Are You Eagerly Awaiting the Second Coming of Christ? Hebrews 9:27-28
Hebrews #25 - Are You Eagerly Awaiting the Second Coming of Christ?
Are You Eagerly Awaiting the Second Coming of Christ?
How seriously and sincerely do you look forward to the Second Coming of Christ? Does it occupy your thinking on a regular basis? I’m not asking whether or not you enjoy engaging in speculative debates with friends about the identity of the Antichrist or whether or not Russia will conspire with other nations to invade Israel. I’m not asking you about your opinion on whether or not there will be a so-called Great Tribulation and where you stand on the timing of the Rapture in relation to it.
I’m asking you: Is your heart oriented in anxious expectation of seeing your savior, Jesus Christ, face to face? Do you awaken each day with the hope that this day might be THE day of his return? And if your answer to that question is anywhere from “Sort of” to “Absolutely” to “Well, every so often I do,” what is it that you expect him to do? What do you envision the purpose of his Second Coming to be? What is it about the return of Jesus Christ that makes the thought of it so exciting and fascinating?
Do you think about the coming of Jesus primarily as a remedy to the global war with Islamic terrorism? Do you think about the coming of Jesus as the solution to our planet’s problems, whether it be sexual immorality or economic chaos or the on-going reality of abortion or some such other problem? Why do you want Jesus to come back? What is the predominant motive in your heart? What is it that you not only expect him to do when he comes but want him to do when he comes?
And what practical benefit do you experience in reflecting on Christ’s return to earth? Does it serve only to fuel eschatological argumentation with those who disagree with your theories? Does it lead you to be less focused on the daily responsibilities of life? Are you among those who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good? Or can you say that meditation on the Second Coming and anxious expectation of it have served to purify your heart and empower your service and deepen your worship of God? Needless to say, the answers to such questions would make for a lively conversation! But I’m concerned this morning with the answer given to us here in Hebrews 9:27-28.
The Apostle Peter said this in his second epistle concerning the judgment of the present earth and the creation of the new earth at the time of Christ’s return:
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13).
So let me ask the same question again: Does your belief in the certainty of Christ’s return and your expectation of it lead you to pursue “lives of holiness and godliness”?
The author of Hebrews says that when Christ returns it won’t be to “bear the sins” of men and women, as he has already done this once for all at the time of his first coming. Rather he will come again to “save” those “who eagerly await him” (9:28). What does this mean? And does it equip you to live in a more godly, humble, Christ-exalting way?
Jesus is coming back to “save” us
In the introduction to his book, The Search for Salvation, David Wells makes the point that “the word ‘save’ is not very discriminating about the linguistic company it keeps. Like a lady of the night it wanders through the pages of contemporary print making casual alliances almost at random. Time, fossil fuels, ghettoes, bald eagles, whales, Irish mules, stray cats and money all need to be saved, and there are numerous societies, humane and otherwise, who make it their business to save them. Without so much as a twinge of conscience it (‘save’) is ready to be co-opted by any cause, be it sacred or profane, high-minded or trivial” (9).
Whatever “save” and “salvation” may mean to other people, for the Christian the word conveys a two-sided, glorious, joy-filled thought: (1) eternal deliverance from the judgment of sin and (2) full reconciliation into a relationship of intimacy and love with God. But we must remember that this deliverance and reconciliation takes place in three stages. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say: “I have been saved. I am being saved. I will be saved.” In doing so they are referring to what the Bible calls justification, sanctification, and glorification. We have been saved from the penalty of sin (justification). We are being saved from the power of sin (sanctification). And we will be saved from the presence of sin (glorification).
The author of Hebrews here in chapter 9 clearly refers to each of these three phases or stages of salvation.
(1) In v. 26 Christ is said to have appeared or was manifest “to put away sin.” This refers to his atoning sacrifice on the cross on the basis of which we have been forever delivered from sin’s penalty. Christ bore that penalty in his own body and soul. Verse 26 thus speaks primarily of the foundation on which our justification is based.
(2) According to v. 24 Christ is now appearing in the presence of God on our behalf. He is interceding with the Father for us. One dimension of this intercessory ministry is the sending of the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower us for Christian living. This is what we call sanctification, the gradual or progressive victory we experience over sin’s power. Thus v. 24 speaks implicitly of our sanctification.
