December 2018 / January 2019 - Vol. 101
mosiac of Christ Ruler of All

The Return of the Lord Jesus.
. by Ralph Martin

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)

These words from the ancient creed reflect in a condensed form the teaching of scripture regarding the return of the Lord. Christ came once into our midst as a servant, a slave, a lamb sacrificed for us. He will come again – but the second time he will come in glory to definitively establish his reign over the human race. The first time, he came as God’s offer of full salvation; the second time, he will come to judge how the human race has responded to that offer. To those who have put their trust in him, he will give the fullness of salvation; those who have persisted in wrongdoing, who have rejected him, his Word, and his servants, will be banished from his presence.
Just as it is appointed that men die once, and after death be judged, so Christ was offered up once to take away the sins of many; he will appear a second time not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Jesus himself frequently referred to his return in glory.“Then men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory,” he told his disciples. “He will dispatch his angels and assemble his chosen from the four winds, from the farthest bounds of earth and sky” (Mark 13:26-27). At Jesus’ ascension, it was angels who assured the disciples of Jesus’ return: “’'Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking up at the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw him go up into the heavens’”(Acts 1:11).

This firm, clear belief in Jesus’ visible and glorious return in power, as king and judge, is consistently taught and proclaimed throughout the New Testament. Along with the resurrection of the dead, it forms an integral part of the apostolic teaching and preaching:
I charge you to keep God’s command without blame or reproach until our Lord Jesus Christ shall appear. This appearance God will bring to pass at his chosen time. (1Timothy 6:14-15)

Be patient, therefore, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord.... Steady your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, my brothers, lest you be condemned. See! The judge stands at the gate. (James 5:7, 8-9)

Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits and then, at his coming, all those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:22-23)
From the standpoint of scripture, living in expectancy of Christ’s coming – indeed, longing for it! – is an essential element of Christian life itself. “From now on a merited crown awaits me,” Paul tells Timothy. “On that Day the Lord, just judge that he is, will award it to me – and not only to me, but to all who have looked for his appearing with eager longing” (2Timothy 4:8). Paul also urges all Christians to encourage one another with the truth that Jesus will come again:
No, the Lord himself will come down from heaven at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel’s voice and God’s trumpet; ... Thenceforth we shall be with the Lord unceasingly. Console one another with this message. (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17)
What Will His Coming Be Like?

It will be sudden and unexpected. Paul tells the Thessalonians:
You know very well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night. Just when people are saying, “Peace and security,” ruin will fall on them with the suddenness of pains overtaking a woman in labor, and there will be no escape.  (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)
The human race as a whole will not be ready for Jesus’ return and will be caught by surprise. The second coming will not be – as some suggest – a logical progression of the spiritual evolution of human consciousness, growing into a fuller awareness of Jesus’ presence with us. Scripture presents quite a different picture:
The coming of the Son of Man will repeat what happened in Noah’s time. In the days before the flood people were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, right up to the day Noah entered the ark. They were totally unconcerned until the flood came and destroyed them. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Mark 24:37-39)
Christ's coming will be personal, clearly manifest, unmistakable, and visible to all. It will not be hidden or invisibly “spiritual”; this will be the incarnate Son coming, not an invisible working of the Holy Spirit:
Remember, I have told you all about it beforehand; so if they tell you, “Look, he is in the desert,” do not go out there; or “He is in the innermost rooms,” do not believe it. As the lightning from the east flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.... The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and “all the clans of earth will strike their breasts’ as they see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:25-27, 30)
As the angels said at the Ascension, Jesus will return in the same personal, clearly visible and manifest way in which he ascended to the Father. One will not need to go to special places or to engage in certain activities in order to see him and recognize his coming: it will be clear and unmistakably manifest to all.

When Will His Second Coming Take Place?

