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How seriously and sincerely do you look forward to the Second Coming of Christ? Does it occupy your thinking on a regular basis? Continue reading . . .

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 with the answer given to us in Hebrews 9:27-28.

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 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?

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 clearly refers to each of these three phases or stages of salvation.

(1) In Hebrews 9:26 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. This text thus speaks primarily of the foundation on which our justification is based.

(2) According to Hebrews 9:24 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 Hebrews 9:28 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.

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