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As you probably have noticed – this is the most wonderful time of the year when we turn our attention and reflect on Jesus coming to the earth as a baby over 2000 years ago. Gifts are exchanged, happy music is playing, and sugar laced treats are in abundance.
What about the next time Jesus visits the earth? What will that look like? The definition of the word Christmas involves the birth of Jesus and the celebration of him coming to the earth. I’m using artistic liberty to refer to his return to be with us again as “The Next Christmas”. In the book of Acts he and his angels gave some parting words to his followers to encourage them that he would be returning someday:
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses telling people about me everywhere . . . “ (Acts 1: 6-8).
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1: 9-10).
Someday he will return from heaven . . . The Next Christmas! So the next coming of Jesus will be much different than the first featuring Mary and Joseph, the manger, the shepherds, angels singing, and the wise men. As the angels declared – this reuniting with him will occur in the sky or heavenly realms. The apostle Paul provides us with this preview in 1st Thessalonians 4: 15-18:
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. We will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
Meet the Lord in the air . . . We will be with the Lord forever . . . The Next Christmas!
The burning questions of the ages remains: When will this Next Christmas happen? When will be the “someday” that the angels told his followers? Are there any signs to look out for? Please read the entire chapter of Matthew 24 to get the full context of Jesus’s explanation. However, some clear signs that he mentioned are fresh out of today’s headlines:
Wars and rumors of war, pestilence and famines, earthquakes in various places, and people divided against one another with intense hatred. The frustrating part is we can’t control these major events in the news. However, Jesus did give us advice on 3 areas that we can personally control and guard our hearts until he returns:
Beware of deception.
Being prepared at all times.
Not clinging to or being stuck in the past.
- Beware of deception – Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many“ (Matthew 24: 4, 5). This warning goes much deeper than the surface level of an egomaniac person in power or crazed dictator claiming they can save the people and the world without God. The tricky thing about deception is that . . . it can be so deceitful. Anyone or anything can become a “Messiah” or a “Savior” that we look to for relief and prioritize besides God – people, money, jobs, politicians, hobbies, vacations, habits that lead to addictions, pursuing comfort and pleasure above all else – the list is endless. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he used the phrase “many will come”?
- Be prepared at all times – “However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows . . . You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected (Matthew 24: 36, 44). He could return as you’re reading this – or he could return 100 years from now. We have an enemy, the devil, that wants us to keep thinking that we don’t need to be concerned right now about where we are in our walk with God. He sneakily whispers, “Jesus isn’t coming back any time soon, if at all. Why don’t you pursue the ‘good life’ now? You deserve it. Isn’t God holding out on you with all these rules and restrictions?” Again, deceit creeps in. It is a slow falling away that the Bible describes in many of its books. On a personal level – it is so much easier for me to watch church online instead of going in person. Then, it gets easy for me to skip online services because, “I’ll get caught up next week due to this week’s busy schedule.” And I missed my Bible time and prayer because I’ve got to get my fantasy football lineup ready for the playoffs and check in on how many “likes” that funny video I posted got . . . Down the rabbit hole of distraction I go. Maybe you can relate? Author John Eldredge skillfully puts this phenomenon into words in his book Resilient, “Satan is much cleverer than all that. I believe what we will see – what is happening now – is simply people giving up on God in large numbers.” (pg. 47). Which starts with us making those small choices that lead to unpreparedness.
- Not clinging to or being stuck in the past – The book of Luke, chapter 17 starting at verse 20 is another recorded discussion regarding Jesus’ next return. He gives this warning, “Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed . . . Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.” (Luke 17: 30, 32, 33). What happened to Lot’s wife? Way back in Genesis chapter 19 – she and her family were fleeing their evil city that was being destroyed by God. Lot and his family had been warned by God’s angel to leave as quickly as possible and not look back. Well . . Lot’s wife decided to ignore the warning and looked back. She instantly was turned into a pillar of salt. It’s easy to see ourselves in what Lot’s wife did – no way can I point a finger of judgement at her. Maybe her thoughts were . . . “I want to go back to the way things were . . . Can’t things be normal and good again? . . . Just a quick glance to see what I’m missing out on . . . Sure, God says ________, but that applies to everyone but me . . . “
Conclusion – So after that ‘gloom and doom’ message – what do we do? 🙂 Remember, Paul said to “Encourage each other with these words”. It really is a happy and hopeful message when we take a closer look. The Next Christmas we will be able to experience what all those at the manger scene experienced, plus so much more. Being in the physical presence of the Savior of the Universe. Forever. A new heaven and a new earth. The restoration of Eden and evil banished for good. Perfected, spiritual, and always healthy bodies and minds.
And finally, a reminder that God gave the greatest gift of all to provide us a way out of the current deception and upcoming destruction:
“For God so love the world (me, you, and all humanity) that he gave (the ultimate Christmas gift) his only Son – that whoever believes in him (trusts and puts faith in, relies upon, follows) would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Don’t quit now . . . the finish line is just over the next hill . . . Christmas is coming . . .
Blessings AND Merry Christmas!
This is wonderful—just what I needed! Thank you! I have been struggling with just exactly how will Christ’s second coming look and your words are the closest I’ve seen to reassure me! By the way, I’m a high school classmate of your mom—what a beautiful friend inside and out! Keep the inspiration coming!
Thank you for your kind words, Karen 🙂
Dave, thank you as always, for your insight.
I received a thought over the weekend. Listening to one of our FC pastors address a group of volunteers, I heard him refer to Isaiah 40 and Mark 1 where we find the verse which says, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
That is our job, individually and also collectively as God’s church. We make straight paths for those who are seeking God and need to hear the Gospel.
Thanks for the great insight Tony!