Real Christians Really Look Forward to Christ's Return

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 24, 2012

2 Peter 3:3-14 Real Christians Really Look Forward to Christ’s Return

Maranatha!
There’s this thing that I say at the end of nearly every service, and often people will come up to me and ask me what it means. It’s the word “maranatha.” Today, I’m going to explain what it means and (more importantly) explain why I say it.

The word “maranatha” is an Aramaic word that means, “Come, O Lord.” So, at the end of the service, right after I give the blessing, I finish with a little prayer. I say: “Even so, maranatha, come Lord Jesus.” In essence, I’m translating the word each time I use it.

It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:22. That’s a verse we looked at briefly earlier in this series, that says that if any one does not love the Lord, he or she is cursed. A pretty serious thought. Then Paul ends the thought by saying, “Come, O Lord.” Only, Paul wrote his letter in Greek, but at this point he uses an Aramaic expression. If you check the footnote of the NIV you’ll see that it explains “In Aramaic the expression Come, O Lord is Marana tha.” The fact that Paul uses the Aramaic here has led many scholars to speculate that this was a common expression—a common prayer—in the early church.

So, why do I say it? It actually goes back to my days in seminary. My pastor at the time—Kent Hinkson—would end each service by praying “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” Then, in one of my theology classes, the professor mentioned that in the New Testament anticipation of Christ’s return is a constant theme. You can’t read the New Testament for long without realizing that those guys were really excited about Jesus coming again.

My professor’s point was that Christians today do not look forward enough to Christ’s return. And so, I resolved that I would follow Pastor Kent’s example—and that of Paul and the other New Testament writers—and make a prayer for Christ’s return a regular feature of worship services I lead. (I decided to throw in the word Maranatha because it’s fun to say.)

I believe the Bible wants us to long for the Second Coming. If we love Jesus, if we are real Christians, then we should really look forward to Christ’s return.

Weirdness
Now, there can be a lot of weirdness when it comes to thinking about Jesus coming back to earth. End times. Eschatology. The Apocalypse. There can be a lot of strange ideas and uncomfortable debates when you start talking about what the Bible says about the future.

Generally, I think there are two common reactions when the subject of Christ’s return comes up. One is fascination. There are some people who just can’t get enough on the subject. There are all sorts of speculation about what the end is going to look like and when it is going to be. There are people who claim to be able to detect secret codes in the Bible and have secret knowledge.

This is where the weirdness comes in. From the street corner preacher wearing the sandwich boards that proclaim the “end is near” to the TV preachers with the shiny suits who have all sorts of charts and claim that they can connect current events in the Middle East to specific verses in Ezekiel to the radio preacher who commissioned all those billboards proclaiming May 21, 2011 as the day of the rapture; there are a lot of people who really, really, really want to be able to say they know exactly how the end is going down.

The other common reaction to the subject of Christ’s return is fear. This has a lot to do with the weirdness of all the predictions and the popular portrayals in the Left Behind books and so on. It seems like the more detailed the predictions get, the more scary they are.

But even if you take the kookiness out of it, we are still talking about the end of the world. Some of the things written in the Bible—4 horsemen, mountains melting, dragons and the like—are pretty scary, violent images. Hellfire and brimstone and damnation and judgment. This is the kind of stuff they make horror movies out of.

So it’s not surprising that Christians today do not really look forward to Christ’s return. When they do think about it, they see all the fascination and predictions and decide it is just too confusing; or they see all the fear and violence and decide it is just too scary; but for most of us it becomes something we’d rather not spend too much time on.

Blessed Hope
And yet, the New Testament authors are consistent in viewing Christ’s return as something to be anticipated. In just a few minutes, we’re going to spend some time in 2 Peter 3. But before we turn there, let me share some other verses with you. I want you to get a sense of the tone with which the New Testament looks forward to Christ’s return. So, for example, Titus 2:13:

13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

For Paul, Christ’s glorious appearing is “the blessed hope.” To me, that sounds like a good thing. Or, consider Philippians 3:20:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

“Eagerly await.” Christ’s return was not something they dreaded, it was something they were on pins and needles for. 2 Timothy 4:8:

8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.

I don’t know exactly what the crown of righteousness is, but it sounds like something we should want. And Paul says it goes to those who long for Christ’s appearing. In other words, just like a bride-to-be longs for her wedding day, we should be looking forward to Christ’s return.

