The Christian Church on earth lives perpetually within the season of Advent, awaiting the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is what it means for you to be a Christian. You are not a Christian because you are holier than unbelievers. You might be, but that’s not what makes you a Christian. You are not a member of the true Church because you give money or attend regularly. Again, you probably do these things and you should. But that doesn’t make you a Christian. You are a Christian and a member of the only holy, catholic and apostolic Church because you live in the expectation of Christ’s return. You believe and confess that this world is passing away, its sorrows soon to be forgotten, its joys but a shadow of what is to come. You are a Christian because you await the Advent of our Lord with hope and longing. Jesus says, “Lo, I am coming soon!” From Adam and Eve until today, every member of the Christian Church has lived and died in the hope of this promise.
When the Final Day dawns, Scripture tells us that there will be two contrasting responses to the appearance of Christ: great terror and great rejoicing. Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:25–27). The cataclysmic destruction of Noah’s flood seems mild in comparison to what is stored up for the Last Day. For the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Pe 3:10).
Imagine the terror of the unbeliever who in a moment knows with absolute certainty that God does exist and that God must now be his enemy. Imagine his despair because a lifetime of crushing sin rests upon his own head and there is no longer any remedy or forgiveness. Imagine seeing the Lord Jesus, not as the Mediator of God’s mercy, but as the Executor of God’s righteous judgment and wrath. This is the response of the nations: unmitigated terror as the Son of Man appears in a cloud with power and great glory (Lk 21:27).
But Jesus says to His Church, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Lk 21:28). For believers, there will be no terror at our Lord’s return, no sadness, no pangs of conscience, only joy beyond comprehension. The shaking of the heavens is for us as the first buds that announce the arrival of spring. At His coming the long winter of our souls will be over at last, and the new Eden will blossom and bear fruit.
In the Song of Solomon, Jesus describes His Bride, the Church, as she witnesses the end of all longing and the beginning of all joy: “Behold, my beloved comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag” (Song 2:8–9a) How near is the return of Christ? Nearer than when we first believed. “Behold, He stands behind our wall; He is looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice” (Song 2:9b). And the Lord Jesus speaks and says to His Church, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!” (Song 2:10–13a).
Yes, the return of Christ will be accompanied with fire and judgment, but the fire is so that all things can be made new, and the judgment is upon the enemies of His beloved: upon hell and death, upon Satan and his children. Jesus comes to vindicate His Church, to rescue her from peril, and to present her to His Father as His pure, spotless bride. As we long with expectation for the return of our heavenly Bridegroom, consider how He Himself yearns to be joined to His precious Church. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have come to send fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49). And Jesus says to His Church, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face, let my hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song 2:13b–14).
The members of the Church might wonder at these words. Does the bride of Christ have a lovely face? Is she pure and spotless? Attend a Voters’ Meeting and you might not be so sure. As a member of that corporate Bride, look at your own heart and you’ll have even more cause to doubt. But the Word of Jesus tells us that it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [our Lord Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). Whatever sin and corruption still lurks in your heart, the promises God made to you in your baptism stand irrevocable. He who has begun the good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).
In the midst of the turmoil and strife of this life, we run for refuge to these promises of Jesus, waiting for the consummation of our baptism and the day of His return. We do not fear as the powers of the earth are shaken, even though all the nations are fainting and filled with distress. These things are but the birth pangs of the new creation, the early buds of spring, the first rays of the sun’s rising. Our hope is certain, and the glorious dawn of our redemption is fast approaching. The Lord is near, even now standing behind the wall, looking in the window. Soon He will appear to take His bride unto Himself and lead her into the wedding feast without end. Soon the Lord will cause His majestic voice to be heard, and we shall have gladness of heart.
And so with eager longing and expectation we join with all the saints who have gone before, with the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, with the martyrs and confessors, with the whole Church that awaits the Advent of our Lord, saying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” Amen.