I have a friend who loves new school supplies. Perhaps it’s a carryover from her childhood … but I agree with her that it’s exciting to anticipate a new school season. Purchasing new pencils, pens, clean notebooks, paper and calendars means starting afresh. We can begin again, re-organize, enjoy the opening of a new chapter.
The start of a new year feels fresh and hopeful, too. Lots of tests, hours of research, and difficult days are ahead in 2020, just as they are in every school year.
Though the timing and details of our challenges in 2020 are as yet unknown, we do know a few certainties. The next 12 months will contain another long election cycle, more bad news from cities around the world, and sad reporting of evil ruining countless lives. Yet in the midst of these dark and ugly seasons there will still be light—flowers will bloom, stars will shine, families will grow, churches will gather and little children will still make us smile.
For believers in Christ there is another certainty in our future, but it’s not a frequent topic in our daily conversations. I wish it were because it once was.
During my college years I heard the good news of Jesus and eagerly opened my heart to Him. During the next three years most of my free time was spent in Bible studies because I was so hungry for truth. Along with a rapidly growing group of students I learned about the second coming of Jesus. His return and something called the “Rapture” was all new to me, but the anticipation among us was like Christmas Eve for little kids. It was contagious and electric.
Our country was embroiled in the Vietnam War; campuses across the nation were besieged by protests and marches. The moral standards that had seemed so stable were being undermined by the new sexual revolution. Adults felt the world was falling apart. Those who were Christians surely felt the end was near.
Jesus talked to His disciples about the end times, explaining that as we got nearer to the end of the age life would become much harder. Evil would multiply and spread like the increasing intensity of labor pains. The darkness of sin would permeate like creeping cancer.
Jesus added a wedding parable to this conversation to further illustrate His point. The story focuses on ten virgins, bridesmaids, dressed and ready for the big procession, waiting together for the groom’s arrival. Each young woman carried an oil lamp instead of a bouquet.
This story reminds me of another wedding. On my parents’ chosen day my father and his groomsmen got lost trying to find the little country church my mother’s family attended. My grandmother was so anxious for her daughter that she chewed holes in her gloves. But my mother was completely unruffled. She knew her beloved would come. And he did.
There was a delay in Jesus’ story, too. The bridesmaids waited and waited. The sun was falling behind the hills. Darkness crept in. And then it was night. Five of the bridesmaids became so sleepy they lay down, closed their eyes, and let their oil lamps burn out. The other five, who made sure they had extra oil in case they had to wait till dawn, continued to watch.
Just after midnight the groom shouted his arrival. The five who were sleeping woke up, fumbled with their lamps and realized they had no oil left. They asked the others to give them their oil, but they would not. The decision was not selfish but wise. It was better for half to greet the groom than none.
In Jewish weddings during the time of Jesus, the groom and his father sealed the proposal with the bride and her father with a toast of wine. Then the groom and his father returned home to build a little dwelling for the newlyweds on property the father provided.
The bride also prepared. Like many brides today she and her mother, sisters and friends made or bought a dress and beautiful new clothing. They also gathered linens and other household necessities for the new couple. There was no date marked on a calendar, but the bride, her family, and friends knew to be ready and waiting for the groom when he came to claim his bride.
In all four Gospels Jesus made it clear He would return for His friends, His disciples. Though they were bewildered about His talk of leaving, they liked His stories about coming back. They wanted His presence with them. Always.
I feel just like the disciples did. My heart responds eagerly when I read or hear hints of His return because I long to be rid of my sin and to experience God’s promise that He is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
We students wanted His soon return on our campus, too. We said to one another when we left our studies to head back to our dorms, “See you soon; here, there, or in the air!” And we meant it. We sang many songs and hymns about His return. And we shared our faith with everyone so no one would be left behind.
Peter wrote a second letter to his people in response to their questions: Why is He not coming? Why is He waiting so long? Did we misunderstand Him? Maybe He’s not coming back at all.
Peter, who saw Jesus transfigured into His celestial glory, who saw Him alive from the dead, who touched Him and ate with Him, communicated, I understand, in his letter we call 2 Peter. In chapter 3:2-3 he wrote, scoffers will come, so “remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior …” (see also Mark 13:32-33, Matthew 24:42, Luke 21:36) because God cannot lie, (Hebrews 6: 18).
A friend once said, “I’m so glad Jesus didn’t come back in those years because I would have never heard the gospel.” He was right. But for those of us who have been waiting so long it’s hard not to experience moments of disappointment. We were not the first generation to expect His soon return and not see it.
But our disappointment only illustrates our inability to see what God sees.
Jesus has been gone two thousand years. Like Christ-followers who have gone before us, we’ve asked, “How do we continue to hope for His return with faith?” We wonder how to live in the present tense with an eye to the sky. How do we stay engaged where God has us but live as if this isn’t our home? Christians hold dual citizenships. Hebrews 11 says we are aliens on earth.
One suggestion is to remind one another of His return regularly. We do not know when, we do not know if there will be a Rapture, and we do not know how we will endure the hardship to come. But this we know is true: “… salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” (Romans 13:11).
Let’s focus on how near He is, not how long it’s been! Let’s anticipate the day as if it could be tomorrow. Let’s tell one another, “Maybe this is the year for Christ’s return.” Are you ready?
Choosing to focus on His promised return helps us not become rooted to earth. Remembering His coming could be any day kindles hope in our hearts even as we face uncertainty, bad news or suffering.
The bridesmaids kept waiting, storing up extra oil in case the wait was longer than expected. Because they remained expectant they went to the store for more while there was time. As a result they were ready when the groom arrived.
- Are you storing up oil? Oil in Scripture is often a metaphor for the Holy Spirit.
- Are you inviting His work in your life so your life is ready for Jesus to see?
- Will you ask Him to help you wait with hope, living today as if His appearing might be tonight?
His second coming is no less sure than His first arrival in a manger. He will not however come incognito this time, but “every eye will see Him,” (Philippians 2).
And when He returns He will judge the nations. And for those “who fear My name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings,” (Malachi 4:2).
Maybe this is the year of His return!
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!