No One Knows the Day or Hour. Scripture clearly and specifically affirms that no one knows the day or hour of the Lord's return: “As to the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). In one of the post-resurrection appearances, Jesus’ disciples again asked him: “Lord, are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?’ He answered: ‘The exact time is not yours to know. The Father has reserved that to himself.’”' (Acts 1:6-7)

Paul reaffirms this in his apostolic teaching: “As regards specific times and moments, brothers, we do not need to write you; you know very well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Nevertheless, Be Alert. While scripture insists that we do not know of the exact time of the second coming; it also insists that Christians should nonetheless lead lives of full holiness and Christian service so that they will be prepared to be joined to Jesus when he does return. While the world as a whole will be “asleep” when the Lord returns, Christians are supposed to be “awake” and alert to his coming.

Usually the same passages say both things – do not worry about the exact time but also be alert. For example, in the post-resurrection passage cited above, Jesus follows his correction – “The exact time is not yours to know” – with commissioning the disciples to witness to him: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In another passage Jesus adds an exhortation to his teaching on the unknowability of the exact hour of his coming: “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! ... Do not let him [the master of the house] come suddenly and catch you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: Be on guard!” (Mark 13:33,36-37)

Paul gives a similar warning to the Thessalonians and defines what it means to stay awake.

You are not in the dark, brothers, that the day should catch you off guard, like a thief. No, all of you are children of light and of the day. We belong neither to darkness nor to night; therefore let us not be asleep like the rest, but awake and sober! ... We who live by day must be alert, putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet . . . comfort and upbuild one another. . . .
Respect those among you whose task it is to exercise authority in the Lord and admonish you....
Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not stifle the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test everything; retain what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil.
(1 Thessalonians 5:4-6,8, II, 12, 16-22)
How should we stay awake and not be caught off guard when Jesus returns? Paul's answer can be summed up this way: live a fervent Christian life, with everything that this entails.

Don’t Be Thrown Off Guard by Apparent Delays in His Coming. Scripture warns us not to trust our shortsighted human judgments about relative lengths of times. This might cause us to lose hope or become cynical or indifferent regarding the reality of Jesus’ return:
Note this first of all: in the last days, mocking, sneering men who are ruled by their passions will arrive on the scene. They will ask: “Where is that promised coming of his? Our forefathers have been laid to rest, but everything stays just as it was when the world was created.” In believing this, they do not take into account that of old there were heavens and an earth drawn out of the waters and standing between the waters, all brought into being by the word of God. By water that world was then destroyed; it was overwhelmed by the deluge. The present heavens and earth are reserved by God’s word for fire; they are kept for the day of judgment, the day when godless men will be destroyed.

This point must not be overlooked, dear friends. In the Lord’s eyes, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day. The Lord does not delay in keeping his promise – though some consider it “delay.” Rather, he shows you generous patience, since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance. The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest.
Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of men must you not be! How holy in your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming of the day of God and trying to hasten it! Because of it, the heavens will be destroyed in flames and the elements will melt away in a blaze. What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside. (2 Peter 3:3-13)
Here Peter warns Christians not to be taken in by a cynical attitude towards the apparent “delay” of the Lord’s return. He points out that God has already cleansed the world of sin once, by the flood, and that he will purify it again on the Day of his Coming, by fire. In the light of eternity, Peter maintains, it is simply not meaningful to talk about lengths of time and delays. Notice too that the apostle follows this teaching with the usual exhortation to prepare for the Lord's coming by leading lives of holiness; he even implies that the great Day can be hastened by an increase of holiness of God's people.

While the scripture clearly says that the exact time or hour of the Lord's coming cannot be known and will not be revealed to man, it does shed some light on the matter, as a help for Christians being “awake” and alert to his coming. First of all, it indicates that certain events need to take place before Jesus’ return. Second, it points out some conditions that will prevail in the world and among God's people just before his coming, and that will serve as proximate warnings for those who are alert to them.

Preliminary Events

Scripture singles out two events that are to take place before history is concluded in the Lord’s coming. One is the completion of the time of the Gentiles and the conversion of Israel; the other is the proclamation of the gospel to all nations.

