I believe the coming of Christ is near, very near. The reasons for my belief in His soon return should be obvious.
Leaders of government, industry, and science, many of whom are not religiously oriented, speak unanimously of global problems that defy solution. The banking industry, aware of the insurmountable national debts of numerous countries, seemingly lives by faith, hoping for the best while expecting the worst. In the field of medicine, when one disease is conquered, a brand-new one rears its ugly head. In the area of ecology, the world's forests are being depleted to meet industrial demands. It is estimated that a single Sunday edition of the New York Times consumes 150 acres of forest land. The cost of the arms race now exceeds the entire annual income of the poorer half of the human race.
Never has Daniel 12:4 been more applicable than now! The equating of the end of time with an increase of knowledge is being fulfilled in every field of endeavor. The past several decades have seen a phenomenal explosion of knowledge. The globe is being flooded with an irresistible flow of scientific developments.
Books could be filled with important signs supporting the predictive words of Jesus in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. No thinking person will challenge the concept that the state of world affairs is perilously close to moral, physical, economic, and political disaster. When I was a young preacher searching the newspaper for events classified as signs of the times, it took months to dig up the material that I can now find in a single issue of an average city newspaper. To put it mildly, the signs of Christ's return are literally shouting at us in deafening decibels. And we can expect this trend to increase.
How true the song: "Heavings of earth tell the vast, wondering throng: Jesus is coming again! Tempests and whirlwinds the anthem prolong; Jesus is coming again!.. . Knowledge increases; men run to and fro; Jesus is coming again."
However, I have a special concern over two areas related to our preaching on the coming of the Lord. According to some reports, I understand that many of our members would welcome a good sermon on the second coming of Christ. Several of my colleagues inform me that after they preach on the Second Advent at camp meetings, listeners always express deep appreciation for a sermon on this subject. Many add that their pastor is a good man, but that he is virtually silent about the return of Jesus. The blessed hope gave birth to this Advent movement and nurtured it! It is even in our name. We should be thinking, dreaming, eating, sleeping, and talking the "blessed hope." How can we be silent on the subject of Christ's second coming, an understanding of the hope of which "is the key that unlocks all the history that follows, and explains all the future lessons" (Evangelism, p. 220)?
This brings me to the second area of concern. It relates to an opposite extreme in a sense. There are those, especially some who are independent of the church structure, who seemingly are thinking, dreaming, eating, sleeping, and talking about the signs of the times, but who say very little about the development of a relationship with the Saviour. They send magazines and newsletters to our members, soliciting funds on the basis of alarming signs of the end with the world collapsing.
This manipulation by fear omits to a great extent the thrilling experience of salvation and having a daily, joyful walk with Christ. The focus of the end-time should not be on coming events but on the coming Redeemer. We dare not substitute sign-centered preaching for Christ-centered preaching.
The New Testament focuses on Christ's return from the angle of the joy and delight it will be to see Him and to be with Him. Signs are mentioned, but the major emphasis is not on signs but on the contrast between the despair of those not ready to meet Jesus and the joy and delight of those who are ready to meet Him. The purpose of Christ's return is not to fulfill signs, but to receive His own that they may be with Him forever. To preach in a way that focuses the attention of our people on the signs and not the Saviour is doing a disservice to the cause of God.
If I understand the Spirit of Prophecy correctly, the reason for the delay is not because the signs have not been fulfilled, but rather "if the Master should come, so many would be found unready. God's unwillingness to have His people perish has been the reason of so long delay" (ibid., p. 694). Again, "I know that if the people of God had preserved a living connection with Him, if they had obeyed His Word, they would today be in the heavenly Canaan" (ibid.; italics sup plied). The question is Will preaching mainly on the signs truly develop a long-lasting motivation for loving and serving the Lord? Do scare tactics produce relationships?
I appeal to our ministers to preach on the blessed hope but to do it from a deep longing for Jesus to return in order to end the physical separation between Him and His people. We need zeal that is Christ-centered. "Zeal for the glory of God moved the disciples to bear witness to the truth with mighty power. Should not this zeal fire our hearts with a longing to tell the story of redeeming love, of Christ and Him crucified? Should not the power of God be even more mightily revealed today than in the time of the apostles?" (ibid., p. 698). A zeal that is born merely of the signs of the time is based on a fear motivation and not a love motivation.
It may seem easier, for the time, to grip the attention of the people by reciting the latest crime statistics, or predicting the collapse of the financial world, or listing the wars and rumors of wars—these problems have ever been with the human race, as Jesus said in Matthew 24. In fact, He clearly stated that they were not to be alarmed over wars, etc. (Matt. 24:6). His main concern was that we not be deceived by false christs and false prophets. Not be deceived over the performance of great signs and miracles that will almost deceive the very elect. Matthew 24 centers more on warnings against deception than signs in the social, economic, and political world. He talks about the surprise element in His return. Whether we are alive or dead when He returns, it still will be a great surprise. Remember that the last heartbeat is in effect the Second Coming for those who die in Christ.
My fellow ministers, lift up Christ. Let Him be the focus of our worship services. Make certain you have a personal relationship with Him and preach with such warmth and appeal that hearts will be softened and made submissive to His will. I like the following statement: "The second coming of the Son of man is to be the wonderful theme kept before the people. Here is a subject that should not be left out of our discourses. Eternal realities must be kept before the mind's eye, and the attractions of the world will appear as they are, altogether profitless as vanity. . .. We are pilgrims and strangers who are waiting, hoping, and praying for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we believe this and bring it into our practical life, what vigorous action would this faith and hope inspire; what fervent love one for another; what careful holy living for the glory of God; and in our respect for the recompense of the reward, what distinct lines of demarcation would be evidenced between us and the world" (ibid., p. 220).
Let the preaching of the second coming of Christ be a focal point in our Harvest 90 program.—N.C. W.