It’s clear that the Lord is stirring His church in ways like He never has before. When the top leaders in the missions movement like Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth with a Mission) and Mark Anderson say things like “the Great Commission will probably be completed in 10 years”, when extravagance of devotion to Jesus is becoming increasingly common among young adults all across the world, and when prayer rooms are springing up across the earth without any coordinated effort by one group or organization, our hearts should be alerted that there is truly something bigger going on. I, along with many others across the world believe that the day of the LORD, the day of Jesus’ return, is drawing nearer. But what if we're wrong and it’s still hundreds of years away? How then should we live?
I believe that every generation, no matter how close they are in history to the Lord’s return, should live with urgency and expectation of that great day of the LORD. From the earliest days of history when the gospel in its “budding” form was preached to Eve (Genesis 3:15), men lived in expectancy of the Day of the promised Messiah or “Seed” to crush the head of Satan and restore the conditions of unhindered communion in God’s paradise, the garden in Eden. Through the days of Enoch (Jude 1:14-15, Hebrews 11:5) to his grandson Lamech and then his son Noah, that great Day of judgment and restoration was the great anticipation of those calling upon the name of the LORD. Noah was in fact named after this expectation of a Deliverer to restore that which was lost at the fall of man:
Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. And he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed.”
(Genesis 5:28-29 NKJV)
The centuries passed and the expectation of a “seed” of the woman Eve to restore God’s original perfection continued among the faithful. Moses proclaimed the overturning of death at the Day of the LORD through song (Psalms 90). David also wrote songs filled with a heart of conviction related to the coming Day (Psalms 1, Psalms 5, Psalms 36, Psalms 91, and many others), and knew that the Messiah’s return would result in Israel’s permanent inheritance in the land (Psalms 95, Hebrews 4). The prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 13:6-7), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 30:3), Joel (Joel 2:1,11,31; Joel 3:14), Obadiah (Obadiah 1:15), Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:14) all boldly proclaimed the nearness of the day of the LORD. Each of them had no doubt that the promised Seed may come in their lifetime.
The expectation of the day of the LORD only swelled after the first coming of Jesus. Though the Messiah Himself had walked the earth, Jesus knew from Daniel that the promised kingdom of God would not be established on the earth until the end of the age (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7, Daniel 9, Daniel 12). Just like the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus called the people to repentance because the day of the LORD (and thus the kingdom or government that God would establish) was “near” or “at hand”. In Jesus’ mind, this kingdom was a physical, earthly, future kingdom that was going to be established on the day of the LORD:
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
(Luke 10:8-12 NIV)
The New Testament church not only believed doctrinally that Jesus was going to return in their lifetime, but actually lived their lives with that strong conviction. James warned his readers “to be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8). Paul told the Romans to love one another because “the night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12). The author of Hebrews tells readers to “encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
Paul’s belief that he was living in the generation of the Lord’s return is expressed perhaps most clearly in 1 Corinthians 7 and also is alluded to strongly in 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 NIV)
“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:17 NKJV)
This conviction that Jesus would return in their generation dramatically affected the lifestyle of the early church: the way they lived, loved, worked, and prayed (Luke 21:36; Romans 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 2 Peter 3:11). This conviction is what led to the repentance of many (as the apostles preached the same message that John the Baptist and Jesus both preached) and the rapid expansion of the church in the first century.
But today, much of that expectation has been lost because the good news of the restoration of original perfection and fellowship (the “gospel”) has been distorted and watered down by Satan (through Platonism and through the “kingdom now” theology that became extremely popular at the Constantinian shift, which I will address in later posts). Much of the church of Jesus in the West is more interested in living for today than for His Day, and we look at the creation and garden story at the beginning as something just a little bit more important than a fairy tale. But I believe that that the resurgence of expectation for the return of Jesus means that the restoration of the true gospel and expectation of the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) is not far behind.
The hope of believers in the Messiah, Jesus, could probably be summed up in three main points:
- The curse of Genesis 3:17-19 would be overturned at the resurrection, and death would be swallowed up in victory forever. (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)
- Jesus, the Seed/Messiah and YHWH Himself, would return to the earth to establish an earthly government based in Jerusalem that would never end. This is what New Testament writers called "the kingdom of God". (Zechariah 14:8-9; Daniel 2:44; Matthew 3:2, and many other passages)
- These events on the day of the LORD and following would cause YHWH's identity to to be acknowledged and seen clearly by all flesh. (Isaiah 45:22-25; Philippians 2:5-11)
The Lord has been shaking my theological foundations recently, so I’ll be writing much more about this subject in the months to come.
As we feel the rumblings of creation’s groan for its restoration and as the earth grows increasingly wicked, may the Lord grant us grace to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), that the day of the LORD is truly near and the “restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21) is soon to come to pass. For this gospel alone is our anchor of hope in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.