II Peter 1:16-21
“Is Jesus ever coming back?” Have you ever wondered that? Do you find yourself watching the news, or surfing the internet, or struggling with sin or conflict in life, and just wish this could all be over with? You are not suicidal. You just want Jesus to return and make everything right, like He promised to do.
And so you wonder. You long for Jesus to return, to crush Satan, to raise the death, to set this world right. And you wait.
The Church has been waiting for 2000 years. How much longer is it going to be? How many more centuries, or millennia will pass by without the visible revelation of Jesus Christ?
The Apostles struggled with this question. They had seen Jesus ascend into heaven. They had heard the promise of the angel that He would return just as He had gone from their sight. This was an essential part of the early preaching of Peter and Paul. Their sermons and letters are riddled with references to Jesus imminent return. The letter of II Peter, our epistle lesson, was written with this specific concern in mind.
But when? Why was it taking Jesus so long? How long would they be forced to suffer at the hands of their persecutors? How many times would they be beaten for their faith?
By the time John writes the Revelation it had been at least 30 years since Jesus had ascended. Was He ever coming back?
Martin Luther struggled with the same thing. 1500 years after the Apostles Luther faced down the corruption and decay in the Roman hierarchy. He preached, taught, and wrote against false doctrine and evil deeds inside and outside of the church. And he longed for Jesus to return, to set everything right.
When preparing a written confession of faith for a pending Church council to be summoned by the Pope Luther wrote: “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, assemble a council of Thine own, and by Thy glorious advent deliver Thy servants…help us poor and wretched souls who cry unto Thee and earnestly seek Thee according to the grace which Thou hast given us by Thy Holy Spirit.”
In other words, “Jesus, return quickly and put an end to all the false doctrine and evil deeds that exist within Your Church.” Luther waited, yet He did not see Jesus return in bodily glory as he had hoped.
If the Apostles were pining for Jesus to return only a few decades after His ascension, if Luther was hoping beyond hope that Jesus would blaze across the horizon 500 years ago, then we certainly should find ourselves desperate to have Him come quickly.
And yet that is probably not the attitude we have, most of the time. In our day the devil has tempted and distracted us with so many things that many Christians have taken their eyes off the prize. They don’t look forward to Jesus returning at all. In fact, we may even find ourselves hoping that He doesn’t return soon, so that I can do all those things that I want to do here and now.
We live in a time of great upheaval, a time of dramatic change in our culture and in the way the world interacts. There is more widespread persecution of Christianity than ever before. Yet we rarely find ourselves hoping for Jesus’ return.
If that has been the case with you, as it has been with me, then it is time for repentance. Let us confess the sin of taking our eyes off of Jesus, and trust Him to forgive. Let us lay aside the world’s distractions and the devil’s temptations, and focus on the life of the world to come, the life that Jesus won for us with His death on the cross, the life that Jesus will bring with Him when He does in fact reveal Himself on the Last Day.
What else is the point of the cross? Why die to forgive us? You are forgiven of your sins. So what? Why should you care? Because that forgiveness gives you the status of a child of God. And when He returns Jesus will raise the children of God from death and take them into a perfect world to live forever. The cross of Jesus gives us the sin-free life that lasts forever.
That day is coming, Peter promises His readers in our epistle lesson. He can promise this because he himself has had a glimpse of Jesus’ return on the Mount of Transfiguration. What was revealed to Peter, James, and John on that mountain was not simply the glory of Jesus, but a glimpse behind the curtain of what was coming on the Last Day.
They see Jesus glorified, for sure. But He is also surrounded by Moses and Elijah, two guys who should have been dead a long time ago. Those men witnessed the power of Jesus to raise the dead, and they heard the voice of God Himself tell them that this God/Man was His Son.
Peter knows that Jesus will reveal Himself because He saw a preview at the Transfiguration. But that is not the only reason. It is not even the best reason. The most sure reason to believe that Jesus is coming again is that the Holy Spirit has born witness through the prophets that it will happen.
If Peter, James, and John were reliable eyewitnesses to the Transfiguration, which they certainly were, then how much more is the Holy Spirit a reliable witness when He confirms in the Bible that Jesus will return? If we can trust the testimony of Peter, we should certainly trust the testimony of God’s Spirit.
The Bible is not man’s invention. It is God’s book, His Spirit carrying along the authors so that they wrote what God wanted them to write. And this is important for a whole host of reasons, but it is more than just the certainty of truth. Of course the Bible is true, it is factual and accurate.
But the fact that the Holy Spirit is the true author of the Bible and that He still speaks through that Word today, means that not only is the Bible true, it is true for me. Not only has God spoken, but He has spoken for me and to me.
Jesus’ death forgives MY sins. His resurrection foreshadows MY OWN. His return is certain and unshakable, and He returns for ME. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit “will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Peter calls the prophetic word (of which His own preaching and teaching, along with Paul and the other Apostles, is a part) a lamp shining in a dark place. The Lamp of God’s Word, the Lamp of the Bible, shines in the dark world until the morning star, Christ Himself, rises at dawn. When the Son brings with it the light of day, we no longer need the Lamp.