Monday, March 26, 2012

"The Promise of His Return"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Glimpses of Our God
Lesson 13: "The Promise of His Return"

This final Sabbath School lesson, in a series highlighting the Good News about God's character, focuses on Jesus' promise, "I will come again" (John 14:3). And it begs the question: Is there a difference between preparing to die and coming up in the first resurrection, and the preparation necessary to meet Jesus at His second coming? Some pastors and Bible teachers say, No. There is no special preparation necessary to meet Jesus. Just live a good life, pay your debts, go to church, and you're good to go!
However others have recognized that for eighteen hundred years, Jesus as High Priest was engaged in a first apartment ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, preparing people to die and come up in the first resurrection. If one is going to die, he should look by faith to Jesus for his sins to be forgiven. But is a mere legal pardon for sin sufficient for God's people to face the final test of the mark of the beast and the time of trouble?
Jesus is now engaged in a different ministry after 1844 (Dan. 8:14), in preparing a people to be alive when He returns. It's called translation (1 Thess. 4:17). What is the special preparation necessary to be translated according to the 1888 message?
Christ comes with the glory of myriads of angels, His own glory and the glory of the Father (Matt. 24:27, 30, 31). Should there be any vestige of sin both known or unknown remaining in the last generation, they would be devoured, for "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29; Isa. 33:14-16). This is exactly what happens to the wicked who "know not God, and that obey not the gospel." They will "be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come" (2 Thess. 1:8-10).
A special work of purification is necessary in order to remain alive at Jesus' coming. "When [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:2, 3; Matt. 5:8). On this great cosmic Day of Atonement, that is precisely the work of the great High Priest. Don't resist Him. Let Him do it.
What is involved in this special preparation? First, Jesus' sends His Holy Spirit from the sanctuary as the high intensity laser beam shining the Light of the truth of His cross into every darkened corner of the heart, revealing the hidden secrets and sins. "And I will pour upon the house of David [church leadership], and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem [church members], the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem. ..." (Zech. 12:10, 11). The Holy Spirit is giving the gift of repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Then comes the good news: "There shall be a fountain opened" for cleansing that will flow in unprecedented glory (Zech. 13:1). Grace will abound "much more," corresponding to the "much more" conviction of sin that God's people will experience. The final negative will be matched by the final positive--a people will be ready!
But now comes the question: Do God's people have the power to hasten or delay the second coming of Christ? Some answer that they do not. They say, in some sort of Calvinist predestination that God has predetermined the exact hour on the celestial clock when Christ will return. He will force His coming upon the inhabitants of the earth whether they are ready or not. But this does not take into account the great controversy theme of God's constraining love which appeals to the hearts of humans by which they make a voluntary choice in welcoming Christ back to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Others ask, "When is Jesus coming back? It doesn't matter." [1] They say, "In one sense, as far as our own personal experience is concerned, the Second Coming is as 'soon' as our death. We die, and regardless of how long after we are in the grave--two years, two hundred, two thousand--we sleep, and the next thing we know ... Jesus has returned." [2] This is a pre-1844 understanding of the preparation necessary for the second coming. Evangelicals teach that death is a good thing because it is the door to heaven based on their doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But should Adventists teach that our individual death is the quickest way to heaven in view of the fact that God has revealed to us "the cleansing of the sanctuary" truth? Focusing "the blessed hope" upon individual death does not get to the root problem of Laodicea's self-centeredness ("am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," Rev. 3:17). It does matter to Jesus how long the delay of His return continues. He will be eternally embarrassed if the "remnant" do not respond to His overtures of love so that He can cleanse them from sin.
Others say there is something Christians can do to hasten the coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:12). Christ is waiting for "His wife" to make "herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). Jesus likens their getting ready to a farmer's crop growing up and maturing until it is ready for harvest (Mark 4:26-29). The growing up makes it possible for Him to come the second time to "reap" the "harvest" (Rev. 14:14, 15). But the "crop" cannot become mature until "the latter rain" of the Holy Spirit's outpouring comes (Joel 2:23, 24). The "former rain" fell at Pentecost at the beginning of the Christian dispensation; but the latter rain will close that dispensation. Therefore nothing can be more important than for the church to seek the blessing of the latter rain (Zech. 10:1).
And where is the good news? The latter rain is a message of "much more abounding grace," a clearer view of what the Saviour of the world has done for us, a revelation of His love (agape) that "constrains" every honest-hearted soul to live unto Him and not unto self (2 Cor. 5:14, 15), so that this truth can "lighten the earth with glory" (Rev. 18:1-4).
--Paul E. Penno
[1] Sabbath School Lesson for Sabbath, March 24, 2012, "The Promise of His Return."
[2] Sabbath School Lesson for Thursday, March 29.
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