The Conversion of Israel. Paul indicates that God's plan includes a time when Israel as a whole will be saved.
For if their rejection has meant reconciliation for the world, what will their [the Jews] acceptance mean? Nothing less than life from the dead! ... And if the Jews do not remain in their unbelief they will be grafted back on, for God is able to do this.... Brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery lest you be conceited; blindness has come upon part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles enter in, and then all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:15,23,25-26)
In this chapter of Romans, Paul indicates that the Jews’ disobedience and rejection of the gospel has opened up the way for the gospel to spread among non-Jews. For a time, he says, it is mainly the Gentiles who will receive the Good News, but this phase of evangelistic activity will eventually reach its completion. Then will begin the next phase of God’s plan of Salvation – the conversion of Israel.

Another passage that is relevant here is Luke 21:24. This passage clearly indicates that Jerusalem will be "trampled down" under Gentile control after its destruction until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled:
The people will fall before the sword; they will be led captive in the midst of the Gentiles. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. The city was under substantially non-Jewish control from that time until 1967, when it was retaken by the Jewish state in the Six-Day War. Jerusalem is not yet under Israel’s absolute control, but it is under Jewish governmental authority for the first time since the Romans destroyed it. It may be that the “times of the Gentiles” – the period during which Jerusalem is under Gentile control – are in the process of coming to an end.

In light of this, it is certainly significant that the Jewish people are now back in the Holy Land and since 1947 reconstituted as a nation for the first time since the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and their own dispersal (predicted by Christ as a sign of God’s judgment on them for rejecting him). It is also significant that since 1967 Jerusalem is under their control. At the same time, let us bear in mind that Israel still remains in its unbelief and is not yet walking, of its own will, in the ways of God. While its existence once again as a state and the retaking of Jerusalem are probably not without spiritual significance, it doesn’t follow necessarily that God is pleased with its treatment of the Palestinians, for example. That’s a question that needs to be approached on other grounds. It is important that we pray that Israel plays the role that God wants it to play in his plan.

It appears that the full number of Gentile Christians has not been reached, although the time of the Gentiles may be coming to an end, and that God has also begun to set the scene for a significant dealing with Israel.
The Universal Proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus himself said that the gospel would be proclaimed to all the nations before he would come again. “Only after that will the end come” (Matthew 24: 14).

It is difficult to know whether this universal proclamation has taken place. Certain nations have had the gospel preached to them in the past but not in the present. This is the case in a number of the communist countries. North Africa, too, had a very substantial Christian population at one time, but now it is primarily Muslim, with Christian witness virtually nonexistent in many of its countries.

China was once a thriving mission field for Christians, with some of its emperors in special contact with the Jesuits, but relatively few modem Chinese have heard the gospel of Christ. And there are countries where the Christian population has always been relatively small – India, for example. Has the Christian presence there been long and visible enough to constitute a proclamation of the gospel to the nations?

On the other hand, the last century has seen a remarkable intensification of missionary activity on the part of the Christian churches. For example, a hundred years ago there were only about 50,000 Christians in all of Africa. Today, the Christian population is more than 630 million [].

Despite this remarkable advance, the World Mission Center and others who have closely studied the situation estimate that perhaps two billion people still have not been adequately evangelized. This includes thousands of distinct tribal, ethnic, and national groups, primarily in Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu countries.

It seems safe to say that there has indeed been an extraordinary preaching of the gospel throughout the world since Jesus first preached in Galilee. But it also seems that at least today this evangelization has not yet reached the universality required to claim that all men have heard the gospel. At the same time, it is worth noting that virtually the whole world is wired into a global communication network which allows almost instant television and radio communication. In fact, a spiritual struggle is taking place over the use of such media for or against the kingdom of God. It is possible that many of the two billion who have never heard the gospel could hear it by means of this global communications network.

Proximate Signs

In addition to singling out the above events as preliminary to the return of the Lord, the scripture describes a series of difficulties and disorders which will function as proximate signs of the final days. These difficulties and disorders are sometimes referred to collectively as “the great tribulation” (see Daniel 12:1; Mark 13:19; Rv 16:18).

