.
The "same Jesus" which ascended is to descend: the "same Jesus" which was
seen returning to this earth. The absent One is coming back, coming
back in person in "like manner" as He went away.
We have already shown in a previous chapter
that each of the apostles bore witness to the Second Coming of Christ. Their
testimony is clear, full, and uniform. At this point we shall select but a
single passage, a familiar one, from the epistles of the apostle Paul. In 1
Thess. 4:13-18 we read, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren,
concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have
no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also
which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the
word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the
Lord shall not prevent (i.e., "go before"0 them which are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the
voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall
rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together
with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be
with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
The above passage is the most comprehensive
statement upon the Redeemer's Return which is to be found in the apostolic
writings. The importance of the communication contained therein is intimated
by the prefatory clause - "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord," an
expression which is always reserved for those passages of Divine revelation
which are of peculiar importance or solemnity. Here again we learn that Christ
is going to return in person - "The Lord Himself." Here again we have a
positive promise - "The Lord Himself shall descend." And here again,
the Second Coming of Christ is presented as the "blessed hope" of the Church -
"comfort one another with these words." We reserve further comment upon this
passage for a later chapter.
We have previously pointed out that, some fifty or sixty years after
His ascension to the right hand of God, Christ sent His angel to the beloved
John on the Isle of Patmos saying, "Surely I come quickly" Rev. 22:20). This
was our Lord's last promise to His people, as though to intimate that He
would have them continually occupied with His imminent Return. Perhaps this
will be the best place to meet an objection that is frequently made by those
who seek to find flaws in the Word of God. It is said that the Lord Jesus here
made a mistake. He declared that He was coming quickly and more than
eighteen centuries have passed since then and yet He has not returned!
The explanation of this supposed difficulty
is very simple. When the Lord Jesus said, "Surely I come quickly," He spoke
from Heaven, and Heaven's measurement of time is very different from
earth's. Never once while He was here upon earth did the Saviour say or
even hint that He would return "quickly." On the contrary He gave plain
intimation that after His departure a lengthy interval would have to pass ere
He came back again. In the Parable of the Nobleman He spoke of Himself as One
taking a journey into "a far country" (Luke 19:12). On another occasion
He represented an evil servant saying, during the time of His absence, "My Lord
delayeth His coming" (Matt. 24:28). While in the Parable of the Talents
He openly declared that "After a long time the Lord of those servants
cometh and reckoneth with them" (Matt. 25:19). What we would here press upon
the attention of our readers is, that, each of these utterances were made by
our Lord during the time when He was still upon earth and therefore
they must be considered from earth's viewpoint; but when the Lord Jesus said
"Surely I come quickly" He spoke from Heaven and concerning Heaven's
measurement of time we need to bear in mind that word "Beloved, be not ignorant
of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a
thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8). In the light of the last quoted
Scripture it is easy to understand Rev. 22:20 - if our Lord returns before the
present century terminates He will have been away but two days!
"Surely I come quickly." These are the words of
our ascended Lord. This is His promise, sent from the very Throne of Heaven.
This is His final word to His people before they hear his "shout" calling them
to be with Himself. This, then, is the warrant, the ground, the authorization
of our Hope. Let us now consider -