(3) According to v. 28 Christ will appear yet again to those who eagerly await him. This obviously has in view the Second Coming at the close of history at which time our salvation will be consummated and we will be delivered or set free from the very presence of sin in our lives. Sin’s presence in us will be eradicated and destroyed and we will be made like Christ himself. I conclude, then, that v. 28 speaks primarily of our glorification when we will experience our final bodily resurrection and be made like unto Jesus himself. This is what Paul was talking about in Philippians 3:20-21,
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
We call this event “glorification” because at that time we will be utterly and absolutely and eternally transformed into the likeness of the glory of Christ himself. It’s the same thing the apostle John had in mind when he said,
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The apostle Paul referred to this in Romans 8:17. He said that all of God’s children who have faith in Christ will be “glorified with him.” Again, in Romans 8:24 he described it as “the redemption of our bodies.”
Thus Jesus Christ has appeared in his first coming, dying on the cross to endure the penalty of our sin and bringing us justification. Christ is presently appearing before the Father, applying the benefits of his cross through the Holy Spirit and thus bringing us sanctification. Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven to deliver us finally and fully from sin’s presence. And that will be our glorification. And it is this third and final installment of our salvation, if I may express it thusly, that our author has in mind when he says here in v. 28 that Christ will appear “to save” those who eagerly await him.
Four Important Truths related to the Second Coming of Christ
(1) The Second Coming of Christ is the unmistakable proof that what Christ accomplished at his First Coming was final, sufficient, perfect, and singular.
Now, where do I find that in this passage? It’s in our author’s statement in v. 28 that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins “once” and that when he returns it won’t be to “bear the sins” of anyone. He has already done it. It is accomplished. It is finished! It is done! If at his Second Coming Jesus was to offer yet again a sacrifice for sins it would tell us that his death on Calvary and the shedding of his blood at the time of his first coming was actually no better than the sacrifice of the blood of bulls and goats and lambs that occurred repeatedly throughout the time of the OT. A sacrifice that must be repeated is imperfect. Otherwise it would be offered only once. Christ’s sacrifice was offered “once” and by means of it he has already perfectly and finally “put away sin” (v. 26).
Therefore, every time you think about the Second Coming or talk about it with others it ought to bring unparalleled joy and excitement and peace to your soul because it reminds you that the problem that your sin once posed to your relationship with God is over and done with. Don’t ever think that Christ is coming back to die for you yet again. His death was singular and final and forever and once for all. Praise God!
(2) The Second Coming of Christ is confirmation that it is appointed for all people to die only once.
Note carefully the words “just as” at the beginning of v. 27 and the word “so” at the start of v. 28. Clearly he is drawing a parallel between the death of Jesus Christ and the death of all humans. Christ died once. He offered himself to die on the cross as a sacrifice for sin only once. So also every human being dies only once. The NT does speak of a “second death” but that is not a second physical death. The “second death” in Revelation is the final spiritual death that perpetuates for eternity an unbeliever’s separation from God.
If you are wondering if this rules out any concept of reincarnation, the answer is most assuredly, Yes! According to Hinduism, for example, your lot in life right now is the result of how you behaved in a previous life. They call this the principle of karma. In other words, if you are healthy and wealthy now, if you are in a position of power and influence, this is a reward from good deeds you performed in a former life. If you are suffering and deprived now, you are only getting what you deserve from the failures and sins you committed in a previous incarnation. At best you can strive to improve your future life by laboring to do good now. In this way you might increase the odds of being re-born in the next life at a higher level of existence.
The aim of Buddhists, who also believe in reincarnation, is to finally and forever escape this seemingly endless cycle of birth, death, and re-birth, and enter into a state of nothingness called Nirvana, which means “extinguishing” or “ceasing to exist.” Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the well-known leader, believes that when you die your soul resides in a dreamlike state called Bardo for 49 days. It is during this period of seven weeks that one’s ultimate destiny is determined. The virtuous or those who lived righteously in this life may be set free from the cycle of reincarnation and enter into Nirvana. For all the rest, karma pulls them into yet another reincarnation.
As bizarre as this may sound, well-known celebrities such as actors Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, and Steven Seagal embrace it. Steve Jobs, of Apple fame, was an advocate and practitioner of Zen Buddhism until his death.