The descriptions of these signs in the synoptic Gospels are hard to sort out because they are intermingled with predictions about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Recent scripture
scholarship helps us understand which elements in these passages refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and which to the final coming of the Lord. At the same time, scripture scholars
increasingly recognize that the interplay between these perspectives and events is significant and not just the result of an editorial jumbling. For example, the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which Jesus had predicted as God’s judgment on the Jews, is a foreshadowing of the final judgment to be inaugurated by Jesus at his second coming.

We will now consider what the Gospels and the other New Testament writings present as some of the distinct elements of the disorder that will precede the coming of Christ. These elements can be grouped under three headings: general disorder among the nations and in nature; confusion and division within the church; and the rise and work of the antichrist.

General Disorder. General disorder among the nations of the world, coupled with widespread “natural disasters,” will inaugurate the beginning of the tribulation which will precede the Lord's coming:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Do not be alarmed. Such things are bound to happen, but that is not yet the end. Nation will rise against nation, one kingdom against another. There will be famine and pestilence and earthquakes in many places. These are the early stages of the birth pangs. (Matthew24:6-8)
Note that these disorders are referred to as the “early stages of the birth pangs.” This is an important perspective for Christians to have. In the midst of the turmoil and suffering, Christians are given a key to understanding which leads to hope and joy rather than fear and despair. An age in rebellion against God, a world distorted and perverted by sin, is perishing. But something new is coming to birth – a “new heavens and new earth,” where the holiness of God will dwell, where there will be no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death.

In fact, Jesus told his disciples regarding the impending tribulation, “When these things begin to happen, stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is near at hand” (Luke 21:28).

The end of this period of severe tribulation will be marked by an intensification of the disorders, and then the return of the Lord:
Immediately after the stress of that period, “the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed her light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the hosts of heaven will be shaken loose.” Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and “all the clans of earth will strike their breasts” as they see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)
Confusion and Disorder in the Church. Another element of disorder that will precede Christ's coming is disorder in the church. First, there will be disloyalty. The nations of the world will turn against the Christian people in a concerted way, creating a pressure that will reveal the quality of commitment and relationships that exist among Christians. Some Christians will yield to the provocations and will openly turn against one another and betray one another to the secular, anti-Christian authorities:
They will hand you over to torture and kill you. Indeed, you will be hated by all nations on my account. Many will falter then, betraying and hating one another. (Matthew 24:9-10)

Brother will hand over brother for execution and likewise the father his child; children will turn against their parents and have them put to death. (Mark 13: 12)

Because of the increase of evil, the love of most will grow cold. (Matthew 24: 12)
Another feature of the great tribulation will be the appearance of false teachers, prophets, and messiahs. They will preach a gospel different from the one of orthodox Christianity and will mislead many not firmly rooted in the faith:
While he was seated on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came up to him privately and said: “Tell us, when will all this occur? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world?” In reply Jesus said to them: “Be on guard! Let no one mislead you. Many will come attempting to impersonate me. ‘I am the Messiah!’ they will claim, and they will deceive many False prophets will rise in great numbers to mislead many False messiahs and false prophets will appear, performing signs and wonders so great as to mislead even the chosen if that were possible. Remember, I have told you all about it beforehand; so, if they tell you, ‘Look, he is in the desert,’ do not go out there; or ‘He is in the innermost rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:3-5, 24-26)

Do not forget this: there will be terrible times in the last days. Men will be lovers of self and of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, profane, inhuman, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating the good. They will be treacherous, reckless, pompous, lovers of pleasure rather than of God as they make a pretense of religion but negate its power.... Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth; with perverted minds they falsify the faith. (2 Tm 3:1-5, 8)

The Spirit distinctly says that in later times some will turn away from the faith and will heed deceitful spirits and things taught by demons through plausible liars.... (I Tm 4: I)
Persecution, disorder in the church, and confusion about fundamental Christian truths perpetrated by false teachers, prophets, and messiahs will take its toll: there will be widespread desertion of the true Christian faith. As Paul exhorts the Thessalonians:
On the question of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we beg you, brothers, not to be so easily agitated or terrified, whether by an oracular utterance, or rumor, or a letter alleged to be ours, into believing that the day of the Lord is here. Let no one seduce you, no matter how. Since the mass apostasy has not yet occurred.... (2 Thes 2:1-3)
At one point Jesus expressed great concern about what condition his people would be in at his return: “But when the Son of Man comes,” Jesus asked his disciples, “will he find any faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

God willing if he comes in our lifetime he’ll find faith in the readers of this book and the hearers of the gospel all over the world who are opening their hearts to the truth in order to be saved!

