At first sight it may appear strange that our Lord has not made known to us the precise date of His appearing. He has caused many details concerning the Blessed Hope to be recorded in the Word. He has made known many things which are to transpire at His second advent, and in view of the fact that so much has been revealed it may strike us as peculiar that the very point upon which human curiosity most desires enlightenment should have been left undefined. We need hardly say that it was not ignorance on our Lord's part which caused Him to leave the hour of His second coming un-determined, though some of His enemies have dared to charge this against Him, basing their evil indictment upon Mark 13:32 -- |But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.| These words need occasion no difficulty if we pay due attention to the particular Gospel in which they are found, namely, Mark's- the Gospel of the Servant of Jehovah. The purpose of Mark's Gospel is to present the Lord Jesus as the perfect Servant, the obedient Servant, the Servant whose meat it was to do the will of Him that sent Him, and |the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth| (John 15:15). Mark 13:32 does not call into question our Lord's omniscience but asserts that, as a Servant, He waited Another's will. A little reflection will reveal the perfect wisdom of our Lord in concealing the exact date of His Return. One reason was that He desired to keep His people on the very tiptoe of expectation, continually looking for Him.
Again; this question needs to be pondered in the light of the Unity of Christ's church. The tendency with all of us is to regard believers as so many detached individuals, instead of viewing the saints as |one body| (1 Cor.12:13) |members one of another| (Rom.12:5). The church is not an organization, it is a living organism, a |body| of which Christ is the |head.| Hence, the Imminency of the Redeemer's return is to one member precisely what it is to all the members. and therefore it is that first century believers were just as truly and just as much interested in the appearing of the Saviour as are believers now living in the twentieth century. The object of hope then is the object of hope now, for the Body is one, and conversely, the object of hope now must necessarily have been the object of hope then. Consequently, the early Christians, by virtue of the Unity of the saints, were exhorted to walk in the light and blessing of a hope which is common to the entire church.
The Return of our Lord might not have been revealed at all, but in that case a most powerful dynamic to godly living would have been withheld from the church. The Imminency of the Redeemer's second advent was revealed as an incentive to watchfulness and preparedness. If then the fact of our Lord's return had not been presented in the New Testament as something which might occur at any time, but, instead, had been expressly postponed and fixed to happen in some particular and distant century, then all believers who lived in the centuries preceding that one would have been robbed of the comfort which is to be found in the assurance that Christ may return at any hour and would have lost the purifying effects which such a prospect is calculated to produce. As it has been well remarked, |It is not that He desires each succeeding generation to believe that He will certainly return in their time, for He does not desire our faith and our practice to be founded on an error, as, in that case, the faith and practice of all generations except the last would be. But it is a necessary element of the doctrine concerning the second coming of Christ, that it should be possible at any time, that no generation should consider it improbable in theirs| (Archbishop Trench).
Here then is the simple but sufficient answer to our question. The second coming of Christ is presented in the language of imminency because of the far-reaching effects it is designed to exert on those who lay hold of the promise, |Surely I come quickly.| The imminent return of the Redeemer is a practical hope. It is the commanding motive of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit has linked it with every precept and practice of Christian character and conduct. As another has so well expressed it: |It arms admonitions, it points appeals, it strengthens arguments, it enforces commands, it intensifies entreaties, it arouses courage, it rebukes fear, it quickens affection, it kindles hope, it inflames zeal, it separates from the world, it consecrates to God, it drys tears, it conquers death| (Brookes). To amplify this statement in detail --
The hope of our Lord's second advent produces loyalty and faithfulness to Christ.|Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his Lord shall make ruler over His household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth, I say unto you, that He will make him ruler over all that He hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The Lord of that Servant will come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers| (Luke 12:42-46). The moral purpose of this parable (see context of above quotation) is apparent. While the steward maintained an attitude of watchfulness he was faithful and sober, but when he said in his heart |my Lord delayeth His coming| he began to beat his fellow-servants and to eat and drink and be drunken. Watching for the Lord then is an incentive to loyalty and fidelity, while unwatchfulness results in worldliness of heart, carelessness of walk and carnality of life.
The Return of our Lord is presented as a motive to brotherly love- |And the Lord made you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end He may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints| (1 Thess.3:12, 13). In view of the fact that our Lord may return at any hour, how awful are divisions between the Lord's own people. Soon shall each of us appear before the Bema of Christ where every wrong will be righted and every misunderstanding cleared up. The Lord is at hand, therefore let us sink our petty differences, forgive one another even as God hath for Christ's sake forgiven us, and increase and abound in love one toward another.
The perennial hope of Christ's second advent is used as a call to a godly walk- |For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ| (Titus 2:11-13). How clear it is from these words that the Blessed Hope is intended to check the spirit of self-pleasing and self-seeking in the believer and to promote holiness in the daily life. As says the apostle John, |He that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure| (1 John 3:3).
The return of our Lord is designed to comfort bereaved hearts -- |For I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (go before) them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words|(1 Thess.4:13-18). Those to whom the apostle was writing were sorrowing over the loss of loved ones. But observe, he does not seek to solace by telling them that shortly they would die and join the departed in heaven. No; he held up before them the prospect of a returning Saviour who would bring back the sleeping saints with Him.
The promise of the Redeemer's return is calculated to develop the grace of patience -- |Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh| (Jas.5:7, 8). These words were addressed to saints who were poor in this world's goods and who were groaning beneath the oppression of unrighteous employers. How timely is this word of exhortation to many a twentieth-century saint! How many of God's poor are now crying unto the Lord for deliverance from pecuniary difficulties, from tyranny and injustice! These cries have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts, and just as He intervened of old on behalf of Israel in Egypt, so will He speedily come and remove His people from their present cruel task-masters. In the meantime, the word is, |Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.|
The hope of our Lord's return is the antidote for worry- |Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand, In nothing be anxious|(Phil.4:5, 6, R.V.). Brethren in Christ, why be so fearful about meeting next year's liabilities? Why be anxiously scheming and fretting about the future? Why be worrying about the morrow? Tomorrow you may be in heaven. Before tomorrow dawns the assembling Shout may be given. At any hour thy Saviour may come.The Lord is at hand and His appearing will mean the end of all your trials and troubles. Look not then at your dangers and difficulties, but for your Redeemer. In nothing be anxious.
The prospect of a speedily returning Saviour is employed to stimulate sobriety and vigilance- |Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light|(Rom.13:11, 12). As we have shown in a previous chapter the |salvation| here spoken of is that mentioned in Heb.9:28 (|unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation|) which salvation is brought to us at Christ's second advent. Note, particularly, that this salvation is not presented as a distant hope, to be realized at some remote period, but is set forth as that which is nigh at hand.
Ere closing this chapter one other question claims our attention --