But our author is quite clear: all men die only once. Now of course there are a couple of notable exceptions in the Bible. I have in mind people like Lazarus who are miraculously raised from the dead and then must eventually die again. But note well that those who die and are raised are raised back into the same identity they had in this present existence. They do not die only to live again in another era of time, with a different name and another identity. Lazarus was raised to live in the same town and with the same two sisters, Mary and Martha, in the same period of history in which he formerly lived. So, one cannot appeal to biblical instances of resurrection to prove the possibility of reincarnation. Lazarus was not incarnated a second time in another body but was raised in the same body in which he had first died and in that same body he eventually died again.
By the way, if you are wondering why there are so few bodily resurrections recorded in Scripture, the answer is quite simple: It is no great blessing to have to die twice!
Before I leave this point, let us also take note that all humans are “appointed” to die. Who made this appointment with death? I didn’t and neither did you. Someone else has appointed all of us to die. Clearly, it is God who has appointed all mankind to die. We know this from what we read in Scripture concerning the fall of Adam and Eve. Paul says this in Romans 5:12 – “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
In the strictest sense of the term, no one dies of “natural causes”. People don’t die because nature has run its course or because so-called “natural law” dictates that they do. Death is by divine appointment, no less so than is life. The reason we die is because sin has set in motion the judgment of God. Our bodies decay and eventually expire because, as Paul says in Romans 8, God has subjected the entire creation to futility. However, don’t ever forget that there is an infinite difference between the death of God’s children and that of men and women who depart this life without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. More on that in a moment.
King David in Psalm 139 was even more explicit when he said of God: “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16). Of course, God utilizes a variety of means in his sovereign authority over life and death: car accidents, cancer, even Satan is granted permission to take the lives of some of God’s people. This is quite clear not only from the book of Job but even more so in Revelation 2:10 – “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (see also Rev. 12:11).
Yes, Satan can kill people. Cancer can kill people. Heart attacks can kill people. Old age can kill people. But God exercises sovereign authority over all. Nothing catches him by surprise.
(3) The Second Coming of Christ ends all opportunity to be saved.
This is an extremely sobering and serious assertion, but we can’t afford to overlook it. Several things in this passage confirm it. I’ll return to this in a moment but clearly the purpose of Christ’s return is to consummate the salvation of those who already know him and are anxiously awaiting his coming (v. 28). There is nothing to indicate he is coming to save those who up until that time have lived in defiant disbelief and rebellion against his claim to be God incarnate.
We also know that there is no second chance to be saved after physical death because our author says that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (v. 27). He doesn’t say that after death comes yet another opportunity to be saved.
Whereas it is true that physical death is not the end of our existence, it is most assuredly the end of all opportunity to be reconciled to God. Contrary to those who argue for naturalism or that the only reality is physical or material in nature, when we die we do not simply go out of consciousness and decompose in the ground.
Sadly, most people today operate on the assumption that if we die only once that’s ok because everyone immediately goes to “heaven” or some such place of their own making. Did you see this recently in the wake of the tragic death of Robin Williams and especially of Joan Rivers?
I bring this to your attention because of a headline that appeared on the Drudge Report, the popular on-line news service. There it was in all caps and bold print: “Joan Plays Heaven”
The default belief of most Americans is that when someone dies, indeed when anyone dies, he or she is automatically assumed to go to heaven, or some such place. You hear it from athletes around the globe. Following the death of a parent it’s common to hear the football player or golfer declare: “Well, I’m sure dad is looking down on me now and I hope he’s proud of what I’ve done.” Or when a politician passes away after a tumultuous and difficult life, it’s not uncommon for many to say: “At least he is now at rest. He’s in a better place and for that we can all be grateful.”
The inescapable fact is that the western world simply assumes the truth of universalism. The suggestion that those who leave this life in unrepentant denial of Jesus Christ are eternally separated from God and subject to his judgment is regarded as unloving and inexcusably insensitive.
We witnessed this same phenomenon when Robin Williams committed suicide. A few expressed their hope that Williams had actually professed faith in Christ at some earlier time, and I certainly hope that is true. But for most people that hardly matters. As one news commentator put it, “He’s now making God laugh.”
I feel profound sadness at the thought that Joan Rivers and Robin Williams may have left this life without Christ. Maybe they didn’t and both of them are making God laugh. God does have a sense of humor. But if they are in the presence of Christ it is only because in mercy and love the Holy Spirit awakened their hearts to their need for Christ and drew them effectually to saving faith while they were still alive. We aren’t justified by comedy or the ability to make people laugh and feel good about themselves. We are justified during this life alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
What awaits all mankind after death is judgment. For non-Christians it is the judgment that consigns them to eternal separation from Christ. That is a judgment from which Christians are spared. But we also face judgment to determine the degree of blessing and reward we will experience in eternity future.
