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Sermons

Is Jesus Coming Again?

January 06, 2008

BibleReading

Now when he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."

Then he said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

"In that day, those who are on the housetop, and their goods are in the house, let them not come down to take them away. And likewise those who are in the field, let them not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left."

And they answered and said to him, "Where, Lord?"

So he said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."

(Luke 17:20-37)

Sermon

Is Jesus coming again? Will the world as we know it be destroyed, not as the result of nuclear fission, but by divine action? Are we living in the end-time?

There are Christians, you know, who feel no need to be concerned about the destruction or depletion of our natural resources, because they believe we will not have need of them much longer. God will shortly renew or replace this present world. Jesus is coming again, and when he comes there will be a new earth. They believe they find ample reason for their convictions in the Bible. Yet most of the mainline churches seem to have little to say on the subject; the doctrine may still be a part of their official creed, but the difficulties created by it are avoided by not talking about it. This is probably why one recent writer on the subject entitled his article "Advent On Ice."

Those who still place great emphasis upon the belief in Christ's second coming are primarily Christians who have convinced themselves that the Bible, God's Word, must be without error. Besides, a belief that Christ may come again any time gives greater urgency to their concern for salvation and their dedication to missionary endeavor.

As a church committed to belief that in the Bible is to be found the Word of God, the doctrine of the second coming of Christ is one we ought not to have on ice. Yet it is by no means a simple concept with which to deal. Nor are all the relevant Bible passages easy to understand and reconcile with one another.

The idea that human ills would all be healed and evil would be fully dealt with by sudden, cataclysmic divine intervention was very much current in Jesus' day. It had been for a couple of centuries. I suppose no solution to humankind's problems seemed possible through human agency. In any case, God was expected to bring an end to human history as humans then knew it and set up his kingdom, probably through some chosen agent, usually thought of as Messiah.

It was into this world of thought that Jesus entered, and by these expectations he and his mission came to be interpreted. In fact, the Gospel of Mark reports that at the outset of his ministry "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). Yet he did not attempt to bring in that kingdom by force, either human or divine, nor did he fit the image of the expected Messiah.

Did Jesus, therefore, project the original expectation into the future? Would he be the kind of Messiah the Jews were expecting in a second coming? Would the inauguration of God's kingdom on earth take place at the time of the Second Coming? Would he become the kind of Messiah he refused to be in his first coming? Would he make force, not love, the power by which he would bring in the kingdom?

Albert Schweitzer, a New Testament scholar as well as a great humanitarian, believed that Jesus did accept the views of his contemporaries about the coming of the kingdom, and that he was, in fact, mistaken. On the other hand it might be that early Christians attributed to him their own expectations, born of Jewish Apocalypticism. In any case, we find the New Testament speaking of a second coming and a new earth.

The Bible passages speaking of the second coming and of the end of this world are confusing and somewhat contradictory. Yet it is clear that many of the first generation of Christians thought these things would take place during their own lifetime. But Jesus did not appear, and the world went on much as before. Eventually Christians had to either devaluate the teaching or reinterpret it.

It has been suggested that the second coming of the Lord is dependent on the faithfulness with which the church fulfills its mission: that the Gospel must be preached throughout the whole world before Christ returns. Since the missionary endeavors of the last 150 years have virtually done this, perhaps we should expect Jesus' arrival soon.

Some have suggested that the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the Second Coming--the "other Comforter" Jesus said he would send. With the presence and activity of the Spirit, do we not have all that we need for our salvation?

Yet others suggest that the kingdom of God is not to come in some far off day, since it already began to come into being in the Lord's time and through the Lord's efforts. Jesus' words in Luke translated, "The kingdom of God is within you," but more properly translated, "The kingdom of God is among you," are only one of several indications of this in the Gospels. John in particular stresses that all that the kingdom has to offer is already available to the faithful follower of the Christ. Perhaps the risen Christ, ever-living and ever-present in his church, is all the Second Coming we need.

But let us look at the Swedenborgian interpretation.

Since the first coming of Christ, and what Christ accomplished, did not meet the expectations of those awaiting it with hope and anticipation, is it not possible, even likely, that the Second Coming and the thrust of it should again differ from the average view of it? In fact, does not the common view of it picture a Christ not consistent with the Galilean who shunned all external means in the winning of human souls? Power and force were never Jesus' way, except the power that self-giving love exerts. No world conqueror, divine or human, can accomplish what Jesus wants to see accomplished in human hearts and minds--the only place where the kingdom of God can really come. So would it be unreasonable to find that the Second Coming is a spiritual, not a natural event?

We often hear these days that we are living in a new age. The teachings of the Swedenborgian Church tell us that this new age was brought about by the second coming of Christ--a spiritual, invisible-to-the-natural-eyes event, heralded and served by those same teachings. It took place, we are told, in that inner, non-material world in which the minds and hearts of all of us reside; that world which has the power to influence us all for good, if we will but let it.

By it our inner world has been set free from much that has held humankind back, and Christ has been brought closer to us than at any time since he was present to a few in Palestine. It has an outpost in this natural world in Swedenborg's writings, by means of which has come a deeper understanding of the Word of God than we have ever had before, a new revelation of the nature of the spiritual world, and a comprehensive restatement of Christian doctrine appealing to the minds and the hearts of men and women, and not to authority.

Swedenborgians, then, are no longer looking for the second coming of Christ. Swedenborgians are not awaiting the end of this world and the setting up of a new one by divine agency. We may blow up our world, but God will not. He continues to preserve our freedom. But new truth, new power, a fuller presence of the Divine make possible a fuller realization of his kingdom: the "new earth in which dwells righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for coming the first time gently, changing the course of history not with the power of the sword, but with the power of truth and innocence and peace. Thank you also for coming the second time gently, quietly, offering a fuller measure of light and love, so that our society and our world may be transformed. Amen.

Rev. Edwin Capon