The Rise of the Antichrist. In his first two epistles, John refers to the apparently common belief among Christians of his day that the antichrist would appear before the Lord’s coming. He indicates that the false teachers operating at the time of his writing could be viewed as many such antichrists:
Children, it is the final hour;
just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many such antichrists have appeared.
This makes us certain that it is the final hour.
It was from our ranks that they took their leave not
that they really belonged to us;
for if they had belonged to us,
they would have stayed with us.
It only served to show that none of them was ours....
Who is the liar?
He who denies that Jesus is the Christ.
He is the antichrist,
denying the Father and the Son.
Anyone who denies the Son
has no claim on the Father,
but he who acknowledges the Son
can claim the Father as well. (I John 2:18-19, 22-23)
Here, for John, the “final hour” is the final age of the World  – the time between the first and second comings of Christ. The antichrists, false teachers, and false prophets have emerged from within the ranks of the Christian churches and are distorting the heart of the gospel message. One thrust of the antichrist's teaching is to deny that Jesus truly is the Son of God, Savior and Lord, the Christ. Another element of this false teaching is to deny that it is necessary to go through Jesus to reach a relationship with God the Father. In short, the false teachers reject the universal necessity and relevance of the role of Jesus in God’s plan:
do not trust every spirit,
but put the spirits to a test
to see if they belong to God,
because many false prophets have appeared in the world.
This is how you can recognize God's Spirit:
every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh
belongs to God,
while every spirit that fails to acknowledge him
does not belong to God.
Such is the spirit of the antichrist
which, as you have heard, is to come;
in fact, it is in the world already.
You are of God, you little ones,
and thus you have conquered the false prophets.
For there is One greater in you
than there is in the world.
Those others belong to the world;
that is why theirs is the language of the world
and why the world listens to them. (1 John 4: 1-5)
These verses of John are reminiscent of what Paul tells the Corinthians: “That is why I tell you that nobody who speaks in the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Cursed be Jesus.’ And no one can say: ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (I Cor 12:3) The formulas offered here by Paul and John are not foolproof methods of discerning true from false, to be used in a legalistic way. For example, someone could very well profess verbally “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus came in the flesh,” while twisting the meaning of those phrases to mean the very opposite. The point of these warnings is to guard against the antichrist's strategy of undermining foundational Christian truths such as the incarnation and the unique role and identity of Jesus as Savior of the entire race and the only way to the Father.

The early church considered the antichrist already in the world and functioning through false teachers and prophets. But scripture says that there is a restraint on his activity which will be removed just before the Lord's coming: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison” (Revelation 20:7). While there will always be a multitude of false teachers and prophets fulfilling the function of an antichrist, at a certain time the unfettered power of Satan will concentrate its energies in a single focus – perhaps in a single man – and operate without restraint.

Paul points this out to the Thessalonians, some of whom had been disturbed by rumors or alleged prophecies that the events preceding the second coming had already taken place. Paul calms the situation by showing that two important events that must precede the Lord’s coming have not yet occurred: the mass apostasy and the manifestation of the “man of lawlessness.” Here Paul is reminding his readers of truths that he had apparently already taught them during his previous visit with them:
Let no one seduce you, no matter how. Since the mass apostasy has not yet occurred nor the man of lawlessness been revealed – that son of perdition and adversary who exalts himself above every so-called god proposed for worship, he who seats himself in God’s temple and even declares himself to be God – do you not remember how I used to tell you about these things when I was still with you? You know what restrains him until he shall be revealed in his own time. The secret force of lawlessness is already at work, mind you, but there is one who holds him back until that restrainer shall be taken from the scene. Thereupon the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and annihilate him by manifesting his own presence. This lawless one will appear as part of the workings of Satan, accompanied by all the power and signs and wonders at the disposal of falsehood – by every seduction the wicked can devise for those destined to ruin because they have not opened their hearts to the truth in order to be saved. (2 Thes 2:3-10)
Paul says a great deal in these few verses. First of all, since he is simply reminding the Thessalonians of what he has already taught them concerning these truths, we can assume that they formed a regular part of his teaching.