Christians die just like non-Christians, but our death is not punitive. It is not punishment for our sin, for as we’ve seen, Christ has already endured the penalty we deserved. If you wonder, then, why Christians die at all, it is in order to provide us and the world with abiding testimony to the profound horror and wickedness of sin. But the sting of physical death as punishment for sin has been eliminated. The apostle Paul declared, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:56). His point is that although death is inevitable it is, for the Christian, our entrance into eternal glory.
Now, to return to what I said a moment ago, this passage rules out the baseless hope that there will be a second chance after physical death to believe in Jesus. Quite a few folk believe that those who die without having heard of Jesus in this life will be given yet another opportunity after physical death to hear the gospel and believe and be saved. But this notion falters on at least two points.
First, it assumes that people who didn’t hear about Jesus in this life were never given a legitimate or genuine opportunity to repent and believe in God. But Paul refutes this notion in Romans 1:18ff. where he declares that all mankind are the recipients of clear and unmistakable evidence of God’s existence and power and divine nature. God has made himself known to everyone in nature, in creation, in the things that are seen. The result, says Paul, is that they “are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20b). Such people who never heard of Jesus or the gospel in this life will be judged based on their response to the revelation of God that they did receive and then rejected.
Second, there simply are no biblical passages that teach the idea that after death people will have a second chance. Contrary to what some have thought, 1 Peter 4:5-6 does not teach this:
“But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:5-6).
Without going into detail, let me simply say that the context of this passage indicates that Peter is talking about the gospel being preached to Christians who are now dead. These people had heard and believed the gospel while they were alive but had subsequently died physically.
Thus the “dead” men and women of v. 6 are people who are physically dead at the time Peter is writing this letter. The preaching is that done by Christian ministers and missionaries, like us. Christ isn’t the one who preaches to them after they die. He is rather the content or focus of the message preached to them while they were still alive. These people weren’t physically dead when they heard the gospel. They are people who heard the gospel and believed and have subsequently died physically.
Thus the gospel was preached to living people who are now dead. It isn’t preached to dead people after they lived.
(4) The Second Coming of Christ will consummate the salvation of those who eagerly await his return.
Whereas it is gloriously true that Christ’s sacrifice was a single, once-for-all event in the past, something unrepeatable and definitive and final, that does not mean his role in our salvation is finished. Paul says this in Romans 5:9-10 –
“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by his life. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10).
The future tense here (“shall”) points forward to the consummation of our salvation, what we call glorification, that will occur when Christ returns and we receive our resurrected bodies.
And for whom is this final stage of salvation intended? It is for those who anxiously await “him,” namely, Jesus. Our eyes are set on seeing Christ, not antichrist! It is not to an event or world crisis that we look, but for the person of our Savior himself. The word translated “eagerly waiting” is a strong verb suggesting intense and passionate expectation (see Phil. 3:20).
I am deeply concerned for people who say they are Christians but have little if any love for the appearing of Jesus. They are so immersed in the affairs of daily life now that they are blinded to the beauty of him who is to come. They are so consumed with themselves and their possessions and their power and their physical comfort and all the gadgets and conveniences of life that they think nothing of the possibility that in the next ten seconds the Lord of the universe could appear in the heavens.
So let me ask you: Does your heart ache for him? Do you long for his appearing? Do you agonize over what seems to be an interminable delay? Or would you just as soon keep him at arms’ length so you can continue to play with your toys? John Piper puts it to us this way:
“This eager expectation for Christ is simply a sign that we love him and believe in him authentically. There is a phony faith that wants only escape from hell, but has no desire for Christ. That does not save. And it does not produce an eager expectation for Christ to come. It would rather that Christ not come for as long as possible so that it can have as much of this world as possible. But the faith that really holds on to Christ as treasure and hope and joy is the faith that makes us long for Christ to come, and that is the faith that saves. So I urge you, turn from the world and from sin and to Christ. Take him not just as your fire insurance policy, but as your eagerly awaited bridegroom and friend and Lord” (“What Christ Will Do at the Second Coming,” February 9, 1997; www.desiringgod.org).
My prayer is that we might all adopt the perspective of the apostle Paul who, from prison, wrote this:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).