With steadfast hope, the Reformed believer confesses that the exalted Lord Jesus is coming, and is coming quickly. The Lord is coming, contrary to the claims of the preterists that Christ came in A.D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. According to their interpretation, the prophecies of Christ’s return are fulfilled already. That, all by itself, indicates the preposterousness of their claims. For, were they correct, one could only conclude that the whole book of Revelation, most of I and II Thessalonians, Matthew 24, and Mark 13, not to mention all the instruction on the resurrection as in I Corinthians 15, have virtually no significance for the New Testament church.
The year 2005 clearly manifested the reality that Jesus is coming, as He personally promised. Christ’s certain coming is the import of His reply to wicked Caiaphas, the high priest, who demanded of Jesus, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Although Jesus had been silent to that point in His trial, now put under oath, He could not maintain His silence and thereby leave even a hint of denial. “Thou hast said,” Jesus answered. Then He added, “Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63, 64).
Jesus’ striking answer teaches much about His activity after His death and resurrection. First, He teaches that, although the Jewish rulers would condemn Him to death, He would subsequently be exalted to the throne of power at God’s right hand. Secondly, He would return in glory (in the clouds) as judge of all men, including those who would condemn him. Thirdly, Jesus teaches that His ruling and His coming would be a continuous activity. That is indicated by the word “hereafter,” which means literally, “from now.” That is to say, after His death, men would see the Son of man sitting on the throne and coming. Jesus’ coming is not an event finished in the past.
Jesus’ answer indicates that His arrival will not be connected with an earthly kingdom over which He is waiting to rule. He rules already now. On the contrary, His Parousia, His visible and bodily appearance on the earthly scene, will coincide with the destruction of this world. Because the disciples of Jesus understood that, they had asked Him, “And what shall be the signof thy coming, and of the end of the world” (Matt. 24:3).
Finally, since men will see Him coming, it must be that there will be indications, signs of His coming. Jesus’ coming will not be a totally unforeseen event, in which He raptures believers from the earth one fine day, leaving all the world bewildered about what happened. Jesus gave His church signs—attention getting, notable occurrences, that fittingly indicate that He is coming, just as buds on a tree fittingly indicate that summer is coming. For in and through the signs, Jesus is coming.
Thus, the coming of Jesus Christ “from now” is a sovereign activity, for He is enthroned in power. With that divine power, the Lord Jesus controls everything—the creation itself, the nations, every person, and every event. That the coming of Jesus is “from now” indicates that He is coming from the moment of His glorious ascension into heaven, throughout the nearly two thousand years since. With this right understanding of Jesus’ coming, believers confess that their Lord was coming all through 2005, and that He will be coming in 2006.
The events of 2005 unmistakably and unambiguously demonstrated Jesus’ coming. His coming was evident in the fulfillment of the signs that Jesus gave His church (see especiallyMatt. 24 and Mark 13). The purpose of this editorial is to encourage believers by recounting some of the signs fulfilled in the year 2005.
One of the first signs Jesus provided was “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). It would be impossible for a citizen of the US to miss the reality of war in 2005. Interesting to consider, the news media that by and large oppose Christ and scoff at His coming, daily reminded us that He was coming by reporting on the war in Iraq. In addition, we were regularly reminded of the conflicts between Israel and her neighbors. That was a small part of the real picture. In fact, there are scores of conflicts—wars between countries as well as internal fighting—that are rarely reported in the news in America. A little searching reveals that fighting in Sudan has taken the lives of some 180,000 in one recent eighteen- month period. Another conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has take some 50,000 lives since 1999. The sound of warfare is heard in countries around the world, including Columbia, Somalia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, and Russia. In addition, the newest and dirtiest form of fighting—terrorism—raised its head around the world in deadly bombings in Lebanon, England, Pakistan, Jordan, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, and more.
Wars and rumors of wars. The Lord comes.
Jesus told His church to look for signs of His coming also in the creation—”famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matt. 24:7). In the news media, famines in faraway places are good for a couple days of shocking photographs for well-fed citizens of industrial nations, and then they drop off the page. Nonetheless, untold millions suffered from famine in 2005 in such countries as North Korea, Uganda, Sudan, Niger, Chad, Malawi, and Pakistan, and many starved to death.
In 2005, several devastating earthquakes resulted in thousands of deaths—in central Iran on February 22 (at least 612 killed, 1411 injured), in Indonesia on March 28 (over 1300 killed), and on October 8 in Pakistan, where more than 79,000 perished, almost as many were injured, and an estimated four million found themselves homeless facing the snow and ice of winter. Those probably caught our attention, but there were nearly eighty other major earthquakes in the world in 2005! Of all the signs of Jesus’ coming, Scripture most directly connects earthquakes with His coming in judgment. Over eighty major earthquakes in one year! (You are encouraged to view the documentation for yourself on the Internet—www.neic.usgs.gov/ neis/eq_depot/2005/) Besides all these signs, the destruction of the hurricanes in the US has been well documented and speaks for itself. Even the secular world commented on the staggering amount of destruction from “mother nature.” Taken together, the evidence in the creation of Jesus’ coming in 2005 was unmistakable and powerful, rousing the church from slumber with the trumpet’s call: The Lord is coming!
“And wickedness shall abound.”
Jesus instructed His people to watch in the society for an increase in wickedness. If 2005 manifested nothing else to the spiritual sensitivities of the believer, it did exhibit a startling growth in iniquity. Sin develops all through history as man subdues the powers of the creation. For while every creature of God is good (including man’s inventions), yet the depraved natures of man find ways to press the inventions into the service of sin. This was evident even to the secular press in the explosion of pornography on the Internet, as men could access it in the privacy of their own homes or offices. Every conceivable perversion is readily available—a powerful temptation for many Christians as well. These perversions corrupted minds, fed depraved souls, and destroyed marriages and families.