Second Paul indicates that lawlessness and hostility to God will be embodied in a person who is already at work but who is restrained at the moment from fully manifesting himself. Some Fathers of the Church thought the “restrainer” was the order imposed by the Roman Empire. Others have thought it to be the prayer of the church, the preaching of the gospel, a divine decision, the Holy Spirit, or St. Michael the Archangel. While the exact identity of the restrainer is not indicated in the text, its reality and critical function is clearly taught.
Paul points out that the “man of lawlessness” will work to undermine men's knowledge of and loyalty to God and his truth; he will seek to put himself in the place of God, robbing God of the honor, fidelity, and obedience that are his due.

Scripture indicates that there are two secret plans for mankind. God has one; its main outlines are now revealed to Christians, and it will culminate in the appearance, or parousia, of Christ.

But Satan has a secret plan too; once the restrainer is removed, this plan will be seen clearly in another parousia, an appearing of embodied evil in the man of lawlessness. His coming will be
accompanied by false signs and wonders and every seductive means that can be used to cause God’s people to defect and be lost.

In times of stress, human beings desperately look for a "savior." In such times the situation is ripe for a satanically "inspired" character or "savior figure" to appear on the scene. The scriptures tell us as much as they do about the deception and false messiah of the last days precisely so Christians will be able to recognize and resist such deception.

I do not know whether the rapid removal of many restraints on the manifest working of evil in many of the Western countries in recent years is the removal of the restrainer and the prelude to the appearance of the antichrist. I do know that we are certainly living in a time where many of the Christian influences imbedded within the fabric of our society – its laws, customs, courts, governmental system, and schools – are being systematically stripped away. We are seeing the emergence of a new paganism which is openly hostile to God and his image in man, his ways, laws, and purposes. The church in many parts of the world is already living through days of great tribulation.

Only after Satan finally manifests himself without restraint will Christ appear to destroy him and his works with his Word, Spirit, and almighty presence.

As difficult as these times may be, Christians must bear in mind that Christ has won the victory and that those who bear his name and who have been willing to endure trials for his sake will share in his reward. We must also remember that he knows our strengths and weaknesses and will not let us be confronted with suffering that we cannot bear. We can count on his great love, mercy, wisdom, and strength. St. Paul says in words we can make our own, “I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us. Indeed, the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God” (Romans 8: 18-19). That glory to be revealed in us, that revelation of the sons of God in all their glory, will be unfolded in its fullness when Jesus returns.

The fundamental thing Christians contemplating the return of Christ should do is to live the kind of life that will enable them to “stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is at hand” (Luke 21:28). St. Peter tells us, “Set all your hope on the gift to be conferred on you when Jesus Christ appears” (I Peter 1:13).

When Christ comes again, it will be to accomplish specific purposes. His coming will bring the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of all humankind.

This article is excerpted from The Return of the Lord, Chapter 5, © copyright 1983 by Ralph Martin, published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, MI. Used with permission.

Ralph Martin is president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. Ralph also hosts The Choices We Face, a widely viewed weekly Catholic television and radio program distributed throughout the world. Renewal Ministries is also actively involved in assisting the Church in more than 30 different countries through leadership training, evangelistic conferences and retreats, and the publication and distribution of Catholic resources.

Ralph is the author of a number of books, including Will Many Be Saved? and The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call. He and his wife Anne have six children and seventeen grandchildren and reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

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