When I was five years old, my Uncle John invited me to go with him to my first “revival meeting.” The speaker was an old-style evangelist who preached hell hot and eternity long. It was a warm fall night, so the windows of the church were open. As the sermon began, I could look out and see a storm brewing in the distance. The preacher’s booming voice got louder and louder as the dark clouds and lightning got closer and closer. By the time he reached his peak volume and his most convicting content, he was accompanied by bone-jarring cracks of thunder. I was convinced that he and God had orchestrated this moment together, and that this was the very evening that Jesus was coming back!
At age five, I wasn’t quite ready yet to accept Christ, but that experience was my first real encounter with my eternal destiny.
During my teenage years, it seemed like everyone was talking about the second coming of Christ. Many who were just a few years older than me wore the label “hippie.” When hippies got converted, they turned into “Jesus People.” I was inspired by this new kind of Christian and the fresh methods they were introducing into church life. Every day they were anticipating Jesus’ return. When saying goodbye to Christian friends, I would hear them use the phrase, “See you: here, there, or in the air!”
Gregory Thornbury’s recently published biography about Larry Norman, Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? got me pulling out my old Jesus Music albums. And it struck me how much Norman, who was the main voice of the Jesus Movement, sang about the second coming. For example, in the song “UFO,” Norman described Jesus as “an unidentified flying object” whom we will one day see “in the air.”
I went back further to the Christian music of my youth—the gospel quartets that my folks listened to on the big cabinet stereo in the living room. I’ve kept their old record collection, and I pulled out a few albums by one of the most popular groups of the fifties and sixties, the Blackwood Brothers. Every record contained at least four songs about the end times or Heaven. One album had nine!
Apocalyptic themes seemed to be woven into the fabric of church life back then. But in today’s preaching, music, and even daily conversations among Christians, I don’t hear much about the end times.
This flagging interest in the return of Christ has especially been evident in sermons. I can’t think of the last time I heard a sermon on the topic. I’m preaching to myself here. I keep a topical file of the 600 or so sermons I have preached. I scoured the list to see how often I had preached on the end times. Even though I included it in parts of some messages, I was amazed that I did not have one message in that file solely devoted to the second coming.
The Second Coming in the Bible
We’re not saying much about the glorious return of Christ these days. In some ways, this is nothing new. People have been dismissive of the second coming ever since Jesus left here. As far back as the first century, Peter predicted that critics would scoff at the idea of Christ’s return and a final day of judgment, saying, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3, 4). It has been this way in spite of the clear biblical message that Christians are to keep this promised coming in the forefront of our thinking.
Two important principles from Scripture challenge us to give more attention to Jesus’ return. The first is that we are encouraged to live in anticipation of Christ’s reappearance. Jesus urged us: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).
Do I wake up every day and consider the wonder of Christ’s return? Do I think throughout the day about how sometime, maybe sooner than later, I will meet my Savior in person? In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul described a beautiful picture of Jesus’ arrival back here, and finished by saying that we are going to meet him in the air. That’s something to get excited about! And then Paul finished his thoughts in verse 18 by saying, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” When was the last time I said to another believer, “Friend, did you know that we are going to meet the Lord in the air?!”
There’s another reason beyond our own eternal destiny to keep the second coming on our radar: for the world’s sake. A number of Bible passages spur us toward a sense of urgency in sharing the gospel with unbelievers, in light of Christ’s return. Paul pleaded with Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2).
Revisiting Christ’s Return
I don’t know any Christians today who are against Jesus coming back, but we just don’t talk about it with the intensity that the Bible encourages us to exhibit. Many church members live their lives completely oblivious to the imminent return of Christ. We Americans are not thinking about the second coming—we have a quality of life here on earth that exceeds the wildest dreams of what most of God’s people throughout history thought Heaven would be like.
Frequently revisiting the reality of Christ’s return is a spiritually healthy exercise. When I was 15 a friend loaned me a book titled, The Late Great Planet Earth. The writer, Hal Lindsey, was convinced that current events aligned supernaturally with prophecies in the Bible, especially in the book of Revelation. At that time, it was mostly about communist Russia, our Cold War enemy. In light of these irrefutable developments, Lindsey claimed, we Christians had better be on our toes and ready for the Lord to return any moment.
That was decades ago, and the Lord still hasn’t returned. In fact, I perused a copy of that book a few years back, and Lindsey got pretty much everything wrong. But even with its glaring errors, as a high school student the book served to wake me up and check myself: was I ready to meet the Lord? And it’s been a good subject for me to remind myself about on a regular basis.
How can you and I keep our focus on the second coming? I suppose it could take something cataclysmic: a dramatic turn of world events or a personal crisis. But I think I’ll just start by regularly turning to the person next to me and asking, with some enthusiasm, “Hey, did you know that we are going to fly?”
Rick Lowry is the groups pastor at First Church, Burlington, Kentucky.