by Kevin Morrow
I have many fond memories from my childhood; a time of innocence, imagination, adventure, carefree days, and endless summers. Some of my favorite life moments involved gazing into the sky. Each summer my best friend Christian traveled from New York City to spend a week with his grandmother, who lived next door to my house. From morning to night we were inseparable. We spent many evenings lying in the backyard scanning the night sky for meteors, satellites, or alleged UFOs, all the while discussing the mysteries of life. It is a good memory.
I used to fancy myself as a backyard astronomer. One frigid winter morning my brother Ronnie and I got up very early to observe a lunar eclipse. We shared a telescope, binoculars, hot drinks, and a great conversation about the mysteries of the universe. It is a good memory.
I wonder what the apostles discussed as they watched Christ ascend into the heavens. Imagine the late night conversations that followed. What a thrilling memory they shared together gazing into the sky (Acts 1:10).
A Long History of Looking
Since the dawn of history mankind’s attention has been drawn skyward. Who can forget the “tower whose top will reach into heaven” (Genesis 11:4)? The ziggurat-like tower called Babel epitomized temple architecture in early Mesopotamia, designed to be the focal point of ancient urban life and possibly used for astral observation. The megalithic monuments of ancient Egypt were replete with celestial iconography, and the pyramids are said to be associated with the sun.
Among Assyrian and Babylonian literary collections astrological omens numbered in the thousands, a reminder of early man’s preoccupation with the celestial bodies. Interestingly, the specialists who worked with and interpreted the texts were called gazers.
In Matthew’s account of the Christmas story we read about the mysterious magi, ancient astrologers whose sky gazing skills secured their role in the greatest story ever told. As Stephen “gazed intently into heaven” (Acts 7:55, 56), he was privileged to catch a glimpse into Heaven’s palatial throne room. And just imagine the glorious spectacle that awaits those who will witness Christ’s second coming. For the angels did say, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven” (1:11).
Are you a gazer? Is your attention drawn heavenward, looking and yearning for the day when the King of kings will appear to collect his church? Do you take seriously Revelation’s warning that Jesus is “coming soon” (Revelation 22:20, New International Version)? Vigilance is stressed in many passages urging us to be “alert” or “watchful” as it pertains to the end times. Likening the days before his return to the days of Noah, Jesus said, “Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42; 25:13, NASB).
Ever since the angels told the apostles that Jesus was coming back (Acts 1:10, 11), Christians have eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of that promise. This expectancy is reflected in the way early Christians constructed ancient church buildings or basilicas. Church architecture was relatively standardized in the sixth and seventh centuries. The church buildings at Abila of the Decapolis in northern Jordan serve as a model of church planning. All structures identified as churches were built with an east-west orientation. A person would enter the narthex or atrium from the west, while the apse, the most sacred area of the building, was located at the eastern end of the complex toward the rising of the sun. Many scholars believe this orientation, or theology in stone, was based on a literal interpretation of Matthew 24:27. It is said that early Christians took this passage literally, believing that Jesus would return from the east. Hence, they situated their church buildings to face the eastern horizon in anticipation of the arrival of Christ from that direction.
From Excitement to Action
Because human orientation is more important than that of church buildings, the imminent return of Christ should evoke much more than feelings of excitement among Christians. It should incite us to action. “What will Jesus find us doing when he returns?” is a question posed many times in the Gospel parables. Will he find us to be faithful stewards (Matthew 25:14-30)? Will we be prepared like the 10 virgins (vv. 1-13)? Will he find us trustworthy slaves (24:42-51)? Following Christ’s ascension the apostles quickly returned to Jerusalem to engage in the work of the church, as Luke illustrates throughout the rest of Acts. In fact, the book of Acts closes with the statement that Paul was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). What a marvelous crescendo to Acts! This testimonial to Paul’s missionary activity serves as a paradigm for all of us, and as Jesus said, “Blessed is the slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:46).
The time between Christ’s departure and return is a time of evangelistic conquest, as set forth in the military mandate of Christ’s farewell speech in Matthew 28:19, 20. Time is of the evangelistic essence. Paul specifically asked Christians to pray for the speedy advancement of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:1), as if we could speed up the process of the Great Commission and thereby hasten Christ’s return. This actually makes sense in light of Peter’s comment in 2 Peter 3:12, where he says we must “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (NIV). What a fascinating notion! Can Christians expedite the coming of Christ?
Hastening His Coming
This passage has actually been interpreted two ways. The word speed or hasten in Greek can mean “to hasten” or “be zealous; eager.” The second meaning describes the kind of attitude Christians should have toward Christ’s return. We should long for it to the degree that for us it cannot occur soon enough, as expressed in the yearning of John’s prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). The first meaning is equally legitimate and has been used to describe our relationship to the timing of Christ’s return based on our evangelistic activity. In other words, our missionary work, or lack thereof, may play a role in determining when Christ returns. Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Keeping in mind that God is sovereign in deciding the time of the end and that Jesus can return at any moment, I believe both ideas are true and that our eagerness for Jesus’ return must be translated into actions to reach the world for Christ.
As we strive together to capture the world for Christ, let us do so with an eager haste and keep our gaze fixed on the sky.
Kevin Morrow is a freelance writer in Joplin, Missouri.
Eyes on the Sky
• What is your orientation in relation to Christ’s return—are you eagerly watching and waiting?
• What are you and your congregation doing to accelerate the process of global evangelism? Do you believe your church is globally minded and mission driven?
• Are you an example to your church through your own evangelistic work? Do you pray for laborers in the harvest? Are you willing to be a laborer yourself?