And then there’s Revelation 22:20, the second to last verse in the Bible, and it mirrors Paul’s prayer from 1 Corinthians 16:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

There are many other verses which I could quote, but hopefully these are enough to convince you that in the Bible, Christ’s return is a good thing. It’s not a source of endless fascination, and it’s not something to fear. Rather, it is the “blessed hope”, something to be eagerly awaited and longed for, a constant prayer.

And so, as we come to the end of our Real Christian series I don’t mean to get into a lot of details about the rapture or tribulation or the millennium or that sort of thing; I just want to convince you of this one main idea: Real Christians really look forward to Christ’s return.

2 Peter 3:3-14
The passage I’d like to focus on for the rest of our time is 2 Peter 3:3-14. 2 Peter 3:3-14:

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
I’d like to break this passage down into two points, and then application.

He Is Not Slow
First, real Christians really look forward to Christ’s return because He really is coming again. His second coming really is coming.

Not everybody believes this, obviously. It’s been about 2000 years and Jesus hasn’t returned. Even in the early days of the church, within 40 to 50 years of Jesus first coming, people were starting to scoff at the idea of His return. That’s what verses 3 and 4 are about:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’

Have you ever met anyone who thinks like this? Maybe it describes you. “Where’s Jesus? Did He forget about us down here? Where is He? Nothing really changes.” But Peter says that’s not true. Verses 5-7:

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. [In other words, there was nothing and then there was something. How’s that for change?] By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. [Things changed then, and they will change again.] By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

His second coming IS really coming.

So why hasn’t He come yet? He is patient. Verses 8 and 9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. [He can afford to wait.] The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

As you read the New Testament one of the things that will stand out to you is that the authors of the Bible—Paul and Peter and John—really give the impression that they expected Jesus to come back in their lifetimes. Critics will point to that as a reason to dismiss them as crazy. Paul and Peter are clearly dead, and Jesus hasn’t come back yet. How could they be wrong about such an important point?

But what I see is them modeling an eager expectation. They knew Jesus was coming back, and they were prepared—they were eager—for Him to come back at any moment. At the same time, these verses help us understand that God’s timing is not our timing. The eternal God is not calendar bound in the same way as His creation.

But have no doubt, His coming is coming! Verse 10:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. [No warning!] The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Jesus is really coming back. On the day Jesus ascended back into heaven, described in Acts 1, He was taken up before the disciples’ eyes on a cloud. Then angels appeared and promised that Jesus would return in the same way he left (Acts 1:9-11). Ever since that day real Christians have really looked forward to His return because they know He really is coming again.

Looking Forward
But there is a second point. Real Christians really look forward to Christ’s return because it really is something to look forward to. Christ’s second coming is not something to be confused by or frightened of, it is something to be excited about.

Look at verses 12-14. Notice how many times Peter says the words “look forward.” Verse 12: “as you look forward to the day of God.” Verse 13: “As in keeping with his promise we are looking forward.” Verse 14: “since you are looking forward to this.”

Peter isn’t all worried about timelines and charts and figuring out what the 70 sevens of Daniel mean. Neither is he scared about all of the death and destruction that will accompany Christ’s return. (And he uses some pretty scary language here when he talks about fire and melting. We’ll get to that in a bit.) Peter says that Jesus is coming back, and we should be looking forward to that moment.

Why?

Well, for one thing, it means Jesus will be back. Verse 10 calls the day of His returning the “Day of the Lord.”

This day will be all about Him! This will be the day, as Philippians 2 says, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). This will be the day of Jesus’ glory (i.e. Titus 2:13). The day when everybody gets it and finally recognizes Jesus as He deserves to be recognized: as the rightful king and creator and owner of the universe.

Does your heart long for that? Do you long for Jesus to be seen in all His splendor and might and majesty? Do you long for Jesus to receive the glory that is His rightful due? If not, then there is reason to question if you are a real Christian. If you don’t long for the King to get the honor He deserves, then maybe you haven’t really recognized Him as your king.

Jesus is the treasure of untold price. He is the greatest good in the universe. Our hearts should beat fast at the prospect of His return.

Or, again. Christ’s return is something to look forward to because it will mean the end of evil. You can see this also in verse 10, when it talks about the elements being destroyed by fire and the earth and everything in it being laid bare. The same ideas are expressed in verse 12, where it talks about the destruction of the heavens and the melting of the elements.

This is some of the scary stuff associated with Jesus’ return; and I’ll admit, it’s pretty scary. Watch an end of the world movie like 2012, and it won’t hold a candle to what the Bible is describing here.