Besides, the scourge of the legal murder of unborn babies continued unabated throughout the entire world. Sometimes it seemed that child abuse and kidnapping were being reported daily. And the world’s entertainment continued its downward spiral to feed the basest lusts.
Above all else, evil trumpeted itself in the vile perversion of homosexuality, the one sin that Scripture specifically labels contrary to nature, and God’s judgment upon a rebellious people (Rom. 1). The abounding wickedness is plain from the fact that this shameful immorality was not only boldly practiced, it was increasingly sanctioned by the civil magistrates … and the false church.
Just as Jesus testified, the world abounds in iniquity. The self-proclaimed “optimists,” the postmillennialist and the Christian Reconstructionist, looking for the development of righteousness and peace in the land, wring their hands and cling to a false hope—a “good” family movie with only a little swearing, or one court case among a hundred that was decided in favor of a Christian. And in spite of all the overwhelming evidence that Jesus’ word is being fulfilled, still, amazingly, insist that the cause of Christ will triumph sometime before the Lord returns, only pushing that return off farther and farther. They are totally wrong. The cause of Christ will indeed triumph, no, is triumphing—as He returns.
The signs of the Lord’s return in 2005 are so numerous that we must severely limit the discussion of them. We could discuss the uniting of the nations—economically and politically, as that developed in 2005. We could speak of the great apostasy, the falling away manifest in the decline in membership of, as well as in the rejection of the truth by, so many churches that once defended it.
That, in turn, brings the additional sign of the apostate churches uniting into what will become the whore of the beast, the political power of the Antichrist (Rev. 13 and Rev. 17). Churches are mad in pursuit of ecumenical relationships. The false church has long demonstrated her willingness to unite even with false religions in the name of harmony. The year 2005 indicated that this spirit is affecting Reformed and Presbyterian churches. So the 39 member churches of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod want to dialog with the more liberal World Alliance of Churches (which officially thanked God for the impact and ministry of the late Pope John Paul II). And the two long-standing Reformed denominations in the Netherlands celebrated their union with the Lutherans.
And all roads lead to Rome.
Doctrinally the way is paved to Rome. Evangelicals and Catholics Together published their fourth statement of agreement, this time on the doctrine of the communion of the saints (The Call to Holiness). Closer to home, the Catholic bishops have convinced the Christian Reformed Church that the Romish mass is not “an accursed idolatry” as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches (Q. & A. 80). And the Presbyterian and Reformed churches that have long tolerated the unbiblical doctrine of a conditional covenant (taught by Rome’s theologians already 700 years ago) now find it impossible to stamp out the Romish error—in their own churches!—of justification by faith and works.
But if a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture of the unity in grief captured in Pope John Paul’s funeral indicated where virtually the whole church world, indeed, where all religions, are headed. The secular press fell all over itself to report with astonishment that Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs joined the Roman Catholics in church services and prayers! It seemed that the mourners came from every nation under heaven, and of so many diverse religions, to honor this false Christ (another sign), who preached the gospel of salvation by works, and that through the mediating work of Mary.
The Lord returns. Quickly.
As the false church united, persecution of God’s people rose in 2005. In lands openly hostile to Christianity, God’s people suffer grievously—are imprisoned, beaten, killed. Moreover, the media’s power to focus the hatred of the world on Christians, even Reformed Christians, is increasingly experienced in the “Christian West.”
The Lord comes.
He comes victoriously.
Jesus the Lord comes chiefly through the sign of the preaching of the gospel to all nations—the true gospel of salvation by sovereign grace, through faith in Christ alone. The white horse ran in 2005. Through a faithful preacher in a hamlet or in a metropolis, who preaches to hundreds or to a handful, the Lord comes powerfully gathering His church unto Himself. This is the chief sign. This governs all the signs. For when this work of Christ is finished and the last elect is gathered, He will not tarry.
Behold the signs, fellow believers. Do not be deceived by the false prophets preaching an earthly kingdom. Reject the false teachers who minimize or deny outright the certain coming of Christ and who would convince you that the coming of the kingdom of righteousness and peace depends on your labors.
Rather, behold the signs. Jesus comes through them. And the daughters of Zion, the church, rejoice to see the judgments of God in the earth (Ps. 97:8). That joy of the Christian is not that he delights in human suffering. On the contrary, he is moved to pity fellow human beings suffering in the wake of disaster. The signs, many of them fearful judgments of Christ on an increasingly wicked world, are dreadful to behold. Moreover, God’s people surely suffer alongside of the ungodly.
Yet believers rejoice in these judgments. They need these signs. Believers correctly see the judgments as chastisements from Christ upon His own, to deliver them from sin and temptation. In addition, these events encourage all believers who recognize that they are signs of their Lord’s return. Consider that, if all the signs would cease—if in 2006 there would be not one earthquake, not one hurricane, no push for unity among the nations, no apostasy, etc.—the believer would lose hope. All the evidence in 2005 pointed to the coming of Christ. Now it ceases. The most devout believer would wonder, is the Lord coming?
He is. His actual Parousia we may not and cannot predict. Nevertheless, He comes—the signs of 2005 clearly manifested it.
And we confidently declare that the year of our Lord 2006 will do the same.
Lord, give us spiritual eyes to behold it. And come, yea, come quickly.