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Paul's View of Christ's Return


7Return of Jesus

by Dennis Pollock

There is no other Bible character whose mind and heart are more transparent to us than the apostle Paul. Certainly we have lots of information about Abraham, Joseph, David, and others, but in most cases we know more about what they did than what they thought. Through Paul's lengthy epistles, the great apostle's heart is laid bare – we know how he thought, what he felt, and what were his attitudes on so many things. By the time you get through the book of Acts, and then read Romans through Philemon, you will know Paul pretty well; start reading the New Testament through again and again and he will become an old friend.

As we consider the return of the Lord Jesus, it behooves us to ask the question, "What did Paul think about this great event?" Did he believe in it? Did he ignore it? Did he emphasize it? When you read the New Testament, much of what you are reading has come straight from the heart and mind of the great apostle. Whenever you have a question about a particular doctrine or emphasis, you would do well to ask the question, "What would Paul have said about that?" So, with this in mind, let us consider Paul's view of the return of Jesus Christ.

The first thing that is immediately obvious is that Paul believed in the return of the Lord Jesus. Jesus had promised that He was going to prepare a place for His people, and that He would come again and receive them to Himself. Paul latched onto this promise and never let go. His writings are filled with references to this great event. In his mind, Christ's return was an indispensable element of normal Christianity. He writes to the Philippians, "you turned to God from idols to serve the living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." To Paul, this is what Christians do and how they live – they turn from an idolatrous life to God, and they live their lives waiting for Jesus to come back for them. Liberals have sometimes spoken of "Pauline theology" as though it were a different perspective on Christ and salvation than what Christ Himself taught. But evangelicals recognize that Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that Pauline theology is God's theology. And it includes a great big healthy dose of the return of Jesus Christ!

False Caricatures

In certain parts of the church and among many non-believers there is a very real hostility toward the doctrine of Christ's return. To bolster their case they often paint a caricature of Christians who passionately long for Christ to come for His people. They suggest that anyone who longs for Christ's appearing is either simple-minded or else some impractical dreamer who is of no value in the real world. Paul is the absolute antithesis of these caricatures.

First, Paul was an intellectual – not in the sense of one who sits around in an ivory tower, thinks deep thoughts, and never gets out into the real world. But Paul was highly intelligent; in fact he was brilliant. Some of those who have studied his writings have concluded that his IQ would have placed him in the category of "genius." Paul's pen poured forth a torrent of eloquence. In his unparalleled essay on the love of God, he wrote:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails… (1 Corinthians 13)

Who writes like this? Granted, Paul had help from the Holy Spirit, but there are no other Bible writers that surpass the great apostle in his ability to write, or think logically. Chances are you have never met a man as smart as Paul was. While the skeptics and mockers would tell us that anyone who believes or emphasizes Christ snatching His church off the earth must surely be gullible and naïve, Paul annihilates such reasoning. In truth it does not require a lack of intelligence to believe God can do miraculous things; it simply requires a knowledge of God which produces faith in the One who knows no difficulties. Moses parting the Red Sea, Elisha making an iron axe head float, the virgin birth, Jesus walking on the water and multiplying a few loaves of bread to feed thousands – none of these presented the least difficulty for the God who created the vast galaxies with a word from His mouth.

And secondly Paul serves as a total contradiction to the idea that those who love Christ's appearing are mystical dreamers who get little kingdom work done. Paul was the most evangelistic man that ever lived. We read that upon getting saved "immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God." And he never stopped! Throughout his life Paul went from town to town, preached Christ and established churches. By the time Paul left a town there was a group of believers worshiping Christ and meeting together as a church. This happened in town after town and city after city. Paul lived to preach Christ and win souls. He stated, "I endure all things for the sake of the elect." In another place he said, "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews…; to those who are without law, as without law…, that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

Until Paul came along Christianity was primarily a small Jewish sect. It was Paul that Christ used to turn this movement from local to international. Those who mockingly suggest that those who love Christ's return are nothing more than idle dreamers need to consider this: the greatest evangelist in the history of the church was also the greatest promoter of the return of the Lord Jesus!

What Paul taught

As you read the epistles of the apostle you quickly discover that the return of Christ is liberally sprinkled all through his writings. Sometimes he injects a quick comment and then returns to his main line of thought. Other times he goes into great detail about the last days and the nature of Christ's return. One of his major focuses was on the judgment seat of Christ that would follow on the heels of the Rapture of the church. To Timothy he writes: "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom…" The return of Jesus Christ is more than just to get us out of trouble – far more. This is the time when we will have our appointment at the great and awesome judgment seat of Christ. Sometimes we suppose that the only ones who would look for Jesus to come would be those who owe huge amounts of money to the IRS, or have a miserable family life, or have lost a loved one. But a major component of Christ's return, in Paul's estimation, is that it is our graduation day – a day when we stand before our Lord and have our life reviewed, and receive rewards for our service to Christ.

The Bible reveals that this earthly life is a test, and we who have trusted in Christ will be graded and rewarded in accordance with how well we have lived our few, paltry years on earth during this test. Paul writes, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body." In another place he states, "Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it…" What day is that? It is the Day of Jesus Christ – the day when the dead in Christ shall be raised and the church shall be snatched from the earth and will meet Christ in the air." With all the glorious activity of this day, there will be one other great event – the time when we shall be presented to our Lord and hear his assessment of the life we have lived. Paul writes, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God." Notice he does not say, "Each man's condemnation will come from God." He says we will receive praise from God. In the last chapter of the Bible, Jesus says, "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work." If you are in Christ, you will be enjoying rewards a million years from now that you have gained in your short few years of life on this earth.

Paul saw the return of Christ as an event that should motivate us to holy living. He commands us to live "soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." This is a huge aspect of the doctrine of the return of Jesus. He exhorts Timothy: "keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing." When I was in college (during my "before Christ" days) several of us guys from my dorm answered a call to help unload a wrecked train. It was nighttime and we soon saw all sorts of treasures that were available for the taking. As we worked most of us started loading our pockets with some of the smaller items. We thought we had really hit the jackpot. But toward the end of our work one of the men in charge announced that before we would be transported back to the dorm we would be searched. That put an entirely different light on the matter. The air was soon filled with electric razors and other items being tossed in every direction. It is amazing how the knowledge of future accountability affects present behavior. Jesus taught, "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly." Paul likewise linked godly behavior with Christ's appearing, exhorting the Philippian believers "Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand."

Not ashamed

Paul had so much more to say about the return of Christ. He tells us that we should be "eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." And he states that he is "confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." He triumphantly exults, "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?"

Paul wrote far more about Christ's return than we could possibly cover in this short teaching. Suffice it to say that the man the Holy Spirit chose to write the majority of the New Testament epistles was a man who had a burning passion for the return of the Lord Jesus. Surely Paul serves as a model for pastors, evangelists, Sunday school teachers and those who instruct God's people today! Paul once stated, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." With all the derogatory references to Christ's appearing today, we who "eagerly wait for Him" need to be able to proclaim boldly, "We are not ashamed of the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, for it is our blessed hope!"



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