But you have to understand what Peter is getting at. He’s talking about the end of sin. He’s talking about the judgment of every broken, wicked, corrupt thing on earth. This is the destruction of mutating cancer cells and fracturing fault lines in the earth’s crust. This is the end of corrupt political systems and destructive weather systems. This is the burning up of war and hunger and poverty and betrayal and disappointment and addiction and so much more. Anthony Hoekema, in a book called The Bible and the Future, writes: “We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.” (275)

That’s something to look forward to! That’s something to be excited about! No more tears or death or mourning or crying or pain.

But, more than that, Christ’s return is something to look forward to because it will mean a new heaven and a new earth. Look at verse 13:

13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The fire that God sends isn’t going to be a fire of wanton destruction. He’s not going to just gratuitously melt down the earth like a kid burning up his plastic soldiers. Rather, it will be purifying fire, a refining fire. The point isn’t going to be to just get rid of everything, but to make everything new.

Matt Chandler points out that in Greek there are two ways to express the idea of “new.” One word conveys the idea of something brand new, something that has never existed before. The other word conveys the idea of renewal or restoration. And the word that is used here in 2 Peter is the word for renewal. So the point of this burning at Christ’s return is to remake and restore the world to the way it was always intended to be, before the fall.

And that’s what will happen when Christ returns. We will live out our eternity right here on this rock we call earth, but it will be the most perfect and wonderful version of earth ever. Chandler writes:

Think of this! Slow down and ponder it. If you know somewhere in the world that is renowned for its spectacular views, what you see is nevertheless broken, and what is to come in the new earth is far beyond what you can fathom or imagine. (The Explicit Gospel, p. 164)

The new heaven and the new earth. This is our real home. This is what we were made for. “The home of righteousness.”

Do you ever feel like this place isn’t really home? Like there’s something missing? Maybe your body is falling apart. Maybe your family is. Or maybe everything is going great for you right now. But there’s still something missing. You’ve got everything you need, but you’re still not quite satisfied.

That’s because this world is not the home of righteousness. This world is fallen, finite, and fractured. It’s not home!

But the new heavens and the new earth are coming. And that’s home. A new home to look forward to.

What Kind of People Ought You to Be?
So now, let me apply this. If Christ really is coming again and if His coming really is something to look forward to, how should that affect the way we live our lives? And for an answer, we can go right back to the text. Verse 11:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

And then, again, look at verse 14:

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Here’s the application, right from scripture: We ought to live holy and Godly lives.

Now, let me divide that up into 3 categories. And again, just like last week, these come from my friend Matt Mitchell.

First, Get right with God.

Verse 14 says we should live at peace with Him. That means going back to the real gospel. You absolutely cannot look forward to Christ’s return if you don’t belong to Jesus right now.

Only those who belong to Jesus are headed for the home of righteousness. Everybody else gets burned in the fire. So get right with God. Accept Jesus as Savior. Put your trust in Him and what He has accomplished at the cross.

And don’t wait another minute. Right now He is being patient with you, but His patience won’t last forever. Life is a vapor. Before I finish this sentence you could have a coronary and slip into eternity. Believe the gospel and get right with Him.

Second, Get Ready for your new Home.

If we are going to live in the home of righteousness, we need to practice it right now. We need to start living holy and godly lives.

If you knew today that your funeral would be this coming Thursday, would you live any differently? Would you have any different priorities?

Knowing that Christ’s return is really coming, and that it could happen at any moment (like a thief in the night), should change what is really important to us. It will change how we spend our time. It will change how we spend our money. It will change how we talk and how we think and the choices we make.

It should lead us to preparing now for how we will spend our eternity. We ought to live holy and godly lives.

And then, third, Get Busy Sharing Christ Until He Comes.

Did you catch that phrase in verse 12? “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

What does that mean? “Speed its coming”? God already has the day set in His mind. And yet, I think that somehow, mysteriously, God has decided that we can help it get here faster (from our perspective) as we proclaim His gospel around the world.

Remember, God is being patient because He wants as many people as possible to believe. And we can play a part in that by sharing the good news of Jesus with as many people as we can.

I know that some of you are not looking forward to Christ’s return because there are people you know—people you care about—who do not yet believe in Jesus. And you’re scared about what is going to happen to them.

But you can get busy praying for them. And you can get busy sharing with them. And inviting them. And pleading with them to believe in Jesus.

Because Jesus is coming again.

My hope is that now, when we get to the end of our worship service and I finish the blessing, that my prayer of Maranatha will be your prayer too. I hope that all of us, every day, can really look forward to Jesus coming again.